(Thank you to my colleague Michael Rand for hitting up Friday’s U-M media access and passing along the audio garnered. I was out of town on a previously planned trip.)
Richard Pitino, in a press conference before the start of official fall practice last week, laid out a potential starting lineup that was heavy on veterans and without any of the hotshot freshmen that arrived on campus this summer.
So. G Nate Mason
Sr. G Carlos Morris
Rs. Jr. wing Charles Buggs
Sr. F Joey King
So. C Bakary Konate
That’s if his University of Minnesota men’s basketball team was playing that night, he said. “But again, in six weeks (before the first game), so much can change.”
It’s likely much will. Right now, it makes sense that Pitino would trust his returning players the most. He’s seen each of them for a full season, knows their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Even if they don’t seem to be the best players on the court even now – and that bunch as a whole probably isn’t – the coaches at least know what to expect from them.
Fortunately for Minnesota, the season didn’t start on Friday and Pitino and Co. has a month and a half to let the various lineup competitions play out. In that time, Pitino will be juggling his goal to play bigger with his analysis of where the greatest talent lies.
Pitino has made it clear both last week and in the past that he wants to start fielding bigger teams than the undersized version that got pushed around so much in Big Ten play last year. That’s definitely a concern in a league that certainly took advantages of defensive matchups vs. the Gophers a year ago, and seems to be getting bigger and bigger at each position every year. If that is the main goal, the starting five he named Friday is probably the best-case scenario.
But there is also the question of talent.
“We’re trying not to play three guards [this year],” Pitino said. “…A lot of our issues last year defensively were not being quick to the ball and a lot of that has to do with playing three guards. I think [smaller lineups are] a strength offensively, [but] not as much defensively, rebounding the ball. So we’re going to try to do that – I don’t know if it will work, but we’re going to start with that kind of model.”
At this point, though, I’m not sure his personnel – and the best use of his personnel – supports that.
Here is another option:
Fr. G Kevin Dorsey
So. G Nate Mason
Sr. G Carlos Morris/ Rs. Jr. Charles Buggs
Fr. F Jordan Murphy
So. C Bakary Konate
Considering the Gophers’ overall defensive lapses a year ago – Minnesota was second-to-last in the league in scoring defense -- the poor defensive reputations of Morris and Buggs are concerning. Murphy and Dorsey, meanwhile, could be two of the better defenders on the roster, and Murphy’s long wingspan and nose for rebounding would be another worthy addition given’s King’s unavoidable shortcomings on the glass – “He’s not one of those guys who is quick to the ball,” Pitino said, “He doesn’t have long arms.
On Friday Pitino also gushed about both Dorsey and Murphy, calling the former a “phenomenal defender,” and one who can ‘wow’ the coaches – both in good ways and bad ways, and touting the latter’s “phenomenal potential.” Both, he said, are ready for major minutes.
Adding those two players wouldn't give Minnesota the size Pitino desires, but it seems like it would give them significantly more talent on the floor. In that situation, talent trumps size most of the time.
Even if we see the lineup Pitino threw out last week at the start of the season, I’m guessing we’ll see plenty of this other version as well – if it doesn’t take over altogether.