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: How good are Illinois/Indiana? What's going on with Walker? Is Bigfoot actually an ancient ape?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: January 8, 2013 - 2:55 PM

 

 

 

aMAILia BAG is a recent installment on this blog in which I answer your questions. Send your queries to amelia.rayno@startribune.com. Sign your email however you would like to be referenced (first name, both names, nickname, Twitter handle, etc). As always, thanks for all your great questions.

Questions below are in bold while my answers are in normal type.

Greetings from somewhere between Minneapolis and Champaign, IL, on the wings of a very crammed Delta jet. I will be in Champaign an extra day this go-round due to the Indiana trip that immediately follows, so any of you Illinois grads or travelers of the Big Ten circuit that have interesting/fun/quirky/delicious/squatchin spot suggestions for me, let ‘em fly.

For now, let’s jump into the questions (I’ll post this as soon as I land in Illinois).

What do you make of the Gophers next opponent Illinois? Do you feel we match up well with them? What challenges do they present to the Gophers?

Thanks, Kent

I’m glad you asked. Illinois has been a really interesting team this year. They’ve won some really strong games, but then they lost a head-scratcher to Purdue – I’m not saying the Boilermakers aren’t good (I think they’re pretty solid), only that Illinois needs to win those games with so many other strong teams in this league if they really are THAT GOOD. Here’s the thing: the Illini pretty much live and die by the 3-pointer. They have a lot of guys capable of shooting from distance and getting hot beyond the arc. When their shots are falling, they can beat just about anybody, just simply by outscoring them. I believe that. The problem is, Illinois really doesn’t have much of a post game, and that’s going to be a problem in the gritty Big Ten. It makes them a little one-dimensional so that if you CAN stop the 3, you’ve got a pretty good chance to stop the whole package. The Gophers haven’t necessarily always defended the perimeter well, but I do think they’ve improved in that area as their defense has improved as a whole. It will certainly be a focus tomorrow.

Numerous recruits were at the MSU game on Saturday, who do Gophers feel they have legitimate chance of landing?

@GagTjgag1

I’ve written about this quite a bit, so I might direct you to some old aMAILia BAGs. I think the Gophers have to play their cards like their in the game for all of the big name local players they’re recruiting for 2014, but realistically, Tyus Jones is a long, long, long shot. I do think that Minnesota has made some good in-roads with Rashad Vaughn and there is possibility there, despite the fact that he’s being recruited by some truly elite schools. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s been attending some games lately and has seen the Barn loud and packed and two Gophers wins to move them up in the polls. That isn’t everything, though. It isn’t even most of it.

Talk about the merits/weaknesses of AP poll & Coaches Poll. I notice non-east coast teams do better in AP for BB&FB

@BjornTheBear

Well, of course the weakness with both of those is that they’re entirely subjective. Now, they’re subjective based on a good sample size of people who watch a lot of basketball, but they’re subjective nonetheless. They’re also two very different bodies of people that are looking for very different criteria, which is why you often seeing significant discrepancies between the two. A less subjective ranking, of course, would be Ken Pomeroy’s – which is based on set, constant criteria -- but of course, people find flaws with that one as well. Are the Gophers REALLY the No. 8 team in the country? Well you could easily come up with arguments for both sides, but coming up with a formula that everyone agreed on would be pretty tough. As far as the teams that do better in the Coaches poll vs. AP poll, there might be some skewing as to what is most often on TV and/or schools with well-known and respected coaches,

Mo Walker, wt(h)?

Jeff

I feel you, Jeff, but no need to get inappropriate. The fact of the matter is, Walker hasn’t been a really significant factor since the first couple games of play, when he displayed some real potential (remember that?) What’s going on? The only things I can tell you are these:

  • a) He’s been battling some shoulder soreness lately, after apparently he was hit in a practice. Coach Tubby Smith didn’t seem overly concerned with that from the start, however, and even before the Northwestern game, the coach said he thought Walker was mostly healed. Even so, Walker hasn’t gotten many minutes at all in the last few games. My guess is because:
  • b) The weight concerns that have hampered Walker since his freshman season are still very much an issue. The big hasn’t lost any weight, which was something Smith was serious about getting him to do. Without trimming, it’s very tough for Walker to play with this up-tempo, athletic team, and I think Smith wants to see that happen before he solidifies a role for the big.

At the same time, Walker is a big, big body and could certainly be useful in certain matchups – probably more so than he’s been played lately. Bottom line: he’s going to need to lose a few pounds to get in Smith’s rotation.

