With summer practices and the foreign trip in the rearview mirror, Richard Pitino had a chance to reflect on how the 2019-20 Gophers basketball team compares so far to other squads that he’s coached.
The Gophers went to their second NCAA tournament under Pitino last season, but he doesn’t see much similarity between that team and this one.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re just different.
“We kind of remind me a little bit of my (2014) NIT championship team,” Pitino said on the Golden Gophers podcast Wednesday. “I think that team was a pretty good offensive team.”
One of key players on the U's 2017 NCAA tournament team was big man Eric Curry, who is expected to return this fall after getting pins removed from foot surgery in March.
"That’s the beauty of I think he’ll be able to jump right in once school starts," Pitino said. "Maybe not 100 percent, but we’ll bring him along slowly. Very, very important that he has September and October where he’s gaining momentum and gaining confidence on the basketball court."
Pitino talked about the versatility with this team, expectations for Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Daniel Oturu and more on Curry's health during Wednesday’s podcast. Part of his conversation with KFAN’s Justin Gaard is below:
On having a different offensive team
Pitino: A lot of it is geared on your personnel. Jordan Murphy was obviously one of the most productive players to play here in many, many years. But he wasn’t a shooter. Normally, you’re five man is not a shooter, so that’s two (players) right there. John Beilein is the perfect example. Everybody marveled at what he ran. He ran some good offensive stuff, but he always had four if not five guys who could shoot the basketball. And that opens up the court for a lot of different things. You can get a little more creative offensively. Where I did think our strength was getting fouled. You had Amir was a lefty, Dupree was a lefty. It was like a unique team. Who knows if we’ll be as good as those teams? But we’re much more geared to playing on the perimeter. Now, we can go big. When (Eric) Curry gets back we can put him at the (power forward) and Daniel at the five. But I’d love to be able to keep four shooters on the court at all times. And Alihan (Demir) is different from Murphy. He’s a more perimeter-oriented kind of a passer and skilled guy. Where Murphy was a brute strength guy. You just had to tailor to those things. We did a lot of high-low last year. I don’t think we’re going to do much of that. I would say much more skilled, dribbling, passing, shooting, but maybe not as physically imposing.
On which player is emerging as the leader/go-to guy
Pitino: Marcus Carr has just got that look. He’s very, very confident. When we bring in a huddle he’s the first one to kind of say this is what we’re going to say. He always seems to gravitate towards that. I would think he has a lot of leadership qualities.
But this team we have seven new players. Five new guys and two transfers sitting out. It’s got such a different feel to it. The beauty of Italy is that we’re not starting from scratch when we come back, but we still have a long way to go.
On why Willis is his MVP of the Italy trip
Pitino: I believe he had (16 assists) and two turnovers in three games. Just so much of basketball and sports is not beating yourself. He did that. He was rock solid across the board. Did so many little things very, very well. I moved him from the 3, to the 2, to the 1. And he never missed a beat. He played a lot of minutes. He looked like he belonged and that’s half the battle. He was just rock solid in a bunch of things he did.
On Oturu shooting more threes
Pitino: I wouldn’t mind him shooting two or three from the top of the key. I don’t want him fading from the corner. I do want more threes. I think Daniel can hit some, but he’s got to understand where his bread is buttered. He can’t be tempted to get out there too much. If you hit one or two and you want to keep shooting. Instead of running to the rim to post up on the break, you’re running to the three-point line. He can’t do that. But he can pick and pop. Ball screens are really, really effective when they’re not predictable. What I mean by that is sometimes you pop, sometimes you roll, sometimes you slip. When the 4s and 5s are the guys who set those screens if you can do different things off it you’re not as patterned. I thought last year we were so patterned and so easy to guard with some of the things we were running. He’s from Minnesota, too. Sometimes with Gabe and Daniel it’s take the next step. Your trajectory is going on the right direction. It’s just continuing to put on weight. Tightened up every little thing you’re doing.
On the next step for Oturu
Pitino: Nick Ward for Michigan State was so good at running the court and posting up. Daniel needs to do that. He’s got the sheer talent. He’s got the production, which is the most important thing. But I think with the little things like screening and guarding a ball screen. I thought he and Gabe had really good freshmen years. Could’ve both have been all-freshman type players. Both were not. So just take the next step. We shouldn’t look at you and look at you like you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a sophomore now. The freshmen days are over.
On Curry’s recovery
Pitino: He got the pins taken out of his foot the other day. That was a relief for him. I don’t know why to an extent, but I guess it’s something and it’s good. He needs like a healthy fall. Where he came back last year in the middle of the season. That’s hard to do. Now he’s got the brace off the knee. He can just be confident mentally and physically. He'll be fine.