Gophers coach Richard Pitino will be without two starters for an extended period of time this season, so he might experiment with different starting lineups until he finds one that works best.
Replacing suspended center Reggie Lynch and injured guard Amir Coffey in Saturday’s 75-71 loss against Indiana were Bakary Konate and Michael Hurt. Pitino doesn’t know if he’ll go with those same new starters for Wednesday’s game at Northwestern.
“I don’t know,” Pitino said. “Yeah, we’ll take a look at the film and see. I don’t put a crazy amount of stock in starting, more so the combinations and everything like that.”
For the first time this season Saturday, the Gophers started Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Hurt, Jordan Murphy and Konate together. It was their fifth different starting lineup this season.
Minnesota ended the game going small-ball with Mason, McBrayer, Hurt, Fitzgerald and Murphy. The last minute didn’t result in the outcome Pitino was hoping for, especially down 74-71 with 20 seconds left. Mason missed a potential game-tying three-pointer without running a play. Fitzgerald grabbed the offensive board and swung the ball to Murphy, but he threw up a desperation three that hit backboard but no rim with 13 seconds still on the clock.
“Nate’s three, he does make that,” Pitino said. “You make two passes off an offensive rebound, normally you get something good. I think Murph rushed it a little bit. But I did think that Davonte showed good effort. But that wasn’t good execution, certainly.”
Another small lineup could be Isaiah Washington, Mason, McBrayer, Fitzgerald and Murphy.
Which five will work the best? Mason, McBrayer and Murphy can be a threesome to build around. But there are issues with any lineup minus Lynch and Coffey. Washington (five points and two turnovers Saturday) seems to play more under control off the bench. Hurt and Konate combined for just two points on 1-for-2 shooting playing 31 and 27 minutes as starters Saturday, respectively. Fitzgerald had six points, six rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes. Pitino sees improvement in him still as a gradual process coming off missing two years sitting out after transferring and with a knee injury.
More playing time could help Fitzgerald, Hurt and Konate gain confidence.
“I think Michael will get more comfortable,” Pitino said. “I think Bakary will get more comfortable. Certainly, if there are shots to be taken, they’ll get there. I played small a little bit with Murph and Davonte. I played Dupree at the three. I haven’t done much. So the more time, we’ll be able to practice a little bit. It’ll be beneficial, because they have to learn the plays and do those things and understand those things.”
Pitino is “hopeful” that Coffey will be back this season. There’s no timetable other than not anytime soon, meaning he’s definitely out Wednesday against Northwestern. The Gophers didn’t have much time to prepare to play without him Saturday. They didn’t know he’d be sidelined with a right shoulder injury until Friday night.
“It happened in the Illinois game,” Pitino said. “It was a physical bump more than anything. We felt like he could maybe come back from it (soon), but we got an MRI. You want to be careful with him and make sure he’s 100 percent.”
Falling in power polls
Big Ten Network analyst Jon Crispin dropped the Gophers from No. 3 to No. 6 in his latest BTN power poll released Monday. Crispin told the Star Tribune on Friday, he thought Minnesota could drop as low as seventh right away, but that isn’t the case – yet.
Crispin wrote: “The hope is that Coffey will be back at some point this season, but this is a completely different team without Lynch anchoring the defense. The dynamic will change in every way, and Richard Pitino will have to establish new roles in order for this team to stay in the postseason race. I have them at 6 at the moment, but can see them continuing to slide down with two key players out.”
I ranked the Gophers third in my power poll last week before the Lynch and Coffey news and the Indiana loss. They’ll definitely take a dive in my next ranking this week. How far? We’ll see after Wednesday’s game at Northwestern.
No news with Lynch, other than he won't be with the Gophers on the bench for any games (home or away) during his indefinite suspension. The senior center is banned from athletic participation but is allowed to practice. The U said Monday that just because he's allowed doesn't mean Lynch will practice every day with the team. That's up to Pitino. Lynch didn't practice with the Gophers on Thursday and Friday before the Indiana game. He's currently appealing the U panel ruling about being found "responsible" in an alleged sexual misconduct incident in 2016.
Athletes Village ready
Gophers basketball players walked through their brand new practice facility Monday in the recently opened Athletes Village. Their first of official practice there is expected to be Tuesday before they leave for a game the next day at Northwestern.