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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Team Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Is the third season under Ben Johnson where things starts to click?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament First Round - Nebraska vs Minnesota Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the fall season and college football gets underway, college basketball is right around the corner. As always, to prepare you for the season, Land-Grant Holy Land will be publishing Big Ten Team Previews and Ohio State Basketball Player Previews, starting now with the Team Previews.

Team: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head coach: Ben Johnson, Third Season, 22-39 (6-33)
2022-23 record: 9-22 (2-17)
All-time record against Ohio State: 47-77

Returners: Dawson Garcia, Parker Fox, Isaiah Ihnen, Pharrel Payne, Josh Ola-Joseph, Braeden Carrington, Kadyn Betts

Departures: Treyton Thompson, Jaden Henley, Jamison Battle, Ta’Lon Cooper

Newcomers: Cameron Christie, Mike Mitchell Jr., Jack Wilson, Elijah Hawkins, Kristupas Keinys


NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As the last couple of years have been for the Gophers, the outlook is not pretty this season. Dawson Garcia is a very solid talent to lead the team, and Pharrel Payne could be a breakout star for them, but they lost too much talent to the transfer portal to truly be excited about the roster.

The Gophers lost Jamison Battle to Ohio State, Ta’Lon Cooper to South Carolina, Treyton Thompson to Stetson, and Jaden Henley to DePaul. All of these players would have been valuable contributors to the team this season, Cooper was the starting point guard last year, and Battle would be the best player on the floor along with Garcia and has All-Big Ten potential — and he is still in the conference in Columbus.

Garcia, who averaged 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, is going to take much more attention this season as the clear top guy. They will need someone like Josh Ola-Joseph or Braeden Carrington to step up into a larger scoring role.

Cameron Christie is an interesting prospect. The younger brother of former Michigan State Spartan Max Christie, Cameron is a top-100 recruit nationally and is the third-best recruit in the state of Illinois.

If Christie can come in and be amongst some of the top freshmen in the conference and play a pivotal role immediately, he could be the right complement to Garcia and help Minnesota win a couple of games.


Minnesota will likely finish at the bottom of the conference again, and then the question really becomes: what is the expectation of Ben Johnson and the program? Richard Pitino went 141-123 at Minnesota in eight years and made the tournament twice with one NIT appearance.

Johnson is in a really tough position, and that is easy to acknowledge. Plus, he is a respected alumnus of the university, and right or wrong, that gives you a little bit more benefit of the doubt.

However, Johnson is 6-33 in the conference in two seasons at Minnesota, and has finished T-13th and 14th in the conference. If they finish 13th or 14th in the conference this season again, which they probably will, you have to start to wonder how long Johnson has to turn that ship around.

If Garcia is an all-conference player, Payne takes the next step, Christie is a top freshman in the conference, and two or three of the returning players take the next step, they might be able to win some games. But that is a lot of ‘ifs’ for a couple of wins.