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

aMAILiaBAG: What's up with Austin Hollins? Is Smith out of his shooting slump? Best food and drink in Madison?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: February 14, 2014 - 12:37 PM

Happy Valentine's Day! I'll be spending mine in Chicago ahead of Sunday's game at Northwestern, and am having a Friendentine's Day (yes, I just made that up) date with one of my oldest friends from Boston who now lives in the Windy City. Hope everyone has a lovely day and doesn't have to witness too many nauseating, inappropriate, Hallmark-induced makeout sessions. 

To submit a question for a future mailbag, email me at amelia.rayno@startribune.com or tweet me @AmeliaRayno.

Here we go:

@R_Spencer: @AmeliaRayno What is wrong with Austin Hollins?  Where did his game go?  #aMAILiaBAG

That's a good question. Honestly, I don't know what to tell you. It's been tough to watch, especially with it being his senior campaign. And it's not like he's been downright bad every game -- he played pretty well against Iowa and Northwestern -- but he's just been so darn inconsistent that the Gophers really can't rely on getting anything out of him on a night-to-night basis. He's essentially become a non-story. If he plays well, it's a bonus. If not, well, he doesn't really get the lion's share of the blame because no one thought he might. Interesting that the weight of expectation has fallen, instead, to guys like DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith.

@mtw2550: @AmeliaRayno  Has anyone asked the coach if Malik Smith has ever gone through a shooting drought like this one before this year?

I'm not sure what you mean. Smith hit four of seven three attempts last night. That's 57 percent. He went 4-for-9 from the field over all. In the three games before last night, he has struggled from the outside, yes. Mightily so, going just 2-for-17 from that range in that stretch. But it's three games. So your question is whether Smith has ever been through a three-game shooting slump in his career? Of course he has -- he's a shooter. Last year at FIU, Smith went 0-for-8 in a two-game stretch against Louisville and Texas Southern. Later in the year, he had a stretch where he went 1-for-17 in three games with one great shooting game sandwiched inside. Shooters go through slumps. I really wouldn't worry about Malik too much.

@Plandersen_79: @AmeliaRayno Do the Gophers get into the NCAA tournament if they win 4 out of their last 6 games and win a game or two in Big Ten Tournament?

Yes -- you just outlined a pretty optimistic scenario. I think nine wins gets them in, but if one of those wins doesn't come at Ohio State or at Michigan, they probably still sit on the bubble A game or two in the Big Ten tournament would certainly help. But no, Minnesota has still not played itself out of the NCAA tournament/

@KingMuhneyy12: @AmeliaRayno Did you ball back in your day?

Not really. I was a pretty killa softball player, but my hoops experiences were relegated to parks (and now press rows).

@jessejames3ball: @AmeliaRayno The Gophers appeared really flat and sloppy last night. How does that happen against a rival in a big game?  #aMAILiaBAG

It's hard to predict when this team will play well and when it won't, but one pretty strong predictor is being on the road. The Gophers have just looked terrible in away games this season. Last night was a case of Wisconsin adjusting to the first matchup very well, and foul trouble keeping the Gophers from really going after their offensive game plan aggressively anyway. Oh, and the defense stunk. Again. That's nothing new, but sometimes their offense can overpower the stench of their D. That didn't happen until the final minutes last night.

@bportnoe: @AmeliaRayno do you think Rick is helping Richard to recruit Anas Mahmoud to Minnesota? And is there a legitimate chance he signs? #Gophers

No, I think Rick is interested in signing the Egyptian big man himself. I think things are pretty open with Mahmoud right now, but it seems like the Gophers' staff has been doing a good job with him.

@BernieKaron: @AmeliaRayno On V day, after last nite's pathos, does anyone get "Heart of the game?"

Hm ... Probably Andre Hollins, playing vs. his longtime rival in a building where he's never won on a foot that was kind of gimpy still. He finished with 22 points and looks well on his way to coming back strong.

@MichaelGaio: @AmeliaRayno Best food and drink you had in Madison? Which Big Ten city has the best bar/restaurant scene?

Madison is definitely up there in terms of best eating spots. In fact, I might go ahead and give it the crown so long s we're not counting Chicago. I also love Bloomington and Columbus and Ann Arbor. Best food I've had here is probably at Graze. The most delicious bone marrow, and a pretty good whiskey selection. Also had some pretty killer late-night tacos, postgame, at Merchant last night, along with some delightful concoctions from the bartenders there. They get the best drink award.

@mreich35: @AmeliaRayno What seed will the Gophers get in the NIT?  Are they a threat to win it? #Happy Valentine's Day #HALLMARK#SHANECO#BACHMANS

Giving up on the NCAA already?

@DWolkTalk: @AmeliaRayno Given MN's poor play at the 4 spot, do you think Buggs should get some minutes on the court? LIke the way he played vs IU.

Buggs plays vs. IU because Pitino was frustrated with how Oto Osenieks and Joey King were playing at the time, and he wanted to make a statement. However that statement also became "Buggs Is Still Not Ready To Be Productive At This Level." Don't get excited about the backup quarterback just because you haven't seen as much of him.

@RG_Skol: @AmeliaRayno Is it the system or players that choose to not O-rebound? So many times you see players running back instead of getting boards.

Not the system -- but I think maybe the Gophers have placed such a huge emphasis on correcting the defense lately, that they're a little too anxious to get to the other end at times. That's them being scared to get beat defensively again.

@RJStevens14: @AmeliaRayno favorite candy heart phrase? #aMAILiaBAG

Probably "fax me." (This barely edged out "page me.") I would most enjoy giving that heart to someone. Other notables: "Neat." And "Go home." (I think that's really a thing.)

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