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
Aloha kakahiaka, hau’oli Lapule!
I’ve made it to Maui and am already Googling greetings (“Good morning, happy Sunday,” of course).
Mahalo for all of your questions. I hope some of you have made it to the island as well. All of the tournament’s teams have availability today, so I’ll pass along any notes later. For now, let’s get on to the questions.
Seems like the #Gophers really enjoy the triple. Are they too 3-centric early on? Or is it just how the roster's built?
I think generally, when a team is doing well at something and winning, it’s hard to argue that it’s too much of a focus. So far, the Gophers are connecting on 34.1 percent from beyond the arc – which is good, because certainly Minnesota plans for perimeter shooting to be a big part of their game plan.
The other half of this is that with the frontcourt built the way it is – not a lot of depth or bulk there – the Gophers are going to HAVE to shoot more than they would, say, if they still had a Trevor Mbakwe-type rooting the post to throw the ball into. Is that ideal? No, and it makes them susceptible to a bad shooting night. But right now, it’s who they have to be, and they’re doing it well.
Have [the Gophers] shown us anything to get excited about? It's early but is progress being seen with the players and new system?
Sure, I think so. The win at Richmond should excite Gophers fans, because it was a tough environment for a team that is still coming together. The win against Wofford on Thursday should make Gophers feel good because that contest was the very definition of a trap game, and Minnesota didn’t fall in – it came to play. And generally, while I still maintain that this year’s Gophers team has its limits, I think what coach Richard Pitino has done already is impressive. He has taken the roster that he inherited/quickly put together and gotten the most out of it. The Gophers are functioning as a cohesive group, rather than the collection of parts they looked like at times last year. They’ve transformed their bodies and their attitudes, and you’re seeing the on-court confidence lead to on-court results. Several players, like Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason have improved dramatically. If you’re a Gophers fan and you’re not happy with where this team is at right now, you’re not paying attention.
Has it been determined if MN will be a participant in any of the holiday tourneys next year?
Nothing is set yet … but there are rumblings about the Paradise Jam (St. Thomas) …
Seems like the crowds have been leaner at the barn so far. Heard anything from students while you're around campus on why?
It’s always kind of sparce this time of year. Attendance so far is actually up a little bit from a year ago, when the Gophers drew 42,648 through four games. This year, they’ve hit 43,895 so far.
If no king for Syracuse any chance Pitino lets Mo free a game early, or are we just screwed in the frontcourt?
First of all, it’s not up to him. It’s university policy, not team policy. And even if it were, there’s no chance he would do that.
Still early, but after a handful of games are there any changes to your predictions for the final #big10 rankings? #aMAILiaBAG
I haven’t watched enough non-Gophers in the conference to make the call about any other teams. But I still think 9th or maybe 8th is pretty reasonable for Minnesota. Pitino has gotten the team to really buy in and respond to their shortcomings, but there are still shortcomings. Come January, the size of the frontcourt is going to be a concern.
Don't you think brakes need to be pumped on Oto? At least until we see what he has during B1G play?
We’re not in the heart of the Big Ten schedule yet, if that’s what you mean. But I’m not sure what you mean by “pump the brakes.” Curb your enthusiasm? Sure – if you’re concerned about getting overly excited and then overly disappointed when Osenieks fails to produce the same results in conference play. But that goes for everyone, right? Osenieks isn’t suddenly competing for the Naismith, but it is pretty obvious that he’s improved. Just look at his shooting percentage from three-point range last year. Just look at his confidence on the court. Watch how much more involved in both the offense and the defense than he was a year ago, and how aggressive he is in doing the little things. Osenieks will take his lumps in the Big Ten, but we might as well give the forward his due – he’s earned it.
How would you evaluate Buggs and Wally's play [on Thursday]? Moving forward, do you see them making any significant contributions?
I thought Ellenson played pretty well – he finished with seven points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal, and helping to keep the Gophers rolling near the end of the game. Wofford wasn’t the strongest opponent, mind you, but if Ellenson keeps doing that, he’ll get a bigger role in the rotation. Buggs had a pair of blocks, which was good, but he needs to be stronger in the paint. Both of those guys need to get better defensively.
If the Gophers win the National Championship, who play Pitino in the movie? My money is Gene Wilder
Oh boy. I’m not sure I should even answer this one.