We are losing 4 scholarship seniors this season (Williams, Mbakwe, Ingram, & Welch) & 2 next season (Ahanmisi & Hollins). We have already signed two 2013 recruits (Ellis & Foster) and have two offers extended (according to ESPN) to Schilling & Thomas. Would Tubby & Co. actually sign both Schilling & Thomas if they were willing; or is this a situation where if one signs, the other is told they are no longer interested?

How concerned is the staff about available scholarships for the 2014 class? I would assume that they want at least 3 open scholarships to offer Jones, Vaughn, & Travis. They have also been recruiting Okonoboh for a long time too. Just wondering if you have heard of any scholarship limitations that the staff has imposed on itself to plan for an upcoming year [2014] in which we have fewer scholarship seniors leaving than in-state recruiting targets coming out of high school?

Obviously this will be a complicated issue because the Gophers will have a very strong backcourt next year with Hollins, Hollins, & Coleman. They won't want to limit themselves too much and possibly waste an opportunity to have another strong finish in the B1G. The way that Eliason and Walker have looked thus far seems to suggest they might need some help in the frontcourt next year.

I was thinking that they might want to sign 3 in both classes, but I haven't really heard of any goals.

Also, I know Tubby and his staff run things quite a bit differently than some of the big-time programs; however, is there any chance that they would be willing to over-sign (if they get pledges from their top targets) and force a scholarship player (Walker perhaps - he might get a better opportunity to play elsewhere) or two out of the program? I know that's not exactly the way they try to do things (and I appreciate that); but the way things have taken shape, they have a pretty imbalanced roster right now.

Joe Hanson

Goodness gracious, Joe. I had to take three potty breaks and get a light snack just to get through your question. Whose blog is this anyway?

The Gophers will definitely need some frontcourt help next season, and they have a couple of options waiting in the wings. Remember Charles Buggs? Did you see him in the preseason? I saw some good things there and I think the year of weight-lifting/growing/learning will do him good. Also, the Gophers have already signed Alex Foster from Chicago, who could lend a hand down low. Minnesota is still hard after Gavin Schilling for next year and I think they have a good shot at him. There, they’ll probably cap their recruitment class even though, as you point out, they have one more available.

That way they will still have three available for the super strong 2014 class. It doesn’t mean the Gophers will get Jones, Vaughn and Reid Travis (there’s no guarantees in life, but that is as much a long shot as anything). Say the Gophers land another recruit for 2013 and THEN get a commitment from Schilling? Well, a transfer situation is never out of question – essentially that’s what happened with Chip Armelin last year to make room for Trevor Mbakwe on the roster, but it has to be a good fit.

(But in all seriousness – keep the questions shorter people. There is beauty in brevity.)

With Trevor playing the 5, our Golden Gophers might have the most athletic lineup in the country. It appears to be very natural for this team to get up and down the court in transition with the players being so unselfish, often times scoring in bunches and not allowing the defense to set up. For 2 long stretches against MSU the game slowed down and we played half court sets, which was very ineffective in my humble opinion. Did Tubby make the decision to slow the game down against MSU when we had a lead or was it something their defense forced us into?

Another question, will Tubby ever abandon the hockey line change substitutions? The only time Dre Hollins or Williams should ever leave the floor is because of foul trouble. Both should average 36 minutes a game in Big Ten play, unless we are up 20 against Iowa.

@Kurt_Althaus

The Gophers have gotten a lot more effective at getting out in transition and playing up-tempo basketball, but that is always going to be a small percentage of their scoring. In the Big Ten, you have to be able to play in the half court and in that game, that’s certainly what happened against Michigan State. As we saw against Northwestern on Sunday, when the Gophers are kept from their up-tempo game, they can look like a very different basketball team. I actually thought they had some good stretches with that offense in the Michigan State game compared with what we saw last year, but you’re right, it’s still not especially a strength. The key for the Gophers is going to be maintaining a base level of play in the half-court while focusing on changing the pace, as they finally did against Northwestern.

As for the hockey line change substitutions, I doubt that Smith will ever change that. He’s playing the bench for fewer minutes now, but he’s still doing those wholesale switches and if ever it was a time to go away from it, it would be now.

Were you seated next to Sid at the MSU game? Did he help you with input on your laptop or provide game tips (between naps)?

