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: Could the Gophers miss the tourney? Will the lineup change? And what bigfoot evidence should skeptics not ignore?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under Gophers players Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:06 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.

Greetings from Columbus Ohio, where I arrived last night to do some early work on the Buckeyes. Early impressions of this town are great all around, and it doesn’t hurt that it was 48 degrees upon landing – windows-down, no-coat, t-shirt weather to my Minnesota body right now. Hit me with any great recommendations on Twitter. Much appreciated.

How significant is the Gophers' victory over Wisconsin? Is it a potential turning point for the season?

@Sambb14

I feel like there’s a hint of sarcasm here. Yes? Amirite?

Any momentum for Minnesota or any team obviously lasts as long as the next game – therefore, any pulse and good vibes (and locker room celebration) they gained from the Wisconsin victory rapidly evaporated in the epic collapse at Iowa. And I say epic collapse because it truly was that – as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery frankly put it after the game “Rarely are you down 15 and win by 20.” Yikes.

The other thing about the Wisconsin win is that it wasn’t a dominant one for Minnesota. The Gophers still struggled in that game to score, to work the ball inside, to rebound and to defend the perimeter at times. It was far from a perfect – or even much improved – showing. Now, the thing that changes that is the ending. One of the areas where the Gophers had struggled was in closing out games. Yes, they were given a gift in the form of Mike Bruesewitz running the baseline after a turnover, effectively allowing Minnesota one more chance to win it, but the Gophers took that opportunity and ran with it, coming out strong and deliberate in overtime.

But because of the way they played, stooping to the Badgers’ game and managing just 49 points in regulation, they left themselves open to the outside world viewing that game one of two ways:

1 – As a positive start and a momentum boost that could be used as a springboard for better play and future wins.

or

2 – As a blip on the radar, and not a very meaningful one if they didn’t turn things around. They didn’t play great and they got a HUGE surge of luck right at the end (it very likely would have been a loss had Bruesewitz not turned it over). So it could have easily gone the other way.

After Sunday’s game, I’m going to have to go with No. 2, unfortunately.

Amelia,
I realize there aren't a lot of options as far as lineup changes go, but one scenario I would like to see is to start bringing Coleman off the bench. Joe is a complete liability on the offensive end - he has not shown the ability to hit the 3 and his cutting/slashing has been non existent since his 29 point game earlier this year.
How about starting Welch at the point? I know he hasn't shown much this year, but he was fairly solid last season and has proven he can hit shots. That would free up Dre to put all of his focus on scoring and Joe would be able to anchor a bench unit that has been very underwhelming this season. Thoughts?

Jamie
Minneapolis

I’ve written some about bringing Joe Coleman off the bench and I thought Smith was seriously considering it heading into the Wisconsin game. Yes, the guard has struggled lately, but at his best, Coleman can be a surge of energy and an aggressive scoring force – perfect , perhaps, for coming off the bench, a situation in which he could take over the offense a la his high school years at Hopkins. Maybe the greater point is that in shorter stretches, Coleman’s affinity for turnovers and at times subpar defense wouldn’t be such a liability.

Smith doesn’t seem ready to do that however; he likes that Coleman is a versatile player and can do a lot of different things for the team in theory.

And if he was ready to make a change, I would suggest Elliott Eliason in with a bigger starting group rather than Welch. Eliason probably is, as Smith pointed out in Sunday’s postgame, the Gophers’ best threat against the zone, and he’s the most apt at getting the ball to Trevor Mbakwe in the high-low, too, an area where the Gophers struggle as a team. Plus, with Maverick Ahanmisi’s ball handling struggles, Welch really needs to play backup point for Hollins when he gets into foul trouble or Smith deems he needs a rest.

Here is a question: With the lack of production from he bench and a few guys banged up, will Wally get any minutes against OSU?

@Ryanwo12

Wally Ellenson is still nursing a strained left Achilles tendon, so no.

and... Why burn his redshirt if he's not going to play?

@BradFavre

Well, I think Smith anticipated playing Ellenson more than he has, but he might have also not realized how behind the freshman is both offensively and defensively. Remember that Ellenson couldn’t even fully practice for most of the non-conference season with a broken hand. And now, he’s losing more time with this Achilles issue.

Ellenson really wanted to play from the start even though it wasn’t clear what his role would be and he pushed to get the opportunity, so he and his family probably understood that taking away the redshirt wasn’t a guarantee of 10 minutes a game or anything. Had he not pushed for it, I think he would be redshirting this season.

Can Wally Ellenson still get redshirted?

@MrJohnson612

Technically, Ellenson could still get a medical redshirt because he’s been eligible for less than 30 percent of the team’s games (which is the cutoff). But Minnesota would have to convince the NCAA that Ellenson has a season ending-caliber injury, which, unless his strained Achilles has gotten a lot worse than the original diagnosis, it’s not. That said, Smith noted last week that the rehab was progressing slower than he planned.

