The less said, the better. Ben Johnson’s first year brought a ton of roster turnover and bad basketball but also a lot of energy and hope for the future. That soured this past season, when Minny limped to a 9-22 record with just two wins in conference. Woof. They earned that record, too, finishing 207th on Torvik, sandwiched between New Mexico State and Gardner Webb, and 113 spots behind Nebraska. The Big Ten has thirteen dragons and also Minnesota.
A couple big hitters left. Point guard Ta’Lon Cooper played a ton of minutes but transferred to South Carolina. Starting wing Jamison Battle went intra-conference to Ohio State. A couple more lightly used guys also left - backup center Treyton Thompson to Stetson and freshman wing Jaden Henley to Depaul. Prized recruit Dennis Evans saw the trail of debris and flipped to Louisville. I think Taurus Samuels is gone, though didn’t see anything definitive.
PG: Elijah Hawkins, 5’11 Third Year: With Ta’Lon Cooper moving on, Minny needs a point guard. Enter Howard transfer Mitchell, who will give Minny a different, and much shorter, look at the point. Howard made the tourney last year, and Mitchell was their leading scorer and assister (assistor?). He was a pest defensively and was aces from three (45%), but did have a problem with turnovers. Difficult to say how his game translates to the B1G - in their game against Kansas last year he has 12 points, 8 assists, and 7 turnovers.
SG: Mike Mitchell, 6’2 Third Year: No real idea who gets this job. Braeden Carrington is a possibility, but his line was pretty abysmal, so we will go with Pepperdine transfer Mitchell. A capable passer, his biggest strength is his outside shooting, hitting a blistering 44% on threes last season. Like Hawkins, he also struggled with turnovers. This backcourt could be interesting in having two ballhandlers who can blitz you from deep and also play Hot Potato with the ball.
SF: Joshua Ola-Joseph, 6’7 Second Year: Minny played a quartet of freshmen last year. The top minute getter was Ola-Joseph, who displayed a bit of shooting touch. His effective field goal rate was 57%, though unfortunately that was his free throw percentage as well. Can’t have everything. Ola-Joseph didn’t really pass or rebound much either, but he is shaped like a wing so gets the nod here.
PF: Dawson Garcia, 6’11, Fourth Year: Formerly a top 30 recruit to Marquette and then North Carolina, Garcia was supposed to be a big infusion of talent. While he didn’t turn in an NBA worthy showcase, he was probably Minny’s best player last season, a true three level scorer who was also a plus rebounder. No reason to expect any different this season, and perhaps he can finally put on some tape that gets some pro interest. Somebody has to, right?
C: Pharrel Payne, 6’9 Second Year: The top freshman in the recruiting class was their most effective freshman on the court. He mostly stood near the basket and put in bunnies and got rebounds, which is really all anyone wants him to do. It’s likely he will continue to stand near the basket and put in bunnies and get rebounds. We’ll see if he extends his range by a foot or two.
SG Braeden Carrington, 6’4’’ Second Year: Carrington was Mr. Basketball in Minnesota, and a lot of fans were high on him coming into last season. He was...not particularly inspiring coming off the bench, neither doing much with the ball nor making many shots. He did show some rebounding, and with some more seasoning you could see him in the starting lineup instead of Mitchell or Hawkins. They could even move him to the three in a small ball lineup if he shows some shot making.
PF Parker Fox, 6’8’’ Seventh Year: The Ballad of Parker Fox keeps on getting sung, and this may be the year he suits up for the Gophs. Originally a freshman in 2017 for the Northern State Wolves in Aberdeen, South Dakota, he joined the Ben Johnson train in 2021. Unfortunately, he promptly went down to a season ending knee injury, then again in 2022. In 2023, he is cleared for practice and gives them...what exactly? Your guess is as good as mine.
PF Isaiah Ihnen, 6’9’’ Fifth Year: Deutsch! The Big German Ihnen also returns from two years of injury. Originally a four star recruit for Richard Pitino, Ihnen played sparing minutes his first two seasons but seemed destined to mold into a decent big guy. What is he two years later? Hopefully something that can rebound and block shots and give them some minutes under the basket. Achtung baby.
SF Kadyn Betts, 6’8’’ Second Year: Betts redshirted last season - he actually skipped his senior year of high school to not play basketball for the Gophs last season, so efficient I guess. In theory he can play both forward spots, so that’s something.
C Jack Wilson, 6’11, Fourth Year : A transfer from Washington State, Wilson was lightly used for a good Wazzu squad. He originally played sparingly for Idaho, before going to Wazzu to play sparingly, and seems destined to play sparingly in Minnesota. He is getting a good tour of northern states, however.
SG Will Ramberg, 6’5’’ Fourth Year: A walk on turned scholarship guy to maybe back to walk on. Included here for his awesome last name.
