aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions (to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter or and I answer them here. Questions below are in bold, while my responses are in regular type.

Amelia, I have a theory I want you to shoot down:

Even though the Big Ten is supposedly a superior conference this year, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't do that well in the NCAA's. When Big Ten teams come into conference play, most of them were filled with confidence after basically steam rolling competition from somewhat equal (ACC) and lesser or much lesser competition. In the Big Ten, I've seen many teams (not just the Gophers) lose that "swagger". Illinois, which pounded now #1 Illinois on the road and beat Butler, went into a swoon after losing at home to the Gophs. Even Indiana and Michigan lately seem to be playing with less confidence and much tighter. The 3's aren't falling like before (just ask Stauskus from Michigan) and teams aren't running as much.
On our own team, Austin Hollins (who hit five 3's in a row against Northwestern at home) can't buy a basket, Coleman views anything beyond a dunk as daunting, and Rodney Williams looks like a freshman again. Yet these same three looked like world beaters against "normal" competition in the NIT last year.
Do you think the difficulty of this conference---and what it does to the teams' collective confidence--- might hurt its results come NCAA time? It seems like a few years ago when the Big East was considered the dominant conference most of their teams went out early.

Jeff King
Cary, NC

That you’re talking about confidence is a real giveaway that you’re a Gophers fan.

I mean, sure, you could definitely make the argument that these teams are exhausted and that will impact them in the play-offs – but I just don’t think confidence is an issue for Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin – the teams I could see really making a run.

When you talk about threes not falling, teams struggling more and running less – well, that’s just the wear-and-tear of a long and tough conference season. Shooters go through slumps. Struggles are expected to be highlighted in Big Ten play – anyone who didn’t see them coming hadn’t taken a very good look at the league this year. And it’s hard to run much in the Big Ten because there are so many teams that are defense-oriented and enough that consciously work to slow it down. I remember at the end of the non-conference schedule someone asking Wisconsin’s coach Bo Ryan whether he thought teams were running more this year. He chuckled and said something to the effect of ‘Just wait ‘til January.’

That said, I don’t think any of that will make Big Ten teams inherently weaker than other conference teams – au contraire, I think they will be much stronger because of it. Other teams that are in weaker conferences never had that wakeup call that Big Ten teams did. They’re still cruising through a non-conference-like schedule (see Memphis). A lot of them have never been forced to play in the half court, forced to see what happens when an opponent denies them the run. They haven’t had to adjust against such good, and varied, defenses. They haven’t had as many fatal flaws exposed, and so perhaps haven’t fixed them (remember the Gophers in the non-conference schedule? They were racking up turnovers like crazy, but no one really cared that much because they were winning).

That Big Ten teams are stronger (Michigan State's Tom Izzo agrees) doesn’t mean it will absolutely translate into tourney success. That’s the beauty of the Big Dance, after all – advancing is all based on individual matchups. You never know what can happen. But I certainly think those four teams I mentioned have as good a shot as anyone.

Geez Louise, that Purdue game, huh? #aMAILiaBAG


I hear you, Stu. Your brain has been impacted from viewing that performance and now you’re out of words.

It was pretty ugly indeed – but it matched a pattern we have seen for the last two and a half months. Once the Gophers really get going, they have a big letdown, and they can’t stop their letdown until it hits rock bottom. The four-game losing streak. Michigan State and Illinois to make it six losses in eight. The at Iowa and at Ohio State blowouts after rebounding against Wisconsin. And now this.

Does that mean the Gophers are scheduled for an uptick? Honestly, maybe. But until then (and maybe even after that – I mean, the ups and downs of this team are like sitting on a see-saw with a surprisingly strong but easily distracted child), I think ‘Geez Louise’ is the appropriate response.

Do you think Tubby already knows he is stepping/fired after the season. Just seems like he and team have given up. #aMAILiaBAG


No, I certainly don’t think Smith is counting himself fired. He just got a contract extension, which means it is going to be VERY tough to fire him. It doesn’t mean the administration won’t – I think they might if the Gophers don’t win a game in the NCAA tournament – but it means that he has a very persuading advantage on his side of the court: money. If the Gophers had just won their last two games of the season, paired with the Indiana win and other four ranked wins, and then Minnesota had gone on to win one game in the NCAA tournament, I think it would be very tough to fire him.

In any case, I think Smith is very frustrated – as is his team – but not because he’s got one foot out the door.

