aMAILiaBAG: Player development, next year's power forward and more

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  • March 28, 2014 - 2:20 PM

Sunday, we head to New York for the third time in two years. This is a great thing for me as Manhattan is one of my favorite places in the world that I've yet discovered. Understandably, it's not quite as exciting for some Gophers fans who might rather their season be over now, bounced from the Big Dance, than to never have been invited at all.

The NIT can be beneficial for a team like Minnesota -- one that saw the development of a few key returning players (Mo Walker and DeAndre Mathieu) as well as up-and-down performances from others that will return (Andre Hollins, Joey King, Elliott Eliason). 

Still, while the energy surrounding the team's postseason life has certainly ramped up with the victory over Southern Miss on Tuesday, much of the focus of the NIT revolves around the future. One of the most common questions I get, actually, is how this experience will help Minnesota going forward. It's a slightly different conversation than that of the NCAAs, which is wrapped up in the now. 

With that in mind, today's mailbag is particularly light and playful and forward-looking. Thanks for your questions. To submit a query for a future mailbag, tweet at me @AmeliaRayno with the hashtag #aMAILiaBAG.

To the questions:

@palmern2Twins: @AmeliaRayno What can we look forward to for next year with development of players? Especially anything to be excited about from NIT games.

What Gophers fans should be excited about more than anything is the simultaneous emergence of strong presences at point guard and center. Oddly, those were the two positions at the start of the year that folks thought Minnesota didn't really have. Now, DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker are the best pieces the Gophers boast heading into next year. Those two spots might be the most critical to find, too -- now Minnesota needs to identify the power forward that will best fit into that mix (whether it's on the roster/ committed/ still being recruited) and figure out which guard best compliments Andre Hollins.

As I wrote yesterday, I think Walker -- who has gone from hesitant to deadly with the ball in the post -- could make big leaps again next year. Mathieu, too. Minnesota can build around that.

@RandBallsStu: @AmeliaRayno can you recommend any good, thorough biographies on '20s-era bandleader Paul Whiteman? #aMAILiaBAG

Well, as a matter of fact I can, Stu. Actually -- this is so convenient -- as luck would have it, my father penned such a project. Two of them in fact. Let me direct to those two books now.

@StanMpls: @AmeliaRayno any sport, any year - which team would you want to cover for one season?

Great question. 

I have a close tie here between the Impossible Dream Red Sox of 1967 and the 1975 World Series team. 

The Impossible Dream came one year after the Red Sox finished ninth in the American League -- the young Carl Yazstremski debuted, promptly won the triple crown and led the charge to snatching the AL pennant. Unfortunately, that's also the same year Tony C. was drilled in the face and would never be the same again. That would have far tougher to watch. 

In '75, the Sox were back there again with one of the more personality-driven bunches of Red Sox in club history (although I think 2004 and probably 2012 are up there too) with Yaz and Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice and Dwight Evans and the Spaceman anchoring the bunch. It was the year of the Game 6 Fisk homer that he waved fair to walk-off in the 11th inning. And in general, I've often thought I belonged in the 70's when newspapers and baseball were at their prime and whiskey was the only respectable option.

Why not 2004 you ask? Because I actually lived that one, and my memories of it are perfect.

@Leo_the_IV: @AmeliaRayno Prediction for the Gophers in B1G and getting to the NCAA tournament next year?

Well as I know nothing about three open spots that may or may not be filled for next season (and if they are, with whom), this is somewhat uneducated and off-the-cuff. But what do I do if not make somewhat uneducated and off-the-cuff predictions?

I say the Gophers finish 6th in the league. If all goes well and they see some notable development and find a power forward (and those are a lot of ifs), I could see Minnesota snatching a 10-12 seed in the NCAAs.

Why do you guys like me to predict this stuff right now when it means absolutely nothing anyway? Is it because you bookmark it just to show me I'm wrong come March 2015? You little punks. 

@AaronGleeman: @AmeliaRayno Wanna get a drink at Rye sometime? #aMAILiaBAG

Absolutely, Gleeman, and let's add some corned beef to that plan of action.

@Frantzka: @AmeliaRayno #aMAiLiaBAG- I am surprised  at how public the coach is on player criticisms, even ability. Typical coach talk?

