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.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Gophers pregame: Tonight's game is final tuneup before tough five-game stretch

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: November 15, 2012 - 6:13 PM

The Gophers have one more game to (most likely) light up the scoreboard before a tough five-game stretch that will certainly give us a more concrete idea of what this team can really (or can’t really) do.

To this point, it’s been tough to critique the team too much, because they’ve been rolling.

But after tonight, the Gophers face:

Richmond at home
Duke at Atlantis
Memphis or VCU at Atlantis
TBD at Atlantis (but there are really no pushover options)
Florida State on the road

Tonight’s matchup against Tennessee State, then, an 0-2 opponent that shouldn’t give the Gophers any more trouble than American or Toledo did, will be a final tuneup in preparation for that slate.

On the list of things to tweak:

a) Shooting. The Gophers looked good in that regard in the first half, especially early, against Toledo. Boosted by Andre Hollins, the Gophers made four of eight 3-point attempts and shot 57 percent from the field. But in the second half, things dropped off significantly. Can the Gophers show consistency from the perimeter?

b) Defensive pressure. It only works if the Gophers can maintain it, and not get so fatigued that they allow silly mistakes later. It’s oh-so-effective when it’s working. But it will be a test of the Gophers conditioning and focus if they continue to use it.

c) Turnovers. In the opener against American, the Gophers had just eight, showing improvement from the exhibitions. But then a sloppy second half against Toledo slid the Gophers to 19 on the night (11 in the second half). Head coach Tubby Smith was forgiving of the blunders on Monday, saying the Gophers are turning over only from attempt to do good things – not laziness – but the Gophers will need to tighten up their grip before facing teams that will make them pay.

Other notes on the Gophers and tonight’s game:

  • Don’t expect to see Charles Buggs again. Smith said he talked with the freshman’s family and the decision was made to redshirt the forward.
  • Don’t expect Trevor Mbakwe to get many more minutes than the 14 he’s had in each of the two regular-season games. Smith said on Wednesday that he didn’t see any reason to return the forward to the starting lineup because “we have a pretty good team right now.” He hinted that he didn’t want to mess up the chemistry with players looking for Mbakwe regularly instead of executing as they would otherwise. He’ll give us a big boost off the bench,“ he said.
  • Expect Rodney Williams to have another big night. Quietly, the forward has been the Gophers’ most consistent player thus far and has been sporting a very thorough game.
  • Smith said Williams and Austin Hollins are the teams’ co-captains this year, due to the fact that the players respect them so much.
  • Smith on Williams: “It’s Rodney’s team per se, he’s a guy that’s been here for four years now, done everything we’ve asked him to do. … I think the pressure has been taken off him because we do have more experience, better perimeter play, we’re passing the ball better. And now Joe Coleman, Andre [Hollins], Elliott [Eliason] are now sophomores, and they’re better because of it, and I think that helps Rodney tremendously. We’ve just got to find him, and when he has a mismatch or when he has an opportunity, he’s got to pull the trigger.”
  • Smith said the reason he played Austin Hollins just 17 minutes (unusual for the guard) was simply because of the fouls he collected and not because he wanted to see more from Julian Welch or anything else. The Gophers took Hollins out after six minutes of play in the first half with two fouls and didn’t put him back in until the second, when he quickly collected a third. “He was lighting them up! He was playing great,” Smith said. “But guys don’t play with the same energy level when they get three fouls as they do when they have one.”
  • Welch had a solid night in relieving Hollins, scoring six points and adding four rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.

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