Ben Johnson admits that in his mind he doesn't know yet which players will be in the Gophers' starting lineup in the Nov. 9 opener vs. Missouri Kansas City.
"As of right now, honestly I don't," the first-year Minnesota men's basketball coach told the Star Tribune last week at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis.
Fans will get their first glimpse at Johnson's Gophers at the Nov. 1 exhibition game vs. Concordia (St. Paul) at Williams Arena, so that gives them a little more time to sort things out.
"We have a general idea of where we're going to go," Johnson said. "But at the same time, I remind our guys, because of our roster everybody is important. Everybody's needed. That goes from our walk-ons to guys we know who are going to be penciled in for night in and night out production."
Senior transfers Payton Willis, E.J. Stephens, Luke Loewe, and Sean Sutherlin will be counted on for that consistent production on the perimeter. Johnson said, "you could probably pencil Payton in at one of the [starting] spots," because he's the only guard on the roster with Big Ten experience.
"But the really good thing about our roster is we have so many older guys," Johnson said. "There aren't many guys who you don't trust. It's not like you don't trust the freshmen, but you just don't know. … I know I have guys who can be productive, but what are the right combinations?"
Johnson made it clear that he's expecting freshmen Treyton Thompson and Laye Thiam to play meaningful minutes for the Gophers this season. Thompson, a 6-11 Alexandria, Minn., product, could be a possible starter in the frontcourt.
"You can't be freshmen because you're going to be thrown into the fire," Johnson said. "I think that's a big reason why they're excited because those guys know all the hard work they put in. They'll be able to show that on the floor and make the most of it."
Another aspect making it tough for Johnson to establish his starting lineup right now is that the Gophers began practicing this fall with teams split evenly while scrimmaging to learn the new system.
"If I did have a best five right now vs. another five, it would be unmatched," Johnson said. "We've tried to keep the teams as even as possible. The next phase as we get closer to the season is to see who plays well together and who we need off the bench. How do you stabilize your substitutions so there's not a big drop off? We'll get down to the nitty and gritty soon."
My projected Gophers starting lineup entering the 2021-22 season
G – Payton Willis senior
G – Eylijah "E.J." Stephens senior
F – Jamison Battle sophomore
F – Treyton Thompson freshman
C/F – Eric Curry senior
G – Luke Loewe senior
G – Abdoulaye Thiam freshman
G – Sean Sutherlin senior
F – Will Ramberg freshman (walk-on)
C/F – Charlie Daniels senior or Danny Ogele senior