This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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A glance at Minnesota's top recruiting targets in the 2015 class

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: August 29, 2014 - 11:21 AM

Ever since Richard Pitino took the job in the spring, all eyes have been on the 2015 recruiting class. With ample time to scout and court players, it would be the new Minnesota coach's chance to truly flex his recruiting potential for the first time.

With two verbal commitments already in pocket, the Gophers staff is off to a great start.

Point guard Kevin Dorsey, a top-100 recruit and Dupree McBrayer, a highly respected three-star combo guard have a chance to form a very impactful backcourt just one year down the road, when seniors Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu will have both expired their eligibilities. 

With four scholarships available, two remain. 

Let's take a look at the other main targets Minnesota's staff is pursuing:

Point guards:

Jarvis Johnson: Don't be fooled into believing the Gophers have any less interest in the DeLaSalle standout now that they've landed two backcourt pieces for the class -- Minnesota still very much considers Johnson a high priority in its guard-oriented system. The Gophers have been after the local recruit, who lives practically in Minnesota's backyard, since Pitino took the job, and have only intensified their efforts. Johnson, who has lauded Pitino's style of play, has four visits arranged to Minnesota, UNLV, Wisconsin and Baylor this fall, according to his brother, Ty. He likely won't be making a decision until November.

Craig Randall: 
The 6-foot-2 guard is currently transferring from his home town in Ohio to school in Phoenix for his final season. Watching his last campaign will be St. Joe's, College of Charleston, Drexel, La Salle and Northeastern along with Minnesota, who is looking at him as a potential combo guard. Randall, a great shooter with plenty of range, told Rivals' Ryan James that he plans to visit Minnesota, but nothing has been set up just yet.


Shooting guards:

KJ Walton:
Walton is the shooting guard prospect the Gophers are pursuing the most at this point of the recruiting season. The four-star recruit out of Brownsburg, Indiana is ranked at No. 100 according to Rivals and is being courted heavily by Butler and Xavier along with Minnesota. According to Rivals, the versatile offensive guard has expressed interest in visiting Dinkytown sometime soon.


Small forwards:

Chris Clarke
The 6-foot-6 wing is currently ranked 58th in the 2015 class and only moving upward after his recruitment exploded late in the process, getting a big bump in attention in the spring. The Virginia native was in town for the EYBL event in Bloomington earlier this summer and his father, Curt Clarke, made it clear he and his son were serious about the program and the school. The super athletic Clarke narrowed his list last week, naming Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Creighton, Florida, Connecticut and Tennessee as priorities, along with the Gophers.

Kipper Nichols:
The Ohio native stands at 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, depending on who you ask, and possibly has room to grow still. Minnesota is very high on the long, smooth wing, along with Maryland, Northwestern, Xavier, Penn State, Nebraska, Tulane and Clemson, and the Gophers are hoping to set up an official visit with the three-star. His recruitment has grown this summer as he's demonstrated an improving jumper from distance on the AAU circuit.

Nate Grimes:
The Nevada native is transferring to Quality Education Academy this fall and told Rivals he plans to wait to sign until the spring. Sitting just outside the Rivals top 100, Grimes also has offers from Boise St, Boston College, Colorado St, Fresno St, Iowa, UMass, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon St, TCU, USC, Wichita State and West Virginia, among others. The 6-foot-7 three-star talent could potentially play some power forward as well.

Jordan Murphy:
The San Antonio native is ranked 111th nationally according to Rivals and has lots of defensive potential in his strong footwork and ability to guard spots all over the floor. In addition to Minnesota, the 6-foot-7 forward is also hearing from Baylor, Kansas State, Marquette, Maryland, Oklahoma, SMU, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M.

Tyler Kohl:
The 6-foot-5 Trenton, N.J-native seems intrigued by the Gophers, who represent the biggest program making a strong push for his services. St. Joseph's, Rhode Island, Drexel and Wagner are also involved with the physical and versatile wing, eying his ability to handle, shoot and get to the rim.

Malik Ellison:
La Salle, Maryland, Penn State, St. Joe's and Temple are also vying for the smooth 6-foot-5 Burlington wing. The three-athlete is just the type of ball handling, transition-oriented wing Minnesota head coach Richard is seeking.

Power forwards:

Alex Illikainen:
Minnesota has stayed on the Grand Rapids native like a fitted glove since Pitino and Co. took over the program a year and a half ago. The 6-foot-9 Illikainen transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior season, but the Gophers appear to be no less in the game at this point. The stretch four visited California this winter, and has scheduled visits to Iowa (this weekend) and Oregon on deck. Otherwise, there are a host of other programs that have extended scholarship offers: Creighton, Indiana, Providence, Wisconsin, Texas Tech, BC, Iowa State, Maryland, Nebraska and Vanderbilt among them.

Ed Morrow:
If the Gophers land this physical forward, they'll likely have to beat out another Big Ten school. Morrow, who lives in Chicago but was born in Lincoln, has already set up a visit to Nebraska, where each of his parents attended as student athletes. Morrow, a 6-foot-7 four-star recruit with a solid face-up game is currently ranked 103rd in the nation. He has also set up visit to Iowa and has been courted by SMU, California, Creighton, Arkansas, Iowa State, UMass, Oklahoma State and Wyoming, among others.

