aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions and I answer them here. Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @AmeliaRayno with the hashtag #aMAILiaBAG. As always, thanks for all your questions.
Greetings from Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, where I will shortly be flying to Chicago for the first of the Gophers’ two-game road trip vs. Northwestern and Wisconsin. Should be a good jaunt. Love Chicago, but haven’t spent much time in Madison yet. I have about 1,000 people on Twitter obsessively telling me I’ll love it, though. … Every week for the last four weeks or so I have been telling myself to trim this mailbag because it’s starting to grow like an unruly sasquatch – massive, weird and occasionally hard to get your head around. In any case, if I do manage to abbreviate this going forward, I will be sorry not to get to all of your questions because this is fun, if extremely time consuming.
Let’s get to the questions.
I watched both games and I have a different take than the published narratives about "slow starts, dry spells, and lack of aggressiveness." I think they simply lost heart when faced with a better team that they couldn't stop. The result was a loss of defensive discipline and focus on the game plan. They eventually recaptured some enthusiasm only when a few possessions went their way and the other team was maybe resting on a 20 point lead.
I think this team is talented, and hard working and has good chemistry, but they are just not as talented as Michigan and Indiana. Sometimes your system can beat talent (see Wisconsin) but more often, the best team wins. So I sort of feel bad when all the reporting, and the coach cites lack of effort or aggressiveness. These Gophers are good, maybe the 3rd or 4th best in the Big Ten.
By the way, when I say they lost "heart" I mean they "stopped believing" they could win, "lost their confidence", "got down on themselves" and each other. I'd love to believe they could beat the elite teams by working harder or being more aggressive but I'm not sure that's true. They have nothing to feel ashamed about in losing to Indiana and Michigan and are good enough to finish high in the conference and go to the NCAA's.
I wonder if you would agree with me?
Bob, here’s what I don’t understand. What on earth is the difference? Let’s say the Gophers did “lose heart” as you say because they were up against a better team. Well, that has to manifest itself in some way on the court. I can’t simply write that “this Gophers team, again, lost heart.” Now does their losing heart come out in the form of a loss of aggressiveness, a stretch of sluggish play? Sure, I could buy that.
But then, the premise is just flawed. So the team lost heart when they were clearly hanging with the opponent – because it was obvious the opponent was better, but then they gained heart as soon as they were out of it because the pressure was off? That just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It seems it would be easier to lose heart when you’re down by 20, not when you’re within a single possession. Look, Indiana and Michigan are two really good teams, and you’re right – there’s not a lot of shame in losing to teams of that caliber. As far as losses go, those are pretty respectable ones to have. And along those lines I agree that had the Gophers played close to their absolute best, they still could have been overmatched by these teams. But the simple fact is they didn’t give these teams a chance to beat them. As Andre Hollins so succinctly stated, the Gophers beat themselves. They did so by failing to maintain their earlier intensity and the defensive sharpness that has personified this squad all year. They did so by forgetting to communicate, failing to get on the same page and playing timidly.
No one is vilifying the Gophers and saying they simply didn’t care, but this is a game that requires constant focus and a purposeful energy, and the Gophers let those necessities slide for periods against Indiana and Michigan.
I think we’re agreeing -- to some extent -- on the end product, but you’re trying to add another wrinkle to it and make it a more likeable thing. You can call it poor play or you can call it poor play because the team lost heart. You can polish a turd, but it’s still a turd. What’s more, if the Gophers simply stopped playing because they were intimidated by the fact that Michigan and Indiana are probably better than them, well then, yikes, they might be in the wrong league and it might be a long year.
(Hopefully this will be the last time I use the word “turd” in this blog space.)
At this time last year, I wondered why we had recruited Andre Hollins, Austin was only "so-so" at best, Williams was pretty passive and Coleman was (to put it mildly) very erratic. While we fans may scoff at the NIT, how much do you think the run to the championship game---against decent teams on the road---resulted in the huge improvement for all of the above players? And do you think these players (not to mention bench players like Ingram who got big minutes) would be this far along if we had either not made any tourney, or been "one and done" in the NCAA's?
There’s no question, I strongly believe last season was hugely critical for the growth and development of this Gophers team. First, it was simply the opportunity to keep playing, and for a squad that looked significantly better in their last three games before the NIT (Nebraska game plus the Big Ten tournament), that was something very meaningful. Secondly, the confidence that run brought was important since it came on the heels of an incredibly discouraging collapse in the conference. Freshmen Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman were big contributors who at that point, hadn’t really experienced a lot of success to help propel them forward. It’s tough not to wallow at that point, quite honestly. Finally, the capper for that experience, I think, was actually finishing that run with a blowout in the championship game at Madison Square Garden against Stanford. It allowed the Gophers to go into their offseason with immediate memories of success, but also a reminder that they had not suddenly become perfect, they still had flaws and there was still much work to be done. Also, as you pointed out, Andre Ingram looked better during that stretch than he had all season, and that transformation was impressive to see. That said, while Ingram has done some good things this season, he has still been largely inconsistent.
