2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers
With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
After finishing the 2015-16 season 8-24 mark, their worst win total since 1967-68, Richard Pitino is hoping his highly touted recruiting class will lift the Gophers out of the cellar of the Big Ten.
Pitino has failed to reach the NCAA tournament since replacing Tubby Smith in 2013 and Minnesota’s win total has decreased each season during the Pitino era.
In year four, the pressure is on to produce victories, and he should receive a boost from a recruiting class ranked fifth in the Big Ten.
Leading the crop of incoming freshmen is the 6-foot-7 dynamic four-star wing Amir Coffey. The Hopkins High School product comes from a basketball rich family, as his father Richard is a Gopher alum and appeared in 25 games for the Timberwolves, while Coffey’s sister Nia is a standout forward for Northwestern. Coffey recovered from a torn ACL suffered his junior year to lead Hopkins to a 4A state title as a senior and he was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Minnesota. Expect Coffey, the Gophers’ highest rated recruit in more than a decade, to play significant minutes from the start.
Other freshmen joining Coffey include 6-foot-7 four-star forward Eric Curry and 6-foot-7 three-star forward Michael Hurt.
Minnesota will also be adding Illinois State transfer Reggie Lynch, who was reinstated earlier this month after the Hennepin County district attorney declined to pursue sexual assault charges. The 6-foot-9 Lynch is an undersized center with solid rim-defending skills. Despite spending just two seasons at Illinois St, Lynch piled up 189 blocks, enough to place him second in program history. Lynch set the Missouri Valley Conference single-season block record as a freshman and made the conference’s’ all-defensive team as a sophomore.
Other newcomers of note include 6-foot-4 guard Akeem Springs, a graduate transfer from Milwaukee, and 6-foot-8 forward Davonte Fitzgerald, who is now eligible after transferring from Texas A&M following the 2014-15 season.
The Gophers will rely heavily on 6-foot-1 junior point guard Nate Mason. Mason struggled shooting last season despite leading the team in attempts. He finished his sophomore campaign shooting just 44 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Jordan Murphy, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, will be another key returnee for the Gophers. Murphy averaged 11.6 points and eight rebounds a game as a freshman, and will likely join Reggie Lynch in the starting frontcourt.
Other key returners for Minnesota are 6-foot-4 sophomore Dupree McBrayer, 6-foot-11 junior Bakary Konaté, and 6-foot-6 guard Ahmad Gilbert.
Bottom Line: The Gophers won’t contend for an NCAA or an NIT berth, but the Gophers’ fanbase is expecting Pitino’s team to take significant strides coming off a season in which they won just two conference games. Shooting will likely be an issue, as the Gophers ended last season with an effective field goal percentage ranking 309th nationally by KenPom. The defense should be improved with the additions of Lynch and Coffey, but Pitino’s young squad will need to make major improvements across the board if they want to contend in the Big Ten.
Quotable: “He’s got phenomenal potential. At 6-foot-7, to pass like he can pass, to handle (the ball) like he can handle it, he’s going to have to make an impact right away for us. I know he’s excited about that. When I watch him play, the things he can do from an offensive standpoint really excite me.” – Richard Pitino on Coffey to the Pioneer Press last April.
The four-star prospect is ranked No. 76 nationally in the 247Composite.
Smith averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this year on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit.
As a junior at Stevenson, he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game.
An early look at the 2016-2017 backcourt
With the official start of practice now just a week away, the 2016-2017 season is growing closer. We’ll have comprehensive player-by-player previews next month, but here’s an early look at some of the storylines to keep an eye on with this season’s backcourt:
· Who’s the primary ball handler? It’s one of the biggest questions with this Indiana team entering the season and at this point, there’s no clear answer. The graduation of Yogi Ferrell leaves a significant void in the Hoosier backcourt, but the coaching staff has a solid list of options who could take over the role.
One thing to consider is that Indiana may take a “by committee” approach, particularly early in the season. Tom Crean’s offense has proven that it can be initiated in a variety of ways, so don’t be surprised if Josh Newkirk, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. split up some of that responsibility.
In terms of point guard experience, Newkirk has the most. He spent two seasons at Pittsburgh before transferring to Indiana. Although he sat out last season, Newkirk has been cleared since early this year (following microfracture surgery) and should be an immediate factor in the rotation.
· Can Blackmon Jr. bounce back from major surgery? He’s less than nine months removed from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, but Blackmon Jr. has been cleared for all basketball activities by the medical staff.
A target for criticism last year because of his defensive struggles, Blackmon Jr. was in the midst of a very good offensive season when he went down with an injury on Dec. 28. His effective field goal percentage (60.2) was elite and the Marion product was also making better than 45 percent from behind the 3-point line.
