Every four years, the NCAA allows college basketball teams to take foreign tours and have 10 practices preparing for the trip. That gives coaches the perfect opportunity to implement changes to their system.
Richard Pitino wants to figure out of how to take advantage of having better shooters on his Gophers roster now. The upcoming trip to Italy this summer gives him that chance.
“We have had six practices and this team feels totally different,” Pitino wrote on a blog Tuesday. “The goal from an offensive stand point is to have at least four if not five players who can shoot the 3 on the court all the time. I think this roster has that. Our three-point shooting will be substantially improved. I have really tinkered with the offense and think it's been looking good. It will be fun to see how it all evolves.”
The Gophers won 22 games and reached the NCAA tournament second round last season. Obviously, they were doing something right, but three-point shooting wasn’t it.
They finished the 2018-19 season as one of the worst teams nationally at getting it done beyond the arc. The Gophers ranked 344th in threes per game (5.3) and 347th out of 354 teams in percentage of points from threes (22.5). Even when taking shots from long distance, Minnesota converted just 31.7 percent (300th nationally) from three – even worse when taking out Gabe Kalscheur’s numbers (27.5 percent).
Kalscheur’s 41 percent accuracy from long distance and 77 threes (Big Ten freshman best) returns.
But five of the six players with at least 20 three-pointers attempted last season are gone, including Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer who combined to hit 82 threes.
So, where do the Gophers turn to for a jump in three-point shooting in 2019-20? Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr (33.3), Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis (33.3) and Drexel transfer Alihan Demir (31.6) have all shot better than 30 percent from three during their careers.
Pitino wrote Tuesday that Willis “can really shoot” and “has been solid across the board this summer,” which is a great sign for the likely backcourt replacement for Coffey.
Carr’s leadership qualities at point guard were praised by Pitino. But Carr told the Star Tribune in May that he definitely wants to improve his three-point shooting to “be a 40 percent guy.”
Demir saw his three-point percentage drop from 36.5 to 27.4 from his sophomore to junior year at Drexel, but his role changed a bit.
“I need to get back to high 30s percentage,” he said in the spring. “I wasn’t one of the main (shooters) last year like when I was a sophomore. I would get open looks (before) as opposed to this year. I definitely need to work on my shooting to get to the next level.”
In the U’s freshman class, four-star recruits Tre’ Williams and Isaiah Ihnen are bigger guards, but they both displayed the ability to make outside shots. The 6-foot-9 Ihnen shot 35.2 percent from three playing for the International Basketball Academy Munich (IBAM) team last season. He just arrived on campus from Germany last week, but he already showed in practice he “can shoot the three,” Pitino said.
The Gophers should be an improved three-point shooting team, but the games in Italy will be better proof next week.
“That has to improve moving forward and it will,” Pitino wrote. “As I said before, we are making some big changes to the offense.”
-- Pitino said in his blog that junior big man Eric Curry will not be cleared to play in Italy, which is not a surprise. Curry’s recovery from foot surgery in March already had a timetable that should get him back on the court by the fall.