Gophers fill roster voids after key departures

Minnesota is hoping transfers and bench players make an impact next season.

Gophers fill roster voids after key departures

Nick Jungheim

When college basketball resumes, fans at the Barn will again have to familiarize themselves with some new faces. Throughout the past six weeks, multiple transfers have had their names linked to Minnesota. For the time being, it seems as though the team has finished adding players to next year’s squad.

The Gophers men’s basketball roster featured just three seniors in 2019-20. Nevertheless, the team has spent the offseason trying to rebuild and replace some significant pieces from last year’s team.

“I think the biggest challenge is roster management,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “Sometimes it is avoidable, sometimes it is not. The biggest goal you have is to not get young. But, there are so many elements pulling in college basketball right now.”

Key departures for the Gophers include center Daniel Oturu, who declared for the 2020 NBA draft; guard Payton Willis, who transferred to College of Charleston; and forward Alihan Demir, who graduated. The trio started the majority of Minnesota’s games last season and represented a significant portion of the team’s production.

Oturu, Willis and Demir combined to score 49.2% of the Gophers’ total points last season and accounted for 49.4% of the teams’ rebounds. If guard Marcus Carr, who declared for the NBA draft but did not hire an agent, also decides not to return, Minnesota will need to replace 70.9% of its scoring, 62.9% of its rebounding and 72.8% of its assists from last season.

With so much turnover, it was important for Minnesota to add players to its roster that could make an immediate impact. To help, grad transfer Brandon Johnson joined the Gophers from Western Michigan and center Liam Robbins transferred from Drake. Johnson averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, while Robbins averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. 

“I thought that we did about as great of a job as we could in these circumstances to add two really, really good players,” Pitino said.

Robbins figures to play a particularly important role, as he will try to fill in for Oturu, who was the only player in Division I to average over 20 points and 11 rebounds this past season. Although Robbins is not immediately eligible, the Gophers are hopeful he will receive a waiver to play right away.

“For our program, when you have a guy like Liam who is an impact guy, that [waiver] would drastically impact your program,” Pitino said.

Another pair of recruits will also join the team in 2020: guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. and forward Martice Mitchell. The Gophers hoped to add another in Kerwin Walton from Hopkins, Minnesota, but he committed to North Carolina on Monday.

With their last remaining scholarship, the Gophers landed another transfer commit in Drew Peterson. The 6-foot, 8-inch guard is known for his versatility and scoring ability. He averaged 11.1 points per game at Rice last season. Like Robbins, Peterson will need a waiver to become immediately eligible.

For its remaining depth, the Gophers will count on returners to take on bigger roles. Guard Gabe Kalscheur will return for his third season as a starter after averaging 11.6 points per game in 2019-20. Joining Kalscheur in the backcourt is Tre’ Williams, who made five stars and was sixth on the team in minutes played and total points last season.

In the frontcourt, notable returners include forward Jarvis Omersa, who will be a junior in 2020-21 and appeared in all 31 games this past season. Forward Isaiah Ihnen is also expected to see increased playing time. Ihnen finished the year strong, averaging 6.9 points per game over the final seven contests. Redshirt senior Eric Curry will return as well after missing most of the past three seasons with injuries.