clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Big Ten Basketball Previews: Minnesota

Everyone go around the room and introduce yourself

Minnesota v Wisconsin
Who the hell are all these guys on my team?
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

2022 Season In Review

Minnesota favored son Ben Johnson took over for Great Value Pitino and immediately had to piece together a team on the fly, to the tune of adding ten new guys. While the motley crew he established wasn’t actually good, they were a lot more spirited than anyone expected, and got a few nice wins over Michigan and Rutgers, among others. However, eight guys from that team are gone, and two more have been lost for the season to injury, so it looks like another year of chewing gum and duct tape.


PG Ta’Lon Cooper, 6’4’’ Junior: The transfer wheel spins round and round, and spits out Morehead State point guard Cooper. He has the reputation of a competent scorer (35% from 3) and a willing passer (second in assists all-time at Morehead St.). He played a ton of minutes last year and was pretty reliable, which is a good attribute for any point guard. Of course, transfer point guards are pretty hit or miss, especially in the B1G, but the Gophers don’t really have any other options here.

SG Taurus Samuels, 6’1’’ Senior: The transfer wheel this time spits out Dartmouth guard Samuels. He...existed in the Ivy League, where he averaged less than 10 points a game on fairly crappy shooting numbers. He did excel at free throws and not turning the ball over, so that’s something at least. Outside of him, they are starting freshmen, so he gets the nod at least to begin the season.

SF Jamison Battle, 6’7’’ Junior: Hey, it’s an honest to God current Gopher who played for the Gophers last year. Battle is their best returning player by default, but he’s also one of the better returning players in the conference. He averaged 17 and 6 last year on an effective field goal percentage of 54.1. That’s good! He was efficient from two and from three despite playing a ridiculous number of minutes. The question mark for is whether any other Gophers step up and replace running buddy Payton Willis to prevent defenses from just swamping Battle.

PF Treyton Thompson, 6’11’’ Sophomore: Minny has some height in the front court, with both Thompson and Garcia near seven feet. Thompson also is an Actual Returning Gopher, but was pretty lightly used last season. He did show some shooting touch, going 6-15 from three, so that’s something to work with. Otherwise, his game is a bit of a mystery, and the fans think freshman Pharrel Payne may claim this position eventually.

C Dawson Garcia, 6’11’’ Junior: Perhaps the most important player for the Gophers, Garcia is a former top 40 recruit, former Marquette Golden Eagle, former North Carolina Tar Heel, and now a current Gopher. He started a handful of games for North Carolina before leaving the team with somewhat mysterious “family health” issues, but was cleared to play immediately for Minnesota. He profiles as a strong rebounder who can play inside and out. He only averaged 9 and 5 last year, so Minnesota will need to see a real uptick in his production. If he can live up to his lofty recruiting rankings, the Gophers will have something, though that is just adding to the list of question marks.


PF Pharrel Payne, 6’9’’ Freshman: Now we come to the Fab Five Freshmen that the Gophers have on the bench. The Gophers seem most excited about Payne, who checks in as the 171st ranked player on 247. He’s a big body at 230 pounds who probably will come in as a center, so his sturdy frame can carry the imaginations of Gopher fans pretty far.

SG Braeden Carrington, 6’4’’ Freshman: Minnesota’s Mister Basketball was good enough to get ranked 226 on the 247 composite. He’s probably going to be the backup to both guard positions and be looked at as a scorer first.

PF Josh Ola-Joseph, 6’6’’ Freshman: Hey, it’s another freshman, this time #222 on 247. Can you tell I’m running out of things to say about Gopher freshmen? Hey, maybe this guy will come in and play some defense. Or maybe some offense. Will he shout “Ola!” when someone drives by him?

SF Jaden Henley, 6’7’’ Freshman: Hey, it’s a Gopher freshman. This one is 192nd on the composite. At least the Gophers are finding guys on the composite, which is better than Northwestern.

SF Kadyn Betts, 6’7’’ Freshman: Oh look, another freshman. The final freshman. Betts reclassified from 2023, so he’s almost whatever is lower than a freshman. A junior high Gopher.

SG Will Ramberg, 6’5’’ Sophomore: Not a Freshman! Barely. Ramberg is actually the final returnee for the Gophers and played like 12 minutes last year as a walk-on turned scholarship player. Gopher fans say don’t expect to see him much, but I say with a name like Ramberg he’s going to get some run.

*Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen would have figured in here, but both have season ending knee injuries. They also both missed last season with injury, too.


stewmonkey13: The barn should be burned down.

BoilerUp89: The unholy building that is the Barn should be burned to the ground, the land salted, and enclosed in a radioactive isolation chamber. I didn’t understand this coaching hire when it was made and I still don’t. The Gophers do play hard but they lack size, depth, shooting, and talent. Battle is a tremendous player but not enough to make up for the lack of skill and height around him. This was the 3rd worst offensive rebounding team in the country last year which is both a conscious decision of the coaching staff and an indictment of the roster.

andrewkosciuszko: …and yet they overperformed last year if we’re being totally honest

BuffKomodo: “These guys stink.” - BU89

BoilerUp89: Last one of those. Then we get to those guys are okay

Kind of...: I liked the coaching choice when it was made, and it’s way too early to reach any definite conclusions. That said, the reason I liked it—younger guy comes back to place he knows quite well; might really help with recruiting—was the same reason I liked Iowa State getting Otzelberger, who had been hired three days earlier. So maybe my take on Minnesota was just lazy and they’ll continue to underachieve indefinitely. Again, too early to say.

