NEWCOMERS

Kevin Dorsey is the most highly regarded of MInnesota’s newcomers. They beat out Maryland for the Baltimore native’s services and he fits the Pitino mold for a point guard to a virtual “T.” He’s only 6 feet tall but is exceptionally quick and relentless on defense. He’s got some Rajon Rondo to him reportedly…long arms help augment his height and make him an even tougher defender than his footspeed would suggest. He’s a good penetrator and sees the court well. What he doesn’t excel in yet is jumpshooting but I have a hard time imagining his not starting or at least playing a huge amount of minutes as a key reserve. I suspect he’ll be in the upper 20s in terms of minutes per game and may be good enough to move Mason off the ball, at least some of the time.

Dupree McBrayer is a 6’3″ wing who has a lot of varied offensive skill to his game. He’s a good perimeter shooter and also has enough handle and athleticism to get into the lane and score at the rim. His main areas for improvement would be strength and defense in general. However, given the defensive system Pitino runs, I suspect he’ll rely on his athletic ability seeing him through enough to get some serious minutes as a reserve during his freshman year. I don’t think he’ll start ahead of Morris or Mason but I can see 18 minutes or so as a key reserve/instant offense type of guy.

Jarvis Johnson is a 6’1″ point guard who was coveted by a number of high major programs. Minnesota beat out Iowa State, Marquette, Wisconsin and others for his services (and MSU was definitely interested in him at one point as well). He’s got speed and court vision to spare…the major issues would be consistency with the jumper and strength, as he’s a thinner player at this stage. It’ll be an interesting situation for him as a freshman…coming in the same class with Dorsey and just once class behind Mason, it would seem at first glance that the Gophers are overstocked with point guards but if Mason moves mostly off the ball due to his shooting ability, there may yet be a role for JJ as a first year player. Regardless, it’s clear that Pitino wants as many ballhandlers and athletes as he can get, so long term the prognosis would be for Johnson to play a large role. It’s just a question of how large it is as a first year player. I’d bet he gets into the low teens in terms of minutes per game.

Jonathan Nwankwo is a 6’10” 240lbs big man from Mt. Vernon, NY, a bastion of high level HS basketball. His profile is like that of a lot of young big kids…he’s got good energy and motor to his game but needs a lot of work in his low post package. He’s probably not likely to be a major impact guy right away but depending upon what Pitino can do with his last remaining scholarship, I’d suggest his size gives him a chance to earn some early minutes as a reserve behind the two young African big men. Minnesota needs size and Nwankwo has that at the very least.

Ahmad “JR” Gilbert is a 6’6″ wing who originally committed to George Mason before a coaching change put him back on the market. The word on him is he’s too reliant on his jumper at this stage…he’s not quite good enough as a shooter to shoot as often from deep as he does. He’s got good wingspan, so they think he can be disruptive defensively in time and could also be a more versatile offensive player. Gilbert is clearly a guy they wanted and while I don’t think he’s headed for major minutes right away, I could see where he carves out a limited role because he’s the only wing other than Morris with that kind of length.

Pitino also accepted a transfer recently in former Illinois State big man Reggie Lynch, who was very effective in two years with the Redbirds. He won’t be eligible until next season though, so he can’t help what is otherwise a very young group of center candidates this season. Pitino has been mentioned with a slew of still-available players for the final scholarship slot the Gophers have at their disposal. Odds are good that if they do add someone, it will be a big man with some experience, as in a JUCO or Grad Transfer eligible to play right away. They would appear to have no other similarly glaring need. Lots of names have been put forward, so we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks but no one I’ve seen would be likely to have enough impact to alter my overall view of this team.

OVERALL – The fact that I have these guys 11th says as much about the perceived strength of the Big Ten as anything negative re: Minnesota, because I think this isn’t a bad team on paper. They aren’t quite as solid offensively on paper as they were a season ago…you don’t lose a shooter like Hollins and a post presence like Walker and not feel it. For as good as their incoming class appears to be, none of the guards look likely to replace the shooting Hollins gave them and there isn’t anyone close to Walker as a back to the basket guy.

Yet, I still think they can be competitive. Morris, Mason and King give them a nice core of veterans to build around. I like the two guards quite a bit and though King is flawed, he’s a truly dangerous shooter and that’s worth something as well. I think the four perimeter guys they’re bringing aboard all appear to be capable of at least helping in limited ways and I think Dorsey and McBrayer could end up playing a lot of minutes before it’s all said and done. It seems this should still be the kind of defensive group Pitino wants…big on length, athleticism and activity level and looking to force turnovers frequently.

I just see too many flaws to pick them higher than this. This was not a great halfcourt defensive team and I’m not sure I see a compelling reason yet to believe it’ll be significantly improved this season. They lost three guys who played a ton of minutes for them and though the newcomers come aboard with good reps and the right style to be effective for Minnesota, I suspect they’ll be leakier than veterans were last season. I also see almost no post options offensively unless Konate takes a huge leap forward or Nwankwo is seriously improved. I don’t think either is very likely.

So, you end up with a team with enough talent and athleticism to beat even upper level Big Ten teams on the right night, but probably not quite enough to do so consistently. I think somewhere in the neighborhood of last season’s 6 conference wins is the ballpark for what I’d expect out of this group in 15-16.