Osenieks is questionable; Buggs should get another shot

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  • March 1, 2014 - 2:54 PM

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Check out today's Opening Tip, filled with links including my work from today's paper.

The hottest topic from earlier this week will likely get another chance tonight.

But Charles Buggs still has plenty to learn and improve, and he knows it.

After the raucous 95-89 Iowa win -- in which Buggs exploded for 13 points after playing just two minutes in the Big Ten previously -- coach Richard Pitino said he was planning on going with the redshirt freshman as the backup power forward in relief of starter Joey King, regardless of Oto Osenieks' health status.

The problem -- the cartilage in Osenieks' knee has been slowly disintegrating -- nearly reached the tipping point a game earlier, when the Gophers were in Columbus, a game they ultimately lost 64-46 to the Buckeyes. The Latvian forward was clearly in pain on the floor, and even said as much to Pitino.

"Oto wasn't playing well," the coach said. "You don't sugarcoat it. He wasn't. But the reason why he wasn't playing well was his knee was hurting him ... and maybe I should have, I don't know, but I was nervous to throw Buggs into a road game in the Big Ten, big game. So I wanted to wait a little bit if we could, until home. But you could tell Oto was really in pain and Buggs was getting better."

The Latvian forward received a shot in his left knee (in which the cartilage, from past surgeries, is disintegrating) on Wednesday and sat out practice on Thursday. Osenieks was expected to practice yesterday and the staff said they would go from there.

With Osenieks out through a couple of practices, Buggs has been in, playing more with the starting group, where he's continued to show glimpses like we saw on Tuesday, along with growing moments.

But asked whether the 6-9 athlete walked into drills with an extra spring in his step, Pitino just laughed.

"No -- he's not like that," he said. "I didn't know he didn't speak to you guys [the media] after the game. He was hiding from you guys. You've just got to get to know him. He's one of those guys that you've got to get to know, it takes a while. He's a great kid, a smart kid, shy kid. Very, very shy. So he's not one of those guys who comes into the gym demanding attention -- that's not Buggs."

Osenieks is expected to get at least some playing time tonight, but Buggs will likely get some minutes as well -- Pitino said it's as good a matchup for him as any with the Wolverines playing the highly athletic but undersized Glenn Robinson III at power forward, rather than a burly, bruising big man in the post. Certainly, containing Robinson will be a challenge, especially with Buggs' defense being one of the aspects that's slower to come along.

Those will be the biggest drawbacks for Buggs playing major minutes down the stretch, Pitino said .

"What I like about Buggs is when he makes mistakes, he recognizes it," Pitino said. "But the biggest thing you've got to do is when you make mistakes during games, you've got to move past it. And that's the next step I think for him.

"What he needs to get good at are things you're not going to see on the box score: defensive rotations, executing offensively. But what he does that other people don't do is he can find a way to make a talent play where you're just like wow, and that's what he does, that's what he's always done. What we've got to get him to understand is ... he's got to show that consistently before he can play in crunch time."

Other notes on tonight's matchup:

*Pitino noted that while Osenieks could play on and off, he's not sure if he will be 100 percent for the rest of the way.

*Pitino called John Boeheim one of the best coaches in the country yesterday, noting how he's brought together a team that lost guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. after last season and then saw Mitch McGary sit before the start of the Big Ten season. Now, the Wolverines look like the best team in the conference. "I watched them vs. Michigan State," Pitino said. "They looked like national champs. They're just so good offensively, as good as any team in the country. They've got very good offensive talent to go along with the fact that they run great stuff, they've got great spacing, they as hard as anyone in the country to guard." 

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