The reasons for optimism are few at Williams Arena. Kris Humphries left Minnesota after one season for the NBA. Ben Johnson, the Gophers' most consistent perimeter player a year ago, graduated. So did Michael Bauer. Throw in a pair of players transferring out of the program, and Minnesota is left with few known quantities for the 2004-05 season.
Adam Boone, who averaged 8.4 points per game as a junior, was supposed to be the team's leading returnee -- until he suffered an arm injury in October that may sideline him for the season. The Gophers don't have a single healthy player who averaged as much as 20 minutes or five points per game in '03-04.
FRONTCOURTSenior 7-footer Jeff Hagen is the only player in the frontcourt with experience of any sort in the Big Ten. Hagen has improved greatly since he arrived at Minnesota as a walk-on, but he's been a bit player for his career. As a result, redshirt freshman Dan Coleman, true freshman Spencer Tollackson and junior college transfer J'son Stamper will be counted on heavily in their first seasons as Gophers.
Coleman has the most potential to be a frontcourt scorer for Minnesota. A former high school teammate of Humphries, Coleman originally signed with Boston College but returned home after summer school. A long and athletic player, Coleman was impressive in practice while sitting out last year. He also added weight and strength to a lean frame.
The 6-9 Tollackson is much more of a back-to-the-basket big man than Coleman. He's both big and strong and that should give him an advantage over most freshmen in the rugged Big Ten.
Stamper, a spring juco signee, is an undersized power forward who is listed at 6-6. He was an effective rebounder at Independence (Kan.) Community College, but it's difficult to project whether he'll have the same success in the Big Ten.
BACKCOURTTwo newcomers -- freshman point guard Rico Tucker and junior college transfer Vincent Grier -- have a chance to see significant playing time while Boone is out.
The opportunity of immediate playing time largely explains why Grier, who played as a freshman at Charlotte before transferring to Dixie (Utah) College, came to Minnesota.
"There were a ton of people who wanted him," Gopher coach Dan Monson said. "But I think he was intrigued with our situation, and he saw an opportunity to be the guy to try to make it better."
Tucker, a native of San Diego, brings athleticism to the point guard position that hasn't been there under Monson. He's extremely quick, is a good defender and can jump out of the gym.
Moe Hargrow, a wing who was trying to make a return to Minnesota after leaving the team and then transferring to Arkansas in mid-January, was ruled ineligible for the '04-'05 season. Had he been able to play, Hargrow would likely have been one of the team's leading scorers.
FINAL ANALYSISThe Gophers have not lived up to preseason expectations in any of the past three seasons. That might change this season as few people expect Minnesota to be a factor in the Big Ten race in '04-05. This team simply has too many questions and too little talent for it to be anything other than a conference bottom-feeder.