Minnesota Gophers Basketball Preview: Richard Pitino expectations

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Head coach Richard Pitino of the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks on against the Michigan State Spartans during the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Head coach Richard Pitino of the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks on against the Michigan State Spartans during the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

In part two of our five part Minnesota Gophers basketball preview, we look at the expectations of head coach Richard Pitino.

In an offseason filled with negative headlines about his father, Richard Pitino has remained relatively quiet. Minnesota Gophers fans hope Pitino has remained on the straight and narrow path, much like Luke Skywalker and not followed in the footsteps of his Darth Vader-esque father. For those who do not like Star Wars, my point is that hopefully the apple has fallen far from the tree. Also for those who do not like Star Wars, how dare you? Anyway, I digress.

We have seen supreme highs and lows in the Minnesota career of Pitino. From the success of his debut season, going 25-13 in total. To the dismal 8-23 mark put up two seasons ago. Finally, a phenomenal 24-10 campaign in 2016-17 saw the school make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013. However, a souring loss to Middle Tennessee in the opening round has left Pitino hungry for more.

And the expectations for Pitino on the floor is exactly that, more. More wins, more success, and a deeper NCAA tournament run. In his four years as coach, he has not had as talented of team as he does this season. With stars like Nate Mason and Amir Coffey as well as fabulous supplementary pieces like Reggie Lynch and Dupree McBrayer, this team is destined for victory.

That talent is a credit to Pitino and his staff and their incredible diligence in recruiting. Consider this, a year after finishing second to last in the Big Ten, the Gophers were able to sign Amir Coffey. The Hopkins native was ranked the best player in Minnesota and the 32nd best player nationally according to ESPN. Despite the high marks and offers from huge basketball schools like Arizona and Michigan State, he picked Minnesota. Why? Yes, Minnesota is his home state, but credit has to be given in part to Pitino. Somehow he was able to convince one of the nation’s best recruits to come to a team that only won two conference games the year before! That has to be commended.

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Pitino’s ability to recruit has continued, bringing in stellar freshman Jamir Harris and Isaiah Washington.  He has consistently made Minnesota, arguably a non-basketball school, appealing to big recruits. Expect that to continue to happen as long as Richard Pitino is at the helm.

Perhaps the biggest expectations for Pitino however is to create a barrier between him and the reputation of his father. The recent fall from grace experienced by Rick Pitino has raised questions on campus. Would the younger Pitino be so naive to pander to the lowest common coaching denominator? From what we know currently, the Gopher coach has not. Knowing that this scandal mainly swirls around Adidas is also some good news, as Minnesota is with Nike. The mere fact that Richard Pitino has no known connection to Adidas is welcome news given the scenario.

What cannot be ignored is Pitino’s connection with his father. As any son would, he has come out publicly saying he will be there for his father and that he just “wants him to be happy”. Pitino also did not “denounce” his father’s alleged actions saying “it’s both good and bad” for college basketball.

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None the less, this is an extremely slippery subject for Minnesota’s coach. On the one hand, he wants to stand by his father, and be loyal to his family. Yet, he needs to keep his distance from his father from a coaching standpoint. There is no argument, in my opinion, that this is a horrific situation that changes the landscape of collegiate athletics. However, we do not truly know the difficulty and scope of this situation for Pitino himself.

So far, I think he has done a good job of keeping family and basketball separate. If he continues to successfully balance the two, it will all turn out fine. The situation becomes muddy if we learn that Rick Pitino’s off-court coaching habits have rubbed off onto his son. Luckily for Minnesota fans, I do not think that is very likely.

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The primary expectation for Richard Pitino is to ignore the static. Ignore the outside sources and focus on coaching the Gophers. Minnesota has a talented team, its most talented in years. They have a real opportunity to be wildly successful. It would be a shame to see that wasted due to outside factors. That being said, I believe Richard Pitino’s focus will be on the potential success of the Minnesota Gophers.

Read part one of our Gophers season preview piece here: Key additions and departures for the Gophers.