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 frontcourt has been a surprising bright spot through three Big Ten games

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: January 9, 2014 - 10:20 AM

A month ago, who would have ever predicted that the Gophers frontcourt would be a bright spot through the start of the Big Ten schedule. 

But through three games, that fact has been hard to deny.

Understandably, the frontcourt has been viewed as not only a questionmark, but a notable weakness since the beginning of the season on a team in which guards run the show. The crew still has a ways to go with the power forward position, which is basically scrapped together between Joey King, Oto Osenieks and Austin Hollins -- none ideal for the job -- but at the critical center spot, Minnesota has actually thrived.

In the last three games, Elliott Eliason has scored 29 points, blocked 12 shots and added 29 rebounds, while holding Jordan Morgan to three points and two rebounds in the opener and A.J. Hammons to seven points and a single rebound in the Gophers second game against Purdue. 

"It makes you feel really good, it makes you feel really confident going on," Eliason said. "We've played some pretty good big men. Purdue had some good size obviously and Michigan and Horford played really well in that game too. We've got even bigger tests in these next few games, so confidence helps you just play hard."

Last night at Penn State, Ross Travis had a terrific performance, exploding for 18 points and 13 rebounds, but the Nittany Lions didn't get much production from the center spot. Eliason (11 points, 12 rebounds) dominated inside early on to play a huge role in giving the Gophers their initial early lead. And when the Nebraska native rested midway through the second, backup Mo Walker came in and picked up where Eliason left off, effectively scoring at the basket and keeping the early momentum. When the Gophers fell apart, it was no coincidence that they were also failing to continue to pound the ball inside to the big men.

"We just thought that we could control the block area inside," Eliason said. "We knew we could rebound well, and we thought we could score well, me and Mo both attacked pretty well there in the first half."

It was hard to fathom this scenario at the start of the non-conference, when neither player had really claimed the center role, and both were lacking meaningful experience. Despite the power forward concerns, the Gophers have actually rebounded pretty well through three games, averaging 35.6 boards a game in the last three. Ironically, it's been the guards (who have certainly contributed to rebounding) who have struggled offensively early on, with DeAndre Mathieu going through the transition period of becoming a Big Ten player, Austin Hollins going off for 18 points and nine rebounds against Purdue, but practically disappearing against Michigan at at Penn State and Andre Hollins unable to find the same consistent dominance Minnesota got accustomed to a year ago.

Can the Gophers' frontcourt continue the strong stretch against Michigan State? Eliason and Walker have one of the bigger tests of the season, with preseason All-American Adreian Payne -- who is averaging 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a game -- on deck.

"It feels like you've got a mountain to climb," Eliason said. "He really is a great player and he does so many things from all over the place, he's not just a low-post guy, he's crashing the boards, he's shooting the three, he's a do-it-all guy for him ... We watched him play against Ohio State [on Tuesday] and he made some big-time plays. He's doing that and he's a little banged up, even. That's a tough assignment."


 

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 5
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 5 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Los Angeles 10 FINAL
Milwaukee 1
San Francisco 12 FINAL
Texas 3
Chicago WSox 0 FINAL
San Diego 5
Kansas City 11 FINAL
Cleveland 9
Seattle 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 7
Colorado 0 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 7 FINAL
Arizona 2
Pittsburgh 3 Top 6th Inning
NY Yankees 0
Chicago 68 4th Qtr 9:57
Indiana 70
Sacramento 95 4th Qtr 9:55
Orlando 97
Utah 66 4th Qtr 11:46
Philadelphia 55
Miami 75 4th Qtr 10:23
Washington 90
Toronto 75 4th Qtr 8:24
Charlotte 82
Cleveland 43 3rd Qtr
Atlanta 53
Boston 46 2nd Qtr 1:49
New Orleans 43
Detroit 38 2nd Qtr 4:12
Houston 44
LA Lakers 36 2nd Qtr 2:13
Memphis 39
Phoenix 33 2nd Qtr 5:33
Brooklyn 31
Denver 18 1st Qtr 4:55
San Antonio 26
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 3 3rd Prd
New Jersey 1
Minnesota 1 3rd Prd
Carolina 1
Buffalo 2 2nd Prd 8:25
Ottawa 1
Calgary 3 2nd Prd 6:33
Detroit 2
Edmonton 0 1st Prd 11:11
Chicago 0
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 67 FINAL
Radford 66
Evansville 67 FINAL
Illinois State 71
Towson 69 FINAL
Elon 74
Gardner-Webb 72 FINAL
High Point 71
Samford 76 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Northern Ill 48 2nd Half 4:57
Ball State 46
Bowling Green 60 2nd Half 5:01
Buffalo 63
Brown 65 2nd Half 2:23
Dartmouth 61
Toledo 55 2nd Half 1:51
Eastern Mich 80
Akron 67 2nd Half 2:27
Kent State 70
Ill-Chicago 62 2nd Half 1:46
Oakland 59
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Ohio 95
Columbia 37 2nd Half 1:43
Penn 46
Cornell 53 FINAL
Princeton 66
Central Mich 53 2nd Half 4:28
Western Mich 63
Bradley 43 2nd Half 3:14
Northern Iowa 71
Morehead State 42 2nd Half 15:36
Murray State 49
Yale 22 2nd Half
Harvard 19
Furman 14 1st Half 11:24
Citadel 11
Coll of Charleston 5 1st Half 16:11
Drexel 7
UNC-Asheville 7:55 PM
Coastal Carolina
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 57 FINAL
(24) Northwestern 62
Tennessee St 71 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 59
Loyola Marymount 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
(18) Texas A&M 65 FINAL
LSU 71
Cincinnati 76 FINAL
UCF 66
Saint Josephs 61 FINAL
Dayton 80
UCLA 62 FINAL
(19) Stanford 67
Santa Clara 42 FINAL
San Diego 51
Virginia Tech 43 FINAL
(7) Florida State 82
SMU 59 FINAL
Memphis 71
Lehigh 75 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Rhode Island 53 FINAL
Duquesne 66
North Florida 35 FINAL
(20) Fla Gulf Coast 74
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
Jacksonville 55
Lipscomb 69 FINAL
Stetson 92
Saint Peters 57 FINAL
Marist 62
Navy 60 FINAL
Bucknell 49
Lafayette 56 FINAL
American Univ 79
Georgia 41 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 75
(13) Princeton 70 FINAL
Cornell 37
Harvard 68 FINAL
Yale 63
USC Upstate 36 2nd Half 4:00
Northern Ky 52
Nebraska 61 2nd Half 1:33
(14) Iowa 69
Colgate 43 1st OT 2:10
Army 44
Dartmouth 71 2nd Half
Brown 53
Penn 50 2nd Half 0:04
Columbia 36
Kansas 49 2nd Half 0:21
Kansas State 53
(15) North Carolina 26 1st Half 3:37
(10) Louisville 25
San Jose St 53 2nd Half
UNLV 49
Houston 0 1st Half 16:41
Tulane 6
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

Countdown to great deals

Bid March 15-23

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

    ADVERTISEMENT