Details of the story are still coming together, but the University of Minnesota announced today that sophomore guard Daquien McNeil has been suspended from the team pending investigation after having been arrested for domestic assault.
It’s sad news about a kid who looked to be on the path to redemption after suffering through a pretty rotten situation before finding Richard Pitino and the Gophers. In fact, Amelia Rayno detailed his story in a very well-written feature not too long ago.
While the legal process still has to play out, the reality is that the Gophers just lost one of their only legitimate small forwards and a player who, by many accounts, showed tremendous growth over the offseason and looked primed to be a big contributor this year.
Instead, the small forward situation just took a serious hit, with the team now looking at Carlos Morris and … well, it’s not entirely clear who is going to pick up the minutes.
The 3-spot is one of the thinner positions for the Gophers this year, with Austin Hollins long gone, Morris and McNeil were expected to share the duties, and had split the minutes fairly evenly, with Morris getting slightly more. Still, McNeil was a key part of the backcourt rotation and was essentially the sixth or seventh man on the team, getting about 19 minutes per game. Perhaps more critically, he was a defensive fixture, and brought Pitino’s idea of intense defense to life. That’s a lot to replace. Plus, there really isn’t a “backup” SF on the team. He was it.
What are the immediate impacts?
- Carlos Morris is the unquestioned starter at SF for the time being
Morris has started each game at the 3-spot, so that’s likely to continue. It was starting to look like he may have been losing his grip on the starting job, as he was out there in garbage time pretty frequently almost auditioning for the position. However, Morris is clearly the only guy ready to take on significant minutes at the position. Whether or not you like his chucking approach, get ready to see a whole lot more Squirrel on the court, for better or worse.
- Charles Buggs now becomes an intriguing option
Everyone wants to #FreeBuggs and his time to shine may have been thrust upon him. Buggs gets sporadic minutes, mostly because he doesn’t really have a clear-cut place on the team. He’s sparkled at times, but at others he looks completely lost. However, McNeil’s minutes have to go somewhere, as we can’t expect Morris to see 35-40 minutes per game (nor do we want to at this point). Buggs seems like the most likely candidate to see those, mostly because he fits the position physically and is the de facto backup on a team without many SF options. Will this situation force Pitino’s hand? He’s been reluctant to give Buggs meaningful minutes to this point.
- Lineup rotations
When you lose a key piece of the roster puzzle, shifts elsewhere are inevitable. Just like when Mo Walker has to sit with foul trouble, Bakary Konate immediately becomes the backup center. With McNeil out, who fill the SF position when Morris inevitably has to sit?
One solution is to dissolve the idea of a small forward completely. With so many capable guards, could Pitino decide to run with a 3-guard set and give someone like Nate Mason the keys to the backcourt?
Additionally, Joey King has small forward potential, and would likely fill that position on most other teams. However, PF is another thin area for the Gophers, and it’s not like Josh Martin has shown any ability to step in and contribute as a starter.
No matter how you slice it, the loss really hurts the team from a personnel standpoint. Any time you lose a guy who plays almost 20 minutes per game, there is going to be a tremendous shift of responsibility and playing time. Unfortunately, the loss hit the Gophers in a particularly vulnerable spot, and without a clear backup at the position, the solution is fuzzy at best. Ideally, Charles Buggs can step in and provide some stability at the position to keep the rest of the team balanced. Who knows, maybe he cashes in on that potential everyone keeps talking about.