I'm wondering about this new defense. I like the energy, and the potential for each basket to turn into a scoring run, after all basketball is a game of scoring runs. But so far we have seen that it has tended to end scoring runs, and lead to quick 3-point buckets for the opposing teams. I know it may take time to develop and have guys work together for traps and steals, but can this really work going forward? Especially up against well coached teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Time will tell. This is a new defense for the Gophers so it will take some time. The Gophers have certainly been effective with the press at points and have been able to shake teams out of their comfort zone. Certainly, it will need to get tighter, especially heading into the conference slate, where opponents will be faster and craftier, and could pose a hell-like situation for the very undersized frontcourt if the Gophers aren’t able to scramble out of the press quick enough when teams are beating it.
Also, is every Brian/Bryan with a ‘W’ last name ‘B-dub?’ It’s a rule, right?
I have a couple questions for mailbag, 1, Have Richard and Wally made-up (and the nature of their disagreement), and 2, What effect do you think it will have on Henry's recruitment. Thanks.
Yes, Richard and Wally have made up, which is why you see the latter playing. As long as something else doesn’t happen, I don’t think it should affect the Gophers’ recruitment of Henry Ellenson (No. 42 nationally in 2015, according to Rivals.com).
Hang 10. Michigan looks better than last year. Stauskas drove, stuffed. Explosive! 12-pt deficit kapoof! Surprised? #aMAILiabag
I have not managed to surf yet. (Give me time, I just got here!)
Not surprised that the Wolverines look a bit better than last year, at least early on. Once the conference slate rolls around, Michigan might miss guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but they have a host of other stars, including Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, each with a year of experience behind them. I anticipate both of them taking another big step this season, and keeping the Wolverines among the elite.
Who's our best perimeter defender this season?
Austin Hollins, still, when he’s out there. Andre Hollins is looking a lot better defensively as well.
Do you see the team turning heads and making the big dance? Or are we a year or two away?
I still think that’s a tough challenge given the personnel. No one wants to hear this, I know, but a good run in the NIT would be an accomplishment.
Silly question but is the press ever able to fly with the team?
Some radio journos do, but not the print media. We all have to fend for ourselves, which means less cushy flights, more connections and more accidental overnight layovers in Cincinnati (see: my return trip from Richmond).
It wouldn’t really be possible anyway. Often, the team heads back right after a game, while I still have hours of work to do.
It seems like Pitino's the anti-Tubby [Smith, former Gophers coach] when it comes to praising players and building confidence. Fair assessment?
They’re just different coaches, although players have already commented on how positive Pitino is. The new coach isn’t constantly praising his players – he has been very blunt both on his blog and with the media about different individuals’ struggles and weaknesses – but I think the major difference is the players all know where they stand with Pitino at all times. He tells them what they’re doing wrong, and then commends them when they make steps to fixing it. Smith praised his players too, of course, but it seems like Pitino has been a little more consistent in his feedback.
Who has the best chance at being drafted at this time? #aMAILiaBAG
I don’t think anyone will go in next year’s draft if that’s what you mean. But right now, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins are the only players close to NBA material, and even they have more work to do.
That’s not to say that others can’t get there, just that they aren’t there yet.
Mail bag : The way EE has been playing us encouraging and Mo will be fine too. What's scary is the 4 spot come BIG PLAY, do you see this as a huge weakness for the Gophers?
It’s an area that will need to be overcome, yeah, as has been the theme all fall. Both of those guys – Osenieks and Joey King – have exceeded my expectations for them early, but they still represent a very small and thin corps at that position. It will be a challenge to battle with the other physical 4s in the league, for sure.
Jarvis Johnson on U's radar? What will it take to get a four- or five star recruit?
Jarvis Johnson is more than on the U’s radar. Pitino offered the 2015 point guard almost immediately after taking the job at Minnesota and the coaching staff loves him. He’d be a great fit for the system and a good option for down the road with Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu using up their eligibility the year before.
#aMAILiaBAG The Gopher bigs have looked great, but isn't Syracuse the first team with front court size, so first real test?
Definitely, especially since the Gophers will still be shorthanded. Mo Walker will still have one game remaining in his six-game suspension and Joey King may or may not play (fractured jaw). The Orange has been very physical inside and will create a big challenge for Elliott Eliason and whoever else is playing defense at the 4-spot. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing the Gophers do a fair amount of zone.
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTIONS:
Any #bigfoot type of creatures in Hawaii? #elchupacabra_hawaii_style?
I thought long and hard about this the other night, and learned from Wikipedia that before the Polynesians came over, there were only bugs, birds, seals and bats on the islands. Anything else that’s there now was brought over. So unless the Polynesians had a bigfoot stowaway, I don’t think there are any dwelling there. Also, an island would seem a very dangerous spot for bigfoot. As the area is commercialized, there becomes a smaller and smaller amount of space to hide. Yikes!
