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ESPN says Richard Pitino 'has to do the most to keep his job'

Pitino was the 2017 Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Last season was supposed to bring potential for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gophers didn't live up to preseason hype that had them ranked among the top 15 teams in the country only to to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. 

Minnesota started the season by winning 14 of 17 games before losing 14 of 15 to finish tied with Iowa and Illinois for the second worst record in the Big Ten. 

Everything seemed to unravel when star defensive center Reggie Lynch was suspended due to accusations of sexual assault. Lynch chose not to appeal the university's decision to suspend him, effectively ending his career as a Gopher. 

It's also noteworthy that the Gophers were 14-3 with Amir Coffey in the starting lineup before he was lost for the majority of the season with injuries, including a shoulder problem that required surgery and has kept him out of action the entire summer. 

It's hard to blame head coach Richard Pitino for player's off-court issues and injuries, but ESPN's Dan Murphy still believes Pitino is under more pressure to win this season than any other coach in the Big Ten

"The Gophers started last season as a top-25 team with a handful of promising players. By the time February arrived, the wheels had completely fallen off for the Gophers. Two assistants have departed this offseason and some of the talent is gone as well. Senior forward Jordan Murphy remains one of the league's better players -- and Pitino's team should be fun to watch -- but it will take a Herculean effort to get things back on track. Pitino enters the season as the Big Ten coach who has to do the most to keep his job for another season."

Another challenge Pitino will have to overcome is playing with a new starting point guard. Nate Mason (16.7 points, 4.2 assists) graduated, opening the door for Isaiah Washington, the highly touted recruit out of New York City, to step into the starting lineup as a true sophomore. 

Dupree McBrayer will give Pitino a nice option at shooting guard, Coffey at small forward and Murphy at power forward. Who starts at center is anyone's guess, although Eric Curry, who saw a lot of playing time a true freshman in 2016-17, will be available after missing all of last season with a knee injury. 

The 2018-19 season is also exciting because three true freshman from Minnesota could get plenty of playing time. Daniel Oturu is a 6-foot-10 center who led Cretin-Derham Hall to a state championship, although he's been rehabbing from a shoulder injury this summer; Gabe Kalscheur is a 6-foot-4 guard from DeLaSalle who can shoot; and Jarvis Omersa is a 6-foot-6 small forward with freaky athletic ability from Orono.  

Pitino, by the way, is under contract with the Gophers through 2022. 

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