Greetings from Denver, CO, where I am currently stranded as I attempt to make the interesting journey to Elliott Eliason's home town of Chadron, NE. Wish me luck.

To submit questions for future mailbags, email me at or tweet me @AmeliaRayno.

Hi Amelia,

Is there anything that you saw Tubby Smith do really well as coach at Minnesota that made it hard for Pitino to follow in his footsteps?

Would you agree that it took about 10 games into this season even before Oto Osenieks started playing without thinking...just reacting to take shots and make plays?  If you agree, do you believe that to be a Coach Pitino difference?

Farmington, MN

Hi Jesse ... For the first question, no, I mean -- Tubby had the years of experience on his side, but I don't think there was anything about the situation at Minnesota that wasn't begging for a fresh take. Pitino has brought that. He is still incredibly young in his career, and growing as a coach, but so far, I think he's done a pretty good job of preparing for opponents and making in-game adjustments.

As for Osenieks, I think you're spot on with that analysis. One of the problems' with Osenieks' play early and last year was that he seemed to be in his own head too much. He just told us a couple of days ago that he is feeling freer and looser on the court than he ever has. That certainly is part of what leads into his uptick in play. The forward still has his limitations, but when you see such a notable change like that, just in a player's comfort level on the court, I think you have to look to the coach for that.

What's your take on Austin? He looks like this season's Rodney Williams - stretches of looking uncomfortable in the offense punctuated by a few jumpers and an occasional sensational high flying dunk. 

And, do you think this team has the talent to make a run at the tourney if the Hollinses don't start consistently scoring double digits?

Thanks for the Koval reco.

Matt from NorCal.

Try that Koval -- I'm telling you, it's my new favorite.

Early on, Austin Hollins showed us a new aggressive side offensively -- something we never really saw in that capacity from Williams. But you're right -- he is playing similar to how Williams often did now, albeit with stronger defense on the other end. You see those alluring sparks of athleticism, and then you forget he's in the game for a while. 

It's hard to say what the problem is or what it will take for him to turn things around. I think he does have the tendency to get mentally wrapped up in his struggles, maybe more than some players. And I wrote a few days ago about Hollins' struggles against man-to-man defenses, and last night could have been that at play again. But considering how many strong man teams there are in this conference, that trend is more than a bit of a problem. With Andre Hollins out, it's a lot harder for Austin to hide in the backcourt. The spotlight on him will be brighter than ever.

@pmayjr: @AmeliaRayno should Ahanmisi get more minutes? Were you disappointed the Gophers didn't work the ball into both Mo and Elliot more?

Don't you worry about that -- Ahanmisi WILL get more minutes moving forward. Pitino doesn't really have a choice. (Witness his 28 combined minutes in the last two games after totaling just previous six Big Ten games combined.)

The senior guard is really the only option for backup point guard with Andre Hollins out -- one of the more underrated wrinkles of the rotation scramble, perhaps. Unfortunately, Ahanmisi hasn't really proven he can be a productive member of this lineup. Last night, when he was in, the Gophers' offense stalled noticeably. Whether Ahanmisi can pick up his play as he is relied on more and more is one of the storylines that will be critical to the Gophers success.

@philosofootball: @AmeliaRayno What's the comparison, statswise, between home/away? Meaning, how much better a team are the #Gophers at home than on the road?

Good question. I think the impression has been that the Gophers have played much better defense at home than on the road. That's true, but the differences aren't very dramatic. Where the big differences lie are in two-point offense, and rebounding, and at home the Gophers maintain a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. On the road it becomes negative. 

A look at the breakdown:

2-pointer percentage: At home: .572. On the road: .475
3-pointer percentage: At home: .359. On the road: .372

Opponents' 2-pointer percentage: At home: .432. On the road: .486
Opponents' 3-pointer percentage: At home: .365. On the road: .366

Offensive rebounding percentage: 
At home: At least 40 percent in three of the four games. 
On the road: Under 32 percent in every game.

Defensive rebounding percentage:
At home: At least 71 percent in three of the four games.
On the road: Under 67 percent in three of the four games.

Assists-turnovers: At home: 59 assists; 53 turnovers. On the road: 46 assists; 52 turnovers.

@jimmysju15: @AmeliaRayno: Prediction on who will be in the starting lineup next year & which incoming recruit will have the biggest impact #aMAILiaBAG

This is what I predict for next year's starting five:

DeAndre Mathieu
Nate Mason
Andre Hollins
Josh Martin
Elliott Eliason

That would be a pretty undersized lineup, to be sure, but just think about how quick it would be. Carlos Morris has the potential to fit into that as well -- but with Austin Hollins and Malik Smith each using up their eligibility after this year, there will be ample opportunities for the new recruits to show they belong. Daquein McNeil shouldn't be counted out for a starting role either.

@ZMoore80: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG why does Mathews pull on his ears every time he fouls someone?

Hmm ... nervous habit? I'm going to have to watch this on the replay now. 

@benz_ballin: @AmeliaRayno Would you like to write Sid Hartman's biography?
Any funny Sid stories to share?

Hartman already has a bio of course, ghost written by Pat Reusse many years ago. Still, so much has happened since then. 

Honestly, if I could quit my job to write a book on Sid -- what an incredible life he's had --  and have that be financially sustaining, you guys would probably be on your own. I would love that.

@benz_ballin: @AmeliaRayno Regarding the atmosphere at The Barn, where does the win on Wed vs Badgers rank in your time covering the squad?

It was electric -- certainly the best atmosphere I've seen since I've been in Minnesota. The crowd was so engaged. That place was rocking.

@NokomisMod: @AmeliaRayno Nebraska is better this year. How do you like their new digs? Good atmosphere?

Yeah, the new Pinnacle Bank arena was incredible. Much more of a professional atmosphere than most in the Big Ten, and it sported some good looking concessions and really nice suites for fans. Probably most importantly for the Huskers, it filled up -- and it was loud. Great environment. The city was smart by building a new little "village" of sorts around the arena -- so many new things from when I was there a year ago. They did a very nice job with it. 

@toddhennen: @AmeliaRayno was [Sunday night] just a poor showing or a sign that without dre hollins we won't win many games?

No doubt, life without Andre Hollins isn't going to be easy. Last night, that was evident enough. Minnesota doesn't just miss his 16-some points a game; the Gophers badly miss his defense -- and as Smith pointed out last night, his leading presence on the court.

Anyone who thought things would be fine because Smith -- now in the starting five -- had given big hints that he could handle the job, got a big dose of reality last night. Yes, Smith could handle the job. But the Hollins loss affects the team in so many different ways, from the absence of his defense and his trips to the line to the way the rotation shakes up in a way that isn't ideal.

Make no mistake, the Gophers played great without him against Wisconsin, but that is not the standard. There will be a big adjustment period.

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Gophers postgame: Minnesota needs to find consistency

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