Centers:

Jonathan Nwankwo
Minnesota could certainly use some more big man depth, especially with the status of international forward Gaston Diedhiou in doubt. As of now, it's looking as though the Gophers, who got in pretty early in Nwankwo's recruitment process are in pretty good position to secure another much-needed body in the Florida native. Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog.com reported that Nwankwo will be taking an official visit at Minnesota next weekend, before heading to Rice, Temple and Tennessee. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound center would be a great fit for Pitino's system as a back-to-the-basket guy who has a decent shot up to 10 feet out and runs the floor well.

Gaston Diedhiou denied by admissions

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: August 27, 2014 - 10:41 AM

In one season at the University of Minnesota, Richard Pitino brought in a cache of underrated talent, claimed an NIT title and began stacking the first building blocks of a badly needed foundation.
 
At Minnesota -- a program without top-notch facilities to boast or a recent history of success -- it will take time. Dedication. Patience.
 
Pitino and the program need more of the latter with the news that top recruit Gaston Diedhiou did not get into the university.
 
Here’s my story from last night.
 
Diedhiou did not fail his standard academic tests. The NCAA Clearinghouse deemed him fully prepared, but he posted an English proficiency score that didn’t meet Minnesota’s standards and will need to take a course this fall in hopes of gaining U of M entry this spring.

Minnesota gets second 2015 commitment in Dupree McBrayer

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: August 22, 2014 - 10:03 PM

Minnesota basketball coach Richard Pitino has secured his second 2015 recruit before the start of the fall classes.

Dupree McBrayer, a versatile guard out of New Jersey, verbally committed to the Gophers on Friday evening per a source. Evan Daniels of Scout.com was the first to report the news. The Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick's School senior considered a number of other schools, including Creighton, Seton Hall, Providence and Pittsburgh.

McBrayer joins four-star Virginia point guard Kevin Dorsey, who committed last month, to create a formidable future backcourt duo. The 6-4 McBrayer, a three-star athlete according to Rivals.com, is expected to play multiple positions with the Gophers as an excellent creator who is also a very effective shooter and attacker.

The four open scholarships in 2015 -- there are now two remaining -- should represent the signature recruiting class of Pitino's young coaching career. He inherited just a few scholarship players when he took his first head job at Florida International in 2012. One year later, he accepted the position at Minnesota, scrambling to add four players in a matter of two months. The early signing period for 2014 recruits came just seven months into his new tenure, a relatively brief window of opportunity considering many elite recruits are targeted for years before committing.

The Gophers are still hard after a few other guards, including DeLaSalle senior Jarvis Johnson, but netted two very talented backcourt options early certainly gives the staff some options.

A closer look at Minnesota's 2014-15 schedule

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: August 22, 2014 - 2:31 PM

Striking a balance on an NCAA schedule isn’t an easy task.

Ideally, a program lines up strong enough competition to keep fans intrigued and bolster a solid resume come postseason, but not so strong that it risks embarrassing losses and fatigue before the conference schedule begins (particularly a concern when a team plays in the Big Ten, consistently one of the toughest leagues in the country).

A year ago, Minnesota played the No. 9 overall strength of schedule (SOS) in the nation, but the high mark wasn't enough to push the Gophers on the right side of the bubble.

This season, the Gophers may hope they don't need the boost. The non-conference slate, released yesterday as the conference schedule was being announced, likely won't do Minnesota any favors if it needs another selling point in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee in March.

The Preseason NIT Tip-Off is not yet finalized, but even the presence of nameless slots in the three-game span represents possibility when it comes to this lackluster non-conference schedule. Outside of Big Ten play, the Gophers have just one top-100 matchup currently scheduled, Louisville. Two opponents -- UMBC and Furman -- ranked below 325th nationally a year ago according to kenpom.com, and save from Louisville and Wake Forest, the Gophers don't have any opponents within the top 200 on the docket. The Gophers hope that will change, of course, when the NIT field is revealed. St. John's, Gonzaga and Georgia were all originally committed to the tournament -- and would provide a seemingly necessary boost to the current lineup -- but none of those schools have posted their schedules just yet, so it can't be taken as a guarantee.

As for Big Ten schedule, it could be worse. The Gophers face Ohio State (home), Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State (all on the road) just once each, and should benefit from a lighter stretch in the heart of January that includes games vs. Rutgers, Illinois and Penn State around a road trip to Nebraska. The tough spans include the start to the season -- two road games and then Ohio State (home), Michigan (road) and Iowa (home) -- and the end, when the Gophers get Wisconsin twice in the span of three games. Once again, Minnesota will have plenty of opportunities to pull signature wins on the road, and the Gophers will need to perform better away from the Barn if they hope to improve on last year's NIT title.

My prediction: The Gophers go 10-2 (assuming they find some good competition in New York) in the non-conference schedule, and then start out the Big Ten slate slow but gain steam. Minnesota still struggles at times but the road, but behind a veteran-laden lineup, finishes 11-7, ties for fifth in the conference and slides into the NCAA tournament.

Report: 2015 recruit Chris Clarke narrows list, keeps Minnesota on it

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: August 21, 2014 - 8:43 PM

University of Minnesota target Chris Clarke has narrowed his list to seven teams, including the Gophers, according HoopsIntel analyst Corey Evans.

Per Evans, the 6-6 four-star (according to Rivals) wing is now considering Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Creighton, Florida, UConn and Tennessee, along with Minnesota.

The Gophers have four scholarships available for Clarke's 2015 class and have already gotten one commitment from four-star point guard Kevin Dorsey. 

Clarke, a super athletic and somewhat unorthodox forward from Virginia, has demonstrated a knack for rebounding and finishing at the rim. He's one of a handful of recruits the Gophers have keyed in as the fall rolls around.

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