aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog in which you send me questions, and I answer them here. Send your queries for next week to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign your email however you want to be referred to in the post (ie: first name, full name, home town, Twitter handle, etc.). As always, thanks for all your great questions!
Happy New Year’s everyone. I hope everyone had a fun (and safe) night last night after the Gophers win over Michigan State. Your loyal Gophers beat reporter over here has been toiling over your questions on New Year’s Day. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. Hopefully everyone is awake and in want of some stimulating reading material now.
Let’s jump to the questions (in bold; my responses in normal type):
Injuries are inevitable. Who's the most important piece for our Big10 run?
Hmm, that’s a tough one because this year’s team has so much balance – anyone can take over the game on any given night, so in that way NO ONE is any too important. At the same time, in order for that unselfish dynamic to work, EVERY man is important. The starting rotation has so much parity, and that keeps defenses spread thin and honest. Just look at last night in the win over Michigan State – Dre Hollins notched 22, Rodney Williams 15, Austin Hollins, 12, Trevor Mbakwe 11. Even Joe Coleman, who had eight points, was a big contributor with three assists to one turnover, with two blocks and three steals – but that’s another story.
In any case, if I HAVE to pick one player, I’m going to go with Andre Hollins, for the simple fact that he’s your point guard now. He’s embraced his role and impresses me more and more each game this season with the way he’s starting to “click” in that regard. Last night was especially encouraging, both from a floor general perspective and, of course, as a scoring threat (which he’s harnessed much better this season also).
If something happened to Hollins (knock on wood, Gophers fans) this season, Maverick Ahanmisi would likely be the one to step in and replace him in the starting lineup. And while I really like the improvements Ahanmisi has made this year, he’s perfect for the role he’s currently in – he’s a little too limited, defense-wise, to be THE point guard, and while he can really shoot some 3s, he wouldn’t have the same scoring potential in that spot. Moving him to the starting lineup would also force Julian Welch into the role of main backup point, and I like him better as a shooting guard.
Tubby played 11, but no Ellenson. Do you think he will have a chance to crack the rotation as the year progresses?
I was a little surprised that Ellenson didn’t play at all last night, considering the good work the freshman did in the final minutes of the Gophers’ win over Lafayette. The fact of the matter is, Ellenson is still far behind in terms of knowing the plays and executing on defense. Tubby Smith is quick to state that about the guard, and on Saturday he reiterated that he isn’t sure how many minutes Ellenson will get this season.
It’s only been one game since Ellenson has been officially eligible that he hasn’t played, so of course there’s a chance he can break into the rotation. Smith used a shorter bench than usual Monday anyway, and frankly, he was probably a little more concerned about winning the game than getting Ellenson comfortable. The wing will play if he proves himself. Problem is, the timing to prove yourself at the start of the Big Ten schedule, when every game is going to be a battle, just isn’t good. This was part of why I was surprised Smith took away the redshirt.
Mailbag: why no time for [Oto] after excellent first half especially winemaker MSU making big run?
Winemaker MSU? Is this an auto correct? A New Year's Eve joke? Some term I’m not familiar with? An indictment of the Spartans’ habits?
My guess is the first. Anyway. As I said above, Smith didn’t play a long bench at all yesterday, particularly in the second half when only four players – Elliott Eliason (1), Julian Welch (5), Maverick Ahanmisi (2) and Andre Ingram (2) – got any minutes at all. I really liked that move, with the starters cruising and the second group, while providing a spark against MSU’s reserves in the first, not doing a good job of hanging with the Spartans’ starting lineup. As for why Osenieks didn’t get more second half minutes in place of, say, Welch, I couldn’t tell you other than I think Smith really believes in Welch and wants to get him going. Osenieks – and the rest of the crew – played their part in the first half. The starting five was clearly exhausted (Williams actually appeared to signal that he wanted a reserve at one point) and the second group was great in relief. They simply weren’t needed as much in the second. In the past, it’s been frustrating to watch Smith make a line change at seemingly unnecessary times, so I had no complaints over his use of the bench in the second.
Who is your Big Ten player of the year prediction? Not now, but by the end of the year!
One thing about this mail bag that I didn’t anticipate – I’m finding that I get on the hook for many more official predictions … maybe you guys will forget when I’m wrong? Anyway, I suppose I can always count on you guys to make me think on the day after New Year’s Eve (yes, that is also known as New Year’s Day).
If your hopes are up that I’m going to name a Minnesota player, I should squash that now. With the Gophers, it’s such a team thing, so I don’t think that any one of them will win it, unless Minnesota wins the conference. In general, I like to look at the POY as the one who meant the most to his team; the one that would hurt a team the most if he was gone.
Therefore, if Ohio State were to have a great Big Ten season, it would have to be Deshaun Thomas, who is the thing keeping the Buckeyes afloat right now. If Illinois continued its success, I’d name Brandon Paul. But I’m not sure those two are going to be the top exciting teams going forward, so I digress.
If I had to pick a POY to this point, I’d name Trey Burke, who has just been stellar, as has Michigan. And considering I don’t see Burke (or Michigan) flopping anytime soon, that’s probably a safe pick for POY too – but it’s also kind of a boring pick, and no one likes a boring pick.
So I’m going to go out on a limb here, and name Iowa’s Aaron White as my prediction for end-of-the-year POY. The Hawkeyes are one of the teams I think will finish much better than they were expected to this season, and if that happens, White will be a big part of that. The sophomore has improved in nearly every category from a year ago, and I think he’s only getting started. He can impact the game on both ends of the court and has shown he can be a dominant scorer. In big games so far, he’s produced big. Yesterday, the forward was key in keeping the Hawkeyes in the game with Indiana and while he didn’t score in the game’s final 13 minutes, he did get some critical rebounds (but Iowa couldn’t pull it out). So there it is, folks.
Perhaps I missed it, but I'd love to see your prediction for our BT record... Official, and on the record! Ha.
Again with this way-ahead stuff? Well, I’ve actually put this out there already, and it doesn’t feel so tough repeating it after last night’s win. I predict the Gophers to reverse last year’s totals and go 12-6 in the league.
Does the Gophers' high ranking have anything to do with the B1G's national reputation, or are voters really that high on them?
I think it’s a combination of both, but yes, I think voters really like what they’ve seen from the Gophers early on. They’ve played really solid basketball, even when not playing against top competition – anchored by tough defense and a balanced offense.
What is the Gophers biggest weakness? 3-point shooting?
Three point shooting is one. But after yesterday afternoon, I might go back to turnovers. What an egregious show that was for a little while there, particularly at the start of the second half. Turnovers (the Gophers almost had one miscue a minute for the first eight minutes, which the Spartans returned for seven points) were the bulk of the reason Minnesota let Michigan State take its first lead. It was ugly basketball for a little while there. Ultimately, the Gophers defense (and converting when they did hold onto the ball long enough to get to the basket) kept them in the game during that period, and they didn’t have any turnovers in the final 11:55 of the second. But whoa, 16 turnovers again? This cannot continue if the Gophers are going to keep up this success in the Big Ten.
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:
What’s the difference between a Sasquatch and a Yeti? Not a Gophers hoops question, but important nonetheless!
You’re right, Julie – very important. The differences between Sasquatch and Yeti are basically the name -- each given by the original natives who saw them -- and the region. Sasquatch is the North American version and Yeti is the name for the similar creatures in mountainous Asia (mostly throughout the Himalayan range). Some say Yeti have mostly white fur (which would make sense given their surroundings) while American sasquatch are typically black or cinnamon-colored.