Ben Johnson's first roster as Gophers men's basketball coach consisted mostly of older transfers who helped start the program's foundation with their only season together.
The Gophers in Johnson's second year are less experienced, especially with season-ending injuries to veterans, but it's a group with "young and fresh energy."
"The culture we're trying to have is everybody is pushing the next guy to get better," Johnson said this summer. "Not only does it help elevate individual play, but it helps elevate team play."
Talent has arrived that could help the Gophers move up from a last-place Big Ten finish, but big questions loomed as practice started Monday for the 2022-23 season.
Who replaces injured forwards Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen?
Nothing pains Johnson and his coaching staff more than to open practice this week without Fox and Ihnen for the second straight year. Fox's above-the-rim game would've been entertaining for fans and energetic for the team. His type of shot-blocking presence could come from 7-foot sophomore Treyton Thompson and 6-9 freshman Pharrel Payne. The closest thing to Ihnen's outside shooting and length is 6-8 freshman Kadyn Betts, but he's a redshirt candidate after reclassifying from the 2023 class.
Can Dawson Garcia become the best newcomer in the Big Ten?
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook picked Garcia as their preseason Big Ten newcomer of the year. The 6-11 North Carolina transfer was a productive starter for the Tar Heels before he suffered a concussion in early January and eventually departed the team to be with his ailing family in Minnesota. An example of what the ex-Prior Lake star and McDonald's All-America can do when at his best vs. the Big Ten was his 26-point, eight-rebound effort against Purdue last year.
What's the next step in top returning scorer Jamison Battle's development?
Imagine how dangerous Battle would've been last season if he had Garcia next to him. A 39-point outburst at Maryland displayed the 6-7 sharpshooter's potential as a lethal scorer. But the Gophers really were a one-man show in the frontcourt. Garcia relieves some of that pressure. But Battle's next step could be playing as a big guard at times, if he can handle that move defensively.
What does the Gophers backcourt experience look like now?
Possibly the biggest difference from a year ago is backcourt experience. Johnson's four-guard rotation of Payton Willis, Luke Loewe, E.J. Stephens and Sean Sutherlin was as old as the Timberwolves' — maybe. They played in 467 games and had 289 starts in their career.
Morehead State transfer Ta'Lon Cooper and Dartmouth transfer Taurus Samuels have 177 games and 104 starts combined. Cooper's passing gives him the starting point guard nod (seventh nationally with 5.9 assists a game).
How many freshmen will play major roles this season?
Injuries and limited guard depth could force the Gophers to start freshmen this season. Braeden Carrington and Jaden Henley are candidates to play with Cooper. Henley's size at 6-7 reminds Johnson of ex-Gophers star Amir Coffey. In the frontcourt, the 6-9 Payne's physical maturity is beyond his years. His inside presence could be intriguing alongside Battle and Garcia. Joshua Ola-Joseph is an undersized forward, but his athleticism and motor might win him a reserve role.