Stu … I think you’re onto something. Cain has returned and molded himself into television host so he can prove he’s not the real bigfoot. Or … something?
Well folks -- today represents the only day between last night's game against Coastal Carolina and tomorrow's game against Wofford, the shortest turnaround the team has had so far this year. And it doesn't slow down from there. On Saturday, the Gophers embark to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, which starts on Monday and will feature three games in three days, starting with the tough draw in the opening round, No. 9 Syracuse. What do the Gophers need to do to between now and then? How is Joey King's injury looking? How will Minnesota come out of the tournament?
I'll be chatting away about these subjects (and bigfoot) and more starting at noon, so bring your questions and ask away!
Hello from charming Richmond, Va., where my weather is better than yours. Thanks for all your questions ahead of today’s game at the Robins Center (tipoff at 6:30 CT). To submit for future aMAILiaBAGs, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to me on Twitter @AmeliaRayno. Here we go.
Your questions below in bold; my answers in regular type.
Most recent recruiting class graded an F. What grade would the 3 '14 signees get? #aMAILiaBAG
That’s a good question. You’re referring, I think, to the Sporting News’ grades of the incoming 2013 classes well before the season started. Again, it’s tough to judge players before you really see how they make the next jump, but as it currently stands, I would give the 2014 class (currently Josh Martin, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris) a C+. There are no game-changing recruits, but the Gophers got three underrated types that should fit well into coach Richard Pitino’s system. It’s all about the fit, not the stars (all three are 3-star recruits), as we are getting a glimpse of with JUCO point guard DeAndre Mathieu right now. Currently, I wouldn’t rank the Gophers’ 2014 higher because again, it’s not really addressing their most pressing needs, which are big men. Josh Martin should help Minnesota fill that need, but he is more of a Joey King signee and less of a sizeable, punishing big.
But remember, the Gophers’ 2014 class is not necessarily complete. Minnesota still has one scholarship remaining, and they could sign someone in the late period.
Mailbag question. Complete this sentence. For Wally to get playing minutes in Big 10 he must ???
I think the most general answer to that is that Wally Ellenson must prove himself to Pitino in practice. We don’t get to see practices (they’re closed to the media), but it’s pretty clear that the Gophers’ coach is still waiting to see something from Ellenson. The wing barely played last season, so it’s possible that Pitino still thinks he’s too raw. The problem for Ellenson is that there is a lot of depth in front of him. However, he could be an interesting experiment in the four-guard lineup the Gophers have been toying with, given his size and athleticism. So if Ellenson comes in off the bench and gets all over the boards – if he can get four rebounds or so off the bench – that’s only going to help his chances.
Why are the gophers getting little credit? Other than losing Mbakwe, we're better than last year. #MOinit2winit
Why? Because they’re essentially a new team and haven’t proven anything yet. I think Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins get a lot of respect around the league, but who else can you pout about not getting their due? Elliott Eliason has played modest minutes over the last two years, but he’s never been relied on in such a major role, and he’s been largely up and down since arriving. Mo Walker has barely played since he stepped foot on campus. Joey King was a marginal player at Drake. And the bulk of the bench is largely unknowns as well. There is Ellenson, who had spare minutes a year ago, Charles Buggs, who didn’t play at all and three other new players that no one knew much about (one of those, Mathieu, is of course in the starting five). Oto Osenieks struggled mightily with shooting, and Maverick Ahanmisi has been turnover prone.
You would expect differently?
In general, I’m not sure why fans get so huffed and puffed about preseason rankings or how much “credit” a team gets before they’ve played any games. If anything, that’s an opportunity. It takes the pressure off and creates a situation in which a modest finish – even if it doesn’t satisfy you personally – ye with lofty sights – could be viewed as a success. The team will have every chance to surprise folks on the court, and those are the best stories after all. Plus you’ll get to tell all your buddies ‘I told you so’ (and me, for that matter) if they do better than others are predicting.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Not much Buggs action so far. Was he Tubby specific recruit with no fit in Pitino regime or just work in progress? #aMAILiaBag
People are obsessed with Charles Buggs. You know why? Because he’s the backup quarterback. He’s the guy who doesn’t get time, so fans don’t have a chance to see him struggle. Which in their minds, means he must be great.
I don’t think Buggs was a specific Tubby recruit – Tubby elected to redshirt him, after all – and I think that Pitino sees a lot of potential in the forward. But he’s just not ready yet. Maybe you’ve heard this before: he’s still awfully raw.