As a junior, look for Blackmon Jr. to emerge as Indiana’s primary scoring option in the backcourt. In his first two seasons, that was a role he split with Ferrell, but now Blackmon Jr. is Indiana’s best option to create his own shot on the roster. While he could have some rust early from the court time missed last season, look for the junior to make a major impact in his third season.
· The new guys: Indiana welcomes a pair of freshmen – Devonte Green and Curtis Jones – who look capable of contributing right away.
Jones can play both guard positions, while Green’s high school coach told Inside the Hall over the summer that he’s more of a shooter and scorer than a point guard. Jones arrives with a top 100 national ranking and is the third player from the Boo Williams AAU program to arrive in Bloomington under Crean.
Green, meanwhile, is the younger brother of former North Carolina guard and current San Antonio Spur Danny Green. After being overlooked in many of the national rankings, the Long Island (N.Y.) native should arrive with a chip on a shoulder and a drive to prove he belongs.
· Defense starts in the backcourt: Indiana’s season turned around a year ago when it started to defend and that began on the perimeter.
But with Ferrell gone, who will lead the defense among the guards?
Johnson has shown continued improvement as a defender over his first two seasons and the coaching staff has been complimentary of Newkirk’s ability to pressure the ball. Blackmon Jr. has plenty to prove, but if he’s going to meet expectations, he clearly has to show he’s more committed on that end of the floor.
Ultimately, the fact that the coaching staff has five guards who could see minutes should allow for the bench to be used as a motivator. Indiana’s frontcourt will be better equipped this season to account for defensive mistakes on the perimeter. Ball pressure and limiting open looks from behind the 3-point line are going to be crucial to sustaining the defensive progress that was made a season ago.
IU conducts in-home visit with Randolph’s parents, visits Diallo
It’s been a busy 24 hours for the Indiana coaching staff on the recruiting trail.
On Wednesday night, Indiana coach Tom Crean conducted an in-home visit with the parents of class of 2017 Westtown School (Pa.) guard Brandon Randolph. And on Thursday morning, Crean and assistant coach Chuck Martin visited with five-star prospect Hamidou Diallo.
Randolph, a 6-foot-6 guard, had previously announced a final four of Arizona, Oregon, Syracuse and Wake Forest. But the Hoosiers have jumped back into the mix, sources say.
Rated as the No. 37 prospect in the class of 2017 by the 247Composite, Randolph received a scholarship offer from the Hoosiers back in the spring. Randolph is originally from Yonkers, New York, which is where Indiana conducted the in-home visit with the parents of the four-star prospect.
Indiana has recruited Diallo, a Queens (N.Y.) native who plays at Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) for more than a year and a half.
Crean and Martin met with Diallo at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning, sources told Inside the Hall.
Diallo is rated the No. 10 prospect nationally in the 247Composite.
2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we begin our look at the Big Ten with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
After posting just a 3-33 record in Big Ten play over the past two seasons, Rutgers decided it needed new direction for its men’s basketball program.
The Scarlet Knights fired Eddie Jordan last March after three seasons and hired Steve Pikiell, who spent the previous 11 seasons building Stony Brook into a power in the America East conference. At Stony Brook, Pikiell reached the NCAA tournament four times. In 2015-16, he led the Seawolves to 26 wins before losing to Kentucky in the first round of the tournament in Des Moines.
The road to building Rutgers into just being respectable in the Big Ten will be daunting for Pikiell. The Scarlet Knights have not reached the NCAA tournament since 1991.
Headlining the group of returnees for Rutgers is sophomore Corey Sanders, who tested the NBA waters before deciding to come back to school. We ranked Sanders among our top 25 players in the conference for the upcoming season after he averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game as a freshman.
However, there’s plenty of work to do for the 6-foot-2 point guard. Sanders shot a dismal 26.3 percent on 3s as a freshman in conference play. He also had the worst efficiency numbers as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations of any player in the league who had at least 100 possessions.
Joining Sanders in the backcourt rotation are juniors Mike Williams and Nigel Johnson, a Kansas State transfer. Williams attempted a team-high 150 3-pointers last season, but connected on just 32 percent. The 6-foot-1 Johnson averaged 5.2 points in 17.9 minutes per game as a sophomore at Kansas State.
Sophomore Jonathan Laurent, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is likely to see rotation minutes on the wing. He was solid as a freshman at getting to the foul line with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 44.3 percent. Freshman wing Matt Bullock was described by The New York Post as an “an under-recruited yet tough-minded and multi-talented senior who becomes the first New Jersey player to commit to Rutgers since Myles Mack in 2011.” Canadian wing Eugene Omoruyi was an August signee who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds last season at Orangeville Prep.
Up front, 6-foot-7 Deshawn Freeman returns for his junior season after averaging 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 2015-2016. Freeman had the highest effective field goal percentage of any Rutgers frontcourt player last season at 51.7.
