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 pregame: Five things to tweak before the Big Ten schedule

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: December 28, 2013 - 3:46 PM

Tonight the Gophers play the final game of the non-conference schedule, against Texas A&M Corpus Christi at home, with the anticipated start of the Big Ten season just around the corner.

It's been another long layoff between games for Minnesota -- with more than a week since the Gophers played their last foe, Omaha. But though tonight's matchup might not bring major challenges or major motivation on its own -- Corpus Christi is ranked 326th out of 351 teams on Kenpom.com -- the Gophers have plenty to tweak before the conference opener against Michigan.

Among them:

1. Improving the defense. In the words of Gophers coach Richard Pitino, his squad has been good, not great, on the defensive end. But if Minnesota wants to threaten for some upsets in the Big Ten, the Gophers WILL need to be great. The press needs to get tighter and more consistent against good teams, and the team needs to better communicate in the 2-3 zone.

2. Finding consistency for 40 minutes. It's easy to do against light competition, but it's a bad habit to get into. The Gophers have had a handful of games in which they started slow or finished slow. In most of them, they've been able to overcome their hiccups, but the Gophers also found against Syracuse and Arkansas that they won't always get that opportunity against very good teams.

3. Figuring out the best lineup. With the power forward production minimized, is the Gophers best lineup a four-guard version? It's not an ideal composition for the Big Ten, but Pitino will have to decide if it makes the most sense anyway, considering Minnesota isn't getting much rebounding, size or offensive aggressiveness from the four-spot anyway.

4. Stepping up the all-around rebounding. That the Gophers have been able to average 37.3 rebound a game through 12 games so far is impressive considering the personnel. But the job only becomes harder from here. Backup center Mo Walker needs to provide more in that area, as do forwards Oto Osenieks, Joey King and guards not named Austin Hollins.

5. Getting big production from the starting guards every night. The closest we've seen to this was in the Gophers last game, against Omaha, when Andre Hollins had his first career double-double, Austin Hollins added six assists to his ten points and four rebounds, and DeAndre Mathieu went off for 27 points. This team is built around those guys, and if they can keep up the three-pronged attack, it's a recipe for success.

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