Even though it’s his second year as Minnesota’s head coach, Ben Johnson said this is truly the “fresh start” year for his program as it prepares to open the season at home against Western Michigan on Monday in Minneapolis.
With a year of laying groundwork and getting a foothold on the recruiting trail, Johnson is pointing to this year where his squad will “flip our mentality.”
“The mindset of our players and our staff is that we are going to embrace the past, and we are going to honor it, respect it, but we have to create our own path and vision,” Johnson said. “It starts with that winner’s mentality.”
Minnesota is coming off a 13-17 season in Johnson’s first year (4-16 in conference play) after starting 9-1.
Minnesota returns one of the Big Ten’s best wing players in Jamison Battle, who was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team after averaging 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last year.
The Golden Gophers also welcome in what could be an impact transfer in forward Dawson Garcia, a Minnesota native and former McDonald’s All-American who transferred from North Carolina.
Minnesota was picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll.
While Johnson is in his second year at Minnesota, Western Michigan will begin a new era under first-year head coach Dwayne Stephens.
A longtime assistant for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Stephens has the luxury of having back last year’s leading scorer in the Mid-American Conference, senior guard Lamar Norman, who averaged 19.8 points a game.
The Broncos also return senior guard B. Artis White and junior forward Markeese Hastings, who averaged 8.8 rebounds a game last season.
Western Michigan was picked to finish eighth in the preseason MAC poll.
“We are trying to lay that foundation and just trying to get down to what we want the staples to be here at Western Michigan,” Stephens said. “We are just excited to try and get better every day.”
–Field Level Media