The last transfer the Gophers needed to bolster hopes of a turnaround season received good news Monday when the NCAA approved Utah transfer Both Gach’s waiver to play immediately.
Gach, a 6-6 Austin, Minn., native, is a projected starter for Richard Pitino in the backcourt. He is the second transfer to have a waiver granted to avoid sitting out this season, joining Drake 7-footer Liam Robbins.
“He certainly has all of the attributes to be a really good player,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said of Gach. “They can go eight or nine deep now with Robbins and [Western Michigan graduate transfer] Brandon Johnson. I’m anxious to see them. I like Richard’s team.”
Earlier projections for Minnesota in Pitino’s eighth season were near the bottom of the Big Ten before his transfers were eligible. Now with Gach in the mix this year, joining an already strong backcourt, the expectations jump considerably for the Gophers in the Big Ten and nationally.
“Both’s a great player,” said Gophers guard Marcus Carr, who was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team Monday. “Like me, he likes to get downhill. He’s very athletic and can shoot the ball as well. He brings a lot of different things to the game. Definitely a huge boost for us.”
On the same day Gach’s waiver was ruled on, Carr was the first U guard to be picked to the All-Big Ten preseason team since both Nate Mason and Amir Coffey in 2017-18.
Carr has the highest assists per game (6.7) among all power-conference players returning this season. With Carr (15.4 points per game) and fellow junior Gabe Kalscheur (11.6), the Gophers join Iowa, Michigan, and Rutgers as the only four Big Ten teams with at least two double-figure scorers returning in the backcourt.
Gach (10.7 ppg in 25 starts at Utah last season) gives Minnesota another veteran and perimeter scoring option. Coming off the bench, sophomore Tre’ Williams (six starts in 2019-20) and freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr., have impact potential as well.
“When you have good guards that gives you a chance,” Pitino said. “I think our backcourt has a chance to compete with anybody.”
Once the Gophers landed Gach off the transfer market in June they were confident he would be the missing piece in the backcourt. Despite waiting to file his waiver to the NCAA until late October, the Gophers were optimistic he would be eligible since he was returning home during the pandemic.
After Gach led Austin to a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2018, he left Minnesota to become a four-star prospect at Arizona Compass Prep. He showed promise, averaging 7.7 points as a freshman with the Utes in 2018-19, but a lingering knee injury last season kept him from a breakout sophomore year.
“I really improved my game,” Gach said on his development since high school. “I got stronger and bigger. I added more pieces. I can get to the lane more, drive to the hoop and make things happen. I play with high energy and try to make it fun for everybody on the court. I defend multiple positions.”
A starting rotation projected with four juniors (Carr, Kalscheur, Gach, Robbins) and a senior (Johnson) makes the Gophers one of the more experienced teams in the Big Ten and a potential sleeper.
But the Big Ten could be as loaded as ever. Fifth-ranked Iowa led seven Big Ten teams in Monday’s Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll. Other ranked teams include Wisconsin (No. 7), Illinois (8), Michigan State (13), Ohio State (23), Rutgers (24) and Michigan (25).
The Gophers failed to receive any Top 25 votes, but the voters didn’t know yet if Gach would be eligible. Now that Pitino has his rotation set it might change the perception of the Gophers nationally once they open the season Nov. 25 against Green Bay at home.
“Both has unbelievable work ethic,” Pitino said. “He can get to the basket, knock down the three and play in ball screens. We’ll have multiple guys in this program that can play at the next level.”