Gophers’ offseason to see large changes despite recent success

After its first NCAA Tournament win since 2013, Minnesota will see lineup changes for next season.

Senior Jordan Murphy goes to dunk the ball on Thursday, Feb. 21 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Elle Moulin

Senior Jordan Murphy goes to dunk the ball on Thursday, Feb. 21 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Nick Jungheim

When the final buzzer sounded at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 23, Minnesota’s season concluded with a 70-50 defeat at the hands of Michigan State.

Leading up to that, head coach Richard Pitino guided the team to a 22-14 record, going 9-11 in Big Ten play. After dropping six out of seven games during a stretch in February, the team regrouped to win five of their final eight contests. The Gophers reached the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and then advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“[I’m] really, really proud of what our guys did this year,” Pitino said after the Michigan State loss. “[It’s] the second time we’ve won a tournament game in 29 years. A lot of these guys in this locker room went to two NCAA tournaments in three years and were able to bounce back from a lot of adversity. We’ll be excited about things moving forward.”

This off-season, the team will replace four seniors. Brock Stull and Matz Stockman played one season for the Gophers as transfers, providing key depth on the bench. Dupree McBrayer completed his four-year career with Minnesota, playing through hardship in his senior season after his mother died in December. He finished his career with more than 1,000 career points.

The most significant departure for Minnesota is Jordan Murphy, one of the most productive players in program history. Murphy holds school records for double-doubles (67) and rebounds (1,307). Furthermore his 1,802 points are second in Minnesota history, behind only Mychal Thompson (1,992). He stands as the second leading rebounder in Big Ten history. 

After starting 122 consecutive games, Murphy was visibly emotional when fans chanted his name as Pitino subbed him out of the game for the final time.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as emotional as it was,” Murphy said. “I think what got me was the crowd when they started chanting my name. Obviously, the last game’s always going to be tough.”

Next season, the team will return freshmen Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur, and junior Amir Coffey, three starters who led the team in scoring with just over 16 points per game.

“I just tried to keep working throughout the year,” Coffey said. “Just trying to get better every day. Really just developing everything — shooting, dribbling and the … mindset, how I carry myself in the games.”

The Gophers’ back court will receive key additions. Junior Payton Willis and sophomore Marcus Carr will get to suit up after sitting out the past season due to NCAA transfer rules. Carr figures to take over the starting point guard role in 2018-19.

One question regarding the team next year is the role sophomore Isaiah Washington will play. Washington was ESPN’s 68th ranked recruit when he came to Minnesota two years ago but played sparingly down the stretch this season. With Carr likely assuming starting point guard duties and another guard, Tre’ Williams, signing with the team, it’s probable that Washington will come off the bench once again.

Another uncertainty is the front court depth heading into next year. Aside from Oturu and Curry, the only forwards currently on the roster are junior Michael Hurt and freshman Jarvis Omersa.

“We’re going to continue to recruit,” Pitino said. “Figure out what the needs are and continue to build of them. We’re going to continue to build that depth.”

What is certain is Pitino will be on the sidelines when the next season tips off in November. The coach is under contract through 2022. Coming off his first NCAA Tournament victory, hopes are high he will sustain the team’s winning ways.