Not since the fourth game of the season has Richard Pitino made a change to his starting lineup for performance purposes when he decided the Gophers weren’t getting enough production.
There are now only six games remaining in the regular season. Pitino could be looking for another spark that helps Minnesota get back into the mix for the NCAA tournament.
After Sunday’s tough 58-55 loss against Iowa at home, the Gophers (12-12, 6-8) have their back against the wall in need of wins to turn the season around, starting Wednesday against Indiana.
Whether it’s with lineup changes or style of play, these are three moves Pitino could make to potentially give his team a different look.
New starting power forward
The drop off in consistency in the frontcourt alongside sophomore standout Daniel Oturu has often been a factor too significant to overcome at times this season. Alihan Demir was never expected to be Jordan Murphy, last season’s All-Big Ten senior. But the graduate transfer from Drexel showed flashes in a three-game stretch scoring in double figures in early January. Since then, Demir’s averaging just 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and shooting 32.7 percent from the field in the last eight games, including 1-for-17 from three-point range (0 for 15 in the last seven games). Minnesota has a 3-5 record in the last eight games when Demir hasn't scored in double figures. Pitino replaced Demir for sophomore Jarvis Omersa to start in a Nov. 15 loss at Utah. The Gophers were outscored 16-0 to open the game, but how much of that was Omersa’s fault? The former Orono standout is one of the most explosive athletes in the Big Ten on a team that lacks athleticism. His contagious energy could also be what the Gophers need from the start. More recently, freshman Isaiah Ihnen impressed Pitino defensively with three blocks in 16 minutes vs. Iowa. Ihnen, who has a 7-4 wingspan, has five blocks in his last four games. Could it be time to give Oturu a different sidekick with more defensive upside in the starting frontcourt?
Give Carr some rest
Sophomore point guard Marcus Carr pushes the tempo and attacks the basket so often on ball screens he doesn’t have much left in the tank to finish games, especially leading the Big Ten with 38.6 minutes. Only Virginia’s Kihei Clark plays more minutes (39.3) in league play among major conference players this year. That takes a toll. Carr has played well to win games (clutch three late at Ohio State). There were games where late turnovers and poor decision making were possibly a result of fatigue. Sunday was Carr’s sixth conference game playing 40 minutes. Who could give him a few minutes of rest? Freshman Bryan Greenlee only averages 2.6 minutes, but he saw the floor briefly in road games at Illinois and Penn State. Starting junior Payton Willis is healthy after missing games with shoulder and ankle injuries. Willis could possibly take over the primary ballhandling role at times as well. Any break for Carr and even Oturu would give them fresher legs when the Gophers need them at their best in crunch time.
Shoot fewer three-pointers
Pitino thought this season the Gophers resembled the team in his first year that won the NIT championship in 2014. They set program records for threes made (272) and attempted (773) in a season. They shot 35.2 percent from beyond the arc. This 2019-20 team attempts more threes per game than six years ago (24.5 to 20.3). But Minnesota shoots just 31.9 percent overall (11th in Big Ten) and 28.5 percent in league play (14th). Oturu and Carr don’t shoot many threes to impact the game. Gabe Kalscheur (33.5) and Payton Willis (34.6) rely probably too much on outside shooting. Will we see Pitino decide to tone down on so many threes moving forward? The Gophers could focus more on points in the paint and getting to the foul line. That was the scoring formula for last season’s NCAA tournament team when it shot just 31.7 percent from three but only attempted 16.8 per game.