After a slow first eight games where grad transfer Alihan Demir was averaging just 7.1 points and shooting 40%, Richard Pitino sat down with the former Drexel forward.
“He was really frustrated early, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know what my role is,'” Pitino recounted. “I’m like, ‘Alihan, the way that you’re playing, there is no role. It’s the reality of it. That’s the truth.'”
But as fans have witnessed before, it can take a while for transfers to find their footing. Now that’s he’s got 16 games under his belt, Demir is fitting better into the role that Pitino carved out for him in the starting lineup: a bigger body that can help replace the lost scoring of the injured Eric Curry and the lost rebounding of the graduated Jordan Murphy.
“What’s changed is he’s getting comfortable,” said Pitino, “and now all of a sudden he’s smiling all the time, he’s happy all the time, and that’s great to see.”
Demir says he was courted by around 40 schools after deciding to leave Drexel in a transfer process that he called “intense.” The Turkish native went about examining the schools’ systems, rosters and openings for someone with a skillset like his. He eventually landed on Minnesota to conclude his college career.
“Playing more games, I feel like I’m getting more used to playing in the Big Ten, playing with my teammates,” Demir said. “The skill level is higher here than it was in the Colonial Conference. I would say everybody is bigger and better and stronger.”
The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 9.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and shooting 47% over his last eight games and has looked noticeably more comfortable as the Gophers have hit their stride, beating two ranked Big Ten teams at home and nearly upsetting Purdue on the road.
“Ali just kind of has this old-man game,” said fellow forward Jarvis Omersa. “Got nice, good post moves — slow buckets. But that’s different and changes up the pace. When you’re playing in the Big Ten people try to get to things quick, you could say.”
OTURU FROM DISTANCE
The growth of Daniel Oturu has been stunning as a post player, but an underrated part of Oturu’s development has been his stroke from outside.
Oturu, the nearly-7-foot sophomore that is developing steam as an NBA draft prospect, has shot 9 of 26 from 3-point range, good for 35%. The big man only attempted two 3-pointers all of last season, but Omersa insists that outside shooting has always been part of Oturu’s skillset going to back to their days in high school.
“We knew, but we didn’t say it,” Omersa said of his outside skill. “He really started working on that stuff probably like junior, senior year, and it’s just been kind of a slow progressing thing for him. It’s funny because there’s not just a lot of kids that can just go into a basketball gym and just shoot with a basketball themselves, but Daniel for some reason always does. He can just shoot around and chase his own rebounds for hours.”
Oturu has managed to remain one of the most efficient players in the country despite expanding his range. Only one player in Division-I has a better shooting percentage with over 200 field goal attempts than Oturu: Dayton’s Obi Toppin, who edges Oturu by one-tenth of a percentage point.
“It’s going about what I expected, to be honest,” Pitino said of Oturu’s progress. “He was a great recruit when we got him. … Understood where to get better, where he was good, and we talked over the summer, ‘Hey, expand that range. You can make it. We’re all for it. You know, don’t shoot a million of them. Understand where your bread is buttered. Don’t live around the perimeter, get down low as much as you possibly can,’ and he’s really, really coachable.”
The old assumptions about what makes a good NCAA tournament résumé were thrown out the window when the committee adopted the NET rankings as its new criteria last year. While the old RPI-based system favored teams that could amass good records after beating up on mid-majors, the NET demands stronger schedules since it weights victories based on opponent strength and location.
The Gophers are ranked 40th in the NET despite having a 9-7 (3-3) record. Only Purdue is ranked higher than the Gophers (35th) with seven in the loss column. You can thank Minnesota’s strong schedule for that. Five of their seven losses came on the road, one on a neutral floor and only one at home — all against power-conference opponents. Meanwhile, the Gophers banked quality home wins against Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan while beating Oklahoma State on a neutral floor.
“It’s very important for teams to schedule tough, everybody in your conference, because then your numbers are going to be better when you play them,” Pitino said. “That’s what we want. The days of rooting against the guys that you play, those are over. You’re rooting for your conference because you want strength in your wins, and you just look at the numbers. The number of opportunities in front of us are absurd.”
Along with the NET rankings comes the quadrant system, which ranks teams’ wins based on the opponent. A victory at home against a team ranked 1-30 in the NET, on a neutral floor against a team ranked 1-50 or on the road against a team ranked 1-75 merits a Quad 1 win. The Gophers have nine of those opportunities remaining out of their final 14 games, based on the current NET rankings.
“They legitimately take your team sheet and they’ve got Quad 1, Quad 2, Quad 3, Quad 4 and they want to know how many Quad 1 wins you have, Quad 2 wins you have, and that’s what they’re looking for,” said Pitino. “So you’ve got to have more Ws to the left of that sheet. You’re going to see teams getting into the NCAA Tournament winning maybe 16, 17 games. It’s just reality of it. The NCAA wants you to schedule tough. They want you to stay away from the, quote, cupcakes at home. It’s hard to figure it all out.”