Gophers basketball will have plenty of new faces on the court

The Gophers lost three starters from a year ago, but transfers and underclassmen look to fill the gaps.

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Kamaan Richards

Players on the Gophers bench observe those on the court at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

The Gophers’ basketball team’s roster looks quite different than just a season ago.

The team’s starting lineup will be without three of the starters from last season. Most notably, center Daniel Oturu declared for the NBA draft in late March. The Cretin-Derham Hall alum will look to be the first Gopher drafted since Kris Humphries back in 2004.

Guard Payton Willis graduated and transferred to the College of Charleston to use his last year of eligibility. The last change in the starting lineup is at the four spot as Alihan Demir was in his last season last year.

That leaves a lot of holes on a team that went just 15-16 with an 8-12 conference record a year ago.

Point Guard

After declaring for the draft over the offseason, redshirt junior Marcus Carr will indeed return for his third season. He averaged 15.4 points per game, 6.7 assists per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, all of which increased from his freshman year.

He had to step up in his role after the Gophers lost Amir Coffey, and help take away pressure Oturu was receiving. Carr will again be in the spotlight on this team and will need to continue to be a threat to defenses, as he will once again likely be on the court most of the game.

Shooting Guard

The shooting guard position is one of the questions going into the season. Sophomore Tre’ Williams is an option head coach Richard Pitino could go with, but there’s also the hope that junior transfer Both Gach will be granted a waiver to play this season.

Williams didn’t see much playing time in his freshman year as Willis was playing the majority of the game. He shot just 28.2% from the field and 27% from three in limited action, but if Gach isn’t granted a waiver, Williams should get to see a lot more of the court.

Gach, a transfer from Utah, could play a big part in Pitino’s offense if given the chance. He’s shot 42.6% from the field and 27.9% from three in his career.

Small Forward

Though junior Gabe Kalscheur is only 6’4”, he played the role of small forward last season when Willis was at the two. Depending on what happens with Gach, Kalscheur could very easily play the three again this season.

After a very impressive season his first year with the team, Kalscheur’s production went down in what was hoped to be another growing season. His field goal percentage dropped to 37.6% from 41.7% the year previous while his three point dropped to 34.1% from 41% in 2018-19. Those numbers don’t tell the full story. His field goal attempts increased from 7.9 to 10.9 per game, while he also was taking two more three pointers per game.

It’s hard to find the direct reason for his struggles in his sophomore season, but it could stem from Coffey not being with the team and drawing defensive pressure. Kalscheur will most likely draw more attention from defenses this season with Oturu’s departure, and will need to get back on track for Pitino.

Power Forward

Even before Demir left, Gophers saw a glimpse of the future big guy in Minnesota. Sophomore Isaiah Ihnen showcased what he is capable of in his limited playing time. Ihnen is a 6’9” forward who has a three point shot in his arsenal. He led the team last year with a 37.8% shooting from three.

Ihnen is primed to see an increase in minutes this season, especially with redshirt senior Eric Curry’s injury history. Fellow redshirt senior Brandon Johnson will also be an important part in the four spot after he transferred from Western Michigan. The grad transfer will be eligible immediately and will give Ihnen experience to learn from.

Johnson missed the 2018-2019 season due to a knee injury but has a career 48% from the field while averaging 10.9 points per game over that time. Last season his presence was felt defensively as he averaged one block per game while pulling down 8.1 rebounds.

Center

Just like the point guard position, there shouldn’t be many questions revolving around the center position. The Gophers got a big transfer from Drake and junior Liam Robbins was granted immediate eligibility from the NCAA.

It’s not going to be easy by any means to replicate what Oturu brought to the Gophers game in and game out, but Robbins can give Pitino hope. It’s a big get on the defensive side as he adds height to the roster coming in at 7’0” and brings his 2.9 blocks per game last season. He also shot 49.9% from the field while putting up 14.1 points per game.