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's all this about Shaka Smart? Should the Gophers' turnovers be higher? Should I wear a face mask? And what to do when running into Bigfoot?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: February 13, 2013 - 10:58 AM

aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions (to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter or amelia.rayno@startribune.com) and I answer them here. Questions below are in bold, while my responses are in regular type.

Amelia, I play basketball two times a week with guys in their 30s and 40s and we have more movement on offense. Guys setting picks and people actually running hard off these picks. Are you as surprised as I am at what I think is a relatively low number of turnovers per game the Gophers have? Granted 15 turnovers per game is a lot, but their offense is so predictable (Dre Hollins dribbles up court......passes to Austin on a wing, dribble.....dribble.....pass back to Dre at the point....dribble....dribble.... pass to Coleman on oppossite wing....dribble.....dribble....and this process continues until there is 7 seconds on the shot clock) that number could easily be 20/game within the B1G 10.

Vinny


Low number of turnovers? You know, Vinny, I can’t say that thought has ever gone through my head. At this point of the season, you would expect these sticky issues to improve all around, not get worse. Sure it’s tougher competition, but Minnesota had 13 games to figure things out before then. (And they’ve had 11 games since then, by the way).

But in fact, the Gophers’ turnover problem has indeed gotten worse in Big Ten play as you suggested you’d expect. It might not look like it superficially – Minnesota’s turnover number has actually decreased slightly, but they are getting significantly fewer possessions as well.

Given the opportunity to crunch the numbers, this is what you have:

Average number of turnovers:
Non-conference: 14.3/game
Conference: 13.18/game

Average possessions:
Non-conference: 66.31
Conference: 60.27

So as you see, while turnovers have gone down by 1.12/game, or by seven percent, possessions have gone down more -- 6.04/game or nine percent. Their turnovers-per-possession, then has actually gone up slightly, not down, in Big Ten play.

So you see your eyes haven’t betrayed you.

(More numbers on the Gophers increasing turnover problem here)


Is it time for me to accept the fact that Tubby is a very mediocre coach, not the elite coach he was billed as? Or do I need to be content with a sub-par team every year?
Jim


What do you want, Jim? Wins? Tournament berths? Respectable Februarys?

In all seriousness, I don’t think you need to accept either. Smith obviously didn’t get into his position by accident, by not knowing what he’s doing, and anyone that thinks that is kidding themselves.

But at the same time, the U administration realizes that fans are frustrated right now, and understandably so, considering Smith is in his sixth season and has so far only made the NCAA tournament twice, each time bowing out in the first round. Not exactly what the Gophers were hoping for with that hire.

Athletic Director Norwood Teague has said he won’t make any judgments on Smith until the season is wrapped up, and I think that makes sense. But when this year is all said and done, I think you will EITHER have an NCAA tournament win or a new coaching search on your hands.

So to succinctly answer your question, Jim – I don’t think you need to accept either.

Amelia,

A couple of questions came up last week on the substitute foul shooter rule when Trevor Mbakwe was injured vs. Wisconsin. I understand that the opposing coach, Bo Ryan, picks the replacement shooter. Does he pick from the four players remaining on the floor, does he wait until his Tubby Smith replaces the injured player and then picks from that five, or does he have carte blanche of the roster to pick the replacement?

If I remember correctly, Andre Ingram was in the game at the time and he’s a 46% free throw shooter, so in any case Ryan could’ve picked him instead of Rodney Williams, who’s at 67%. Did Ryan sympathetically not pick Ingram (or Kendall Shell if he could have)? Did he want to end the game competitively instead of using the word of the book to gain an advantage? It almost seemed like he felt bad that he put Williams through that situation.

Gary-O


This seems like forever ago, but since we’re about to see Wisconsin again, we’ll look at it.

In that situation, Ryan has to pick from the other four players that are already on the floor. In this case, it was Rodney Williams, Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins and Andre Ingram.

Ingram, as you point out, is a 45.5 percent free throw shooter, but he’s also had vastly fewer opportunities to solidify his aptitude or not. Williams has had four years now to show that, well, he’s not so great from the line.

And as for the part about Ryan wanting to “end the game competitively instead of using the word of the book to gain an advantage,” well, I don’t think any coach thinks that way. You take the advantages where you can get them.

Success in the B1G seems to be dictated by tempo. Are the Gophers setting tempo that best suits their personnel?

@CGarne


Right now? No. The Gophers' three lowest-possession games have come in Minnesota’s last four (at Wisconsin, vs Iowa and at Michigan State). That partly tells the story that the Gophers aren’t running, aren’t playing up-tempo and getting out in transition where they thrive. But it’s tough to control the tempo when the other team keeps interrupting the Gophers’ groove with threes, and when the Gophers aren’t getting defensive rebounds (Minnesota is still ranked 10th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage).

