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

Looking ahead to next year: Improvements, things to work on, predictions

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: April 25, 2014 - 12:35 PM

The first season in Minnesota's new era of basketball ended in an NIT championship and optimistic glances ahead. The Gophers lose four players from the current team (Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and Malik Smith expiring their eligibility and Oto Osenieks retiring), but keep four starters from the postseason run and get a pile of fresh faces in the fall. What's to look forward to? What needs work? Here are a few of my thoughts on the road ahead.

Five things to be excited about:

1. A new banner: No, it's not of the NCAA variety, but it's still the first notable addition to the rafters (that wasn't later removed) since 1993. That's a positive (wrapped in a negative, but it's still a positive).

2. DeAndre Mathieu: The most pleasant surprise of 2013-14 has one more season in Maroon and Gold, and should only improve next season. If the tiny guard has even a similar curve of growth in his senior season, he could be one of the top floor generals in the league.

3. A big recruiting class: After getting a commitment from Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton, the Gophers have six new faces joining Minnesota in the fall. That equals a lot of new personalities and opportunity, even if Lofton has to sit out one season via NCAA rules. It also means after plenty of turnover before last season, this team will look wildly different than the one Tubby Smith last coached just two years earlier.

4. Richard Pitino's offense in Year 2: After a full year to get settled in, things behind the scenes should be smoother for Pitino heading into his second season at Minnesota. He won't be putting in a new system and he'll only have a handful or two new players, rather than a full team. That comfort level should come through on the court, too. Pitino introduced the Big Ten to a free-flowing and occasionally dynamic offense a year ago. Look for him to build on that growth.

5. Josh Martin antics: Let me fill you in, in case you're not aware. This kid has a personality the size of Europe, and he's going to a blast for fans if he gets any notable playing time whatsoever. He's already talked about salivating over the chance to fly all over the boards and "flex for the camera." Yes, that should help pump a little life into the Barn.

Five areas of improvement:

1. Turnovers: No one is calling ball handling a strength for Minnesota at this point, but it's clear the Gophers improve toward the end of the year. A big part of the problem for most of the season was unforced slip ups. But Minnesota turned over the ball on less than 15 percent of its possessions (18.1 percent was the average on the season) in four of the last seven games. Players attributed that, in part, to Pitino upping the "punishment" for turnovers in practice. Near the end of the year, he simply started sending them to strength coach Shaun Brown after he was done with them. Said Mathieu: "I went once. I wasn't going again."

2. Shooting: In 2012-13, Tubby Smith touted his team at the start of the season as the best shooting squad he'd ever had. It certainly seemed as though those Gophers had the pieces, but it never really played out that way. This year's Minnesota team took a step in makings its deep attack a legitimate threat and improving their consistency throughout the year. The Gophers averaged 35.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc after making 33.7 the year before.

3. Center spot: No one saw this coming, right? I mean, at the start of the year it was nice that Mo Walker had lost all that weight, but considering how little he had actually been on the court in the last three years, the arc of improvement he showed in his offensive post moves was really shocking. On the other end, Elliott Eliason played a critical role defensively. With both bigs in their senior season next year, the center spot has gone from questionmark to one of the team's most notable assets.

4. Power forward: The four-spot was far from perfect this season, but despite looking like a black hole at the start of the year, Oto Osenieks and Joey King were both at least serviceable. Both improved and, despite being very undersized had some very positive moments. King finished the year playing as well as he has in his career.

5. Fouling: For the better part of the year, it was one of the more problematic areas of Minnesota's defense (which has plenty of those). There are still adjustments to be made with the new rules still only a year old, but toward the end of the season, Minnesota managed to avoid so many whistles on the defensive end, and stay out of the Big Ten basement in that regard (the Gophers finished tenth in opponents free throw rate).

Five areas that need work:

1. Defense: Good the offense was so capable last season because without all of that scoring, the Gophers' Big Ten record would have been much uglier. Despite a bit of late-season fluctuation and modest improvement after mostly ditching the ineffective 2-3 zone, Minnesota ended the year ranked dead last in the league in defensive efficiency according to The Gophers' man-to-man still leaves a lot to be desired, and it still remains to be seen whether Minnesota can effectively press Big Ten offenses. The good news is even modest improvement would seem monumental.

2. Leadership: Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins were the expected leaders by way of talent and seniority a year ago, but neither really have the personality for it. Mathieu proved to be one of the guttiest late-game players on the team, but he can also let frustration overcome him if things aren't going his way. Elliott Eliason has become much more vocal, but Walker's second-half surge kept him on the bench a lot more later in the year. Having a guy to pull the team together when its struggling and hunger to take the big shot cannot be understated. The Gophers are still finding that person.

3. Power forward: Last season went better than expected, but there are still plenty of questionmarks. Osenieks forfeited his final year of eligibility because of knee concerns, leaving King as the only power forward on the roster with notable minutes. Charles Buggs should continue to grow but remains very raw. Getting a commitment from Gaston Diehiou, a talented forward currently playing in the Canary Islands of Spain, was huge, but he will likely come to the Gophers more green than a player reared in the U.S. Working out that rotation will be a bit of a project.

4. Small forward: Austin Hollins' departure leaves a huge hole for Minnesota to fill on both ends of the court. Toward the end of the season, the senior was arguably the team's best offensive spark. And all throughout his four years with the Gophers Hollins quietly solidified his role as the defensive juggernaut. Can Carlos "Squirrel" Morris take over effectively? It's the biggest piece missing from the NIT championship team, but it's a notable one.

