Eleven of the 13 players from Minnesota’s 2020-21 roster have departed since the coaching change from Richard Pitino to Ben Johnson in mid-March. Most of the banners of players hanging behind Johnson during his news conference in the U’s practice facility will need to come down.
While the U finished 13th in the Big Ten standings last season, which directly led to Pitino being canned, their two best players, dynamic point guard Marcus Carr and 7-foot center Liam Robbins, are gone, and Johnson has not filled their positions, much less added all-Big Ten-caliber guys like that pair showed they were on the court a year ago.
The U has added six incoming transfers, but five of those don’t have experience at the high-major level. The U has brought back combo guard Payton Willis, and he could be asked to handle the ball more with Carr gone. But that is not Willis’ natural position.
With two players expected back (Isaiah Ihnen and Both Gach) and one incoming signed recruit (Treyton Thompson), Minnesota has nine players on the roster and four remaining open spots. This means that while there has been a flurry of roster movement in the past few weeks, Johnson still has plenty of work to do, and there is yellow caution tape ribboned around an ongoing construction zone.
The high level of activity might have reached its peak across a 24-hour stretch late last week and continued through the weekend.
On Thursday evening, forward Brandon Johnson declared for the NBA but kept open his option to return to college> Within the next hour, Mahtomedi native and forward Parker Fox said he would transfer from Division II Northern State to the U.
On Friday morning, Minnesota then released 2021 recruit Kenny Pohto from his signed national letter of intent. It was followed by outgoing transfer Jamal Mashburn Jr. committing to New Mexico and Pitino. Then Willis came back to the U after a season at College of Charleston.
On Sunday, Orono native Jarvis Omersa, who left the U midseason, announced his transfer destination will be St. Thomas.
Outside of Willis, who has played 94 games of high-major basketball at the U in 2019-20 and with Vanderbilt from 2016-18, the U is asking five new players to bring their game from lower ranks up to the rugged Big Ten. Expecting all of those players to hit is a huge ask.
Last season, Carr and Robbins accounted for 39.6 percent of points, 36.4 of shots attempts, 41.6 of assists and 25 percent of rebounds. That was with Robbins missing the last six games with an ankle injury.
With backup center Eric Curry hanging up his jersey to go into coaching, Minnesota’s only natural post player right now is 6-foot-11 Treyton Thompson. He’s a true freshman.
So as Johnson continues to build the U roster, primary holes remain unfilled.
Here’s a breakdown of U player movement, both new and old:
Players coming back: Isaiah Ihnen, Both Gach
Transfers committed: Payton Willis (College of Charleston), Jamison Battle (George Washington), Luke Loewe (William & Mary), E.J. Stephens (Lafayette), Seth Sutherlin (New Hampshire), Parker Fox (Northern State)
Recruit signed: Trenton Thompson (Alexandria; La Lumiere Academy)
Players with new homes: Liam Robbins (Vanderbilt), Gabe Kalscheur (Iowa State), Jamal Mashburn Jr. (New Mexico), Jarvis Omersa (St. Thomas), David Mutaf (Gran Canaria in Spain)
Players in transfer portal: Tre’ Williams, Sam Freeman, Martice Mitchell
Players on the fence: Marcus Carr (NBA, maybe college), Brandon Johnson (NBA, likely college)
Player retiring: Eric Curry
Recruit released: Kenny Pohto (Stockholm, Sweden; Sunrise Christian)