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

Minnesota gets some conference-wide love at Big Ten media day

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: October 17, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Yesterday was Big Ten media day in Chicago (a bit earlier this year than usual), which means across the country, sports minds have finally begun to focus on basketball, at least to some degree. The season's start, now, is only a few weeks away. Minnesota plays its first game in less than a month, against Louisville on Nov. 14 in Puerto Rico.

A few Gophers tidbits with autumn sinking in:

*In case you missed it, our story in today's Star Tribune, written by Jack McCarthy from Big Ten media day: This year, it looks like Wisconsin and everyone else.

*Also, no surprise here either -- women's senior guard Rachel Banham was named Big Ten preseason player of the year by both the media and coaches.

*Minnesota commit Kevin Dorsey will be taking his official visit this weekend per a source. The point guard arrived on campus on Thursday night.

*According to rivals.com's Ryan James, 2016 and 2019 prospects, brothers Michael and Mathew Hurt will attend Gophers practice this afternoon.

*The Gophers got some conference-wide love at yesterday's event. Via an informal and anonymous player poll conducted by BTN.com, Minnesota received the most votes for "Big Ten sleeper team." The Gophers' Richard Pitino also received a vote for "Coach you'd like to play for."

*Andre Hollins, the Big Ten's most underrated player? That's the opinion of at least one league coach, anyway, per CBS' conference preview.

*The Gophers will hold a scrimmage at Iowa State on Nov. 2, per Jeff Goodman at ESPN. Teams are allowed any combination of two scrimmages or exhibition games prior to beginning the season.

*Let the preseason polls begin. The first USA Today college basketball coaches poll is out, and while Minnesota didn't manage to crack the top-25, the Gophers did get 18 votes.

Minnesota lands at No. 6 in Big basketball Ten media poll

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: October 15, 2014 - 2:10 PM

Tomorrow marks the Big Ten's annual media day in Chicago, which means today marks the reveal of the unofficial Big Ten media poll ranking each team.

Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch compiles the rankings each year.

Though the rankings grow to 14 this season with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, the top holds no surprise. According to the Big Ten media, the No. 1 ranked school by is, by unanimous vote, Wisconsin -- the team that was a jumper away from the title game a year ago and returns four of its five starters from that team. What is a little more interesting is the discrepancy that exists in between that lofty No. 1 and the only other unanimous vote: Rutgers, landing dead last. In the middle, every team was placed in at least four different numerical positions by the 27 participating writers. 

Minnesota, meanwhile earn the dubious reputation of being the teams writers seem most conflicted about. -- The Gophers received votes at eight different positions, ranging from third in the conference all the way down to eleventh -- two votes at No. 3, one vote at No. 4, three votes at No. 5, six votes at No. 6, seven votes at No. 7, five votes at No. 8, two votes at No. 9 and one vote at No. 11.

Here are the media rankings in full:

Wisconsin
Ohio State
Michigan State
Nebraska
Michigan
Minnesota
Iowa
Illinois
Indiana
Maryland
Purdue
Penn State
Northwestern
Rutgers

*Four teams received votes for second place: Ohio State (10), Michigan State (7), Nebraska (6) and Michigan (4).

*Iowa received votes ranging from No. 4 to No. 11, and at each position in between.

*Here are more writer predictions, including All Big Ten first team, via BTN.com.

Compare with my personal rankings, which I submitted for this poll:

Wisconsin
Ohio State
Nebraska
Michigan State
Minnesota
Michigan
Iowa
Maryland
Illinois
 Indiana
 Northwestern
 Penn State
 Purdue
 Rutgers

(Writer's note: I unfortunately will not be attending this year's media day due to an annoyingly persistent illness. Please follow @stribsports on Twitter for updates from Thursday's press conferences and check startribune.com for stories.)

Pitino finds value in Minnesota Timberwolves practices

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: October 7, 2014 - 11:26 AM

The University of Minnesota men's basketball team hasn't had an NBA draft pick in ten years, but that doesn't mean the Gophers can't learn from the local professionals.

In fact, second-year coach Richard Pitino is hoping to take some cues from Minnesota Timberwolves general manager and head coach Flip Saunders. This summer, Pitino journeyed to Mankato for a practice leading up to tonight's preseason opener at the Pacers. Because of the Timberwolves' relative youth amongst other NBA team, Pitino sees areas of instructional crossover.

"He's got a really young team, so he's doing a lot of teaching," Pitino said. "He's teaching guys how to guard ball screens, and he's teaching them ow to slide their feet and communicate, and he does a really good job of it."

The coach said he took a couple of drills from the practice he watched, and has already implemented them with his own players.

"I was really, really impressed with [Saunders] as well as his staff -- very impressed," Pitino said.


Other notes:

*The Gophers will hold an open scrimmage at Williams Arena on Oct. 26th at 4 p.m.

*Walk-on tryouts will be held at the court at Bierman Field Athletic Building this coming Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Pitino told Darren Wolfson and Chris Long on 1500-a.m. that the staff is looking to add another guard and a wing. "You never know who you can find," Pitino said on 1500, noting that his starting point guard (who ended up becoming an all-conference player in the Sun Belt) at Florida International walked on.

