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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Minnesota

Basically everyone involved with Minnesota men’s basketball is new this year. Gonna be a long season for the Gophers.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 10 Big Ten Tournament - Minnesota v Northwestern
Eric Curry is one of ::checks notes:: two returning players for Minnesota this year.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Conference: Big Ten
Head coach: Ben Johnson (first season)
2020-2021 record: 14-15 overall, 6-14 B1G

Top returning player: 6-foot-9, F, Eric Curry (3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Top newcomers: 6-foot-7, F, Jamison Battle (17.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.9 spg) transfer from George Washington; 6-foot-4, G, Payton Willis (13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) transfer BACK from College of Charleston; 6-foot-11, 3-star C, Treyton Thompson (La Porte, Ind.) ranked No. 183 player in the nation by 247 Composite; 6-foot-3, G, E.J. Stephens (16.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.5 apg) transfer from Lafayette; 6-foot-5, G, Sean Sutherlin (12.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.6 apg) transfer from New Hampshire

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 12 Minnesota at Butler
After a year away at College of Charleston, Payton Willis is back in Minneapolis.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020-2021 review: The Gophers started off last season on a surprising run. They were 9-1 through their first 10 games which included wins over Iowa, Michigan State and Saint Louis with their only loss being at Illinois. That’s the kind of start that leads to an NCAA Tournament bid! In fact, Minnesota scored wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue later on during their conference schedule but...they only had one other win and finished the year one game under .500.

The final nail in Richard Pitino’s coffin was ending the regular season on a seven game losing streak and then bowing out in the Big Ten Tournament to Ohio State. Pitino was fired after the season and then, literally, just about every player transferred out. The entire starting five (Marcus Carr, Jamal Mashburn, Jr., Liam Robbins, Gabe Kalscheur and Brandon Johnson) are now at five different schools and the team has just 7.8% of 2020-2021 minutes played returning.

2021-2022 preview: Needless to say, there are a bunch of new names and faces to learn in Minneapolis this year. Firstly, new head coach Ben Johnson is in charge now. He is a native of the Twin Cities, played college ball for the Gophers and was an assistant with Minnesota for five years. Very much a “local boy does good” situation here.

Eric Curry is the only returning player who will be on the floor this year (forward Isaiah Ihnen is out for the year with an ACL injury and is the other returning player) so hopefully everyone had name tags for practice this summer.

Minnesota’s top scorer is probably going to be Jamison Battle (from Robbinsdale, Minn., so another local boy coming home) who transferred in from GW after averaging over 17 points per game last season. Guard Payton Willis is back for the Gophers after spending a season at College of Charleston last year. He should provide some veteran leadership and knowledge of where the visiting locker rooms are at the various arenas around the Big Ten. Willis will potentially be running the show for Minnesota even though he was more of a two-guard the last time he was a Gopher.

George Washington v George Mason
Local product Jamsion Battle could be Minnesota’s leading scorer this year.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Guards Luke Loewe (transfer from William & Mary), out of Fond du Lac, and E.J. Stephens (transfer from Lafayette) should help Minnesota make some more three pointers this year. The Gophers shot 28.4% from beyond the arc last year, so you, yes you reading this, would probably help them improve there.

Johnson is considered a good recruiter and has deep ties to the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota, so he should help reestablish the Gophers as a team that in-state kids should take a long look at. There probably won’t be many wins to hang their hats on this year, but if Johnson’s team shows improvement on the floor and he is able to up recruiting you could definitely say this season was a success.

Games vs. Wisconsin:

Game One: Sunday, Jan. 30, Madison, Wis., Kohl Center, BTN, 12 p.m. CT

Game Two: Wednesday, Feb. 23, Minneapolis, Minn., Williams Arena, BTN, 8 p.m. CT