But in the Big Ten, hey, you’re going to have to play in the half court sometimes. What’s hurting the Gophers worse than that they’re not getting out on the fastbreak enough is that their set offense lacks strength or identity.

Question for the aMAILiaBAG: Have you reconsidered wearing this facemask while courtside? 

@FSNtylermason


For those of you that missed it, I nearly lost my face to an errant pass by a player who shall remain nameless (for now) in Sunday’s pregame. Had to ice it with diet coke cans. Oh, the travesty. And Tyler, my answer now is the same as it was before: you make me a protective head covering and I will wear it (At least pregame. For one game. For like five minutes or so.)

Question. Do u think Teague will fire Tubby and possibly make a run at Shaka Smart? Coach and AD reuniting??

@MattBanal


Ah, the most popular question of them all as of late. First of all, nothing will happen on this front until the end of the season at the earliest – Smith has a clause in his contract that prevents him from being fired mid-season.

And whether he is retained at the end of the year has very much to do with what happens between now and then and not so much what has happened leading up to this date. That is to say that right now, the Gophers are still on a path that has them almost surely in the NCAA tournament. If Minnesota gets there and actually wins a game, then Smith should be your coach for 2013-14. After all, he would be coming off the most successful season of his tenure here and – let’s be honest, what are the standards? The program has only had one team get beyond the second round since 1990, and that team – the 1996-97 Final Four team, of course – was erased from the record books because of academic fraud. I’m not saying that’s what Minnesota’s going for, but it’s hard to fire someone immediately after they reached the peak of Gophers basketball for the last decade and a half.

If the Gophers don’t win at least a game in the tourney, I think we will see some changes as long as the department can stomach the associated cost. Smart is the most popular name for obvious reasons, but he would also be a very, very tough hire. Smart has done some impressive things at VCU, is a very trendy up-and-coming coach, and has already turned down some big jobs at Illinois, NC State and Maryland. That said, I know that he and Teague have a great respect for each other, and so I wouldn’t discount the possibility entirely.

Why do all of our half court possessions seemingly end in bad three-point attempts?!?!? #sofrustrating

@SteveFenster


Wish I could tell you.

The simplest answer, of course, is that the Gophers don’t do much of anything else. They haven’t been very apt at getting the ball inside via the high low and they hardly EVER penetrate via the drive. They seem like they’re searching to find the perfect shot or the perfect pass, which of course, rarely comes. When it doesn’t, and the clock is ticking down, they often end up forcing something and turning over or chucking up a poor and contested shot.

Amelia,
My question for you is this. With the struggles of the offense, would a natural pg help? And if so do we have one on the roster? I can't think of any, and I personally think dre is better suited for shooting guard!

Aaron Williams


Well, sure, if Smith could create a point guard clone from some other team with a natural floor leader or if he had, say, Tyus Jones right now, that would be one thing. But the Gophers don’t have that. The closest thing to a true point on the roster is Maverick Ahanmisi, and while Smith uses him in backup situations, the reserve is prone to turnovers and isn’t as strong defensively and just isn’t suited for the starting role.

Actually, I think Hollins, has, for the most part done a good job, and was starting to really look like a true point guard earlier in the season. Now, I feel like Smith has tightened the reins and is trying to control every possession, which I think would naturally hurt a guy like Hollins. To make matters worse, he’s not working with a lot right now. The Gophers have been incredibly stagnant in the half-court lately, which forces him to dribble around more and eventually force something.

You’re right, Hollins isn’t a point guard – but he’s certainly the best option the Gophers have.

BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:

What would you do if you actually came face-to-face with a sasquatch?

@The Sambard

That’s a great question, and one I’ve thought about many times. There are a few things I would focus on. First – not panic or run or yell. That would be the toughest one. Secondly, if, say, I were facing one, I would bow my head (so as not to threaten the great beast) and place any food I’m holding on the ground in front of me (I like to go squatching with an apple or a raw bar of some kind to have as a peaceful offering if I need it). Next, weirdly, I would try to talk to it --not a conversation, necessarily, but a cheerful word, several times, like “hello!” Great apes respond to humans’ facial expressions and their tone of voice, partly because the apes are also capable of great ranges of facial expressivity, like humans. They can smile, grimace, pucker their lips, laugh, bare their teeth, etc, so I think those are things that cross the great divide. I would also try to take iPhone video, but I would be wary of how I did that. And lastly, I would try to get out of there alive.

Now that you all know the depth of my insanity, I will say so long for this week.

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