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In year two, the Gophers' roster is set to be two-thirds Pitino

by Andrew Krammer, 1500ESPN.com Updated 6 months ago | 3236 reads

In a calendar year, Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino has quickly transformed the roster to fit his mold.

Pitino's second offseason will be as short as his first when he was introduced to replace Tubby Smith on April 5, 2013. But if history says anything, the Gophers' third NIT title in program history could serve as a transition to a NCAA tournament appearance -- and that would-be path may be laid with mostly 'Pitino players.'

In 2014, more than two-thirds of the team's roster is set to be hand-picked by the relatively new coaching regime.

A handful of Smith recruits have made early departures. Joe Coleman transferred to Saint Mary's before last season. Sophomore Wally Ellenson announced he left the team to focus on track and field after he didn't see the court in Big Ten play this season. Junior Oto Osenieks will effectively 'retire' due to a lingering knee injury.

The Gophers will also be without departing seniors Maverick Ahanmisi, Austin Hollins and Malik Smith. That leaves just four Smith recruits - redshirt seniors Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker, senior Andre Hollins and redshirt sophomore Charles Buggs - on next season's squad that has a 13-scholarship capacity.

Though Pitino and his staff had a slim shot at landing any of Minnesota's 'Big Three' recruits in Tyus Jones (Duke), Rashad Vaughn (UNLV) and Reid Travis (Stanford), they wasted no time last offseason. Pitino gave DeAndre Mathieu his first scholarship and added Daquein McNeil during the first month on the job. He aimed to transfer Malik Smith and Rakeem Buckles from Florida International University, but the NCAA approved Smith's waiver and not Buckles'. Pitino also added Eagan, Minn. native Joey King, who started for the Gophers since February, as a transfer from Drake.

In the fall, the Gophers signed three new recruits in guards Nate Mason and Carlos Morris to go along with power forward Josh Martin. Minnesota had one scholarship remaining, but after Ellenson and Osenieks announced their departures, Pitino now has three scholarships left for 2014.

Regarding the potential for next season, Pitino reportedly took a guarded approach knowing about half of the team will be new faces. 

"You're bringing in three, four or five freshmen and junior college guys to see how they blend in," Pitino said via the Pioneer Press. "Certainly, it will be different. Hopefully, the guys we have returning understand why we won games and why we lost games."

According to ESPN, four-star recruit Djuan Piper, a 6'6" small forward, has an offer from Minnesota as well as Alabama big man Abdoulaye Gueye, who is also pursued by Tubby Smith's Texas Tech, per Scout.com.

Each of the Gophers' three previous runs to the NIT title game (1993, 1998 and 2012) resulted in a NCAA tournament appearance the following season. Whether Pitino continues or breaks that trend, he'll be doing it with mostly his players. 

Austin Hollins goes out on top

Austin Hollins' last shot as a Gopher sent Minnesota up 62-59 with less than a minute left in the NIT title game. The outgoing senior finishes fourth all-time in program history in 3-pointers made (181), to go along with a couple other impressive ranks. 

Hollins' 213 career steals rank second in Gophers history, just two shy of former Gopher Melvin Newbern. Hollins also finishes first all-time in games played, ninth in assists and 15th in scoring. 

Andrew Krammer covers the Minnesota Vikings for 1500ESPN.com. He previously covered the Gophers men's basketball team for the Minnesota Daily.
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