While Richard Pitino’s first season as the head coach at Minnesota didn’t finish with a trip to the NCAA tournament the Golden Gophers did experience success, winning 25 games and the Postseason NIT crown. The question facing Pitino and his program this offseason is what they’ll be able to do for an encore, and with four starters returning the NCAA tournament is a realistic expectation for the 2014-15 squad.
In an interview with Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Pitino discussed a variety of topics including what Minnesota needs to improve upon this summer. One area that came up: defense. And with that in mind, Pitino said he’s taking a different approach to evaluating where his team needs to get better defensively.
This offseason for me is going to be all about looking at our weaknesses and getting better at them. Right now, I’ve got our video guy breaking down every single basket that was scored on us. I’ve never done it before. We’re going to do a comprehensive study because our defense was not on par with our offense. We’re going to find out what the issues were and who was responsible for them. It’s going to be so much about improving on that because that was a weakness. We’ve got to get better at that.
The numbers certainly back up Pitino’s thoughts on Minnesota’s play on the defensive end of the floor, with the Golden Gophers finishing the season ranked ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (67.7 ppg allowed) and tenth in both field goal (42.6%) and three-point (34.3%) percentage defense.
And from a tempo-neutral standpoint, in conference play Minnesota was the Big Ten’s worst defensive team from an efficiency standpoint and they ranked tenth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
The return of players such as guards Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu and big men Elliot Eliason and Maurice Walker will help matters, as they’ll be more familiar with the things Pitino wants done on both ends of the floor. Also of note is the seven-member recruiting class that will give Minnesota the depth needed to play the uptempo style that Pitino prefers, hopefully with more consistency on defense coming as a result.
Minnesota has the tools needed to be a solid offensive team in 2014-15 but to take the next step the Golden Gophers will have to improve defensively, and Pitino has clearly zeroed in on that area heading into the summer.