The good folks over at Gopher247 asked me to provide my predictions for the Richard Pitino. Little do they know that the future will prove me incredibly inaccurate. Without much else going on in the world of Golden Gophers basketball, I obliged. My predictions are below. You can check out their contributors’ likely more accurate predictions here. Yes, we are likely all too optimistic, but go easy on us. We’ll all have plenty of chances for doom and gloom should the opportunity arise.
5) The Big Three won’t determine Pitino’s success
Next year’s recruiting class will give us a good idea of the direction that Richard Pitino will take the Gopher program during his tenure. It is no secret that there is a treasure trove of talent within Minnesota. Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn, and Reid Travis will all be excellent college basketball players. However, the idea that securing commitments from any or all of the Big Three is make or break for Pitino or the future of the program is more than a bit overblown. This is only one class, and these are only three players. Pitino’s commitment to recruit nationally should soften the blow of any or all of the Big Three taking their talents elsewhere. For every Jones, Vaughn or Travis, Pitino is recruiting a Perkins, Whitehead, and Larrier. Most importantly, Pitino and staff are already making deep in-roads with in-state talent in the class of 2015. It appears that Tubby Smith didn’t have much time to cultivate relationships with the likes of Amir Coffey or Henry Ellenson, so his departure doesn’t represent a barrier that needs to be overcome.
4) Mo Walker will at least be serviceable
Maurice Walker, the 6’11 300ish pound Canadian center, has had three memorable moments in his career. He made two three-pointers in a game during his freshman season. He later tore up his knee during his freshman season. He played against a 400ish pound Brazilian center this season. Those three moments in three seasons don’t suggest he’ll accomplish much in his final two seasons. However, bold predictions require boldness. I won’t go as far as attaching statistics to Walker’s future contributions. I will go as far as predicting that he will be a net positive when he is on the court and we’ll all be sad to see him go. Buried under 75 pounds of excess weight is a smart player, with a deceptively good shot and good passing skills. Reports indicate that a third of Walker’s excess weight is gone. With his newfound motivation and some mobility, Walker will be more than just a big body.
3) Expect some growing pains
Most predictions for the 2013-2014 season have the Gophers as a fringe bubble team. That is a great goal to aspire towards, though it probably isn’t realistic. The Gophers have some gaping holes in the front court, even with the addition of Joey King and potentially Rakeem Buckles. The Hollinses will be great, but they’ll have to adapt to a brand new system and several new teammates. The team should get better as the season goes on, but there will be growing pains in the non-conference season and the Big Ten will be too good for the Gophers to have a lot of success during conference play.
2) Sweet 16 in 2015
Delay your irrational exuberance and unreasonable expectations for the 2014-2015 season. Andre Hollins will be a senior. Charles Buggs and Elliot Elliason will have had more than a year to put on weight. Mo Walker will have had another year to lose weight. Wally Ellenson will have played a full season. The returning players will have a year in Pitino’s system under their belt. There should be a major influx of talent. A star player, an experienced back court, a big front line, and some exciting young talent should make 2014-2015 a very exciting season.
1) Pitino is in this for the long run
The general consensus is that Richard Pitino won’t be coaching the Gophers very long. He’ll either be a bust, or he’ll bail for the first better job that opens. While there is no need to elaborate on the reasons for such pessimism, in this case it is unwarranted. The administration is going to give Pitino plenty of chances for success. A quick exit due to lack of success simply won’t be happening. Pitino’s two mentors, his father and Billy Donovan, don’t skip out after the first sniff of success. Rick Pitino has never left a coaching job for another coaching job. He did dabble in the NBA, but always returned home to the college game. The younger Pitino saw first-hand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Billy Donovan has had all the money in the world thrown at him every off-season, but hasn’t budged from Florida. Donovan has shown Richard Pitino that success can happen anywhere, even at a school where basketball is an afterthought. Pitino has also seen that building a successful program can be just as rewarding as being airdropped into an already successful program. He won’t have his father’s success, but he’ll be here for a while, and the program will be better for it.