Anyway, it’s less than a month since Wisconsin grabbed a ‘23 commit from the second-best player in Minnesota, He’ll arrive just as fellow Minnesota Tyler Wahl is leaving, but will get a year with fellow Minnesotan Steve Crowl. So, really, if Minnesota wants to keep doing what they’ve been doing, it’s fine by me.

BoilerUp89: I didn’t like hiring an assistant from a bad coaching staff.

MaximumSam: This team isn’t going to be any good this year. They need Cooper to be a real point guard, they need Garcia to show consistency every night, and they need one or two of their many freshmen to become contributors. That’s a lot of ifs, and that’s just for them to become a competent team. Torvik hates these guys and has them last in the B1G by a fair margin. I don’t hate or love the hire of Ben Johnson - they guys looked inspired last year, even if they weren’t good. But he needs to get off the Fred Hoiberg train of fielding a new team every year.

MNWildcat: The Barn is a great place to watch a basketball game, and detractors are merely simpletons who can’t appreciate a historic floor that poses a danger only to Robbie Hummel.

I don’t hate the efforts Ben Johnson has made in the transfer portal, and Dawson Garcia can (should?) be a big get who goes a long way in shoring up some of those rebounding deficiencies. The problem is the drop-off from there. No doubt the Pride of Park, Pharrel Payne, needs some more seasoning, and I’m not sold on Trey Thompson just yet. Making a jump inside would go a long way toward the Gophers creating more space for Battle and whoever steps into the void of Payton Willis.

And that’s where...I like the Ben Johnson hire? I didn’t see Minnesota struggling in 2021-22 for a clarity of purpose. Johnson feels like a likable coach who can get players to play for him. But they need to get off the carousel of transfers damn soon, otherwise it’s a bumpy drive on the Hoiberg Highway.

But WhiteSpeedReceiver will likely have thoughts here, too.

WhiteSpeedReceiver: Lakeville North delenda est.

MnWildat: I sit corrected.

WhiteSpeedReceiver: If you’d like me to be disappointed about losing out on yet another middling white guy from the suburbs to Wisconsin, I apologize but I don’t have any fucks to give. Bye Nolan. See you back here at a car dealership or insurance brokerage in 7 years.

And in regards to the program, we’ll see. Dawson Garcia and Pharrell Payne should be able to size up the rebounding, and if Treyton Thompson weighs more than 37 pounds he may be useful as well. I’m nervous about replacing Willis, hopefully some combination of Ta’Lon Cooper and Braeden Carrington can fill the position.

Overall I’d say the roster is much better than last years just because we aren’t relying on someone who planned on becoming a pro fisherman to start at SG.

Losing Parker Fox to yet another knee injury is infuriating, because that dude is hilarious and deserves to contribute to the program other than pregame interview with Thorson. He and Isaiah Ihnen really could have helped the front court if their legs would quit betraying them.

In terms of recruiting, we shall see shortly if things are going in the right direction. Getting Cameron Christie is a great start, and it sounds like Dennis Evans is strongly leaning towards Minnesota as well. Throw in a goddamn PG and the only thing to be disappointed about will be losing Taison Chatman to tOSU.

Kind of...: Ah, yes, one of my favorites. “I hate this suburban Twin Cities high school because Wisconsin has success recruiting...middling players (should I mention their race...yeah, I’ll mention their race) who Minnesota never wanted anyway.”

A classic at least since the days of Jon Leuer (or Kammron Taylor if we don’t get hung up on race).

MaximumSam: White guys or lack thereof, Cam Christie and Denis Evans would make for a heck of a jump in talent. You can see a future here, maybe even next season, where Battle and Garcia return, a couple of the freshmen hit, and they have something approaching a good team. And they can always hang on to Will Ramberg.

Other Takes

The Minnesota Daily: Minnesota will need more offense this season, as they were second to last in the Big Ten in points per game as a team last season (67.0). They were also last in rebounding within the conference and gave up lots of second chance points.

Daily Hoosier: As a Minnesota native, former IU recruiting target Garcia could help usher in a new era of success for a program with just one winning Big Ten season in the last 17. If he has a couple All-Big Ten caliber seasons and Johnson turns around the program, it could make Minneapolis a more intriguing place for area recruits who have by-and-large gone elsewhere recently. But if the Garcia era doesn’t go well, it could spell doom for both Johnson and the Gophers.

Inside The Hall: With a ton of roster turnover and new pieces, it seems Ben Johnson is making his mark on the Minnesota basketball program. But, it might be a while before the pieces can all come together. Garcia and Battle will be a fun frontcourt to watch and could give teams defensive fits. But, the unproven bench and backcourt could present problems. A bottom-half Big Ten finish looks likely, and even if Minnesota can maximize the freshmen and transfer talent — the Golden Gophers are NIT bound at best.