A few other names to know up front are 6-foot-10 sophomore Ibrahima Diallo, 7-foot grad transfer C.J. Gettys, 7-foot sophomore Shaquille Doorson, 6-foot-9 junior college signee Candido Sa and 6-foot-9 Issa Thiam. Collectively, this group will be the biggest frontcourt in the Big Ten, but will Pikiell be able to get the production necessary for it to translate to Big Ten wins?
Bottom Line: Rutgers is a unanimous pick to finish last in the Big Ten, but Pikiell has improved the roster in a matter of months. Size up front could be a potential strength and the backcourt should be improved with the return of Sanders and Williams along with the addition of Johnson. The Scarlet Knights are likely to struggle to shoot and score, but Pikiell should be able to move the needle a bit in terms of defense and rebounding.
Quotable: “They’ve actually made a lot of progress to be honest. The first time we had a workout I can’t tell you how, oh my God. … I think we could be really good defensively — that’s what I’ve learned. They want to run and they want to press. It’s easy to say that; it’s hard to do. So we have to get in better shape. I figured out we could be good defensively, which is a good thing, and we’ve got the longest way to go in that area. We were a team that didn’t defend very well at all. So we could make the biggest gains on that end of the floor.” – Pikiell to NJ.com last spring.
Collin Hartman suffers non-contact left knee injury
Indiana senior forward Collin Hartman suffered a non-contact knee injury on Tuesday, according to a release on Wednesday evening from IU athletics.
The injury to Hartman’s left knee occurred during an individual workout.
“He will continue to be evaluated,” the release from IU said. “And his condition will be updated at an appropriate time.”
Hartman, who started 24 games as a junior, averaged five points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21.9 minutes per game last season. He shot 35.8 percent from behind the 3-point line.
The 6-foot-7 senior played several games at the end of last season with a fracture in his wrist, an injury he suffered in Indiana’s 72-69 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
It was initially believed that the wrist injury would require offseason surgery, but Tom Crean said in June that the wrist was put in a cast and did not require a procedure.
Following Hartman’s freshman season at Indiana, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee after planting his knee wrong in a drill. As a result of that injury, Hartman missed Indiana’s trip to Montreal in August of 2014. He returned as a sophomore to play in 32 of Indiana’s 34 games.
The frontcourt was expected to be a major strength this season for the Hoosiers as Thomas Bryant, Hartman, OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan all return from a team that won 27 games and a Big Ten championship last season. Indiana also added top 40 recruit De’Ron Davis and junior college signee Freddie McSwain in its 2016 recruiting class.
In 83 career games, Hartman is averaging 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game.
Indiana can begin practice for the 2016-2017 season on Friday, Sept. 30. The season opener against Kansas in Honolulu is on Friday, Nov. 11.
Big Ten announces ESPN, CBS TV schedule for 2016-2017 season
The Big Ten announced its television schedule for the games that will be broadcast by CBS and the ESPN family of networks during the 2016-2017 season on Wednesday afternoon.
Hoosier Games Will Air 14 Times On Four Different ESPN Platforms
The Indiana University basketball team will have 14 games televised this season on one of four different ESPN platforms. Four games are confirmed for ESPN, two games are committed to ESPN2, two games will be shown on ESPNU and two are also going to be streamed live on ESPN3. It is the first time IU has played on ESPN3 since 2011 at Evansville.
IU’s game with #4 Kansas from the Armed Forces Classic on opening night and the Hoosiers Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with #6 North Carolina have been slotted for prime time and will air at 9 p.m. IU is ranked #11 in the ESPN Preseason Poll.
Four more games have yet to receive their designation but will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2. The Hoosiers also will appear four times on Super Tuesday during conference play.
IU might also play one more game on ESPN February 25 or 26 against Northwestern.
CBS Will Have The Hoosiers On Three Times This Season
CBS has picked up three of the Hoosiers biggest games to air this season. They will air the New Years Eve matchup with #13 Louisville from Indianapolis. CBS also will show IU at #8 Wisconsin on Super Bowl Sunday, February 5 and a week later, they will come to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall when the Hoosiers entertain Michigan.
In this week’s edition of the show, Morris and Inside the Hall editor Alex Bozich are joined by Chronic Hoosier to discuss a variety of topics:
· Indiana’s 2016-2017 schedule, including the non-conference home portion
· Non-conference games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the game at Fort Wayne
· Where things stand in terms of 2017 recruiting
· The in-state recruiting discussion and whether it matters if a recruit is from Indiana
· Indiana’s x-factors for the upcoming season
· Where Thomas Bryant will end up on the list of top players to play at IU under Tom Crean
· How Indiana’s style of play could change this season with an improved front court.
