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Chip Scoggins: Richard Pitino has built strong Gophers roster for this strange basketball season ahead

By Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Basketball

Richard Pitino's tenure as Gophers men's basketball coach has been like tracking a volatile stock market. Up, down, up, down. The one constant has been unpredictability.

Every time the program looks like it has some momentum, something pulls it back under. Injuries. Suspensions. More injuries. Some of their issues have been self-inflicted, some completely out of their control.

The Gophers could use calm waters for once.

But this is 2020, and 2020 is the worst, so expecting normalcy is like asking a pilot to fly a Volkswagen.

"The thing that we've really struggled with clearly over the last couple of years has been depth," Pitino said. "We have a lot of good players. I think this is the deepest that we have been."

On paper, there is a lot to like about the team that Pitino opens the season with on Wednesday. The Gophers are experienced, versatile and deep, especially in the backcourt, which gives them a strong foundation. Marcus Carr won't be forced to play until he collapses from exhaustion every game this season.

 

This looks like one of Pitino's most talented teams. It looks like an NCAA tournament team ... IF there is a tournament, that is. And optimism also assumes the Gophers won't encounter major disruptions from COVID-19. Again, a major if.

"We can't use this pandemic as a reason why we can't have a really good year," Pitino said.

Pitino is entering his 8th season in Dinkytown, and a lot has transpired in that time — good, bad and in between — with myriad stops and starts and roster fluctuation. The lack of consistency has prevented his program from establishing solid footing.

A 15-16 record last season (8-12 in the Big Ten) caused more grumbling and led to Athletic Director Mark Coyle releasing this statement: "Richard understands my high expectations for our program, which is to compete at a championship level."

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