There are rules to Minnesota coach Richard Pitino's player criticism. He only criticizes a player who has clearly done a lot of good things -- i.e., DeAndre Mathieu. Everyone sees the value of Mathieu, no one more than Pitino, so he's comfortable talking about when the point guard struggles. Same with Austin Hollins or Mo Walker. Etc. 

You never heard him go off about, say Oto Osenieks, at least until the forward had acknowledged his knee issues (and then, he'd blame the injury for the struggles). He would never carry on about Maverick Ahanmisi's ball handling issues. 

In other words, Pitino will publicly criticize guys he knows have more in them. In talking to the players, I think most of them like that bluntness. They always know where they stand with him.

@jmag21: @AmeliaRayno Will the Gophers ever get a good recruit? If Josh Martin grew a beard, would he qualify as a squatch? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ANDRE?

Easy, Jmag. I'm worried about you. One thing at a time, shall we? 

a) Yes, I think they will.
b) No.
c) I think it's a combination of things with Dre Hollins. He's said repeatedly that physically his ankle is 100 percent, but he does seem to have lost a little bit of that extra explosiveness when he's driving past people. How much of that is mental, I don't know, but he's having a hard time doing that now and so he's settling for a bunch of jump shots instead. The other factor here is that he simply struggles to get involved when he doesn't have the ball. That's been an issue all season, and it's not going to change next year with Mathieu around. I think moving to the shooting guard spot has really bothered Hollins this year.

@billfehlberg: @AmeliaRayno Can/will Buggs play small forward next year?

That spot should be pretty wide open next season. Buggs will get his chance along with Joey King, freshman Josh Martin and anyone else the Gophers look at in the spring.

Providing that the Gophers don't find and sign a dominant power forward from somewhere inside the JUCO woodworks, I imagine King would be the favorite based on how he's performed down the stretch. Pitino has always said King is the kind of stretch-4 option he envisions for his system, but the Drake transfer hasn't always played up to that. Buggs has great potential but he is still a long way away from reaching it. 

@dickersribs: @AmeliaRayno what do you do after the NIT each year? Aside from whiskey.

Don't you mean after the postseason? Last year the Gophers actually did make the NCAAs if you'll remember.

I'll do quite a few projects on my beat over the summer -- traveling for some bigger stories on some of the players, more of the things I don't have time to do in the regular season. I'll do a lot of recruiting stuff and go to a few events. I'll help out with some baseball and do some off-beat stuff. 

And, of course, I'll be traveling for fun. I work long hours seven days a week in the winter, so I take a lot of vacation in the summertime -- this year my plans include Los Angeles, Boston, Newport, North Carolina, Denver, France, Italy and Spain -- and also take the opportunity to enjoy the lakes and outdoor shows here. 

@ddub44: @AmeliaRayno which purse do you like better, coach or Michael Kors?  #aMAILiaBAG

You're asking a girl that carries around a canvas backpack and a glasses case-turned-wallet 90 percent of the time.

@jerkmo: @AmeliaRayno lets say Gopher basketball gets 20 win seasons in next 5 years. Who if any assistants would get head coaching gigs #aMAILiaBAG

Dan McHale is the most imminent candidate for  job, but after five years I think Ben Johnson and Kimani Young are getting some attention as well.

@DWKrueger1: @AmeliaRayno does @RandBall hold it against you that you have more followers? #aMAILiaBAG

Yes, I think he does. I'm just relishing this time.

@BrettWintheiser: @AmeliaRayno more to lose by losing in a lesser post season tourney on a national stage or more to gain if we can win it?#aMAILiaBAG

More to gain for sure. 

No one really pays all that much attention to the NIT until the championship game. That's just honest. If Minnesota loses in the semifinals that will absolutely not be discussed at all next year. If they make it to the title game or actually win it, it will be an immediate (annoying) storyline as soon as the 2014-15 Gophers start to show some life (a la this year's Iowa team).

But not a ton to lose at this point, really. 

@slimmoggs: @AmeliaRayno how did the two recruits that left after Tubby was fired do this year at TT and Mich St?

Both Alex Foster (Texas Tech) and Alvin Ellis (Michigan State) have been used very sparingly this year. Foster averaged 7.3 minutes a game, didn't play in several, and posted 1.8 points and 1.5 rebounds a game. Ellis was in a similar role, averaging 1.9 points and 0.7 rebounds in 8.1 minutes a game, albeit on a very talented Michigan State team.

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