5. Finding the killer instinct: Minnesota lost five Big Ten games in which they were within four points or fewer at the end of regulation. Had they turned the fate of just a couple of those, the Gophers almost surely would have made the NCAA tournament. Rooted in a conference where the competition isn't going to get any less stiff year to year, Minnesota has got to find a way to win the close ones.

Five predictions:

1. Nate Mason will quickly become an effective sixth man.
2. Mo Walker will start.
3. The Gophers will win nine league games and slip into the NCAA tournament.
4. The power forward spot will be a revolving door.
5. Mathieu will receive All-Big Ten honors.


NY Jets 3 2nd Qtr 5:48
Buffalo 7
Baltimore 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
LA Clippers 56 3rd Qtr
Charlotte 53
Portland 50 2nd Qtr 0:39
Philadelphia 50
Orlando 38 2nd Qtr 0:03
Cleveland 56
Phoenix 26 1st Qtr 0:31
Toronto 27
New York 7:00 PM
Indiana 7:30 PM
Chicago 8:00 PM
Pittsburgh 1 2nd Prd
Boston 0
Philadelphia 0 2nd Prd 18:15
NY Islanders 0
Ottawa 1 1st Prd 7:34
Detroit 0
Minnesota 1 1st Prd 5:21
Florida 0
East Carolina 49 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Nevada 56 FINAL
Weber State 59
Evansville 58 FINAL
Fresno State 52
Purdue 79 FINAL
Kansas State 88
Dillard 73 FINAL
Alcorn State 95
Clemson 64 FINAL
LSU 61
Georgia State 69 FINAL
Chicago State 46
MD-Eastern Shore 55 FINAL
Detroit 69
Missouri 53 FINAL
Arizona 72
Austin Peay 57 FINAL
Indiana State 61
Milwaukee 52 2nd Half 0:18
Louisiana 51
Marist 43 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 58
Gardner-Webb 41 2nd Half 7:52
Old Dominion 46
Hampton 36 2nd Half
Appalachian St 43
Grambling St 22 2nd Half
Ball State 41
FIU 30 2nd Half
Ga Southern 34
Jacksonville 29 2nd Half 19:51
IUPU-Ft Wayne 49
Colgate 35 2nd Half 19:25
James Madison 41
Savannah State 7 2nd Half
Louisville 41
Arizona State 39 2nd Half
Maryland 37
Santa Clara 14 2nd Half
Michigan State 40
Western Carolina 46 2nd Half 17:10
Oakland 39
SE Louisiana 35 2nd Half 15:50
Tenn Tech 40
Bucknell 17 2nd Half
Toledo 44
Villanova 32 2nd Half
VA Commonwealth 30
Nicholls 20 2nd Half
Wake Forest 47
East Tenn St 28 2nd Half
Winthrop 32
Murray State 32 2nd Half 20:00
Xavier 52
Eastern Wash 28 1st Half 7:10
Indiana 27
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Brown 7:00 PM
Pepperdine 7:00 PM
Rider 7:00 PM
Prairie View 7:00 PM
Clayton State 7:00 PM
Miss State
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
TX A&M-Int 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Oregon State 7:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Hawaii 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Seton Hall 8:00 PM
Illinois State
NJIT 8:00 PM
Stetson 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
Pittsburgh 8:00 PM
Alabama 8:30 PM
Iowa State
Michigan 8:30 PM
Colorado Christian 8:30 PM
Northern Colorado
Chadron State 8:30 PM
South Dakota St
Western Mich 9:00 PM
San Diego
SIU Edwardsville 9:05 PM
Portland State
Tulsa 10:00 PM
BYU 10:30 PM
San Diego St
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Montreal 24 FINAL
Hamilton 40
Edmonton 18 FINAL
Calgary 43
Grambling 51 FINAL
George Washington 89
Saint Louis 57 FINAL
Vanderbilt 75
NW Nazarene 69 FINAL
Idaho State 88
Millersville 60 FINAL
Delaware State 71
Harvard 43 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 97
Austin Peay 65 FINAL
Chattanooga 76
Brescia 68 FINAL
Morehead St 98
NC State 52 2nd Half 0:01
Tulane 58
Tennessee St 27 2nd Half
(4) Tennessee 44
Troy 33 2nd Half 17:44
Florida A&M 33
Sam Houston St 17 2nd Half 19:05
South Dakota St 42
UNC Greensboro 32 2nd Half
Longwood 30
Rhode Island 29 2nd Half 18:34
Columbia 39
Western State 22 2nd Half 17:39
Northern Colorado 53
TX A&M-CC 31 2nd Half 15:48
Rice 32
Cornell 33 2nd Half 20:00
Fairfield 24
St Johns 22 2nd Half
Marist 18
Bradley 25 2nd Half
Stony Brook 39
Mount Ida 32 2nd Half 15:01
UMass Lowell 57
Thomas (GA) 27 2nd Half
Georgia State 52
Loyola-Maryland 30 2nd Half 18:34
(10) Maryland 40
Barton 13 1st Half 9:10
UNC-Asheville 18
Campbell 27 2nd Half
Western Carolina 35
North Florida 30 2nd Half 15:39
Samford 52
Eastern Washington 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Cal-Irvine 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Quinnipiac 7:00 PM
Holy Cross
Prairie View 2 1st Half 19:00
(7) Texas A&M 2
East Tenn St 7:05 PM
Indiana State
(5) Stanford 8:00 PM
New Mexico
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Cal State Fullerton 8:00 PM
Weber State


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