Last season, the Gophers had a power imbalance where reserve players had minimal opportunity to prove themselves in Big Ten play. It was rare for players coming off the bench to get into any sort of rhythm with the few minutes they were allotted.
Many saw this as a consequence of a talented starting five with minimal depth, but last year’s roster was touted as Tubby Smith’s deepest team at Minnesota.
Richard Pitino’s recently showcased scrimmage showed a lot of positive signs for the Gophers going forward and fans got a better idea of what to expect with the new arrivals.
What really stuck out was the opportunity created for the returning players to prove themselves.
- Oto Osenieks: The redshirt junior is favored to start at the four this season. Osenieks was always a guy who I thought was underutilized in Smith’s system. A guy with his size shouldn’t be restricted to a spot on the arc as strictly a shooter. If he can prove capable of defending and out-rebounding opposing Big Ten forwards, I think he could have a big role this season.
- Wally Ellenson: He’s showed a great ability to crash the boards and create offense with his athletic ability. Ellenson is obviously great around the rim with his leaping ability and during the scrimmage he showed the ability to knock down some shots as well. A consistent mid-range could open up a lot of things offensively for the Gophers this season. Also, with his size, he could be a versatile option defensively. He could guard the two or the four.
- Mo Walker: Big Mo was one of the bigger stories this preseason for the Gophers. Following a dramatic weight loss, he looks like a completely new player and could to be very effective in the paint as a scorer and a passer. Look for him to come off the bench and contribute major minutes behind Eliason this season.
- Maverick Ahanmisi: Most Gopher fans hold their breath when this guy has the ball. He could be Pitino’s biggest test in terms of player development and confidence enhancement. Pitino has hinted at the possibility of Ahanmisi getting a chance to start, meaning he really believes in the young man. Ahanmisi has always impressed me as a leader and a committed defender. He’ll hit open shots but if he wants to surpass 10 to 12 minutes a game, he’ll have to improve his turnover issues.