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

aMAILia BAG: What do the Gophers need to do to beat Michigan? Will Tubby ever change the use of his bench? Are squatches in a different realm?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: January 14, 2013 - 11:36 AM

 

 

aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions and I answer them here. Send your queries to amelia.rayno@startribune.com (make sure you sign your email with how you’d like to be mentioned).

Questions below are in bold while my answer are in regular type.

Good morning everyone. It’s been a long week full of travel and highly uncomfortable benches on press row (OK one – at Indiana – but it stuck with me). I’m not hating being back in good ‘ol Minneapolis, but I did discover that Bloomington, IN is my new favorite Big Ten town, despite the over-the-top sells from Madison lovers (we shall see, Madison – it’s your move). Also, what a week of great basketball. I enjoyed every minute of it, but thankfully for me, it’s not ending here – we’ve got quite the matchup vs. (currently) No. 2 Michigan just right around the corner. On that note, let’s get to the questions:

After a tough loss to IU what do the gophers need to do to beat Michigan? How big of a factor will the crowd be?

‏@ALuvsTwins

I can’t wait for this game. I’m interested in seeing a bunch of things --

  • a) How the Gophers respond to their first conference loss of the year and certainly their most disheartening one (with the only other being Duke, of course) after nearly coming back from a 23-point deficit.
  • b) How Michigan responds to their ONLY loss of the year, and weirdly, a very similar one to the Gophers’ after returning from 21. Both teams will be playing with a new ferocity and a loss for either team would be considered a sudden “slide.”
  • c) The atmosphere at the Barn with the Gophers starting out the conference season so successfully. It got pretty loud against Michigan State and Northwestern. What can the fans do when the big, bad Wolverines come to town?

That they get the No. 2 team (which could be changing today) this week presents both a major opportunity to promptly get back on the right track, and also the threat of falling into a two-game slump. Certainly, losing against the top two teams in the conference isn’t a death sentence – but if Minnesota is going to challenge them for the title, they will need to win some games against this competition.

So what are the keys here?

1—Shove off these slow starts. This is quickly becoming a bad habit, but guess what – it is for the Wolverines as well. If the Gophers come out with some fire power and Michigan starts sluggishly, it will be much more difficult for the Wolverines to come back vs. Minnesota’s stingy D. If the Gophers can make their shots early, it allows them to do a lot more things on defense, press if they want to – and with the way Michigan is capable of scoring in bunches, it might be necessary to start out hot just to keep up.

2 – Get out in transition. The Gophers look so much better when they’re running the floor and scoring on the break. Do this please.

3—Limit turnovers. Turnovers have been KILLING the Gophers and played a big role in Minnesota falling so far behind early in the Indiana game. Fifteen-plus is just not acceptable and it’s going to continue to haunt the Gophers if they don’t figure it out.

4—Be aggressive in the paint. On Saturday, the Hoosiers went to the line 40 times vs the Gophers 15. You can attribute some of this to the refs, but not all of it. That’s just really significant, and tough to overcome (particularly if Indiana had done better with its free throws).

5—Defend like crazy. This is a high-powered offense the Gophers are dealing with. Their defense will be tested. My guess is Minnesota will look a lot more air-tight after getting exposed with Indiana’s 65.6 percent shooting in Saturday’s first half.

 

Will Tubby consider changing the way he utilizes his bench? 1-2 vs. Wholesale.

@Mag_271

Everyone loves to ask this, but I highly doubt it. Smith has been doing this for years. And you almost have to analyze around that fact because you know he’s always going to do it. For example, was a key for the Michigan win (above) that Smith limit the number of reserves he has in at a single time? No … because it just won’t happen. I agree with you, but he really likes to do it because he thinks certain teams operate better together because they’re used to playing together.

Hola Ms. Rayno,

Tubby keeps touting this team's depth. Depth is only good if it is playing quality backup minutes, which is not what I've been seeing the past few games. Is the bench really as bad as it's been recently or are they just in a bad stretch?

Gracias,
Jeff (Lino Lakes)

Well, I think one of the main factors here is that Smith is playing his bench much less in general, and with the fewer minutes I think we’re struggling to see players get into the offense at the same level. That said, Smith should not have to play a guy 12 minutes to get some spark out of him – the role of the bench is to be able to come in for short spurts and not allow the lead to crumble and hopefully make a positive effect on the game. Against Indiana, Andre Ingram and Maverick Ahanmisi played a part in one of the Gophers’ first significant runs of the second half. In general, I think those guys have improved individually and as a unit for the most part (particularly Ahanmisi and Oto Osenieks as of late). That said, the “depth” is certainly an area of debate. Those guys have held their own in circumstances, but don’t necessarily validate getting as many minutes as they often do. And if they’re not getting the minutes in chunks, seeing such an overwhelming drop-off in production is a bad sign. Short answer – the bench needs to step it up.

I am surprised you have not mentioned that Ellenson needs to play more, or simply just play. Three reasons for this:

1. He's better than Oto, I know you know this. Oto is supposed to be a good 3pt shooter, maybe he is in practice, but he often looks overwhelmed and frightened to shoot (or do anything) in games, and just airballs like he did today. He played well against MSU, but when proving you have a pulse is the best game of your career to the tune of 4 points and a handful of rebounds I would say he needs to be pushed. Ellenson on the other hand looks fearless, and from the few quotes you have put in the paper he seems pretty desperate to prove himself. Good combination. Ellenson has to be a better shooter (not tough to beat 10 percent) and he is more athletic so at the very least can provide the recent surge of rebounding Oto has decided to provide.