Will Gophers win the NIT this year? #aMAILiaBAG


Come on now – the Gophers are just about a lock for the NCAA tournament. I talked to CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm just yesterday, and he said he thinks most likely, the Gophers will end up right about where he has them now – in an 8-seed/9-seed game.

Of course a lot of the eventual seeding depends on other things happening with other teams, but Palm said he can’t see the Gophers falling below an 11-seed (they could go as high as a six if they made a big run in the conference tournament, he said), even if they lose to Illinois on Thursday. That’s just how weak the bottom of the bracket is. The fact is, the Gophers have five wins against ranked teams and 12 against RPI top-100 teams. That ain’t bad.

#aMAILiaBAG any chance we finally see the starting lineup with Welch or Ahanmisi at point with Hollins', Mbakwe & Rodney?


I would love to see that lineup, and since Smith seems to like it to, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see it as the starting lineup on Thursday. I think one reason he would be hesitant to do so is that he might not want to give the impression that he’s tweaking NOW, which is fair. However – these are tweaks that should have been made a while ago, in my opinion. That lineup was clearly the best that he used on Saturday, and the difference in Andre Hollins playing off the ball and away from the point guard responsibilities is significant. Better late than never. I say give it a go. I’ll ask Smith about it tomorrow.


With Gavin Schilling having taken his official visit to Michigan State over the weekend, he has now visited each of the four schools on his list of finalists. Since we're already late in the 2013 class recruiting cycle, when do you expect we'll be getting a decision from Mr. Schilling? With the Gophers' starting frontcourt graduating in a few months, this would seem to have a significant impact upon next year's team. If Schilling commits elsewhere, will Tubby look elsewhere to fill that scholarship or stand pat with their two existing commits?


Yes, where Schilling decides to go is critical. If he goes elsewhere, the Gophers will be in a tough spot as there just aren’t a lot of capable big men out there otherwise. Last I spoke with the Findlay Prep senior, he said he would make a decision in March. Well, it’s March, and as you mentioned he’s now visited all of his schools. I expect we’ll be hearing something soon. (I texted him today, but haven’t heard anything back just yet -- will keep this blog and the Twitters updated).

I still feel the Gophs can make a postseason run...what do think is the one key for this to happen?


Yeah, I think they CAN too, if they get their act together. If I have to pick just one thing I would pin it on the very broad stroke of “intensity.” The Gophers have had next to none of it in some of their recent losses, and have fallen because of inconsistency in that regard in other games. When they’re focused and relentless for an entire game, they’ve played pretty well. Beyond that, I think they need to find a leader – some leader, any leader. Someone needs to be the one to take over. If they can do those things, push their style of play, don’t completely embarrass themselves from the outside, continue to keep the turnovers at a minimum and maintain the strong defense that has been their identity, but which slacked significantly against Purdue, I think they’ll be OK.

So, I listed more than just one thing – but the Gophers will need to do all of that if they want to be competitive in the postseason. They’ve shown a capability to do all of it – now they just need to put it all together.

What does Saul Smith? Doesn't seem to be a recruiter? Player development? If he is let go would Tubby follow?


Saul does some recruiting as well, but Ron Jirsa and Vince Taylor probably handle the bulk of it. Saul’s main responsibilities is to oversee guard development and ball handling.

(**pause to wait for gasps and shrieks about turnovers being Saul’s fault**)

Per the other half of your question, there has been some speculation about whether the ‘U’ administration would perhaps turn over the staff (see what I did there?) even if Minnesota decided to keep Tubby. But as you noted, it could be a messy deal trying to hire all new assistants for Tubby. To start with, Saul is his son, and I don’t think the head coach would take a staff revamping very well. He’s got to work with these guys and produce favorable outcomes, so Smith getting along with his assistants is in the interest of everyone. That said, I think there is a real argument to be made for some kind of change. Would Tubby walk out if his assistants were dismissed? I don’t know the answer to that … but I wouldn’t be surprised.


Australian Yowies. Your thoughts?


I’m super interested in the yowie, which has a lot of similarities to the Bigfoot except from what I’ve read the yowies are generally smaller, perhaps more reddish-brown, and have a more aggressive demeanor.

I would love to head to Australia in seach of one (what a good excuse for a vaca) – the Finding Bigfoot crew did – but there are plenty of places to search for the American sasquatch first. And I think I’d rather start with the relative that is less likely to try and kill me.


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