Hi Amelia - have you ever talked with Tubby about his subbing at the 15 minute mark in the first half? Season after season, it is the same thing - sub a new 5 at the 15 minute mark and lose the momentum and play catch-up in the second half. Tubby blames lack of aggression - it is a lack of an offensive playesr being able to score. Do the statistics Amelia when the subs come in - how many points have they scored to how many they have given up? It is shocking. I have been in the basketball environment as a player, coach and spectator for 60 years and I have never seen the momentum change in so many games as the Gophers, coached by Tubby. When he was at Kentucky, he was known as a defensive coach, not an offensive coach and the lack of his half court offense was one of the reasons he was fired. If this is your reputation, then, why take the chance that you will lose the offense that you have going into games that are so critical and when you have the momentum? Subbing is important, but 1 or 2 players at a time, not 5 at once and especially when it doesn't work season after season. Would you agree or disagree? Thanks for your time.
To get this out of the way, I agree with you, and we are not in the minority. Complaints about Smith’s substitution patterns – well, let’s just say I don’t receive emails like this rarely. It is a pretty significant theme regardless of how the team is playing.
I got out my calculator and my pen to figure out just how much worse they’re playing than the starters, and then I thought to myself: ‘No, do not waste a half hour on this. This is silly.’
I mean, if your argument is that the second team is worse than the starting group, well, I don’t think I hear anyone, including Smith, arguing with you on that. The second group is significantly worse than the first. There, we’ve stated that. So the question then becomes, what is the best strategy for resting the Gophers starters? Say Smith maintains he wants to rest each individual starter for five minutes each half. Is he better off with a highly lesser team (the full switch) for five minutes or a couple of moderately lesser teams (subbing out two and three guys at a time) for 10 or three slightly lesser teams (2, 2, 1) for 15. For Smith, maintaining the chemistry of that starting group is a big incentive for his substitution pattern, as is trying to develop some chemistry on a second team.
Now, that doesn’t mean you or I have to agree with it, but that’s part of what’s behind the thinking. Obviously, Smith has been asked about this strategy of his plenty by me and the rest of the media, however, we do not continue to ask him about it every day because the subbing pattern has literally has been a mainstay for his entire career at Minnesota. It’s part of how he coaches. You might not agree with it, I might not agree with it, but my guess is that no one is going to talk him out of it anytime soon.
Will we see Welch start coming off the bench before Mav?
My guess is yes – by all signs, clues and sentiments, it seems Smith wants to make Julian Welch the team’s go-to sixth man, as long as they can get some sort of offensive production out of him. He is clearly the better ball handler and defender between him and Maverick Ahanmisi, and while the latter has been able to bring in some instant offense off the bench a la Chip Armelin from 2011-12, the junior has been a liability otherwise. Now that Welch had a solid offensive performance in relief of Andre Hollins (in foul trouble early in the first against Michigan), he almost certainly will be the man going forward.
What campus/city is the least attractive place to visit in the Big Ten?
Of my current experiences, I’m going to have to go with East Lansing, although I might be slightly biased because my first trip there was just days after discovering I am allergic to gluten and I was miserable as it was because I hadn’t learned how to eat yet. Otherwise, there’s just not a lot going on there. However, I have a handful of sources who tell me West Lafayette is an even more tragic experience (I haven’t been there yet because the Gophers did not go to Purdue last season).
Just to balance this out, I’ll name my favorites: Bloomington (which I recently discovered and fell in love with) and of course, Chicago (technically Evanston is the Big Ten city), my third favorite city in this great land.
Do you think the Gophers win their next four and get back into the top 10?
Easier said than done, Joe, especially these next two games, which just might be more challenging than we were inclined to think at league season’s start. The tricky thing about Northwestern and Wisconsin is that they can beat anyone on the right night with their styles of play. They both throw things at a team that it’s not used to. They both execute extremely well on defense. They both like to force the tempo and make teams play their game. Add in the fact that they’re both road games, well, these are far from gimmes. Nebraska – which the Gophers get as soon as they return home from the two-game trip -- is kind of the same way, making that three-game span a really interesting experience in just how Minnesota performs against teams that will go out of their way to slow the pace and get the Gophers away from the up-tempo approach that best suits them. Then, there’s Iowa, which has intrigued me this season, especially after rebounding from losses to Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State with wins over Northwestern and Wisconsin. So – if the Gophers do win those four games, yes, I think they will easily be back in the top 10, but then, that’s just not going to be an easy task. I think Minnesota wins three of the four games and hangs around the teens.
