Richard Pitino was hoping for senior Brandon Johnson to be the answer at power forward this season, especially with the versatility, length, and athleticism he adds to the Gophers basketball team's frontcourt.
There's also another player that fits that mold.
Sophomore Isaiah Ihnen could see more playing time Thursday night against Missouri-Kansas City with Johnson sidelined with an ankle injury.
Ihnen, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound German native, was part of the bench trio (also guards Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Tre' Williams) who sparked the Gophers' second-half comeback down 15 points in Tuesday's 85-80 overtime win against Boston College. He had six points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes against the Eagles.
The 6-8 Johnson, who started the last three games, fell awkwardly on his left ankle, and was helped off the floor with 13 seconds left in Tuesday's win. Pitino said after the game he hoped the injury wasn't serious.
Johnson ended up spraining his ankle with no serious ligament damage, according to sources. So, that could mean he'll return at some point. Pitino needs to fill that role right now, though.
The obvious choice to replace Johnson as the starter is redshirt senior Eric Curry, who started the first two games this season after recovering from his second major knee injury. But Curry's minutes have been limited since he hasn't played a full season healthy since his freshman year in 2016-17. Until he gets more comfortable, the Gophers are leaning on his leadership more than his production.
The Gophers played Curry just six minutes against Boston College, but they probably can't afford to do that without Johnson in the lineup. Ihnen hasn't started in 26 career games with the Gophers, but he has shown improvement since late last season.
Last year, Ihnen was the U's top recruit but he arrived late to Minnesota after playing for Germany's junior national team. A wrist injury also slowed his progress, but Ihnen put on 15 pounds and averaged 6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and shot 12-for-29 from three-point range in the last seven games in 2019-20.
In the 11 career games where he's played at least 15 minutes, Ihnen averaged 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and shot 18-for-44 from beyond the arc (40.9%). He clearly prefers to avoid contact and play on the perimeter (21 of his 30 field goals are threes and he's only attempted four free throws in 26 career games).
But Ihnen's length (7-4 wingspan) can be a factor defensively. The best example recently was when he blocked Loyola Marymount's three-point attempt at the buzzer after Marcus Carr's three-pointer put the Gophers ahead in a 67-64 win earlier this season.
Ihnen was pegged as a potential breakout candidate by coaches this year with more opportunity. Gophers faithful are hoping Pitino unleashes the player often referred to by fans as the "German KD." Ihnen wears No. 35 after his favorite NBA player, Kevin Durant.