With all of the positivity surrounding Gopher Football, and with one of the biggest football games in school history taking place this weekend on campus, many may have forgotten that Gopher Basketball tips off its season tonight vs something called “Cleveland State University”. The game isn’t on TV though… and I didn’t even know that was possible anymore, in 2019. You could stream this game on your YouTube channel with nothing but iPhones and fans would be happy… I just don’t understand how a major college sports team plays a game (that counts) and it doesn’t end up on the internet, somewhere. Most high schools have streams for both home and away games, at this point… Oh well, I’m moving on.

I haven’t done much digging into Cleveland State, so I’ll be honest about that on the front-end, I guess. The Gophers should win this game by a lot of points (they are favored by 20.5). But, there are some reasons to keep an eye on this game (if you were able to..).

Gabe and Dan:

Dan Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur announced that they would stay home to play for Richard Pitino and the Gophers, almost 3 years ago now. We thought it would be an opening of the floodgates, for a bunch of top-level MN recruits coming through the pipeline after them… but it wasn’t. Richard has struggled to keep Minnesota kids in-state, in what seems to be a perplexing issue. Nonetheless, he keeps posting some of the best recruiting classes in school history, so it’s hard to argue with results, no matter where the kids are coming from.

And, if Dan and Gabe blossom into the NBA players they both have a chance to be, the Minnesota kids will start flocking to the U of M campus, whether Richard wants them there or not. It could happen too. Dan Oturu was listed as a national top-20 big man, by The Athletic last month, and the biggest thing missing from his game last season, was size. Now, he’s added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. This could be Dan’s time to cement himself as one of the best big men in the Big Ten, for the foreseeable future, given he’s only a Sophomore and not seen as someone who will leave early, at this point. How he handles the grown men of the Big Ten this season, will go a long way in predicting the overall results for this Gophers team in 2019-20. 

People are sleeping on Gabe Kalscheur and that’s about to end. I’ve heard Pitino give a couple of interviews, touting how good Gabe has looked and how big his plans are for him. Richard also said on KFAN a couple of weeks ago, that Kalscheur is the guy who opposing coaches have told him, they worry about most. 

In today’s day and age, that’s not overly-surprising. I wrote about it last year around this time, that Gabe has the natural shot to be that player. I have played and watched a lot of basketball in my 30 years on this planet, and I can promise you, that I haven’t seen very many shots as beautiful as Gabe Kalscheur’s. On top of that, he is the best defensive player on Pitino’s squad AND he’s the hardest worker. Bundle all of that into one person like we have with Gabe, and big dreams can can be seen from over the horizon.

The Transfers:

The Gophers return Gabe and Dan but they lost everyone else in the starting lineup from 2018. Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, and Jordan Murphy are all gone and we are left with 3 transfers to fill their void. Luckily, I don’t think there will be as much drop off, as people expect. Marcus Carr and Payton Willis are going to surprise people with how good they are. Both played major minutes as Freshman (including starting minutes), at big college programs, before transferring here (Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt). Carr and Willis are both combo guards that will have the ball a lot, and will put up big box scores.

Alihan Demir is the key to a Gophers NCAA Tournament run in February/March of 2020. The graduate transfer from Drexel will be the 5th starter and he’ll be expected to fill the shoes of Jordan Murphy. At his best, Demir looks like a guy who could actually fit Richard’s offense better than Murphy did. He’s a guy who can hit with consistency from deep and has the passing abilities that are stereotypical of European big men. He has the skill-set to put up double-double numbers in this offense on the regular.

But with all of that being said, the Gophers played an exhibition game in front of fans and media last week vs Southwest Minnesota State University and, by all reports, Demir didn’t look all that comfortable. His box score didn’t looked even less comfortable.. at least on my eyes: 17 MIN | 1/7 FG | 0/2 3PT | 3 PTS | 2 REB | 0 AST

The Gophers will struggle to win games if Demir isn’t better than that. Hopefully, he can have a good game tonight, and calm my worries about him going forward. With Eric Curry hurt again and Omersa not ready to be “that guy”… Pitino doesn’t have a choice but to hope he picked the right grad-transfer.

It’s too bad we can’t watch this game because there are so many unknowns about this Gopher team, and it won’t take long before the schedule ramps up. Already on Saturday, the Gophers will play in Sioux Falls for a neutral-site game vs Oklahoma, and it doesn’t get any easier from there…

This is a big season for Richard Pitino. This is a team that is being picked to finish in the bottom of the Big Ten. That means, Richard could come out and surprise/impress people with nothing more than another NCAA Tourney appearance. Low expectations, high aspirations.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan