5 Gophers men’s basketball newcomers to watch in 2020-21

The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team will begin the eighth season of head coach Richard Pitino’s tenure in 2020-21. Coming off a disappointing 15-16 record last season (before it was shut down due to the coronavirus), Minnesota will unveil a much different-looking roster this winter.

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Minnesota will search for a new identity after local star Daniel Oturu, who averaged 20.1 points and 11.3 rebounds in 2019-20, was selected No. 33 overall in the 2020 NBA draft. The Gophers’ fourth-leading scorer last year, Payton Willis, transferred to the College of Charleston, and forward Alihan Demir, who started 30 of 31 games last year, has departed after graduating.

Although the Gophers are lacking star power, one thing Pitino will have this season is depth. Returning to Williams Arena will be Marcus Carr, who led the team in assists (6.5 per game) last season and Gabe Kalscheur, Minnesota’s top outside shooter. Pitino could use a rotation of as many as nine or 10 players on a consistent basis. That was certainly not the case in 2019-20 as Carr, Kalscheur and Oturu were all asked to play 33+ minutes per game.

Before the Gophers men’s basketball team tips off the 2020-21 season Wednesday against UW-Green Bay, get to know a few of the maroon-and-gold newcomers.

 

G Both Gach

A transfer from Utah, Gach’s name might sound familiar to Gophers fans. That’s because he was a standout guard at Austin High School in Minnesota from 2014-17. He led Austin to the Class 3A state championship in 2017, but the Packers lost 72-44 to DeLaSalle, which featured Kalscheur, now Gach’s teammate at Minnesota, and Tyrell Terry, the 31st overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Anyway, Gach is a candidate to lead the Gophers in scoring this season if he improves his perimeter shooting. As a sophomore last year, Gach logged 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 52.6% from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range for the Utes. If fans are eventually allowed at Williams Arena this season, Gach could make the Barn explode with his rim-rattling dunks.

 

F Brandon Johnson

A three-year starter at Western Michigan, Johnson — a grad transfer — is a candidate to start in Minnesota’s frontcourt. Johnson made a big jump in production as a junior, leading the Broncos in rebounding (8.1 per game) and was their second-leading scorer (15.4 PPG). The biggest difference? His outside shooting. Over his first two seasons, Johnson logged 0.7 shots from downtown per contest. That number increased to 2.1 attempted 3-pointers as a junior. The 6-foot-8 forward should be able to dominate inside and stretch the floor as a big man in Pitino’s offense, which allowed Oturu to shoot nearly two 3s per game last season.

 

F Martice Mitchell

One of three incoming freshmen on the Gophers’ 2020-21 roster, Mitchell is a consensus three-star recruit out of Bloom High School in Illinois. Like Johnson, he gives Minnesota length at 6-10 and can shoot the 3. Weighing in at 190 pounds, Mitchell will likely have to fill out his frame before he can emerge as a Big Ten star, but there’s potential on both ends of the floor. Mitchell averaged 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game as a senior.

 

G David Mutaf

At 6-5 and 190 pounds, Mutaf will give the Gophers a bit of size in their backcourt. The freshman comes to Minnesota after growing up in Turkey. He was named a first team All-Season selection for his Turkish U19 team, Fenerbahce, last season, as he logged 17.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest. A pure shooter, Mutaf drained 18 of 41 3-point attempts (43.9%) in four games during the Adidas Next Generation Tournament with Fenerbahce back in February. That has to excite Pitino, who watched the 2019-20 team finish sixth in the Big Ten by shooting 3s at a 33.7% clip.

 

C Liam Robbins

The obvious fill-in at center for the departed Oturu, Robbins stands 7 feet tall and weighs 235 pounds. Good luck getting around him in the paint. A transfer from Drake, Robbins set a new Bulldogs program record last season with 99 blocks, the third-most in Missouri Valley Conference single-season history. He posted 4+ blocks in 11 of 34 contests last season, including a career-best seven in a win over Loyola (IL) on Jan. 7. Robbins also led the Bulldogs in points (14.1 per game) and rebounds (7.1 per game). Like Oturu, Robbins can really fill up a box score.