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Minnesota’s Eric Curry out 4-to-6 weeks after knee surgery

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Just a little over a week ago, Eric Curry was cleared to play for the first time since he tore his ACL, an injury that cost him all of last season at Minnesota. The Golden Gopher big man, however, is back on the mend.

Curry, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is out 4-to-6 weeks after undergoing another knee surgery, this one in response to swelling in his knee that an MRI revealed was damaged cartilage, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

“Unfortunately this knee is stubborn but Eric is relentless,” Curry’s mother, Audrea, tweeted. “Some nasty cartilage was removed this morning and hopefully no more swelling or issues!! But Hey, its unfortunate but in 4-6 weeks it will conference play and he will be geared to go!!”

Curry was slated to start for the Gophers, bolstering a frontcourt that already boasts all-Big Ten selection Jordan Murphy.

“Huge blow for our team,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said in a statement.  “We will eagerly await his return. Feel so bad for Eric because he worked so hard to get back.  He has to keep the faith and stay positive. We will stay on him!”

The Gophers have to be hoping this is simply a minor setback and not an ominous sign for a season that comes on the heels of a 15-17 campaign that was beset by injuries. Curry’s timeline puts his presence in question for a tough slate of non-conference games that includes Boston College (Nov. 28) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 30) and Big Ten games against Ohio State (Dec. 2) and Nebraska (Dec. 5).

Freshman center Daniel Oturu, a 6-foot-10 Minnesota native and four-star prospect, could be pressed into action immediately in Curry’s absence.

Minnesota striving to bounce back from injury-ravaged season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The breakthrough that Minnesota enjoyed two years ago became an afterthought last season, as injuries mounted and losses piled up.

Finishing 15-17 was a rough follow-up for the Gophers to their only NCAA Tournament berth under coach Richard Pitino.

“I’m a lot better when we have a healthy roster as a coach,” Pitino said. “I think that at the end of the day when you’re building a program, to get stability it takes some time. I thought we were there last year.”

This season, Pitino’s sixth at Minnesota, will provide yet another opportunity for a reset.

After ominously losing forward Eric Curry to a torn ACL in a summer workout, seeing forward Amir Coffey sidelined by shoulder trouble after 18 games and watching shooting guard Dupree McBrayer hobble through leg injuries down the stretch, the Gophers are healthy again with some talented newcomers in the mix.

“We can’t allow last year to derail that momentum,” Pitino said.

Success will start with senior forward Jordan Murphy, who led the nation as a junior with 24 double-doubles. He averaged 16.8 points and a Big Ten-leading 11.3 rebounds per game in 2017-18. Pitino has advised Murphy to work even harder on his rebounding, for the sake of team and career.

“I know he wants to play in the NBA,” Pitino said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got the numbers. You have shown that you can produce at our level, at a very high level. Now it comes down to, can you show them how hard you play every single possession?'”

Minnesota opens the season Nov. 6 at home game against Omaha.

THE POINT OF IT

The Gophers will miss point guard Nate Mason, who closed his college career last season by averaging 16.7 points per game and leading the team in assists, free-throw shooting and minutes. His understudy was Isaiah Washington, whose first year had more downs than ups in his adjustment from flashy New York City high school star to struggling Big Ten rookie.

“He’s grown a lot on the court. With all freshmen, it’s habits. For him, as difficult as all the injuries were, it thrusted him into meaningful minutes,” Pitino said. “Now it’s just a matter of terminology, understanding offensively, defensively, never taking a play off.”

MILWAUKEE PIPELINE

Akeem Springs was a key contributor in 2016-17, his lone season with the Gophers. This year, another shooting guard from Milwaukee has arrived as a graduate transfer, Brock Stull. He was the second-leading scorer for the Panthers last season with an average of 13.4 points per game.

One attraction for Stull was the presence of former Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter, who joined Pitino’s staff after two years as an assistant at UNLV. Jeter took the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament twice and won 20-plus games five times in 11 seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Wisconsin under head coach Bo Ryan.

“He knows how to win in this league. He knows how to recruit the area. He’s a really good person,” Pitino said. “He’s been a terrific addition.”

FRESHENING UP

Stull was one of three offseason transfers, though the only one eligible for now. Matz Stockman, a 7-foot native of Norway who sat out last year after three seasons at Louisville, could give the Gophers an intriguing option underneath.

The top big man off the bench will be Daniel Oturu, one of three incoming freshmen from the Twin Cities area along with forward Jarvis Omersa and shooting guard Gabe Kalscheur. The 6-foot-10 Oturu was a consensus four-star recruit who helped lead Cretin-Derham Hall High School to the Class 4A state championship with a dunk off a lob pass at the buzzer.

