(Happy New Year, Gophers fans. Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday.)
Coach Richard Pitino isn't sure if he *likes* the four-guard lineup he's been playing frequently -- with 6-4 Austin Hollins at the four spot -- better than he did at the beginning of the season, but he's also not as concerned about it in tomorrow's Big Ten opener against Michigan.
The Wolverines play the undersized Glenn Robinson III at power forward, so Hollins shouldn't have as much problem guarding the 6-6 four man as he would against some matchups.
Several teams in the league play smaller lineups, including Indiana and Nebraska.
Still, Pitino worries that Hollins' playing that role more regularly might cause his production on the boards might suffer, and correspondingly the team.
"If he plays the four, it's not going to be as easy for him to rebound," Pitino said of Hollins, who is averaging 7.1 boards a game. "The three spot probably is the easiest position to rebound on the court. Because normally the fours and the fives block out their man and the three can come flying in from the perimeter, so if he plays more four it might not be as easy for him to rebound. His numbers may go down a little bit, I hope they don't. But if he plays a lot of four, I can see that happening."
Hollins isn't just giving the inches to most power forwards, he's giving the girth as well, making overall physicality in the paint a concern.
It seems like Pitino has gone back and forth about that lineup arrangement, as has the combination itself. Against Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Pitino pointed out, it didn't look so good. Other times, that configuration has seemed to really make the offense tick, with Malik Smith in the game and four natural scorers going at the basket.
The decision of whether Pitino plays that lineup more -- or permanently -- is probably a couple Big Ten games away yet.
"That's a questionmark, I'm not sure," Pitino replied to a question posed about whether he likes the lineup more these days. "There are things we can do offensively that are very tough to go against playing four guards, but then defensively, certainly rebounding is an issue. So I'm not sure yet, that remains to be seen."
Other notes from today's media access:
*The Gophers have kept up their string of really strong practices, coach Richard Pitino said, noting that the team has reached a new level since Christmas. "One thing about this team, and certainly I'm a young head coach but I've been around a lot of teams -- I have constantly had to scale down practice and cut off our last two or three drills because they practice so hard," he said. "And that's a testament to this team." Pitino said he shortened yesterday's practice significantly because the team playing with such intensity and "going at each other" in order to keep them fresh moving forward.
*Pitino reiterated that one lineup he will never try is one with Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker together. I think he's serious, guys. "I don't know what style they could play together, I really don't. I don't know what team could play those two guys together. It's not happening, it won't happen. If it does, something has gone very awry in the game and I'm getting desperate. Who's playing the power forward spot? Elliott? Mo? No. More defensively is the issue. I think offensively you could do some things. But no. It's not happening."
*Pitino said he expects Charles Buggs -- who injured his ankle in a practice last week would likely participate in today's session but isn't expected to play on Thursday. "It's just tough because he's missed a bunch of practices, so it's going to take a little time for him just to understand what we're doing more than anything."
*Not looking ahead on the schedule isn't just coach speak for Pitino, the Gophers coach said, it's a matter of staying sane. Responding to a question about whether he is excited to coach against the plethora of Big Ten foes, Pitino deadpanned. "I'm not looking forward to playing any of the games. Everybody keeps asking me that. No -- I don't want to play any of them. No, I mean honestly, I'm excited about tomorrow. But I don't even think about Purdue, I really don't. I don't think about Penn State I'm only focused on Michigan. I know the fans get excited about the Big Ten season and I understand it, and that's for them, but as a coach, if I look ahead on the schedule, I'd never sleep, I'd be miserable all the time. So I'm trying to stay sane."