Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino reacts as he talks to his players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Problems piling up for Pitino in Minnesota

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When Minnesota hired Richard Pitino in 2013, he was hailed as a wunderkind with a basketball pedigree and acumen that was far more than just his last name. He was coming off an 18-14 campaign in his first season as a head coach at FIU, but he’d coached for the likes of his father, Rick Pitino, and Billy Donovan. Not to mention he was being hand picked by the man that tabbed Shaka Smart and started the famed Villa 7 consortium.

Three years later, it appears that the Gophers program is unraveling fast.

The latest in a recent string of issues for Pitino is an audit of his travel that found he’d spent triple his budget for private plane use in 2015 among other overspending issues, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

This revelation came just hours after junior Reggie Lynch was released from custody after being arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. Lynch was not charged, but police will continue to investigate and he could face charges at a later date.

Just a few months ago, three Gophers were suspended after an explicit video was posted to social media. One of them, Kevin Dorsey, decided to transfer after the season.

Athletic director Norwood Teague, of course, resigned ignominiously last summer amid a sexual harassment scandal, but not before he negotiated the terms of a contract for Pitino that gave the 33-year-old a $400,000 raise and upped his university-owed buyout to $7.1 million, despite the fact Pitino went just 43-28 overall and 14-22 in the Big Ten in his first two seasons. The Gophers went 8-23 overall and 2-16 this past season. That extension has Minnesota’s Board of Regents moving to gain approval of all high-level contracts for athletic department employees.

Minnesota still has not hired Teague’s replacement, leaving Minnesota with an interim AD.

The audit that was made public Tuesday would also appear to show Teague giving Pitino further favorable financial treatment. Pitino’s contract called for him to be allowed $50,000 for private planes but Teague authorized him to spend $100,000 in 2014 and $150,000 in 2015, according to the Star Tribune. Pitino was also said to have “unreasonable” spending on rental cars and took two “unallowable” flights because the destinations were within 200 miles of campus.

That’s a long way of saying that Pitino will be under tremendous pressure this upcoming season, but he will welcome his best recruiting class yet to the Twin Cities. He’ll likely need to show significant improvement to appease whoever his new boss is once Minnesota hires an athletic director. Putting an immediate end to the off-court issues that have plagued the program in high-profile ways will also be a priority.

The excitement of hiring a young coach with a famous name has faded fast in Minneapolis. What’s left is a program that is piling up problems with regularity and frequency.

Minnesota could opt for big lineup

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino reacts as he talks to his players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino is experimenting with a potentially big starting lineup this season. In a report from Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Pitino believes that since the Big Ten has a lot of naturally big lineups that he might need to adjust.

Pitino said that a starting lineup could include Nate Mason, Carlos Morris, Charles Buggs, Joey King and Bakary Konate. While Mason and Morris present good natural size in the backcourt, the 6-foot-9 Buggs playing at small forward could be a major change.

“In my ideal world, that’s a big lineup, pretty talented,” Pitino said to reporters on Friday. “The one thing you learn is that you make a plan and you know it’s going to change. But I like the size of that lineup. I like the speed. I like the athleticism.

“But again, if guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you have to be willing to change.”

Seeing Pitino looking towards this lineup is intriguing since he has some talented and athletic freshman wings and guards in the mix. If Buggs and the big lineup is used, it means the Golden Gophers could be deep on the perimeter, bringing talented freshmen like Kevin Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy off the bench.

Obviously, injuries and the way certain players respond to these lineups could change a lot before the beginning of the season, but for now, this will be something to monitor in the preseason.

Three-star forward will decide between three

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One of the July evaluation period’s biggest stock risers, Arkansas native Eric Curry, will decide between three schools this week, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-8 forward from Little Rock will pick this week between Arkansas, Iowa State and Minnesota. Playing with the Arkansas Wings in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer, Curry averaged 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game playing on a very balanced team.