SG Cameron Christie, 6’5’’ First Year: One of two freshman in the class after Dennis Evans decommitted, Christie has some height and some versatility. If you remember Max Christie dipping his foot in East Lansing a couple years ago, this is his younger brother. The book on him is if he develops a shot, he could be the Real Deal. Probably won’t know that this season though.
SF Kristupas Keinys, 6’8’’ First Year: A very late addition to the class, Keinys is an unknown Euroball Project who last played for Klaipėdos Neptūnas-Akvaservis in Lithuania. Go Neptunas-Akvaservis!!
A Conversation with Our Writers
MaximumSam: So fellas, how is Minny looking this year?
BoilerUp89: Lost three starters from a non-good team. Coach is bad and possibly coaching for his job. Non-con schedule strength is a joke. Two good transfer guards that can fill it up from three, but both are also walking turnover machines. Post and wing starters look promising but depth a huge question mark there. Incoming freshman Christie should be good eventually but may not be instant impact. Major concerns with rebounding and turnovers. And at the end of the day Ben Johnson doesn’t fill anyone with confidence that he is going to develop players and make the sum greater than the parts.
MaximumSam: Boiler, you have clearly thought about this team more than actual Minnesota fans. Why is that?
BoilerUp89: I have strong feelings that Ben Johnson is not the guy so I’ve been watching that program with morbid curiosity the past few years.
MaximumSam: Noted. All right, can you say anything good about them?
BoilerUp89: Garcia is the Gophers top returning player and will get his points. He can score in the low post and step outside to knock down threes when left open. Outside of his two matchups against Edey, Garcia only failed to reach double digits in scoring twice: Virginia Tech and Maryland. That Maryland game was in the B1G tournament and came a day after playing all 40 minutes against Nebraska.
Ola-Joseph had a good freshman campaign and is my breakout candidate for the Gophers. He will need to take open 3s with more confidence (38% last year but only 21 attempts) and find a way to stay out of foul trouble which plagued him at times last year.
Payne has plenty of potential. He’s a bit raw, but an excellent rebounder and a good low post option despite being a bit undersized at 6’9”. Will be interesting to see how much he plays alongside Garcia.
MaximumSam: All right all right, that’s something to work with. What about the new guys?
BoilerUp89: Christie is a 4 star recruit and jewel of the Gophers incoming class. He’s still developing his jump shot but should be a good player for the Gophers moving forward. Not sure he’s going to step in and be the major difference maker Johnson needs right away though.
Hawkins (Howard transfer) shot 44.5% from 3PT last season, but only 30.5% the year before. Turnover prone, which could be a major issue against bigger, stronger defenses especially considering his 5’11” size. Will he be able to maintain his shooting percentage against better defenses? Projected PG starter Mitchell (Pepperdine) shot 44.3% from 3PT last season. Also struggled with turnovers.
Wilson is a former football player at Washington State and will provide depth in the post. Not expecting him to be a game changer, but the Gophers needed to add depth and gives them an additional body.
Betts redshirted last year in what was an odd decision. He reclassified from class of 2023 to 2022 and then sat out when the Gophers had major depth issues. I’ve seen some Gopher publications refer to Betts as a 4 star, but that’s hyperbole. Only one outlet ever ranked him as a 4 star (Prep Hoops) and that site is not one of the four major recruiting ranking sites which had him as a consensus mid 3 star recruit (when he was ranked at all). Betts may contribute this year, but keep in mind that he’s a mid 3 star recruit playing in what should have been his redshirt year had the Gophers/he not started his clock early for no good reason.
Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen also return after missing the last two seasons with knee injuries. Both are forwards and may offer depth, but hard to count on them considering their injury history. Fox was a former D2 All American and is now 23. Ihnen showed promise his first two years at Minnesota but his biggest upside was his athleticism which may now be limited. Both have been cleared to fully practice.
MaximumSam: Wow Boiler you have thought more about Minnesota basketball than Ben Johnson has. Sum it up for us.
BoilerUp89: Last year’s team dealt with shooting woes, rebounding issues, and an offense that generated way more turnovers than the defense created. The Gophers have added two capable long range shooters to address the first issue, but that may have made the offense turnover issues worse. If we are being generous, the defensive turnover issues last year may have just been a coaching decision due to a lack of depth and trying to avoid foul trouble for the players the Gophers did have. Perhaps that will change as the Gophers theoretically have more bodies to throw at the problem this year. The rebounding squad (forwards and centers) appears to be mostly the same personnel so it’s hard to see that getting too much better with big improvements unless Payne plays major minutes.
The non-conference schedule is atrocious and has all the hallmarks of a coach trying to get to double digit wins to convince his fans and the AD that he’s making progress. In the end I just don’t trust Ben Johnson as a head coach. If I squint and suspend my disbelief in him, the upside is sneaking into the NIT.