Months after a tumultuous coaching search and a volatile off-season, we can finally discuss Golden Gophers basketball. The games don’t count yet, and calling them competitive might be a stretch, but Richard Pitino will take the court, coaching the Gophers against a team other than themselves.

Normally, games preview posts involve a detailed breakdown of the Gophers and their opponents. As I write this, I am flying blind. I don’t know a thing about Cardinal Stritch University, Friday night’s opponent. And to be honest, I may know even less about the Gophers. Right now there are so many questions. The offensive and defensive system is still a mystery, as are several of the players, the rotation, and just how all these new people in new situations will handle the rigor of the toughest college basketball conference in America. So instead of telling you everything I know about what should happen tomorrow night, I’ll tell you what I can’t wait to find out.

In no particular order…

  • How bad is the front court? We know Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe are gone. We know Elliot Elliason is less horrible than the start of his career and that Mo Walker is just less. We know Joey King was decent for a freshman in the Missouri Valley Conference and that Charles Buggs was really good in a scrimmage a year ago. Other than that, we don’t know who will get the most minutes, if they can rebound at all, or even how many front court players will be on the court at the same time.
  • Will returning players succeed in their new roles? My long running theory is that Oto Osenieks is actually passable as a power forward and Maverick Ahanmisi is a very good three-point shooter. Richard Pitino seems to have realized this, even if Tubby Smith couldn’t in three seasons. Now that Osenieks and Ahanmisi are actually in a position to succeed, can they?
  • What will the new offense look like? Last season the Gophers ran two sets. “Fist” occasionally worked. The other one didn’t. Richard Pitino was an assistant with Billy Donovan, whose Florida teams are consistently among the nation’s most efficient, so the offense has to be better than last year.
  • Is there such a thing as half-court defense? We know that Richard Pitino wants to press, trap, and force turnovers. In his one season at Florida International, his team did that. However, when they weren’t forcing turnovers they were giving up easy baskets. There are many good ball handlers in the Big Ten who won’t give up the ball easily. The Gophers will have to stop those teams from scoring.
  • How many positions will Andre Hollins really play? In an interview this fall Pitino said he could play the one, two, or three.  If he plays the two or the three, it means the Gophers have another viable ball handler on the roster, and Hollins is suddenly free to focus on scoring. If he is stuck as the primary ball handler, can he manage both of his scoring and distributing duties.

The 2013-2014 season is going to be a learning experience for all of us, including Richard Pitino. On Friday night it begins.