TOUGHER COMPETITION

The Gophers have five opponents on their schedule from the other five major conferences, the most since Pitino arrived to better meet NCAA Tournament selection criteria.

The Gophers host Utah on Nov. 12, followed by a trip to Canada to face Texas A&M and Washington over a three-game set in the Vancouver Showcase. They play at Boston College as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 26 and take on Oklahoma State on Nov. 30 at U.S. Bank Stadium to give the site of the season’s NCAA Final Four a test run as a basketball venue.

MORE OF IT

The Gophers visit Ohio State on Dec. 2 and host Nebraska on Dec. 5, before diving full-time into the new 20-game Big Ten schedule on Jan. 3 at Wisconsin. The six teams they only face once are Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan State on the road and Iowa, Penn State and Indiana at home.

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

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Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

Watch list for Malone award released

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It’s watchlist season, y’all.

The latest preseason inventory comes from the Malone Award, given to the country’s top power forward, which features 20 names.

Kentucky has a pair of players with P.J. Washington and Stanford transfer Reid Travis while the mid-major ranks are represented by South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok.

Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson is also on the list as is senior All-American candidates Dean Wade of Kansas State and Luke Maye of North Carolina. SEC player of the year Grant Williams also makes the cut.

“We are privileged to annually present an award bearing the name of Karl Malone, a truly gifted player and an exemplary teammate,” John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The young men on the watch list for this, and other awards in the Naismith Starting 5, should be extremely proud, and we look forward to watching them compete throughout the upcoming season.”

The list will be cut to 10 in February, then to five and finally awarded to the honoree in April. Players not named in the initial 20 can also work their way into consideration.

Arizona’s Deandre Ayton won last year, Johnathan Motley of Baylor in 2017 and Georges Niang of Iowa State in 2016.

2019 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award Candidates
Yoeli Childs, BYU
Zion Williamson, Duke
Juwan Morgan, Indiana
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Dean Wade, Kansas St
Reid Travis, Kentucky
P.J. Washington, Kentucky
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
Jordan Brown, Nevada
Luke Maye, North Carolina
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
Chris Silva, South Carolina
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Devontae Cacok, UNCW
Bennie Boatwright, USC
Simisola Shittu, Vanderbilt
Eric Paschall, Villanova
Noah Dickerson, Washington
Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Four-star forward Tray Jackson commits to Minnesota

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Richard Pitino’s first 2019 pickup is a significant one.

Tray Jackson, a four-star forward, has committed to Minnesota, he announced in a social media post Monday.

“110 percent committed!!” Jackson wrote.

The 6-foot-8 prospect out of Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. picks the Gophers after a weekend visit to the Twin Cities. He previously both Oklahoma and Seton Hall earlier this summer.

“Really I’ve been on plenty of visits and enough to know what I like, I just got a really good vibe from the coaching staff and the players,” Jackson told 247Sports. “I went around campus and I loved the campus. I love the support the sports gets, it’s really some of the best country.

“It was just how welcoming they were. They didn’t pressure me or bash any other colleges and never mentioned any other colleges.”

Jackson, a top-100 prospect, will help fill an immediate need for the Gophers, who will lose starting center Jordan Murphy to graduation after the upcoming season.

“Obviously coming in, I’ll have to work for my starting spot,” Jackson told 247Sports, “but coming in being able to play. I just feel like I can come in and make history.”

Jackson is the first member of Pitino’s 2019 class. Pitino has now secured at least one four-star recruit in five-straight classes with the Gophers.

Vanderbilt lands first 2019 verbal commitment

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On the same day that fellow SEC school Florida landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019, Vanderbilt managed to do the same. Four-star shooting guard Austin Crowley, who was scheduled to take an official visit to Minnesota this weekend, announced via Twitter that he will play his college basketball for Bryce Drew.

A 6-foot-6 guard from West Point, Mississippi, Crowley currently attends Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and made his pick just days after visiting Vanderbilt. Crowley, who played for the MoKan Basketball program on the Nike EYBL circuit, was also considering Minnesota and Ole Miss.

After winning 19 games and reaching the NCAA tournament in Drew’s first season at the helm, Vanderbilt fell to 12-20 last season. The hope for this season is that returnees such as guard Saben Lee can work together with a highly-regarded 2018 recruiting class to spark a turnaround and make the Commodores a factor in the SEC.

Should that happen the 2019 class, which now has its first member in Crowley, would be entrusted with the task of building on said momentum.