Could Minnesota miss the big dance?

@Rowdy_23

Sure, but it’s not likely. If the Gophers lose these next two games (at Ohio State and vs. Indiana) but win their final three against Penn State, at Nebraska and at Purdue), they should be a lock. Say they lose at Purdue but still win a Big Ten tournament game – still in I think. If they lose at Purdue and these next two and go one-and-done in the Big Ten tournament (or anything worse than that scenario, like losing either game against Penn State or Nebraska), that’s when we get into the dangerous territory.

Do you think its a mentality to 'let off the gas' by the gophers instead of putting the pedal to the metal and not letting off?

@boltzsoftball

I think that can be a certain concern for the Gophers. There are times in games where they get down or lose momentum and the entire team’s body language changes – the half court offense loses organization, the passes get sloppier and everything seems more rushed. At the same time, players hold up their hands at each other as if to say “Why aren’t you on the same page as me?” They react to calls and slump their shoulders all the way through the next possession.

Against Iowa, I think we certainly saw an attitude that reflected the score – both from the players and from Smith, who withdrew his starters, stopped calling timeouts and sat down in his chair, seemingly waiting for the end.

The team can refute that impression all they want – because certainly it is an impression and neither you nor I are in their heads – but they have to be aware that perceptions matter, especially when the team is in a stretch like this one. More than ever, they need to go out of their way to show they have some fight left in them.

Why didn’t tubby call a TO in the 2nd half during the epic collapse??? Maybe he could have explained the zone?

@MinnyTakes

It’s hard to look at the team’s performance against the zone this season and think they’ll be able to figure it out anytime soon. It’s mid February. They’ve gotten killed by this thing twice – their two bad losses – and bruised by it a few other times. It’s a staple of the Big Ten. They play a zone themselves at time. They practice it, try to simulate other zones, and yet they seem helpless against it.

It’s hard to blame either the coach or the players fully for that complete failure – the responsibility has got to fall to both. Smith has got to do a better job getting these concepts across in meaningful ways to the players – because any functional strategy has clearly not sunk in. The players, on the other hand, need to execute. You can’t force them to space or snap the ball around or penetrate or make off-ball screens once they are in the game. They’ve got to do that.

At some point, the loss looked inevitable – Smith’s mantra of getting the ball inside in earlier timeouts hadn’t worked. So then he has to make a decision: either he finds something new to say, finds a new way to say it – or he stop saying anything.

How does R-Williams get zero shots in the first half? Is it on Tubby? Does Williams not demand the ball?

@vegasbedwards

The fact that Williams didn’t even attempt a shot in the first half – even when the Gophers were cruising as you’ll remember -- makes me think it’s not just his shoulder we’re talking about. I haven’t gone back to look at the tape yet (it’s in Minneapolis and I am not), but his lack of aggression was obvious early. I think Williams does need to demand the ball more, but it would also help if Smith ran plays for him more often. Sometimes I think Williams has a hard time getting involved right away – particularly if the Gophers aren’t moving and screening well – and when he doesn’t, his aggressiveness tapers a little. We saw the Gophers do some things to kickstart Williams in the Nebraska game, and with good results. With Williams’ athletic ability, he’s really the kind of player that can benefit from that type of thing. At the same time, Smith seems to kind of think he shouldn’t have to do that – and he’s right. Williams is a senior, and one of the team’s captains. He needs to take charge, demand the ball and get himself involved if it doesn’t happen automatically.

BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:

What is the single strongest piece of evidence that skeptics shouldn't ignore? #bigfoot #aMAILiaBAG

@DanCookWCCO

Can I give you a list?

There’s actually a ton of really intriguing evidence out there that gets washed away by the scientific community as a whole as inconclusive.

However, there is a much smaller group of scientists that is out there actually systematically reviewing and analyzing some very interesting stuff. For example, there is a wide sample of independently collected hairs from purported sasquatches that have come back that defies identification (sasquatch hair will always defy identification until we pull one straight from the beast’s back) but display notably uniform characteristics suggesting they came from an uncatalogued animal with flowing black, brown and red hair (which I have read thoroughly about in the book of Jeff Meldrum, one of the most respected scientists looking into this stuff). There is also a large cache of independently collected footprints, some of which display pressure ridges and a midfoot flexion consistent with great apes. Some castings have even shown skin ridges and healed scars on the bottom of the feet, which experts (that were not looking for bigfoot) have looked at and noted can’t be faked. That the footprints have been so consistent in their their detailed characteristics (such as where the foot flexes, proportion of toes to foot, heel to foot, ratio of width to length) over time and distance seems quite too remarkable to be a coincidence, and even more impressively, when catalogued, the footprint lengths align themselves into a bell curve with a clear peak and a bevy of outliers on either side, just as a cataloging of the prints of any animal would.

I could go on and on but I’ll spare you (it's possible I may have already gone on and on).
 

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