Busting Brackets

Minnesota Basketball: Breaking down early projected 2023-24 rotation

Feb 9, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Ben Johnson points to the bench against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Ben Johnson points to the bench against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /
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Big Ten Basketball
Minnesota Basketball forward Dawson Garcia Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports /


Jamison Battle’s departure is the big storyline in the frontcourt, but the Gophers have the potential to be strong up front, assuming they can stay healthy. Dawson Garcia has All-Big Ten talent and a pair of soon-to-be sophomores, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Pharrel Payne, impressed during the lost 2022-23 campaign.

Forward: Joshua Ola-Joseph

Although he finished with comparable numbers to Payne, Ola-Joseph was the most impressive freshman on the team in my opinion. The 6’7″ wing averaged just over 22 minutes per game and played in every contest, finishing with averages of 7.4 PPG and 2.7 RPG. He finished shooting 55% from the field but much like the rest of the roster struggled at the free throw line.

What impressed me most about Ola-Joseph was the versatility; he was asked to defend both guards and bigs at a high level and did so about as well as you could hope from a true frosh playing in the Big Ten. I expect him to play a key role once again in 2023-2024 and if he can refine his shooting touch, there’s plenty of potential here.

Forward: Dawson Garcia

There were some initial growing pains for Dawson Garcia as he returned to his hometown Gophers, but he seemed to really find his rhythm once Big Ten action began. He finished as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, shooting good percentages across the board and limiting turnovers. He’s unquestionably the face of the program now that Battle has moved on, and I’m curious to see if there’s another level he can reach.

After spending one season apiece with Marquette and North Carolina, Garcia will be returning to his team for the first time in his collegiate career, assuming nothing crazy happens between now and fall. Will his comfortability and familiarity with the program put him on a path to a huge senior season?

Forward/Center: Pharrel Payne

There may not be a tougher league in America to be a freshman big than the Big Ten, but Pharrel Payne performed admirably. He led all freshmen on the team in scoring, with 8.2 points per game, and also finished as the team leader in blocks. Sure, there were plenty of growing pains, as to be expected, but Payne showed a real edge around the rim and plenty of upside as a rim protector. A full offseason with the program should be huge, as will the opening of a starting role in the frontcourt.


The wild cards on the roster are in the frontcourt with the pairing of Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen, two players who have missed the last two seasons with knee injuries. Ihnen is the lone holdover still remaining from the Richard Pitino era, a long, athletic forward who has flashed in the past. My hope is that Ihnen is able to find a role on this team that fits his skillset. During Pitino’s final year, it felt like the German forward was trying to force himself into becoming a three-point shooter. He finished as a 22% shooter from three-point territory that season and it felt like it stalled his development, which hasn’t been aided by two serious injuries in a row.

It’s easy to forget that is was Fox, not Jamison Battle, who was Ben Johnson’s biggest get in his first recruiting class. The Minnesota native was a prolific player at Division II Northern State, earning NSIC Player of the Year and All-American honors. The Gophers were hoping his athleticism and scoring prowess would give Johnson’s first team a major boost, but Fox has yet to play a minute with the program. If he can stay healthy, he has the chance to be a real difference-maker on both ends. Just seeing him on the court will be a welcome sight for Gopher fans, as the fan favorite deserves his moment.

The other scholarship player on the roster is redshirt freshman Kadyn Betts, who was expected to be in the 2023 Class before reclassifying and joining the Gophers a year early. That year with the program should pay immediate dividends, and there’s a lot to like about his game,  an explosive combo forward who can defend multiple spots. Playing time may be hard to come by this season if Ihnen and Fox are able to play, but the future is bright.

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Trying to project a roster just weeks out before a college basketball season is hard enough, but several months? Nearly impossible. So, expect there to be changes as the transfer portal keeps turning, with the Gophers likely to add several pieces beyond Mitchell.

The current roster has plenty of interesting pieces, and the Gophers could be feisty if the youngsters grow up quickly. A postseason berth is still too much to ask for at this point, but there’s a sense of urgency around the program as Johnson enters a pivotal Year Three.