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Big Ten men's basketball preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota has a ton of new names on the roster this season

Minnesota Gophers basketball hires Ben Johnson Photo by Brian Peterson, Star Tribune via Getty Images

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head coach: Ben Johnson (first season)
2020-21 record: 14-15 (6-14)
Season finish: No postseason

What comes back

For Minnesota, what comes back is pretty simple. Almost nothing. The Gophers only return two players from last season team, forwards Isaiah Ihnen and Eric Curry, and even that’s a bit of a stretch. Ihnen suffered a knee injury in July and will miss the season and Curry was originally going to join the coaching staff for the Gophers, but decided over the summer that he would exercise his extra year of COVID eligibility and return for one more season on the floor.

With so many players leaving, the Gophers had to fill the roster somehow — any how — and with that, they are bringing in 10 new transfers.

Forward Jamison Battle from George Washington, guard Luke Loewe from William and Mary, guard Eylijah Stephens from Lafayette, guard Sean Sutherlin from New Hampshire, guard Payton Willis from College of Charleston, forward Parker Fox from Northern State, guard Abdoulaye Thiam, freshman center Treyton Thompson, forward Charlie Daniels from Stephen F. Austin and forward Danny Ogele from Mercyhurst.

Curry returns after averaging 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and will likely function as their starting center. Battle, Willis, Loewe, Stephens and Fox will all have a chance to start on the new look Gophers squad. The loss of Ihnen is key as he would have been a starter and one of the two returning players on the team.

What was lost

When you don’t return many players from the previous season, you generally don’t bring back much production either. For Minnesota, they lost 92.7 percent of their offensive production from last season, which is not ideal. The list of transfers is long and substantial and the Gophers will have to find a way to negotiate running a nearly entirely new squad out onto the floor.

Let’s run through where last year’s Gophers are at now:
Marcus Carr — Texas
Liam Robbins — Vanderbilt
Gabe Kalscheur — Iowa State
Both Gach — Utah
Brandon Johnson — DePaul
Martice Mitchell — Northern Illinois
Jamal Mashburn Jr. — New Mexico
Tre Williams — Oregon State
Jarvis Omersa — St. Thomas
Sam Freeman — Pacific

The only player that left the program via good, old-fashion graduation is David Mutaf.

As mentioned above, another thing lost was their head coach. Richard Pitino was let go after the Gophers went 6-14 in the conference last season and finished in 13th place. Pitino finished his time at Minnesota with a 141-123 record which is respectable, but the conference record of 54-96 is what spelled the end to the Pitino era.

Against Ohio State in the Chris Holtmann era

The Buckeyes history against Minnesota is a favorable one, playing the Gophers a total of 121 times with a record of 75-46 (.620). Since Chris Holtmann took over however, the series has been more even, with the record being 3-3. Ohio State won the last matchup 79-75, but before that the Gophers were on a three-game winning streak.

Season prediction

It is hard to pin down a prediction for Minnesota with them being a practically completely different program. With these new players, a new coach and a tough schedule, it is hard to imagine Minnesota will have much success in the conference this season.

That being said, there is talent amongst the transfers and many people view coach Ben Johnson as one of the more promising young, up-and-coming coaches in college basketball.

If they can get the transfers acclimated to the culture that Johnson wants to implement early in the season, then they might be able to steal some wins this year and find themselves in the middle of the Big Ten pack. But if not, it could be a long season for the Gophers with what they lost.

Next up in the preview series: Nebraska Cornhuskers