I think I speak for everyone when I ask: what are the chances the Gophers end up settling for the NIT?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Adam! Can I get you a glass of water, Adam? Do you need a cold cloth? Should I fold this notebook into a series of paper fans?
Take it easy, buddy. The Gophers have three losses so far and those losses have all beat to teams who have been ranked at No. 2 or higher this season. OK? Not the end of the world. Now, that doesn’t mean that we know the Gophers are going to be able to compete with the elite, but we can’t get too down on them quite yet either. The fact of the matter is we could see very differing seasons, depending on whether the Gophers play like they do when they’ve looked their best or if they play like they do when they space out for stretches the way we saw against Indiana and Michigan. My guess is we’ll see a little of both. I think this team will learn to better keep the intensity they need for full games, but I also think it’s a really tough league and they’re bound to slip up at times. However, I would be truly surprised if this squad misses the NCAA tournament (barring any huge injuries). That would be a major flop.
I heard Tyus Jones was at the game. What are the latest rumors regarding where he’ll end up? Gophers have a chance?
We probably won’t get the final, most meaningful update from the Tyus sweepstakes for quite some time, but two small updates: 1) Jones went on an unofficial visit to Kentucky a couple weekends ago and 2) North Carolina, one of Jones’ suitors and one of the eight schools on his shortened list, has a commitment from 2014 point guard Joel Berry II (happened on Monday), so that may or may not affect Jones’ decision to be a Tar Heel. Beyond that, I will say what I have always said: as long as the Gophers are on Jones’ short list, they should consider themselves a serious contender – and act that way in recruiting him. However, it is certainly going to be tough. And Minnesota certainly isn’t putting on hold its recruitment of other point guards in the meantime.
Seems like the Gophs play zone in the 1st half, get down early, then switch to man, which works, What do u think?
Well, I don’t think it’s that simple. The Gophers have used the zone effectively, in some cases, in others, not so effectively. I think one of the reasons we’ve seen more zone lately in the first half is because Minnesota has had some slower starts, both offensively and defensively, and they’ve tried to switch up their defenses to try to find something that works. In the second half, in general, I think we’ve seen the Gophers settle down a bit more in general, find the intensity to better execute whichever defense they choose.
What will/should the Gophers do differently to win against the elite teams in the B1G next time?
1) Maintain their intensity for a full 40 minutes, 2) communicate and execute better defensively and 3) limit turnovers. They do those three things it’s a different game.
Looking at the remaining #Gopher schedule, is it crazy for me to think that we will lose only 1-2 more games in B1G?
I feel like maybe you need to take a harder look at the conference. Where are your one or two losses? The thing about the Big Ten is that the losses – unlike for the Gophers so far this season – often come in very unpredictable ways. Look at the way the league schedule has unfolded so far. Purdue beats Illinois, Illinois beats Ohio State, Ohio State beats Michigan, Wisconsin beats Illinois, Wisconsin beats Indiana. Wisconsin? Iowa beats Wisconsin. You’ll drive yourself nuts trying to rank these guys (trust me). Saying “one or two” isn’t even taking into serious consideration the ones I consider the “very tough” games, which include Wisconsin on the road, Michigan State on the road, Ohio State on the road, Indiana at home. Iowa, I still maintain could also be in that category. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if they did that, I think they would be in contention for the title.
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:
I watched this Finding Bigfoot TV program the other day. So I have a question for you. If Sasquatches are real, why has there never been a discovery of a dead bigfoot out in the woods? So many years of searching and so many people that go into the woods hunting, hiking and searching. You would think there would be a carcass somewhere…
This is a common question, and one I asked when I was first starting to research anything and everything bigfoot. But the reality is finding “carcasses” or bones just isn’t necessarily as common an experience as you might think, even for those that are actively searching. First of all, fossils don’t stay fossils for very long. Bones rot and erode or are carried away by porcupine and other animals to gnaw on, and only become preserved in the rarest of climatic circumstances. Did you know we have never found fossils of either a gorilla or a chimp? Additionally, great apes are known for their extremely human-like reactions to the parting of family members of “loved ones” often mourning loudly, physically comforting and sitting by the body to guard it. Is it so odd to believe that the most evolved non-human ape remaining would bury its dead? I leave you with that.