Now that the NCAA’s proprietary eligibility algorithm decided that Joey King will play for the Golden Gophers this season, we actually know who will be on the team, and can start looking forward to (or fearing) how they will play.
Last season’s team featured a formidable front court and an offense that struggled outside of three-feet from the basket. No reasonable person would expect Minnesota’s front-court to make up for the loss of Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe, but their absence, along with the departures of Joe Coleman and Julian Welch, will inevitably make the offense outside of three-feet more efficient.
The Gophers avoided three-pointers last season, ranking 268th in the country in three-point attempts. This was actually beneficial, considering their occasionally dreadful outside shooting, which ranked 174th in the country. The offense was one-dimensional because of the Gophers’ inability to make outside shots, and when that one dimension didn’t work, there was often no offense at all.
If the Gophers didn’t add a single player during the off-season, we would expect their three-point shooting to improve. Gone are Joe Coleman and Julian Welch’s wide-open shots that had no chance of going in. Rodney Williams won’t take a single contested three-pointer early in the shot clock. Combined, Minnesota’s departing players were 28 of 110 behind the three-point line, 25.5%. If the departing players didn’t attempt a single three-pointer last season, the Gophers would have shot 35.5% from behind the three-point line. That would have been good enough for 90th in the country, and 84 spot improvement.
Richard Pitino has acknowledged that his offensive system will be more reliant on three-point shooting. Last season, his FIU team shot the 58th most three-point attempts. It would have been insane, and bordering on coaching malpractice, to institute a perimeter oriented offensive scheme with last season’s roster. With the additions of Malik Smith and Joey King, it would be malpractice to not shoot a lot of three-pointers. By adding their three-point shooting totals from last year to the Gophers’ returning players, the Gophers would be projected to make 35.6% of their three-point shots, which would rank 72nd in the country.
Projections are not perfect. It is much too early to tell whether King or Smith can find open shots at the Big Ten level, or if the Gophers’ returnees will find open shots without Mbakwe or Williams drawing so much attention from defenders. Two things do seem certain. The Gophers will be a better three-point shooting team this season, and they will have to be to play meaningful March basketball.