Busting Brackets

Minnesota Basketball: Breaking down Joshua Ola-Joseph transfer departure

Minnesota v Purdue
Minnesota v Purdue / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

After losing to Indiana State in the second round of the NIT over the weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers joined a host of other Big Ten teams who had already begun their offseason. And, of course, in the modern age of college basketball, no offseason would be complete without nearly immediate action in the portal. Today's news came courtesy of sophomore Joshua Ola-Joseph, who announced his intentions to transfer after two seasons with the Gophers.

Ola-Joseph's decision doesn't came as a significant surprise - in fact, most around the program seemed to accept it was bound to happen. The former Minnesota high school star was a pleasant surprise as a true freshman, averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.7 RPG in just over 22 minutes of action. He seemed to be building on that in 2023-24, but in late January and early February, saw his minutes cut significantly. In fact, in Ola-Joseph's final eight games, he didn't see double-digit minutes once, and saw just three minutes total during the short NIT run.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Ola-Joseph suddenly saw his role disappear on a Gopher team that was playing for the postseason. Rumors that he was in the doghouse with head coach Ben Johnson circulated, but the most likely scenario is that veteran Parker Fox simply outplayed him when he was on the court, bringing energy and a defensive intensity that Ola-Joseph lacked.

But now that Ola-Joseph is gone, the Gophers could see a crunch at a forward position that was their strength over the course of the 2023-24 campaign. Big man Dawson Garcia had the best season of his career with Minnesota over the past winter, and could be gearing up to test the NBA Draft waters. He had previously done so at Marquette after 2021 and ended up returning to college, but it feels like a true 50/50 situation whether he's back next year. The same uncertainty hangs around Fox, a sixth-year senior who still has eligibility remaining, but participated in Senior Night, likely marking the end of his long and winding collegiate career. And then there's Isaiah Ihnen, the lone holdover still on the roster from the Richard Pitino years, who has never quite able to carve out a role on this year's team and could be heading back home to his native Europe to play professionally overseas.

In short, a position that was once a strength for Johnson is now a serious question mark - quite the reminder of just how difficult it is to build and maintain a roster in modern college basketball. Johnson and staff are likely to be very active in the portal, and there's already buzz they are eying a pair of Minnesota natives to bolster the frontcourt in North Dakota State's Andrew Morgan and Michigan's Will Tschetter (if he does indeed enter the portal following Juwan Howard's firing).

Could the Gophers also be hoping for major jumps from some of the young frontcourt pieces on their roster? Potentially, and it's a storyline that's worth monitoring as we embark on the long haul that is the college basketball offseason. The name I'm watching is redshirt freshman Kadyn Betts, a 6'8" wing with all the physical tools to make an immediate impact. Betts reclassified and joined the Gophers early, redshirting in 2022-23, but played in just eight games this season. Whether or not he's able to emerge could have a profound impact on Minnesota's hopes next winter.

Also on the roster are a pair of holdover forwards in Erick Reader and Lithuanian Kris Keinys. Keinys saw action in five games this past season and Reader just two, and they're likely to be depth pieces moving forward unless something drastic changes. And, after the bad injury luck Minnesota has suffered in their frontcourt in recent years, that depth could be crucial looking ahead to next season.

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Although expected, the transfer of Ola-Joseph adds an additional layer of uncertainty for a Minnesota program that ended Ben Johnson's third season on a positive note. There's potential this team could be a serious threat in the Big Ten if the offseason goes right, but with so much up in the air as they prepare for the summer, anything could happen as we look ahead to the coming months.