*aMAILia bag is a new installment on the blog where I answer your questions every Monday. You can send your questions throughout the week to amelia.rayno@startribune.com

Let's get to the questions:

Every year I get super excited about the team's up-tempo style and success in non-conference play. Yet, it seems we always struggle come conference time. I realize it is a step up in competition level and a different style, but I was just wondering if there was any indication of us doing a better job of dictating the tempo and having more overall success in conference play? This is clearly Tubby's most talented team, but I worry about our ability to win drag it out, slow down, half-court conference games which happens frequently in conference season.

---Kent Janikula: An optimistic, but worried to commit (because of past years heartbreak) Gopher fan

I understand your hesitation, Kent, and there’s plenty of cause for it. Take for example, last season -- with basically the same team – when the Gophers went 12-1 over the non-conference schedule and then got shell-shocked as they entered Big Ten play. What. A. Difference.

However (never fear, Kent’s optimistic side) I think there are a few major factors that indicate things could be different when the league schedule starts this season:

1) Better D. Look, the Gophers aren’t all transition offense, even if that’s what they’re going for right now, and already this year opponents have been able to give them problems when they slow them down. But the difference this season is a significantly improved effort defensively. Even if the Gophers don’t have the most prolific offense in any particular game, they are capable of holding the opponent defensively while they adjust.

2) More balanced offense. At the same time, the Gophers’ offense has been stabilized some because of the consistency of Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins, in particular – they were on and off at this time last year – while there are others stepping up as well. The Gophers’ half-court offense still needs plenty of improvement, but they have so many players with so much more confidence this year that are more likely to break the cycle of aimless passing while the clock runs down and either take a shot or make a move.

3) Better poise, and a killer instinct. Do you remember what those non-conference games looked like last year? We were biting our nails half the time, wondering if the Gophers were actually, actually going to lose to (lesser opponent X). They fell behind, they wobbled late, the let teams come back, they got lazy. It was a roller coaster. This year isn’t like that. For the most part, the Gophers put their foot down early and keep it there. Then, in games like the one against North Florida, when the Gophers started out slow, you didn’t see the panic creep in like it might have last year. There’s a lot more poise here.

All of that said, there certainly are flaws with this team and ones that haven’t really been very exposed yet. I promise the Gophers will not float through conference play. But they also should be able to hold their own better than they have in the recent past.

It appears that new AD Norwood Teague and local billionaire booster T Denny Sanford have become fast friends.

I saw on Twitter that Teague attended Sanford's birthday party Friday night. Chip Scoggins also wrote about Teague and Sanford's (sounds like a great buddy cop movie) trip to visit the new Nebraska basketball practice facility.

Norwood appears to be working hard to craft a relationship with Sanford and other local donors. Any word whether they are making progress on funding for a Gophers basketball practice facility?

Derek Wilken

Derek, I think as far as fundraising goes, Norwood might be just about the best bet Minnesota could have. I know he’s already reached out to a lot of potential donors and has been building relationships there. Sanford might end up being more involved on the football side of fundraising instead of basketball, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of hoops support. Last I caught up with Teague on the subject, he said that he felt very confident that the financial support for a basketball practice facility – which is one of the things at the top of his facilities wish list – is there. Now, it’s a matter of going through the appropriate steps. There are a lot of other factors (besides the $) that go into building a new facility. The University of Minnesota recently hired a master planning firm – POPULOUS – to construct an overall facilities blueprint based on what the University needs and where its priorities lie. That’s where the process is now.

What is covering the Gophers team like? What is the typical schedule for you on game days versus during the week when the team just practices?


Brandon Proctor

Oh you know -- glitz, glam, glory, the good life.

… just kidding. When people think of a sports writer, they often picture just watching games and casually writing about them, but it’s not often they consider the image of someone hunched over a computer in a coffee shop for hours and hours and hours.

My job is either really flexible or not at all – in other words, if there is an access or a game, I will be there or be dead (I have a theory that all sickness goes away one deadline), but otherwise, it’s pretty flexible. I split work between my apartment, the arena and the office (or the road). I spend most of my awake time working during the season, but the ability to work un-showered in your pajamas is a plus. For the most part, it’s just a lot of writing. We only get access to the team on game days and the day before game days, so the rest of the time, I’m working on blogs and advances, doing phone interviews and reading a ton (oh, and tweeting with you guys). On game days, I show up about two hours early and stay about three hours late, writing. First I file a gamer at the final buzzer that goes to all the readers up in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Then, after going down to the locker room and talking with Tubby and the players, I do another re-write and blog. That’s the bulk of it. It’s a good gig and the players themselves are very personable and nice guys, so that helps too.


Where's your favorite place to go squatchin, and do you have a signature call?
--Doug ‏@dgfair

So far, my favorite place to go squatchin is KETTLE RIVER, MINNESOTA!! (special hello to Bob Siltanen). As for my call, I’m a “whoop” girl.

Older Post

Eliason showing glimpses of offensive production Gophers need

Newer Post

Rayno: Gophers moving up in more than just AP poll