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

He's not the big, bruising PF the Gophers could use, but Osenieks has really improved

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: January 30, 2014 - 10:53 AM

Discussion of the Gophers' power forward situation has not been without fuel this season.

With the center spot looking much better than expected, the 4-men are getting the majority of the scrutiny, and take much of the blame for why the Gophers aren't a better team. Some of that is fair.

But within that context there is a notable bright spot, and one which should be acknowledged:

Oto Osenieks has improved substantially.

A year ago, the stretch 4-man played very sparingly in former coach Tubby Smith's system. He often looked lost on offense, and he managed to make just two of 26 three-point attempts, despite being lauded as a shooter when he came to Minnesota. 

This year, it's a different story -- Osenieks has held the starting position all season, and is playing with a new confidence we didn't see at all last year. He's averaging seven points and 3.3 rebounds a game, and has made himself into a productive member of the lineup. 

The difference in his body language on the court is visible. He's no longer playing scared; he has more faith in his ability.

"It's always been fun to play for the Gophers because of the crowd and the environment," Osenieks said. "But personally, I feel more loose and more free on the team, so it's more fun."

All year, fans have gone back and forth about whether platoon Joey King should in fact be in the starting five in his place, but in the last few weeks -- maybe with the exception of Sunday at Nebraska -- Osenieks has shown its his spot to lose. He plays the better defense of the two, is an apt passer, has become more involved offensively and has shown he can finish tough shots. He was a big part of helping the Gophers shut down Wisconsin, out-hustling Sam Dekker at times in that game.

Coach Richard Pitino likes Osenieks' ability to step out for the three-point shot, and appreciates the consistency the forward has given the Gophers, scoring eight points or more in five of the eight league games. He hasn't faded from the start of the season, the way he's done in years past.

"He's shown up, made big shots in big games," Pitino said. "He just needs confidence. I think he's playing with that and he showed the ability that he can really help us a lot. I think he's gotten a lot better."

Yes, you say, but why isn't Osenieks getting more rebounds? Why can't he post up his man and give the Gophers more of an inside presence?

That's not what he is. And expecting Osenieks to become something he's not is unrealistic.

No, Osenieks is not the ideal big, bruising rebound monster that every Big Ten team desires -- the Gophers don't have that on their roster. Call that a recruiting foil of Smith (probably the most deserving of the blame in that area -- what was his plan, exactly, for power forward?) or call it bad luck for the waiver of FIU transfer Rakeem Buckles not getting approved by the NCAA. 

Either way, this is what you have. Osenieks isn't the most talented power forward around, but he has grown tremendously and is working his butt off. Isn't that all you can ask? Credit Pitino for getting the most out of his starting power forward, and Osenieks putting in the time to get better. In a year where the Gophers are trying to make it work and scrap it out at that position, that can only be viewed as a win.

...

It's not just things on the court that are going well for Osenieks right now. Last week, the forward shared with us the story of how he proposed to his now-fiancee over Christmas. The two were at her parents' house, and he set up a giant teddy bear with candy on its lap and Jordans on its feet. When he presented the gift, she took off the shoes to try to put them on but couldn't -- there was a ring hidden in one of them. When she pulled it out, he proposed, and she said yes.

That happiness off the court has only helped feed into success on the court, he said. 

"If you're happy and positive, then I think it will translate to on the court, help you play better and vise versa, off the court, with life," he said. "It's going in a good direction. I'm happy, you know. Life off the court is going good and on the court is going good too."

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 64 3rd Qtr 2:31
Utah 58
Denver 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 62 2nd Half 2:40
Alabama A&M 72
Southern U 51 2nd Half 5:08
Alabama State 50
Prairie View 55 2nd Half 9:30
Ark-Pine Bluff 81
Texas 50 2nd Half 7:52
Iowa State 69
Texas Southern 64 1st OT 5:00
Miss Valley St 64
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 53 2nd Half 6:29
Auburn 35
(15) Nebraska 59 2nd Half 1:23
(20) Iowa 60

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