Pending any appeal the center might file, Reggie Lynch's college career is over. Since suiting up for Richard Pitino last season, the Gophers have had one of the nation's best two-point defenses, thanks in no small part to their center, who is/was arguably the best shotblocker in college basketball. Last year, only one player had a higher block percentage, and he was 7-0 tall and playing in the Southland Conference. That's about four inches taller than the typical Southland center. This season, Lynch ranked in the top-10 in block percentage, with the likes of Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson just ahead of him.
It's hard to isolate Lynch's impact on the defensive side of the ball, in part because of the mess that was Minnesota prior to his arrival. That team featured interior defenders like Joey King and Charles Buggs, so replacing them with average defenders will result in substantial gains. But the Gophers went from having the second-worst defense in the Big Ten to the third-best, achieved via a conference-leading defensive effective field goal percentage.
Frankly, you don't need me to tell you that losing the best shotblocker in the country will lead to some defensive regression. Most offenses love to generate open shots at the rim, and an elite shotblocker tends to take those away.
But I think the bigger problem is offense.
Lynch is not a dominating offensive presence. He's more of a dunkasaurus, and this season, a tremendously effective one. He was shooting 58 percent at the point of his suspension, in large part because 60 percent of his shots came at the rim. He gets hacked a fair amount, and makes free throws at just over a 70 percent clip. But, Lynch is not going to create his own shot off the bounce, nor is he going to punish teams that throw double teams at him. That's rare, of course, because teams are more likely to be doubling Jordan Murphy, and because it's not like Lynch has a plethora of post moves at his disposal.
But what Minnesota is replacing him with is much worse.
Barry Konate figures to get the lion's share of minutes, and while Konate can at least swat a few shots on the defensive end, he's a bit of a mess offensively. He's never been a force on that end of the floor, but it's actually getting worse. He's gone from a role player that made 53 percent of his 2s on offense to a basically invisible player that has made 44 percent of his 2s. And, although he's never been comfortable at the free throw line, he's been at least able to get attempts at a very healthy rate. This year? Barry Konate has two free throws in 146 minutes of basketball this season.
And this is, frankly, the more mild criticisms one can levy. Konate's biggest problem is that the basketball itself appears to be a confusing object he has not quite mastered.
Konate's poor hands are something his teammates seemingly know all too well. The result? Even when Konate is open, he's not getting a pass.
Undeterred, Konate figures out how to create turnovers for his team even when he does not get the ball.
Why Konate thought he would draw a foul by running into a set player, I have no idea. However, it should be noted that the Gophers were facing Indiana without not just Lynch, but also Amir Coffey. Coffey is having a fine season, but it's largely just a marginal improvement over last year's fine season (sometimes I'm right about stuff). Still, that's a very good offensive player, and taking his minutes on Saturday was freshman Michael Hurt. Hurt somehow played 31 minutes and attempted one (missed) shot. He scored zero points. At various times during the game, Archie Miller "hid" a subpar defender by putting them on Hurt (the 6-1 Josh Newkirk, for example).
Hurt is a sophomore, so this extremely low usage is officially concerning. Against IU, Hurt never put much pressure on the defense, but was simply a release valve standing somewhere safe on the perimeter. When he did have to make a more difficult pass, this happened:
Now, Nate Mason could have done a better job using the screen, but when a teammate is not open you do not pass him the ball.
So, Barry Konate and Michael Hurt are limited offensive players, and to the extent that they are called upon to play minutes that would have otherwise gone to Lynch and Coffey (who will be out for a while), Minnesota's offense will struggle. Mightily. When 40 percent of the players on the floor are invisible or walking turnovers, it's incumbent on the remaining 60 percent to be otherwordly. Further compounding problems is that freshman Isaiah Washington is not shy about shooting (when he should be), while Dupree McBrayer is too shy.
The result? Mason and Jordan Murphy heroballing. You could not miss it on Saturday, as the two players basically chucked the rock every time it came into their possession in the second half. The most extreme example came in one of the most ugly final possessions you will ever see.
It's going to be a cold winter, Gophers fans.