Over the summer, Curry showed an improved skill set and he has the capability of being a versatile forward at the next level thanks to his athleticism. While Curry has to improve his perimeter game in order to play on the wing, he has the quickness to be a matchup problem if he can add that to his repertoire.

Currently regarded as the No. 141 overall prospect in the Rivals150, Curry is coming off of a recent official visit to in-state Arkansas and the Razorbacks are hoping to keep Curry home.

Minnesota also hosted Curry for an official visit during the process and the Golden Gophers have some recruiting momentum after adding four-star in-state guard Amir Coffey this week.

Iowa State’s official visit was sandwiched in between the trips to Minnesota and Arkansas and the Cyclones are trying to find a suitable replacement for the versatility of senior forward Georges Niang.

Minnesota keeps four-star wing Amir Coffey at home

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Minnesota got one of its key recruiting targets to stay home as four-star wing Amir Coffey committed to the Golden Gophers during a Monday afternoon press conference. The 6-foot-6 Coffey, who attends Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, is currently regarded as the No. 54 overall prospect in the Class of 2016.

With the addition of Coffey, the Golden Gophers are getting a talented perimeter shooter who can knock down shots from well behind the 3-point line. While Coffey just recently returned from a torn ACL that he suffered in January that forced him to miss the spring and summer grassroots season, he’s now returned to the court and is drawing positive reviews during his comeback.

Coffey follows in the footsteps of his father Richard, who started four years at Minnesota from 1986-1990 before playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 1990-91 season.

The younger Coffey joins another in-state product, three-star small forward Michael Hurt, in Minnesota’s Class of 2016. Both Coffey and Hurt can spread the floor and hit shots and bring some good size on the wing for the future.

Four-star guard to announce college decision Monday

Richard Pitino
Associated Press
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One of the top available perimeter prospects in the Class of 2016 will come off the board Monday afternoon. 6-foot-6 shooting guard Amir Coffey will make his college choice Monday afternoon during a press conference at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Coffey, ranked 54th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, announced this via Twitter.

Coffey’s had to deal with some significant injuries during his high school career, as he suffered a broken leg in the summer of 2013 and tore his ACL last December (he’s back playing). But that hasn’t adversely affected Coffey’s recruitment, withhigh-major programs still vying for a commitment.

Minnesota, which could use the boost of keeping a highly regarded recruit home, is seen by some recruiting experts as the favorite to land Coffey. Richard Pitino and his staff hosted Coffey on an official visit earlier this month, and the guard has also taken multiple unofficial visits to Minnesota (as well as one unofficial to Iowa State).

Among the other programs to have offered Coffey are Alabama, Baylor, Iowa State, Marquette and Texas.

Ongoing investigation results in Minnesota athletics administrator taking leave of absence

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The last month has not been a smooth one for the Minnesota athletics department. As a result of two department employees filing complaints of sexual harassment against him, athletic director Norwood Teague stepped down August 6. And on Thursday it was reported by the Star-Tribune that the school’s ongoing investigation has led to an athletic department official agreeing to a request that he take a leave of absence from his position until the investigation is completed.

Associate athletic director Mike Ellis, who also worked with Teague at VCU, has had five complaints anonymously filed against him per the report. One of those complaints centered on the allegation that he’d shared pornographic images on his cell phone with other staff members while at the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas in 2012.

The August complaint says that when a senior member of the U’s athletics department and a member of the Gopher Radio Network Team “made it known they were offended by the graphic images, that person was immediately shunned by the new senior administrators,” including Teague and Ellis. “A few days after returning from the bowl trip, this athletic administrator was shockingly fired for ‘reorganization purposes’ a move that very much troubled the rest of the athletic staff.”

Within the last month Minnesota’s had to let go two senior administrators in its athletic department, which does no favors to the coaches and other employees who remain on board. As a result, they’ll all have to deal with the uncertainty while the school continues its investigation into the actions of Teague and Ellis.