The Gophers men’s basketball team, which defeated Florida State on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, is off to a 7-2 start, and the thing that impresses me about the team so far is the improvement of last season’s reserves.

Oto Osenieks has become a solid starter, Maurice Walker is playing much better since coming off a suspension, and Elliott Eliason is much stronger and appears to be twice the player he was last season.

Yes, Richard Pitino and his staff have done a great job improving some players, but we won’t know how good this team is until the Big Ten season starts.

Asked how he feels about the team, Pitino said the trip to the Maui Invitational showed a lot of good things and a lot of bad things.

“I think we showed the ability to play aggressively, never quit,” Pitino said. “I think we showed that the first game [a 75-67 loss to Syracuse] and then the third game [a 83-68 victory over Chaminade]. Just the second game [a 87-73 loss to Arkansas], I’m not sure we did a very good job of playing two good halves, like we were hoping to do.

“We learned a lot about our team — what we’re good at and what we’re bad at.

“Syracuse is good. The biggest thing is we did well [in that game] without Mo Walker and we were even with them on the backboards. So we’re undersized, and to do that showed great toughness by our team.”

Pitino believes Walker’s return will improve the team’s balance greatly.

“When he’s healthy and in shape, he can help a lot,’’ he said. “Then you have a more traditional lineup of two centers; you don’t have to play Joey King who is 6-7, 6-8 at the backup center spot.”

Pitino also said he likes the way his recruiting class is working, including some transfers who came to the team late after his hiring.

“They’re doing good. It’s not a traditional recruiting situation, so to bring those guys in late — DeAndre Mathieu is playing very well, we got him late. You bring in Malik Smith from FIU, and he’s shown to be able to hit tough shots. Joey King as well transferred, so they’re definitely filling a void we needed to be filled right away.”

Can this team compete in the Big Ten?

“I hope so,’’ Pitino said. “I think you have to take care of business certainly at home, that has to be an important part of what we’re doing and we’ve got to be disciplined and continue to improve and continue to get better.”

Pitino likes his freshmen recruits for next season, point guard Nate Mason, a Georgia native playing at Montrose Christian High School in Rockville, Md.; forward Josh Martin, from the Seattle suburb of Bothell, Wash.; and guard Carlos “Squirrel’’ Morris, a junior college recruit who is playing at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.

“I think they’re going to bring something that we don’t have to this basketball team,” Pitino said. “They’re all different. One guy brings great athleticism, another guy brings great speed, and another one has a great ability to score the basketball. It’s all part of the building process, but they’re going to be a nice first recruiting class.”

Ravens on Peterson

Most of the defensive starters for the Baltimore Ravens weren’t with the team in 2009, the last time they faced the Vikings. In that game, Adrian Peterson rushed 22 times for 143 yards in a 33-31 victory.

Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty is impressed with Peterson.

“He can create his own space, and he can be his own blocker,’’ Canty said in an interview with his team’s website. “It’s very impressive when you see that. He can run through you, he can run around you. His agility, quickness and vision are all assets, and it makes him a really tough guy to defend.”

Coach John Harbaugh told the website that the Ravens know Peterson is the key for the Vikings offense.

“It’s a team, and he is definitely the building block for them,” he said. “They want to run the ball. We’ve got to stop the run, but it’s not just that. It’s the play-action passes, and it’s the big plays out of the rest of the guys.”


• It’s been a long time since a Gopher was invited to the Senior Bowl, but defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman has been invited to play in the Jan. 25 all-star game at Mobile, Ala.

• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill was asked if he has any idea who his team will face in a bowl game? “I have no idea. You have four [Big Ten] teams that are 8-4, Michigan is 7-5, you don’t know how the BCS is going to play out with Wisconsin getting beat by Penn State,’’ Kill said. “It’s one of those things you have no control over. Right now our mission is we need to go win the bowl game. Right now our football team continues to get better. We played two great defenses, the No. 1 defense in the country [Michigan State], and did some things but we just didn’t’ finish drives. We’re getting better, and we need to continue to move forward and go win a bowl game.”

• Look for the Gophers coaches to take a good look at redshirt freshman Chris Streveler next spring at quarterback. Streveler was having a great fall practice, and was competing for the quarterback position, when he broke a thumb and missed half the season.

• Apparently, the money has been raised to install lights at Siebert Field, home of the Gophers baseball team.

• The Vikings have named their executives for the new stadium, and all members are current employees of the club. Jeff Anderson is the new executive director of communications; Tanya Dreesen is manager of new stadium partnerships; JP Paul is director of new stadium corporate development; and John Penhollow is director of new stadium partnerships

• With the news that the Twins and righthander Phil Hughes are close to announcing a contract agreement, it’s interesting to see that Hughes has started three games against the Twins at Target Field. In those three games, he was 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA and one home run allowed in 21 ⅓ innings.

• Former Orono standout Jon Leuer scored a career-high 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting for the Memphis Grizzlies in a 110-91 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Leuer also had nine rebounds and three blocked shots. He is averaging 5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds.

• Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith has his Texas Tech team off to a 6-3 start. The Red Raiders lost 79-58 to No. 2 Arizona on Tuesday.

• Micah Coffey is a great quarterback who led Batavia High School to the Illinois Class 6A state championship, but next year he will be playing baseball for the Gophers. Coffey completed 15 of 18 passes for 229 yards and two TDs in the title game.


Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.