To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag Monday this week. Star Tribune beat writers received many questions about the teams and leagues we cover, and each writer selected at least two questions to answer on his or her blog.
Q: In Year 8, do you have any clue what Pitino wants the identity of his program to be? I can’t get a sense of what he wants his program to be known for. He came in thinking he was going to be an up-and-down, pressure team. That has certainly changed. – Gopher Sports (@sports_gopher)
A: You bring up a great point. Let us just say Pitino gets all the pieces he needs to be a contender in 2020-21. How does he fit those pieces together? What style gets the most out of them? I think the Gophers mostly went away from his initial idea of being an up-tempo, pressuring team due to their personnel and playing in the grind-it-out and physical Big Ten. You can win consistently in the Big Ten pushing the pace. Look at teams such as Michigan State, Iowa, and Penn State this year. But you also have to execute in the half court. Pitino has not had the depth at guard to play faster for most of his tenure. The U’s talent inside has led them over the years. So, Pitino tweaked his philosophy to utilize pick-and-rolls but play more through the post, trying to win with big men like Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu. The Gophers shot a lot of three-pointers this year. Expect more of that with mostly guards returning. Being more disruptive with defensive pressure to create steals and force turnovers will be key to increasing the tempo, though.
Q: Is there any chance Pitino gets a waiver for Liam Robbins to play next season based on the current environment? – Keith Berger (@Krb1max)
A: The chances are very high for Robbins to either receive a waiver or be immediately eligible to play for the Gophers without a waiver next season. Having family on the team helps his waiver situation. But that might not matter, because I’m hearing that the one-time transfer rule to play immediately could pass next month to be ready for the 2020-21 season. Robbins replacing All-America center Daniel Oturu is a tall task. But his shot-blocking presence makes the Gophers a sleeper in the Big Ten. The 7-foot Iowan was rated as high as the No. 1 non-graduate transfer on the market, with high-profile teams such as Duke, Kentucky and Louisville interested after he announced he was leaving Drake.
Q: Does the new transfer [Robbins] mean we know we are not getting Chet Holmgren in 2021? Does it affect his recruitment in some way? – Mike Baune (@Mbaune09)
A: Have not heard that at all. If anything, adding talent in the frontcourt makes the Gophers more appealing for the future. Holmgren told me he was glad to see Oturu do so well this year and have a chance to be drafted. Don’t be surprised to see Holmgren strongly consider his father’s alma mater here in the end. But don’t rule out the new preps to the NBA G League route being a possibility for the five-star junior from Minnehaha Academy, either. Holmgren is the No. 2 ranked player in the 2021 class.
Q: Can [Pitino] hire a great local recruiter? – Mike 55112 (@Mikewins55)
A: To say it has been difficult for the Gophers to sign local recruits recently would be an understatement. Potentially not landing Walton would mean zero Minnesotans in three of Pitino's last four recruiting classes (2017, 2019, 2020). But I don’t know if hiring a great local recruiter is a priority for him or not with the open assistant position. He said recently that patience is needed with that decision to find a coach with the pandemic not allowing him to meet with anyone in person. The right fit beyond just the recruiting aspect is important to him.
Q: There have been so many names of transfer targets recently, so who should Gopher fans be most excited to possibly land? – Tom Anderson @andersonTJ5
A: It seems like every week there is a new transfer being targeted by Pitino. Mostly grad transfers have been linked lately to Minnesota, including George Mason’s Justin Kier, UNLV’s Jonah Antonio, Wake Forest’s Chaundee Brown. Antonio, a 6-5 Australian guard, recently took a virtual tour of the Gophers facilities and campus. The most exciting name for Gophers fans hands down, though, is Courvoisier McCauley. The former Division II All-America guard at Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) heard from Pitino’s staff and other high-majors this week after announcing he wanted to make the jump to Division I.