It’s understandable that frustrations mount when a team struggles. Someone needs to be blamed, so often fans point fingers at the coach, wondering how he put the team in such a lousy position, anyway.
Why, for example, does Minnesota have no depth in the frontcourt? Why don’t the Gophers have more players who are ready to dominate NOW?
But for every point, there is a counterpoint, and my job today is to take you down the hypothetical road to view what some of the upperclassmen might look like if former coach Tubby Smith was still around.
This was a wormhole I went down after getting a mailbag question on the subject from @GettingGophery, and I decided it was worthy of its own post – nice one, GG.
Take a gander.
The would-be seniors:
Charles Buggs – Of course, Buggs is the only remaining former Smith player remaining and is now a junior due to a redshirt in 2012-13. Buggs, a super athletic but raw 6-9 forward, has his moments – mostly this year, including a 14-point game vs. Chicago State on Wednesday – but he’s struggled to get over a mental hump.
Wally Ellenson – The wing left the team in February of 2014 and transferred to Marquette. This year he’s eligible after sitting out a season, and is averaging 1.8 points and three rebounds a game.
The current seniors:
Joey King – The 6-9 forward has had some “off” shooting games lately, but he’s leading the team with 14.1 points a game and 3.6 rebounds.
Carlos Morris – A risky shot-taker but natural scorer, Morris has taken steps in his senior year, even if he’s not scoring at the same clip as he was a year ago. He’s averaging 10.3 points and five rebounds a game.
The would-be juniors (both Minnesota commits flipped to other schools after Smith was fired):
Alvin Ellis—The Michigan State guard was arrested for alcohol-related charges over the summer; now he’s averaging 3.2 points and 1.3 rebounds. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.9 points in the previous two years.
Alex Foster – After two years under Smith at Texas Tech, the 6-8 forward transferred to Bradley this offseason. He averaged one point and 0.8 rebounds a game, down from 1.8 and 1.5 the previous year.
The current juniors:
Buggs (see above)
Davonte Fitzgerald (redshirt) – Pitino has said that the 6-8 could be the best player on the team. The Texas A&M transfer will have two years of eligibility after sitting out this year.
Reggie Lynch (redshirt) – The Minnesota native is at his home-state school after a couple of years at Illinois State. Last year, he was the best shot-blocker, percentage-wise, in the nation.
Of course I don’t claim, with this snapshot, that things would work out identically if certain players were here rather than other places. Changing environments can affect outcomes,certainly.
But the other angle of this is that if Ellis, Foster and Ellenson were all still here, coach Richard Pitino and Co. would have three fewer scholarships for the players that are on the team. Pitino likely would have still had to scramble for King and sophomore centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou regardless because there was no size in the cupboard to replace Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason when they graduated. That might not leave room for everyone in this year’s group of four freshmen and two transfers, a class that is one of the major reasons why many fans feel optimistic about the future.