*While Pitino has loitered around the Timberwolves organization a bit, Wolves center Gorgui Dieng has spent plenty of time in Dinkytown, lifting with Gophers strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown and watching practices. "He's like one of my favorites that I've ever been around," Pitino said of his former player at Louisville. "He's a guy I want to hang out with and get him over here, even talking to our guys because he's a really good influence -- he's a great kid and he wasn't that good of a player when he came to Louisville and he became a very good player ... I just enjoy being around him. I consider him not really a former player but more of a friend.

Q&A with 2016 target, Rochester's Michael Hurt

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: October 6, 2014 - 11:18 AM

With the 2015 scholarships all allotted, the University of Minnesota basketball staff has turned its focus to the 2016 class.

Near the top of the list is Rochester wing Michael Hurt, who is ticking up in the national ranks (he currently sits at No. 146 for the 2016 class, according to rivals.com) as he heads into his junior year at John Marshall.

I caught up with his prep coach, Kirk Thompson, to talk about Minnesota's recent offer -- which was extended during an unofficial visit to the Dinkytown campus this summer -- and the road ahead.

How did Michael react to the offer from coach Richard Pitino?
I think it's very exciting for him that they're showing interest. He was impressed that they're thinking about getting a new practice facility ... he likes the idea of things they're presenting for him, how they see him as a player and I think everything has been positive.

His recruitment really took a jump over the summer. How is he handling all the new attention?
He's got a lot of college coaches calling on him. The great thing about Michael is he's a great kid with a level head. So he is garnering a lot of attention, but he's very down home. He's a gym rat, he works hard, he just works on improving his game.

How have you seen him improve since last year?
He's obviously gotten stronger although he still obviously needs to get stronger -- he has put on some weight, about 10-15 pounds. What makes him tough is he's always been a pretty good scorer, but now he's gotten where he can score inside, he can score outside and that's what makes him a dual threat. He's a very good three-point shooter, but he's also a very good post-up threat. He's one of the better post-up players I've had in that he's very patient when he gets the ball inside.

What would you like to see him work on this school year?
The three things I'm looking at are strength, speed and for a guy his size he can really handle the ball well, but to continue development of his mid-range game.

Do you think he'll grow any more?
He might grow one more inch. 6-foot-8 now. People seem to be listing him at 6-6 and 6-7 but he's 6-8. He was 6-3 or 4 as a freshman. 

His brother, Matthew (also 6-foot-8) is going to be an eighth grader next year. You had him on your team in some capacity last year. What do you expect from him and do you see similarities between he and Michael's games?
Yes, he dressed varsity last year, and I expect him to play a huge role on the varsity team this year. Matthew likes to hang around outside a little bit more, but with time he'll develop that inside play. He has a very unbelievable shooting touch and soft touch around the basket for a kid that age.

Who else is talking to Michael regularly right now?
On my phone today, there has been: Xavier, Stanford, Notre Dame. He's getting letters from Wisconsin, Northwestern is very interested, and he has offers from: Davidson, Bucknell, UNI, Drake and San Jose St. also.

Any other unofficials coming up?
He went to the UNI (University of Northern Iowa) team camp and he's talked about to going out to Bucknell, but he oesn't have anything anytime soon.

Carlos Morris has big shoes to fill in potentially replacing Austin Hollins

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: October 3, 2014 - 2:38 PM

For much more, check out tomorrow's paper or go online at Startribune.com.

While junior college transfer Carlos Morris may physically replace graduated senior Austin Hollins in the University of Minnesota's starting lineup, the role goes far beyond the title.

At Pitino's press conference marking the official start of fall practices for Minnesota (the Gophers play their first game six weeks from Friday), the coach indicated that while Morris has proven very capable in summer workouts and practices, there is still plenty for the newbie to learn.

"Austin was a great calming presence on the court," Pitino said. "You knew he was going to make the right rotation defensively, he was going to do the right thing, he was going to execute the right way. Carlos Morris doesn't quite understand that just yet, so he's got to figure that out. But we've had four or five practices so we expect him to be there eventually."

All the same, Pitino indicated that he's been impressed with Morris' play in the last few months. The incoming junior should contribute to a potentially faster, more athletic squad this year.

Competing with Morris for the starting role at small forward will be defensive-minded sophomore Daquein McNeil, who was one of the team's late-season pleasant surprises a year ago.

A few other notes from today press conference:

*Pitino said international freshman Gaston Diedhiou (who was denied admittance to Minnesota for at least the fall semester) will have the opportunity to retake the TOEFL English proficiency test and become eligible for the spring, but there is no known date yet. "I think we're pretty confident that he's moving in the right direction," Pitino said.

*Pitino said he still talks with Austin Hollins, who is currently under contract with a team in France, via text. Former Gopher Maverick Ahanmisi is currently playing in the Philippines. Malik Smith is still trying to get a contract. Currently, he's at home in Boston.

*The Gophers will hold an open scrimmage at the end of the month. The date and time is yet to be determined.

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