Minnesota has been conducting plenty of experiments on the court so far this season.
Head coach Richard Pitino has been trying out different lineups on the court in the team’s first games to see what combinations work.
“We don’t know who is going to play with the lineups. Guys have got to be ready to play, but what I like is that we have versatility on the bench,” Pitino said following the team’s 67-56 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Seven players were on the court for at least 20 minutes in the Gophers games against the Warhawks and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Minnesota has featured a smaller lineup in its first two games with senior Joey King playing center instead of his usual spot at forward.
“I’ve been trained to play in the post and play outside at the same time, so I can defend,” King said. “As long as you’re not playing a 7-foot-1-inch guy, I can defend in the post.”
The smaller lineup was on the floor in the second halves of the team’s first two games and sparked the Gophers’ 17-5 run to close out their game against Louisiana-Monroe.
The lineup has shown weaknesses, though, especially on the Gophers’ side of the floor.
“I don’t anticipate playing [the smaller] lineup moving forward. I think it’s a great offensive lineup; I don’t think it’s a great defensive lineup,” Pitino said following the 76-58 victory over the Kangaroos on Friday.
The team has added depth this season, thanks to the arrival of five new freshmen who are eligible to play, and it showed in Sunday’s victory. Freshman guard Kevin Dorsey
and freshman forward Jordan Murphy stayed on the court to close out the game.
Dorsey had 11 points and six rebounds off the bench, while Murphy added six points and five rebounds in Sunday’s game.
“This is the first year, for the most part, where I’ve got depth at every position,” Pitino said. “If you don’t defend or rebound, we can bring you to the bench.”
Having that bench to be a motivator, that’s the biggest thing. You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face, but the bench is the greatest motivator, and I think as long as we stay healthy, we’ve got that.”
The added pressure has worked for the Gophers returners, including sophomore guard Nate Mason, who was pulled out of the game against Louisiana-Monroe for not diving for a loose ball.
Mason finished the game with 12 points and four rebounds, including the final jumper of the game to give Minnesota its 67-56 lead.
“Obviously, everyone wants to play, so [Pitino] putting [the idea of getting pulled] in our minds is like ‘We have to do this. We have to give it our all,’” Mason said. “I feel like it’s doing nothing but [making] us better.”