Seriously, we're finally seeing some contributions from Oto during the last couple games. He was solid in the last preseason game and had some strong, confident plays versus MSU. His dunk, assist to Trevor and end-of-shotclock jumper were crucial first half plays along with some solid D and three rebounds in seven minutes. I was a little surprised he didn't see some PT in the second half. Tubby has been very patient with him so I suspect we're seeing the potential he shows during practices?? Oto could provide a big boost to the front line (outside shooting) if he can continue to play with this level of confidence. Your thoughts?

GeezerGoph

Firstly, I am always seated next to Sid at games. He has insight, alright!

RE Osenieks, it wasn’t a knock on him that he didn’t get time in the second half of the MSU game, Smith just played a very short bench overall that game, particularly in the second half – which I think worked out for the Gophers really well. Osenieks did some good things in the Northwestern game as well, and it’s encouraging to see, given his sluggish start to the year (by preseason, I believe you meant non-conference). Still, considering he was recruited as a shooting specialist, I’d like to see even more. He’s obviously shown some sparks (suspiciously right after Wally Ellenson’s redshirt was taken away) and pushed it in practice, so he’ll get his chances.

I realize u can win any given night, but what are your thoughts about the upcoming road trip? 1-1,0-2 is Indiana that good?

@ALuvsTwins

This road trip is going to be tough, but I’m lumping the home Michigan game (which comes right after) into this equation as well, because these three games represent the most trying test of the year thus far. After Michigan, the Gophers will have played four ranked teams in five games. Whew! But then, that’s the Big Ten. I talked about Illinois quite a bit above. As for Indiana, yeah, they’re pretty solid. They have so many scorers and are so balanced across the board. Guys like Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls have improved even more from a year ago than people expected. And perhaps the biggest difference between those teams (this year’s and last year’s) is that Indiana’s defense has improved so significantly. Lump in the fact that Assembly Hall is a very difficult place to play, and Minnesota has it’s work cut out for it.

Even so, I think both teams are beatable by the Gophers if they play at the top of their game. And incidentally, I think the hardest game of that stretch will be the Michigan game, even though it’s at home. I am predicting a win in Champaign and a loss at Indiana, but that scenario would put a lot more pressure on the Wolverines game. If the Gophers go 1-2 in that stretch, they move down in the polls and the hype is probably quelled a bit. Win just one more, and suddenly they’re one of the best teams in the nation.

No pressure, Minnesota.

Gameplan for Illinois. Let Au. Hollins shoot triples till he misses? #Gophers

@BeeHeintzSKOL

Probably not a terrible idea if he gets going the way he did against Northwestern, but that hasn’t always been the case with Austin so far this season. However, Minnesota will likely need someone to get hot against the high-scoring Illini, and usually someone does. But the biggest X factor of this matchup is going to be the Gophers’ defense.

 

BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTIONS(S):

Ok, so are in you the group that believes the Bigfoot that people are sighting now is actually Gigantopithecus? Or do you think Bigfoot a separate species or primate?

Scott Wilkie

Good question, Scott. Basically, I think it’s a matter of semantics. There’s a large ape species living in North America – it’s impossible to count out that it is a still-existing descendant of the Gigantophithecus (which we actually have found fossils of) because we haven’t studied the creature. I’m actually reading a book right now that spends some time talking about this theory, and the great beast’s (which existed at the same time as humans, according to carbon dating) possible migration from Asia during the Ice Age or at some other time when there was a land bridge between the two continents. That’s how we assume humans got over here, so that theory isn’t at all ridiculous. At the same time, it very well could be a different species of ape in North America – we won’t know until we actually study one thoroughly. Either way, fascinating stuff.

*Dr. Melba Ketchum, of course, believes they're a hybrid -- and says she has the DNA to prove it. We're still waiting of the publication of that ... so we'll see.

Do you believe that the Patterson film is real?

@DSpanFan

In a word, yes. While critics love to dismiss the classic film, it has never been proven to be a fake. In fact, many objective scientists and veterinarians that have studied it have concluded it cannot be a person. There are some aspects of it that would be incredibly hard to fake, for example, where the joints land on the specimen in the Patterson film are very different in proportion to where they would be on a tall human. Those are the things you can’t fake in a suit – you can cover a person up, but you can’t put their joints in a different spot. That and the fact that recreations of the video have shown the “Bigfoot” to be more than 8 feet tall. When they released the film, they thought it was going to change the view of the Sasquatch. Alas, most non-believers haven’t looked into the subject very deeply.

**Paul Allen of KFAN and I talked Bigfoot quite a bit this morning on his show. You can find the replay here.

**Check out old aMAILia BAGs here.

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