Well, here we are. If you're reading this, chances are you're somewhat disillusioned about how this season played out. Minnesota played 11 games decided by six points or fewer and lost eight of them. The Gophers had a couple of road wins that were much more impressive than the two collected last year, but in front of their home crowd -- where Minnesota was 6-2 last year -- they had a losing record. Ultimately, Minnesota has played itself far out of any NCAA tournament conversation and finds itself on the line for even the NIT after the Penn State loss on Sunday.
At this point, I find that most fans are aligned into one of three camps: those who have tuned out entirely, those who are clinging to the wild idea that Minnesota will shock everyone, win the Big Ten Tournament and get to That Place We Always Thought They Would Get, and those who are already eyeing next season, hoping it brings something to look forward to.
Maybe there's a fourth group -- those of you who just want to talk about brown liquor and get through your work day. Cheers to all of you (except, well, the ones who have tuned out entirely because of course you're not reading this). I've got a nice sampling from all of you, I think.
Let's get to it.
Lock for the NIT tournament?
I'm not so sure, Dan. NIT predicting, of course, has not been whittled down to the near-exact science our friends Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm have figured out, so it's really all a guessing game. This prediction, updated after the Penn State loss, has the Gophers in a 5-seed. But Minnesota had no ranked wins and some really bad losses. My guess is that they'll need to win two in the Big Ten tournament to feel safe, and even then, they'll be a lower seed than what we see here.
Which incoming recruits keep us out of the conference basement next season?
While Minnesota likely have another struggling season next year with so much youth on the roster, there is plenty to get excited about. Point guard Kevin Dorsey has end-to-end speed and great vision. Six-three guard Dupree McBrayer can light up the scoreboard. And I'm betting we'll see shooting guard Malik Ellison -- who at 6-6 has just the size coach Richard Pitino is craving in his backcourt -- commit before May. If so, we'll probably be looking at a top-20 class -- something that hasn't been done in Minnesota in a long time.
What did we ever do to you? You know we have an Applebees, right?
Piscataway, New Jersey
Piscataway has it rough. Gets killed on the court. Gets killed in the kitchen (according to my Big Ten food guide published in the Travel section last weekend).
I'm looking forward to a trip there next season to uncover any hidden gems that have evaded Yelp's clutches. If such places still elude, I might be driving right past that Applebees and staying in Manhattan.
You really like Borough over La Grassa or Heyday or Alma or 112 or Travail or La Belle Vie or Spoon & Stable???
I like Borough a lot. I like the approach, I like the atmosphere and I've been blown away with every forkfull. That said, I only had a small space and clearly couldn't list everything I've learned to love about my adopted home. Spoon & Stable and 112 Eatery and La Belle Vie (while a bit stuffy) would certainly be on that list. And I feel strongly about Travail joining it once I make my first excursion after the season is over -- I love Pig Ate My Pizza by the same ownership group! I have to say I found Heyday very underwhelming, and I've had really inconsistent experiences at Alma.
Latest on a practice facility?
Here's our latest facility update, from Joe Christensen. The university is still frantically fundraising and aiming for a groundbreaking for football and basketball facilities in September with completion dates estimated for summer of 2017.
What is the deal with Pitino rarely playing Elliott Eliason through the last stretch of games?
Admittedly, it has been odd / tough to watch as Eliason has sat through the end of his five-year term at Minnesota. I think the obvious answer is playing three centers gets complicated and Pitino feels strongly that he needs to work on freshman Bakary Konate's development.
Eliason has also been less productive this season when he is on the court, and I know his body language and tendency to argue with referees has frustrated Pitino at times.
That doesn't really fully explain why the coach has been quick to abandon his fifth-year senior down the stretch -- especially at times when Minnesota could have benefitted from his defense -- but I don't think it's much more complicated than that. Pitino hasn't seen Eliason as a valuable enough force to take away from Konate's growth opportunities.
Are we going to utilize the scholarships for next year or bag some of them for 2016?
I think some of both. As I mentioned earlier, I think the Gophers add Ellison to the mix and then maybe a JUCO or two, if they can find some big men to fill holes. But I'd be surprised if Minnesota uses all four available this spring -- 2016 will be a light recruiting class with only two seniors (Joey King and Carlos Morris) graduating the year before, so the Gophers could use the extras.
Which gives the struggling Gopher defense the best chance going forward: zone or man-to-man?
Hard to say because neither seem to stop the three-pointer, which is Minnesota's biggest problem right now. I think Pitino is best off playing a mix of both, as he has, and hoping his players get out on shooters and he keeps the opponent somewhat off-balance.
I like young Richard but is there a chance a more experienced coach might not have lost all of those [close games]? Or is it the players?
Obviously when a team loses that many close games, folks look to the head coach for the answers. And part of that is fair. There are certainly a few games where play-calling or strategizing COULD have netted a different result -- take his failure to call a timeout and set up a last-second play in Minnesota's final possession vs. Ohio State. But at the end of the day, you can't call it one or the other. Pitino can't make King make both his free throws vs. Penn State, and he can't make any of those three good looks the Gophers got in their last possession at Nebraska fall either. It's been a combination of things, and a very unlucky one.
Wanting to know top 3 value scotch choices please. Just starting to dabble.
Happy to oblige, ALT. First off, you have to spend a little money. You don't want to sip a mixing scotch and cheap, young scotch tastes like a different spirit altogether. That said, there is no reason to frivolously throw your cash around: there are plenty of deals to be found. Here are a few of my favorites with a great bang for your buck:
Laphroaig 10 yr, approx. $45: Smoky and sweet.
Talisker 10 yr, approx. $50: Spicy and lingering.
Glenfarcas 10 yr, approx. $45-50: Lighter and sweeter.
Highland Park 12 yr, approx. $45: Big and complex.
Lagavulin 16 yr, approx. $70-80: Go ahead, splurge a little and try this heavily peated masterpiece.