· Which freshman Chronic is most excited to watch this season
Kansas, Indiana’s opponent in the season opener on Nov. 11, is ranked No. 3 by Blue Ribbon. Three other non-conference opponents, North Carolina, Louisville and Butler, are ranked. The Tar Heels are No. 7, the Cardinals are No. 8 and the Bulldogs are No. 16.
The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook will be released later this fall.
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook has selected first-team All-Americans and is releasing 36th edition cover. pic.twitter.com/EsgS39CW7j
We’re less than two months from start of the early signing period and the Indiana coaching staff continues to recruit diligently for the class of 2017.
Our recruiting board is updated several times per week, but here’s an even more in-depth look at where things currently stand for the class of 2017:
Indiana’s lone commitment thus far in 2017 is Al Durham, who will take his official visit to Bloomington beginning on September 30. That’s the same weekend Kris Wilkes will make his official visit.
A huge weekend is coming up in Bloomington as four-star point guard Tremont Waters is set for his official visit to Indiana. Waters has already taken official visits to Georgetown and Kentucky and also has an official visit scheduled to Kansas for next month.
The 5-foot-11 Waters is ranked the No. 37 prospect nationally according to the 247Composite. The interesting thing with Kentucky and Kansas is that neither appears to have Waters as their top point guard target, which should play into Indiana’s favor. Kentucky has put a lot of effort into Trae Young and Quade Green while Kansas is pursuing Young and Collin Sexton and will also have Malik Newman, who transferred from Mississippi State, eligible next season. Indiana has a long history with Waters, who told us in the spring that he first heard from the Hoosiers as a seventh grader.
The Hoosiers are also in the final five for David Beatty, a combo guard from the Philadelphia area. The other finalists with Beatty are Connecticut, Georgetown, La Salle and Maryland. Connecticut, however, has already landed a commitment from Makai Ashton-Langford while Maryland is involved with the nation’s top point guard, Trevon Duval. Beatty named his finalists in late August, but hasn’t formalized any plans for official visits publicly.
Things have been quiet with former Southport guard Paul Scruggs since his transfer to Prolific Prep in California and Xavier appears to remain the heavy favorite to land his commitment. Given that Scruggs hasn’t taken an official visit to Bloomington nor has he scheduled one, Indiana looks like a long shot here.
Indiana’s top 2017 target, Kris Wilkes, takes his official visit to UCLA this coming weekend before going to Indiana to close out the month. Wilkes has already taken an official to Illinois and also has official visits scheduled to Xavier and UConn for later in October/early November.
No one has recruited the five-star prospect harder or for a longer period of time than Indiana and even if the Hoosiers haven’t been named his leader publicly, they’re in the lead pack right now. Visits obviously matter as Wilkes has scheduled each of his allotted five official visits.
The Hoosiers are also firmly in the mix for 2017 Stevenson (Ill.) forward Justin Smith, who took an official visit to Bloomington earlier in the month and also took an official visit to Villanova last weekend. Indiana has a long standing relationship with Smith as he’s been on campus for several games and unofficial visits in the past. The belief here is that Indiana wants both Wilkes and Smith in 2017, not just one of them.
Jordan Tucker is another name who has been prominently mentioned with Indiana. The four-star prospect took an unofficial visit last spring. He recently transferred to Wheeler High School in Georgia and hasn’t announced a schedule for official visits. The most recent list from Tucker includes Arizona, Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Maryland, Syracuse, USC and Villanova.
This group seems like the most fluid of the bunch as Indiana has recently offered two prospects in this category in Billy Preston and Clifton Moore.
Preston, who is playing his final prep season at Oak Hill Academy, is the headliner due to his national ranking and is considering a final five of Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, N.C. State and USC. Moore, meanwhile, has flown under the radar nationally and just recently announced a final six of Indiana, Lafayette, Northwestern, Ole Miss, St. Joseph’s and Temple. Based on comments from his AAU coach last week, a potential visit to Bloomington would be huge for Moore in terms of getting a better feel for the coaching staff, players and environment. Ole Miss gets a visit from Moore this coming weekend. Even though he’s 6-foot-10 and might push 6-foot-11, Moore doesn’t want to play the five in college and views himself as a stretch four.
Deng Gak also has Indiana in his list of finalists and he’ll begin his official visit schedule this weekend with a trip to Miami (FL). Gak will then see Florida (Oct. 7), Indiana (Oct. 14) and Kansas (Oct. 21). Duke is also in his finalists, but no date has been announced.
Longer shots in this group appear to be Mohamed Bamba, Nick Richards and Brandon Huffman. Bamba took a surprising official visit to Michigan earlier in the month. Duke, Harvard and Kentucky have also been frequently mentioned. Most of the buzz with Richards seems to center around Kentucky as his 247 Crystal Ball is all Wildcats. And Huffman, who plays at Word of God in North Carolina, recently added a scholarship offer from the Tar Heels.