Marcus Carr might go down as the best point guard during the Richard Pitino Era, but his head coach is disappointed they couldn't win more together with the Gophers.
Toronto's finest was brought in as a transfer from Pittsburgh three years ago anointed by Pitino as the player who would help lead Gophers basketball to the next level.
Saturday's final regular season game vs. Rutgers will be a bittersweet goodbye to Williams Arena for the Gophers seniors. And possibly Carr and Pitino, too. Their futures are in doubt beyond this year.
Pitino gave Carr the keys to the offense heading into last season and watched him guide Minnesota to many memorable wins but also suffer through more tough losses. After such high expectations, they'll likely finish with no NCAA tournaments together.
"He's a terrific player," Pitino said of the explosive-scoring 6-2 junior. "I feel bad for him."
Pitino's return to the Gophers will be up to athletic director Mark Coyle, and the eighth-year coach recently said the AD will be faced with tough decisions following the season.
As for Carr, he'll pursue the NBA early again. And this time a normal draft process might keep him on that path instead of returning to college, his coach says.
"I know he'll dive in and look at it hard after the season," Pitino said. "He's very intriguing in a lot of ways. He can score. … He can pass it well. He's a fierce competitor."
The Gophers (13-13, 6-13 Big Ten) are mainly focused on snapping a six-game losing streak Saturday. But Pitino can't help but wonder what could've been if a talent like Carr's had a better situation here.
"He's dealt with a crazy amount of adversity," Pitino said. "I thought we would've been in the NCAA tournament. He deals with playing at the end when coronavirus hits [last year] and now he's playing this year in the middle of a pandemic. He's still doing unbelievable things."
The Gophers are 28-29 overall and 14-25 in the Big Ten combined the last two seasons since last reaching the NCAA tournament in 2018-19, the year Carr sat out under NCAA transfer rules.
Andre Hollins, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey are guards who all led their teams to the NCAA tournament at least once in their Gophers careers before Carr arrived to follow in their footsteps.
That same success has eluded him, but Carr is in line to be the first Gophers guard to earn back-to-back All-Big Ten team honors since 2006.
He's currently one of only three high-major Division I players averaging at least 20 points, five assists and shooting 80% from the foul line this season.
After Carr broke the school single-season assist record last year, he declared early for the NBA draft and trained at home in Canada in the summer. Once he returned to Minnesota, he brought with him a lethal step-back three-point shot and a scorer's mentality. His four 30-point games this season ties for the fourth best in team history with Archie Clark (1965-66).
Carr's career-high 41 points in last week's 78-74 loss at Nebraska were the most points in a game for a U player since Andre Hollins reached that mark vs. Memphis in 2012. Hollins has been a good resource as a graduate assistant on the team for Carr.
"It's a blessing to be there with him," Carr said. "He was a great player and did a lot of great things here, so I'm definitely honored to have my name beside his."
Carr surpassed 1,000 career points with the Gophers recently, but he would trade individual success for more wins. He entered the season chasing dreams of a deep NCAA tourney run like his older brother, Duane Notice, who went to the Final Four with South Carolina in 2017.
The Gophers once looked like a team that could potentially make some noise with Carr in March. They beat five ranked teams at home when healthy, including Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. But they've been 0-5 since starters Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger) and Liam Robbins (sprained ankle) have been injured. Carr has even missed several practices with foot soreness.
"We've had high moments as well as we've had low moments," Carr said not blaming injuries. "We've known what we had to do. It's about executing it down the stretch."
Minnesota's 0-10 road record fell largely on Carr's shoulders when his "A" game often didn't travel very well. Yet, Pitino owes most of wins at home to Carr, who averaged 22 points at the Barn this year.
"He's had some unbelievable moments," Pitino recalled. "We've had to really rely on him a lot on the offensive end because of all of the injuries."
Pitino knows he'll ultimately be judged on wins and losses. How Carr is remembered with the Gophers isn't as clear cut. Fans might love and hate when Carr puts too much pressure on himself to be the hero, going one-on-one against the world. Carr's coaches and teammates never questioned his desire to win and lead, especially during this difficult season.
"He's a cool calm and collected guy," senior forward Brandon Johnson said. "A great leader. Just willing to do whatever it takes to win. That's the type of guy you want to be around."