Friar Basketball

Pitino Returns Home with Top 15 Club

Richard Pitino

PREVIEWING MINNESOTA: At this time a year ago, Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino was seemingly on everyone’s hot seat. The Gophers were fresh off of a season in which they not only finished 2-16 in the Big Ten, but had a series of embarrassing off-court incidents as well.

Pitino’s first recruit at Minnesota, Daquein McNeil, was arrested for felony domestic assault in 2014, while 2016 brought more trouble when three players were suspended for posting sexually explicit videos on social media. The program’s reputation took another hit when another player was arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct (he was later not charged due to a lack of evidence and is currently with the program).

Two of the three players suspended for the social media postings have remained with the team.

Not many coaches could survive these circumstances, but Pitino has somehow thrived. Maybe it’s genetic.

Few saw the biggest turnaround in program history coming in 2016-17, but behind a very good backcourt and a terrific interior duo, Minnesota won 24 games last season, including a program-record 11 in Big Ten play.

The turnaround was led by Nate Mason, who was named 1st Team All Big Ten last season. Mason is a senior point guard who had a 31 point, 11 assist outing against Purdue and scored 30 more versus Indiana.

Fellow senior Dupree McBrayer had a sophomore-to-junior jump similar to that of PC’s Jalen Lindsey. McBrayer went from a mid-20% 3-pointer shooter to a 40% ace from deep last year, while sophomore Amir Coffey was named to the Big Ten’s All Freshman Team a season ago.

The biggest problem Minnesota presents may be in the frontcourt, however, where Pitino has one of the nation’s top shot blockers paired with a double double machine at power forward.

The 6’10, 260 pound Reggie Lynch was second in the country in blocks per game last season (3.5) and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. His 114 blocked shots were 16 more than Providence had as a team in 2016-17. Even more impressive, he did so in just 23 minutes per game. The Illinois State transfer had nine blocks and 11 rebounds against St. John’s, and swatted away 11 shots without committing a foul against Penn State.

The 6’6, 240 pound power forward Jordan Murphy kicked off the 2017-18 campaign with 35 points and 15 rebounds in Minnesota’s 92-77 win over South Carolina Upstate on Friday night. Murphy is a menace on the glass, averaging 9.4 boards per game in conference play last year, which included a 21 rebound effort against Michigan State and a 25 point, 19 rebound performance versus Iowa. Murphy had a seven game Big Ten stretch in which he grabbed 19, 11, 15, 15, 8, 16, and 11 rebounds.

Like Mason, Murphy was an All Big Ten selection last season.

Minnesota enters Monday night ranked 15th in the country. They return all of their starters, and also welcome highly regarded freshman Isaiah Washington — a Harlem native and top 70 recruit who rose to social media fame before ever stepping foot on a college campus.

Their eight-game conference winning streak last season was the school’s longest since 1973, and its 11 Big Ten wins set a program high.

LIGHT READING:

Isaiah Washington Arrives with Expectations — and a Following

Jordan Murphy’s 35 Points Lead Gophers Past SC Upstate

Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy Shine in Exhibition Win

Nate Mason, Healed and Hungry, Wants Gophers to Beat High Expectations

Nate Mason, Amir Coffey on Preseason All Big Ten Team

PITINO RETURNS HOME:

Monday will be a special homecoming for Richard Pitino, who graduated from Providence in 2004. Of course, his father, Rick, led PC to the Final Four in 1987.

There are rumblings that Rick Pitino could attend the game on Monday night, which would set up an interesting dynamic in the wake of his firing from Louisville this fall.

Richard had this to say about his father at Big Ten media day: “I am a kid who loves his dad. I don’t care what you say to me, I don’t care what you write. He is a hero of mine. He is one of the best coaches to coach this game, and that hasn’t changed. I am here for him. I want what is best for my dad. It’s tough when it unfolds in public. You learn who your friends are. We’ll get through it. In all walks of life, you deal with adversity. That court is a sanctuary to forget about everything.”

The Providence Journal’s Kevin McNamara detailed Richard Pitino’s long and winding road to Minnesota

GOPHER HIGHLIGHTS:

2 Comments

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