Last spring, Richard Pitino entered a program with a nearly depleted roster after four graduations following the 2012-13 season. After some late scrambling, he was able to fill those holes in the roster with three transfers who were able to gain immediate eligibility.
Those transfers were Malik Smith, Joey King, and Deandre Mathieu, and they’ve all played a significant role in the Gophers’ success this year. Here are five things we’ve learned about them thus far.
1) Malik Smith is not afraid to shoot
When Smith transferred here, we knew he was going to be Minnesota’s shooter. He attempted the eighth most three point attempts in all of college basketball last year at Florida International University.
There’s no doubt that Smith has a tendency to shoot some pretty questionable shots but the senior transfer has proved to be a sparkplug for the Gophers this year. After a rocky start to start, Smith had his breakout performance in Maui averaging 15.6 points per game over three games while shooting more than 45 percent from behind the arc.
“I know I take some contested shots sometimes but coach says he’ll deal with it as long as I rebound and play defense,” said Smith to the Star Tribune.
Malik Smith has some serious range. #MINNvsCUSE
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) November 26, 2013
2) DeAndre Mathieu can create offense
At 5-foot-9, Mathieu is not the most physically imposing player, but that hasn’t stopped him from being an effective offensive asset for the Gophers this year. He’s proven that he’s not afraid to take the open shot or take the ball to the rim, which he put on display in a particular play against Florida State a few weeks ago, scoring a momentum stopping layup contested by 7-foot-3 center Boris Bojanovsky.
He leads the team in assists and is shooting 50 percent from behind the arc. He also has had a number of SportsCenter worthy ally-oops to his teammates.
A big reason for Minnesota’s 7-2 start? Deandre Mathieu. 5-9 PG has allowed Andre + Austin Hollis to slide off the ball. 10.0 PPG + 5.2 APG.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 4, 2013
3) Joey King is a tough MF
He sat out against Woffard after having surgery on a fractured jaw after colliding with Andre Hollins against Coastal Carolina. Jaw injuries in sports are not an injury to bounce back from so quickly but King was out there just one game later, throwing his body around the court against a physical Syracuse team at the Maui Invitational.
Pitino has praised King the whole year for his ability to get in position and take a charge. Despite being undersized compared to many Big Ten big men, there’s no doubt King will battle down low, if by nothing else, playing his guts out.
“I love that Joey brings something to the table every single game. He affects winning. He does a lot of little things that a lot of guys don’t do,” said Pitino about King.
4) Smith is showing progress in facets beyond shooting
He was labeled a pure shooter when arriving to the Gophers but there were some question marks surrounding his off-the-ball skills. At FIU, he had free reign to do what he wanted on the court with limited talent behind him on the bench. But this year has motivated him to improve with talent always available to replace him on the floor.
In Minnesota, Smith has really picked up his intensity. He’s playing better on-the-ball defense, crashing the boards, and diving on the floor. His hustle has not gone unnoticed. He’s received praise from Pitino as well as his teammates.
“He really wasn’t a great leader at FIU. You’re hearing him a lot more in time outs, so I’m proud of him. I think he’s understanding that he needs to bring those things or he’s going to sit,” said Pitino.
5) Mathieu is the quickest guy on the floor
Mathieu is clearly the quickest guard the Gophers have had in a long time. He uses his speed to create space while handling the ball, geting in passing lanes, and pushing the ball in transition. His quickness opens things up on offense and not to forget a constant threat on defense.
“When it came to speed and quickness at the front of our press, I thought he was perfect. I thought he was perfect for the way that we wanted to play. He was a must-have. It was a great get for us that late,” said Pitino to Fox Sports.