#aMAILiaBAG Percantage chance Andre makes 1st team B1G? Is this his last year here?
Hollins has been picked by a few people to wind up a first team All-Big Ten, I’ve noticed. Personally, I picked him third team (which is where the media as a whole picked him as well), partly because I think he still needs to add some things to his game still and partly because I think there are a lot of other really, really good players in the Big Ten.
Landing on the first team would be quite an accomplishment for Hollins, and though there are outliers predicting it, would be safe to call a surprise. The potential, though, is there I think. So ... 20 percent chance?
And I think Hollins will be a four-year player -- and I believe the degree is meaningful to him.
Offer for delshon strikland soon?
Possibly, but likely not until next year, closer to the spring signing period. The Gophers have recruited the Minnetonka guard, but still seem not quite sure about him.
Do you know of any good Gopher basketball blog/twitters to follow? #aMAILiaBAG
Ahh, very cute, sir. Everyone go check out From the Barn’s DELIGHTFUL content.
Is issue between Pitino and Ellenson related to high jump? Is Ellenson still doing track and field after season?
I don’t envision Ellenson changing his mind about track and field or basketball – he’s extremely passionate about both. And no, the disagreement has nothing to do with his duel-sport status. Pitino is totally on board with that.
Hi, 2 questions from Nor Cal.
1. How many games in do you think it will be before we can judge how good this team is?
2. Buggs must be sick of being described as "raw." What does that really mean? What's needed... time? practice? physical conditioning? studying the game?
1 – I think by the end of the Maui Invite, we will have a pretty good idea. The Gophers will have gone on the road against Richmond and competed against Syracuse and two other potentially tough challengers on a neutral court. How close can they keep it against Jim Boeheim and Co., ranked No. 8 in the nation? That might give us an idea of how well they’ll manage against the Big Ten’s brass.
2 – You caught me! I laughed when I read this because that’s the No. 1 word I use to describe Buggs (see above) every time people ask me. He probably is tired of it. But really, I think it’s all of those things you mentioned. Buggs has a great frame and has packed on some muscle already, but he could use to gain some more. Studying the game is a big one, because I think one of the concerns with him is that he needs to better see the big picture in game situations. Of course, more practice will only help. Like I said above, Pitino and the staff sees a lot of potential for him, but he’s not there yet.
When Joey King is actually inside the three point line on offense, do the Gophers get any extra points added on to their team score for every completed ball fake that he does...even if he doesn't score?
Not technically, but if has been pretty valuable!
You've sort of established your brand, but are there any young girl or guys out there covering the Gophers of note that we should pay attention to?
Why is everyone out there trying to leave me??!
(Also, currently bristling at the indication that I, ahem, am not young.)
BONUS BIGFOOT QUESTION:
Bigfoot is alleged to really like bacon…. Are you concerned that it might be a hipster? #aMAILiaBAG
Hmmm, let’s see. Bigfoot likes bacon, wears massive shaggy coat that’s almost too ridiculous to be real, is so underground that only a select few have even seen him [ and he’s managed to stay out of the mainstream animal kingdom for centuries], is surrounded by what he must only think can be considered [sigh] posers (bears, blobsquatches, idiots running around in recycled Halloween costumes) … Good God, Bigfoot is a hipster.
If we find out it also likes sriracha and The National "before they got big," we'll have our answer. #hipsterbigfoot
Unjustified jump, Stu. Everybody likes sriracha.
At last, it is final: Tyus Jones will go to Duke.
The Apple Valley senior, the No. 4 recruit in the nation for the 2014 class according to ESPN, announced his long-awaited decision at his high school on Friday afternoon.
A few hours away in Chicago, his long-time friend Jahlil Okafor committed to the Blue Devils as well, making good on the pair's talk of a package deal that they have maintained for the last couple of years.
The two had reportedly narrowed their choices to Kansas and Duke a couple of days earlier, although Jones had never officially said Minnesota was out of the running.
Jones' decision was broadcasted on ESPNU.
Jones is the second of the local 2014 'Big Three' to commit. De La Salle's Reid Travis committed to Stanford last week.
Colleague Joe Christensen was there to cover -- you can read his story here.
Today was the start of the fall signing period, and as expected the Gophers signed forward Josh Martin (Seattle), and guards Nate Mason (Georgia) and JUCO Carlos "Squirrel" Morris for the 2014 class.
The Gophers still have one scholarship available for 2014 which they could use to sign a fourth player in the spring signing period, or save for 2015.
Pitino talked to the media today after all the papers were official. Here are a few notes on what he said:
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