To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag this week. Star Tribune beat writers are fielding questions about the teams they cover and you ask them here.
Q: Do you expect Liam Robbins to take Daniel Oturu’s spot in the starting lineup? – Chris B (@Cbeams27)
A: Robbins, a sophomore transfer from Drake, has everything you would want in a starting center. He’s got size at 7-feet and 240 pounds. He’s a rim protector having ranked fifth in the nation with 2.9 blocks last season. His offensive skills are advanced enough with his post game and facing the basket to give you double figures in scoring. The biggest question is whether Robbins will be eligible to play immeadiately. He told me after committing Sunday that he's filing a waiver to the NCAA, which is about being able to play with family. His uncle (Gophers assistant Ed Conroy is his mom's brother) and cousin (walk-on Hunt Conroy) are on the team. Their families have planned summer trips together for years. Liam and Hunt are very close, so it's pretty cool they'll be college teammates. There's still a chance Robbins might not be eligible until 2021-22. That's why the Gophers reached out earlier to Loyola Marymount's Mattias Markusson and recently to Purdue's Matt Haarms, both 7-3 graduate transfers. Freshman Sam Freeman is the only true center currently on the roster.
Q: How likely is it that we see a transfer out of the program to open up a scholarship? – MaxxedOutGuides (@MaxxOutGuides)
A: I haven’t heard of any players so far possibly being interested in transferring. Richard Pitino’s freshmen class didn’t make the impact they expected last season. But Pitino is still very high on guard Tre’ Williams and forward Isaiah Ihnen. They would likely have suitors if they chose to transfer, but I've heard they both are excited right now to be in the main rotation next season. We didn't get to see much at all from Freeman and guard BJ Greenlee as freshmen. But I think they will be back, too. The Gophers’ biggest loss is obviously Oturu declaring for the draft, but it opened a second scholarship.
Q: If one scholarship is between Kerwin Walton and Rice transfer Drew Peterson what are the odds that Walton becomes a Gopher? – Rick Dunn (@rdunn5)
A: The Gophers are pursuing several wing players to add to the roster next season. Walton, a four-star Hopkins senior, and Peterson are definitely top targets. Peterson, who reminds Pitino of ex-U standout Amir Coffey, said he will take his time to decide. Walton doesn’t have a timetable, either. The difference between them in the recruiting process is that Walton already has six finalists. He’s in a better position to pick a school before Peterson right now. The spring signing period starts April 15, but it was extended to August 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic (originally was May 20).
Q: If the Gophers land Kerwin what is their ceiling next year? – Fred Mansfield (@tinheadfred)
A: Losing Oturu lowers the ceiling right now, especially without knowing if Robbins will be eligible to play next season after transferring. Without Oturu, the Gophers will return three starters with Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis. Jamal Mashburn Jr. gives Pitino a backup point guard capable of scoring in bunches and providing a big lift from three-point range off the bench. Walton would do the same behind Kalscheur or Willis. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mashburn and Walton would be good enough to push for starting roles as well. What’s the ceiling? I would say the Gophers could potentially be an NCAA tournament team with Walton and Robbins eligible.
Q: Assuming Marcus Carr returns for next season, who is the backup next year and will Pitino actually give him more than five minutes per game? – Chris B (@Cbeams27)
A: The Gophers believe Carr is just testing the waters by declaring for the NBA Draft. Mashburn said he's looking forward to helping Carr with ball-handling duties. He is very similar to Carr in having a scorer’s mentality and strong leadership qualities. Carr led the Big Ten with nearly 40 minutes a game. But Pitino said he will look into getting his captain more rest next season.
Q: Are you getting any hints about the new assistant coach? – David Herem
A: Pitino doesn’t appear to be in any rush to replace Rob Jeter (new Western Illinois coach). There are several coaches with local ties who could be candidates. But don’t be surprised if the Gophers look to someone with ties to Rick Pitino.