2. We need 3 point shooting. Oto is not providing it, Austin and Andre have been better than expected, but you can never have enough 3 point shooting, and I still think the gophs are missing a pure 3 point shooter that can spot up from anywhere. Ellenson has been advertised as a pure shooter just like Oto was, they need someone to spread things out when the half-court offense gets clogged, which seems to happen a few times a game.

3. I want his brother to come here. I imagine the phone calls home going something like this, "Coach is playing Oto ahead of me, I am a better shooter and more athletic, it makes no sense, but I guess this isn't the first time Tubby has struggled to put the right lineup together." Yikes!

Wow, who are you, Ellenson’s agent? Come on! He’s not only a freshman … he missed almost the entire non-conference schedule. He is, as Smith has constantly reminded us, “way behind” on learning the plays and the system. And he hasn’t proved himself – you don’t get just tossed into the rotation of the nation’s No. 8 team based on one dunk, one free throw and three other makes from the field (compared with 13 attempts, by the way). I do believe that if Ellenson keeps getting minutes and keeps shooting that he’ll figure it out, improve and be a good player for the Gophers. I just don’t think the Big Ten stage is necessarily the place for that sort of experimentation.

That you quickly call him “better than Oto” is baffling to me. Osenieks started out the season slowly, certainly, and the redshirt sophomore isn’t without his limitations, still. But he has improved SIGNIFICANTLY in the past several games (conveniently since Ellenson lost his redshirt). Osenieks waited out his year like Ellenson should have and now Smith trusts him to a degree, based on the experience he’s had the last year and a half. I’m not sure how you “know” that Ellenson is better right now – he certainly was a talented high school player, but this is a different game. And his ceiling isn’t the point; it’s not a matter of who will be a better player in the long run, it’s a matter of who is at the best place right now. That Ellenson is “Fearless and desperate to prove himself“ is not necessarily a great combination. He might be thinking that he wants to prove he belongs in the rotation versus thinking about what is best for the team in that specific play. Ellenson taking shot-after-shot until he finds his touch is NOT in the Gophers’ best interest right now.

Obviously, everyone wants to get Henry Ellenson at the U, and I think that played a big role in Smith agreeing to not redshirt Wally. But he can only work with that family so much. No one should expect him to throw an unseasoned freshman into a team that is cruising so smoothly.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Ellenson has plenty of talent, and will grow into a good player for the Gophers. But you don’t get to miss the non-conference season and pop into the No. 8 team’s rotation in the middle of the toughest stretch of the season unless you’re a game-changing four-or-five-star recruit. And Ellenson is not yet that.

Why are the #gophers so much better in the second half? Outscored NU, Msu, UI, and now IU after halftime

@JackSatzinger

That the Gophers have done that shows two things: Firstly, it’s a trend and not a good one. Secondly, they have been able to adapt, even if it’s not as quickly as desired. That’s another one of those differences between this year’s squad and last year’s. However, taking that long to adjust to defenses (particularly zones) has caused the Gophers some unnecessary stress this season, and certainly the game on Saturday. Why they’re taking so long to get to that point (they attacked the zone pretty well against Indiana in the second half) is hard to say, other than that you hope the neurons fire quicker and quicker as the year goes on. But Minnesota isn’t necessarily unique in that. They have a lot of young guards that are still learning the game. Michigan (see above) has done this in several games this year as well.

How does losing to No. 5 team affect their national standings? #Gophers

@lindavanderwerf

Well, it’s not just the Gophers here – you’ve got to look at the teams surrounding them. No. 3 Arizona, No. 1 Duke, No. 12 Illinois and No. 14 (?) Mizzou all lost this week as well. The Gophers might be dropped a spot or two, but it would surprise me if it were more than that. After all, the only two teams Minnesota has lost to this season are the only two teams who have been at No. 1. As far as losses go, those are as strong as you get.

Hi Amelia,

I have a recruiting question I would like your opinion about. There is so much talk about getting players like Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis to enroll at Minnesota. They are very good players, but is it better to recruit kids who will stay in school or kids that will stay a year or two and then turn pro? Isn’t it harder to build a consistent program when your team turns over ever couple years?

Thanks, Mark

That’s never been much of an issue at Minnesota because the Gophers just aren’t getting the caliber of players that would turn over the roster in any dramatic way. So worrying about that with one set of players is silly – if the Gophers can get any/all of those guys, they should jump up and down on a couch like Tom Cruise did when Katie Holmes agreed to marry him. They like me! They like me! They want to ACTUALLY be with me! That would be the mentality. All getting superb, NBA-bound players does is turn the pressure up to continue to recruit well (and that’s a pretty good tool for that, by the way) … but that’s a conversation not worth having until the Gophers actually have a player leave early, you know, this century.


BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION(S):

What is a group of squatches called? Herd?

@bennyc50

… You’ve got me there. A happy family? Big but invisible? Frightening as hell? Other than that, I don’t know.

Have you heard of this theory before?

One fringe theory, supported by paranormal investigator Jon-Erik Beckjord, theorizes that the lack of hard evidence supporting Bigfoot's existence may be due to the creature being an interdimensional being that slips in and out of dimensions.

Casey O’Rourke

I have heard all about that theory, and there were some Native American tribes who subscribed to that thinking as well (to explain their elusiveness), but I’m not buying it. I want a real, solid, huge animal in this dimension. Squatches aren't magic – they’re smart.

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