Gophers Hoops: 2021-22 Season Preview

Nov. 1, 2021The Ben Johnson-era officially tips off tonight, as the Golden Gophers (D3) Concordia St. Paul in an exhibition contest a 7:00 p.m. 

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It has been a tumultuous 365 days for Gophers basketball. This time last year, Minnesota was picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten and Richard Pitino was set to begin his 8th season as head coach. In the time since, the Gophers’ finished the 2020-21 season 14-15, missing out on postseason basketball for the second consecutive season. Pitino was subsequently fired, and all but two players (Isaiah Ihnen and Eric Curry) decided to transfer away from the program.

Former Gophers guard and Xavier assistant coach Ben Johnson was called on to be the man to completely rebuild the Minnesota basketball program. Johnson brought in 11 new transfers and two freshmen while constructing his first team as head coach. Many are doubting the hodge-podge roster, as they were voted to finish last in the Big Ten Conference. Even though the results might not show up this season, you can feel a culture building within the program. Rome wasn’t built in a day.


Projected Lineup:

With 13 total new players, many Gophers fans would likely struggle to recognize much of this roster. Eric Curry and Isaiah Ihnen do return for another season, while College of Charleston transfer Payton Willis returns to the program after two seasons as a Gopher from 2018-2020. As for the new faces, SR E.J. Stephens (Lafayette), FR Abdoulaye Thiam (Indian River State College/JUCO), SR Luke Loewe (William & Mary), SO Jamison Battle (George Washington), SR Danny Ogele (Mercyhurst), SR Sean Sutherlin (New Hampshire), SR Charlie Daniels (Stephen F. Austin), JR Parker Fox (Northern State/D2) are the eight other scholarship transfers, while Treyton Thompson is the lone incoming scholarship freshman.


Willis is a name that Gophers fans recognize, as he spent two years with the Maroon & Gold from 2018 to 2020. Last season with the College of Charleston, he averaged 13.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest. He will likely be the man at the point guard position this season.

E.J. Stephens is a senior transfer from (Patriot League) Lafayette College. Last season with the Leopards the 6-foot-3-inch guard averaged 16.4 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 45.5% from the field. I expect him to have a large role on this team, as a true combo guard, he should spend time at both guard positions.

Battle is my pick to lead this team in scoring. Last season at George Washington, the 6-foot-7-inch wing averaged 17.3 points, and 5.2 rebounds playing in a competitive Atlantic 10 conference. The former DeLaSalle standout should be a name that Gophers fans start to know. As only a sophomore, he should be a serious part of this program going forward.

With only four players on this team taller than 6-foot-9, height will certainly not be a strength of this team. At 6-foot-5 himself, Sutherlin is certainly not a true power forward. But after averaging 9.3 rebounds in his last full season in 2019 with New Hampshire, I think the Minnesota native could see a lot of time this season in small ball situations.

  • C: Eric Curry

Another season removed from a serious injury, can only help Curry’s chance of having a bounce-back season. Even though it might not have looked like it last season, he is still a very talented player that will provide a veteran post presence that this team desperately needs. Most importantly Curry’s leadership will be instrumental in hoping to have any success this season.


I would not be shocked at all if Loewe starts multiple games this season. The 6-foot-4 William & Mary transfer averaged 16.2 points per game last season and his career 35% three-point mark, will be a great addition to a team that struggled mightily in that area a season ago.

Thiam might be the most interesting player on this team this season. The 6-foot-3 JUCO transfer is an explosive guard who could quickly see his role grow on this team. With at least four years of eligibility remaining, he will certainly be a building block of Johnson’s rebuild. Getting production out of players like Thiam could be what takes this team out of the bottom of the conference.

  • F: Treyton Thompson

If Thiam is the most interesting player on this team Thompson is a close second. The 6-foot-11 big man is a smooth ball handler who can more than hold his own along the perimeter. Much like Thiam, I could certainly see Thompson’s role substantially grow this season, as he will be a serious part of this program’s future.

Ogele, a Mercyhurst (D2) transfer, has struggled with injuries throughout his college career, but the former Navy standout has the talent to be a Big Ten player. His rebounding and 6-foot-7 size will be the reason he sees the floor.

At 6-foot-9, Daniels adds depth and height to the Gophers’ roster. After averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a season ago with Stephen F. Austin, Daniels will act as a solid backup reserve player on this team.


  • Parker FoxIsaiah IhnenJackson PurcellJoey Kern, and Will Ramberg

Talented Northern State (D2) transfer Parker Fox underwent knee surgery in June, and we may not see him make his Gophers debut this season, if he does it will be late in the season. Isaiah Ihnen was in line for a big role on this team, but he too underwent knee surgery this offseason and I would be shocked if we saw him this season. Jackson PurcellJoey Kern and Will Ramberg are all walk-on players.

Final Thoughts:

Many Gophers fans are very pessimistic when looking at the outlook of this season. I will do the opposite and be optimistic. Don’t get me wrong I do not expect this team to be competing for a Big Ten title, but I do not think they’re a shoo-in for last place in the conference like so many think. There is a theme of this roster, each player is a versatile defender and they can shoot the ball. Johnson talked about recruiting “Minnesota Gophers” in his opening press conference, and I think he has begun to do that. We have only begun to see what Johnson’s skills are as a recruiter and this season will certainly test his abilities as a basketball coach.

I am very intrigued by how this team will play. Like I said earlier, they certainly have a glaring hole in the height department, but I think there is definitely some room for creativity when it comes to small-ball lineups. Personally, I would view anything near .500 as a success this season, I will be wanting to see a direction and theme of how a Ben Johnson team plays. I think the program has done a terrific job of being creative with roster construction. It is a monumental task to ask a first-year HC to build a roster with 13 new players amidst a pandemic while the transfer rules of college basketball have completely changed. At the end of the day, this season is a building block for the future and I believe this program is heading in the right direction.

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