Minnesota Golden Gophers 2014-15 Record: 18-15, 6-12 in the Big 10
Key Players Lost: Andre Hollins, Maurice Walker, DeAndre Mathieu, Elliot Eliason, Daquein McNeil, Josh Martin and Kendal Shell
Key Players Coming Back: Carlos Morris, Nate Mason, Joey King, Charles Buggs, Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou
New Recruits/Transfers: Kevin Dorsey, Jarvis Johnson, Dupree McBrayer, Ahmad Gilbert and Jordan Murphy.
Coming off an NIT championship in 2014, there was thought the Golden Gophers would build on that momentum and makes strides toward an NCAA Tournament berth last season. However, plans went awry and to put it nicely, Minnesota had an uneven 2014-15 season.
Richard Pitino’s squad got off to a great start in non-conference play, racing out to a 11-2 record while beating NCAA Tournament team Georgia, as well as Wake Forest, along the way. Their only two losses were to NCAA Tournament teams in Louisville and St. John’s. So, they had plenty of momentum heading into the Big Ten.
All the momentum the Golden Gopher built up, though, came to a screeching halt when Big 10 play began, as they dropped their first five games in conference play. That put them in a hole that they would never dig themselves out of. They had a decent run down the stretch, going 5-4 from late-January to late-February beating Illinois, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan State along the way. But it was too little too late for Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers season ended when they lost to Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota would then get passed over by the NIT and would decline an invitation to the CBI and thus ending their season that started with a lot of promise.
Individually, senior guard Andre Hollins had himself a fine season. He was named honorable mention all-Big Ten after averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game, while adding 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
Pitino will be looking to hit the reset button this coming season and look to make a climb up the Big Ten ladder once again with a clean slate. But it wont be easy based on the firepower the Golden Gophers lost on top of the Big Ten shaping up to be a grueling conference to compete in next season.
Not only does Pitino lose Hollins, but he also loses key rotation players in Maurice Walker (11.8 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game) and DeAndre Mathieu (8.6 points per game). So, it may take some time for Pitino’s young squad to gel.
Coming back are a couple of talented guards in senior Carlos Morris and sophomore Nate Mason. Morris is the Golden Gophers leading-returning scorer, as he averaged 11.1 points per game, while Mason averaged 9.8 points and a team-high 2.8 assists per game. Pitino will at least have a backcourt he can trust.
Pitino will also bring in a solid recruiting class, highlighted by four-star point guard Kevin Dorsey. Expect Dorsey to play in a lot of three-guard set with Morris and Mason, while making them a backcourt to watch next year in the Big Ten.
Minnesota has a solid backcourt to rely on. But the frontcourt? Eh, not so much.
The only player in the frontcourt of significance is Joey King. King averaged 9.7 points per game while shooting .410 percent from three-point range. Charles Buggs will add some nice depth and look for Pitino to give projects Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou more run this year.
If Minnesota was in any other conference, their prospects for a good year would be brighter, but playing in the Big Ten will likely make it difficult for the Golden Gophers to make a push for an NCAA bid this season. A successful season would be a return to the NIT while hoping the freshmen class grows up in a hurry. The 2016-17 season is the year where the Golden Gophers should really make their big push.