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.

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Should Joey King start for Oto Osenieks?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: January 14, 2014 - 10:54 AM

What is the weakest position on the 2013-14 Gophers?

I doubt anyone reading responded with anything other than “power forward.” Maybe some of you screamed it, fruitlessly, at your computer screens.

It’s no secret that Minnesota has struggled at the four spot. With the position exactly two players deep with Oto Osenieks and Joey King, the Gophers are forced to choose between two players who don’t really play like power forwards at all – both are undersized, and neither are natural rebounders. They both have their limits. This much we all know.

But with any failing aspect of a team, people want to know how it can be “fixed,” and therefore start looking for available changes. Thus, the obvious calling for the players roles to be reversed: have Osenieks come off the bench while King nabs his starting role.

Does that make any sense? Let’s look at how the pair stacks up against each other (all stats are Kenpom.com).

Offensive rating: Osenieks 104.5; King 109.7.

Effective field goal percentage (three-pointers are given 50 percent more credit): Osenieks 53.3; King 50.0

Offensive rebounding percentage: Osenieks 3.8; King 5.8

Defensive rebounding percentage: Osenieks 13.7; King 9.0

Assist rate: Osenieks 8.4; King 4.2

Turnover rate: Osenieks 17.5; King 14.

Fouls committed per 40 minutes: Osenieks 4.2; King 6.1

Fouls drawn per 40 minutes: Osenieks 3.2; King 4.0

Free-throw rate: Osenieks 61.3; King 77.1

So Osenieks is actually a slightly better shooter – meaning that while both are averaging exactly the same number of points, with 6.8 per game, Osenieks theoretically has the capability to score more.

Osenieks is a better defensive rebounder, but King is better on the offensive boards (though not really enough better to grab the edge there). Osenieks commits fewer fouls, but King draws more. Osenieks has a much better assist rate than King, but a much worse turnover rate.

All of that is somewhat dizzying and basically just confirms what coach Richard Pitino has said all along which is there just isn’t very much difference in talent level between the two, not enough to make a difference who starts and who doesn’t.

Of course, all of that doesn’t tell the whole story. It leaves out defense, which Osenieks is probably better at on the whole. But it also doesn’t take into consideration that he plays an average of three minutes more than King per game, and the argument that the latter -- the more athletic of the two -- could be more effective if he had more time to get into his game and develop chemistry with a specific group.

Maybe a flip-flop would give the Gophers some minor improvement in the production of their power forward spot. Maybe it wouldn’t. Addressing the subject, Pitino said the power forward is the only real position where he’s considered a switch. But as of now, any advantage gained is not notable enough for Pitino to lay down the hammer on the subject, something he says can be damaging for players, mentally.

“In today’s world, starting is so important to the media and it just becomes a big deal, so that if it’s unnecessary to switch it, I’m not going to switch it,” he said. “Like if I started Mo over Elliott, it would be a big story – I understand that. I don’t want it to hurt their confidence and their self esteem. So if it’s not necessary, I’d rather just stick with it because I think everybody else is comfortable with it.”

Reading between the lines, Pitino is gently pointing out the bigger picture: that the Gophers don’t really have any ideal choices at that spot, and so the best thing to do is keep everyone happy and playing as hard as possible. King plays just as hard off the bench as he would in the starting lineup, Pitino believes. DEMOTING Osenieks would likely be more damaging for him than it would be beneficial for King. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Pitino also said if the Gophers lose “two or three in a row” – something that’s likely to happen during these next three games vs. Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin -- he might reconsider. But even that I think is a long shot. One thing the coach has shown us through 17 games is that he doesn’t make a change just to make a change.

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