Q. If we're expecting to have the Gophers’ deepest roster in [Lindsay] Whalen’s three years, ideally what would be the rotation number? Eight deep? Is 9-10 doable and keep everybody happy with playing time?
A. I’ve written before about how different the 2020-21 Gophers will look from the team that struggled at times last season.
Coach Lindsay Whalen got another big commitment on Friday when junior college post player Daja Woodard said she would attend Minnesota this fall. Her addition will make the Gophers longer and more athletic. The 6-3 Woodard is an outstanding jumper and a quick leaper. She averaged a relatively modest 9.3 points for Jones College in Ellisville, Miss. last season. But she also grabbed 8.9 rebounds and blocked 2.7 shots per game. With Taiye Bello graduated, the Gophers needed to replace her rebounding. Woodard’s addition is another step in that direction. Plus, Woodard is taller than Bello, is a strong defender in the post and probably a better defender of the rim.
“It’s nice to have more rim protection,’’ Whalen said. “And her ability to move as well. She has an inch or two on Taiye. She could be a shot-blocking force. She does need to continue to get stronger and be more physical with the bigs in the Big Ten.’’
But back to that rotation. Since the end of last season, seniors Taiye and Kehinde Bello, Jasmine Brunson and Masha Adashchyk have left.
Entering the program:
* Graduate transfer Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, a 6-0 forward who can score in the post and rebound.
* 6-3 forward/center Kayla Mershon, who had 15 starts at Nebraska before transferring to the Gophers. She could be eligible this season.
* A recruiting class that includes point guard Alexia Smith, post Erin hedman and combo guard Caroline Strande.
I believe Woodard has a very good chance to start in a lineup that includes highly-anticipated, 6-2 guard/forward Kadi Sissoko, who will be eligible after transferring from Syracuse; senior Gadiva Hubbard and sophomores Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia. Both Powell and Scalia were all-freshman players in the Big Ten.
I believe Smith will get good minutes as Powell’s backup. I think Strande will work into the rotation as well at guard; she’s one of the highest-scoring players in Wisconsin girls high school basketball history.
In the post, Klarke Sconiers finished her freshman season strong. Hedman comes in highly-touted. Bagwell-Katalinich is a seasoned, proven player.
So: It’s not out of the question the Gophers could, on some nights, go as deep as 10. But, more importantly, the roster is deeper and gives Whalen more options.
If she wants to go with a small-ball lineup, she can push Sissoko to a stretch-four position, with Woodard defending the rim and shooters around them. If she comes up against a big Big Ten lineup – something that gave Minnesota trouble last season – she can put Sissoko to the three, perhaps have Hubbard or Salia score off the bench, and have a frontcourt with more true bigs.
“All three freshmen coming in are really good players,’’ Whalen said. “I think we’ll be deep. There will be some good competition for sure. I think with our returners, with our new players coming in, our length, our ability to guard people has a potential to be really good.’’
Q. Might anyone else transfer out of the program? Who will get the last scholarship?
A. If the NCAA passes a rule that allows a one-time transfer without having to sit out – and many think it will – I think you’ll see a lot more movement in its wake. But I believe the Gophers roster, as it is, stands entering the upcoming season. As for the last scholarship? There will be only two seniors – Hubbard and Bagwell-Katalinich – on the roster, and the Gophers want to bring in a 2021 recruiting class of at least three players. So I think this roster is set.