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
It turns out Gophers fans didn't have to wait long for the matchup that was most highly anticipated after new coach Richard Pitino's hire at Minnesota.
The budding Gophers coach will lead his team against Louisville -- and his father, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino -- in next year's Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 14th, according to ESPN's Andy Katz. Both Pitinos have said recently that the move was in the works.
The game will take place in Puerto Rico, at the Coast Guard Academy's United States Air Station Borinquen.
This season's game, between Oregon and Georgetown, was played in South Korea.
The Pitinos coached against each other for the first time as head coaches last year, when Louisville defeated Florida International 79-55. Richard Pitino was an assistant coach for his father for three years (from 2007-09 and 2011-12) and then took the FIU head coaching job for the 2012-13 season.
Naturally, when the 31-year-old coach was hired at Minnesota, there were immediate questions about when he would face his dad, but the younger Pitino initially expressed hesitation, saying that he wasn't sure he was eager to so quickly become rivals with his dad, who has long been his mentor.
But after the Gophers returned from Hawaii last month, Pitino explained his change of heart:
"I just thought about it and I thought if we want to get to where we’re going, it’s all about elevating this program with everything we do," he said. "We want to get to the level of Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, and I think one of those things you’ve got to do to do that is you’ve got to be innovative with your scheduling ... I think this is a great way to get our brand out there, to get people talking about Minnesota."
A lot of things have changed around the Gophers basketball program. There is a blog written by the head coach, the average age on the bench has dropped more dramatically that an Austin Hollins alley oop, and Rick Pitino comes to town just to hang out in maroon and gold.
Now, add to that mix a fun web series on the team, the first episode of which was released today.
Take a peek for yourself:
Pretty good, if you can get past the SUPER up-close testimonials and the slow-mo coaching shots.
The Gophers Digital Production videos, which are dubbed "Raise the Barn" (the new Minnesota catchphrase, apparently) will follow around coach Richard Pitino and the players all year. Here's the schedule:
In other news, in case you missed it, Austin Hollins was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday. Hollins eclipsed 1,000 career points a week ago against South Dakota State in a game in which he went off for 20 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. It was the first time he'd been named to the weekly honor in his career. I'd say this year has gotten off to a pretty good start for the senior, who is now averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.
Read my full game story on the Gophers' 80-65 win over New Orleans here
Just healthy, the Gophers have more injuries to deal with.
In the two practices leading up to Saturday's win over New Orleans, Center Elliott Eliason and guard Malik Smith each sprained their left ankles, keeping the latter from entering the game and limiting the former to just four minutes.
Mo Walker started in Eliason's place for the first time this year, and responded, finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds, although he sat for most of the second half with four fouls.
Coach Richard Pitino said afterward that he "hopes" Eliason will be available to play on Tuesday in the Gophers' game against South Dakota State, but is more reserved about Smith's sprain.
After hurt it on Friday (Eliason tweaked his on Thursday), Smith actually re-entered practice and continued to play on it, but when he arrived at Williams Arena today, he could barely walk. Still, Pitino wasn't sure he couldn't play, remembering a time last year when he was coaching Smith at Florida International and the guard injured his back at Stetson in warmups.
"I said 'What is wrong with you?' And he said 'I can’t walk,'" Pitino remembered. "So I subbed him in … he played like 35 minutes, he had like 32 points (he played 30 minutes and had 29 points in reality) and I said ‘You’re not Willis Reed (who famously played hurt for the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals) – stop doing that.’ So I thought he was doing that a little bit but he really wasn’t – he was pretty banged up. His seems worse than Elliott’s, so I hope he comes back, just rest is the biggest thing."
Eliason, meanwhile, had told Pitino he thought he was "65-70 percent" before the game, but it was pretty clear once he entered that he was not functioning at a high level. The center played for four minutes in the first half -- getting a pair of blocks -- and left, hobbling.
"He just looked like he was really hurting," Pitino said. "I told him during a timeout – 'You alright man?' He said "Ahhh …" They want to play, they want to fight through the injury. I just made a decision we’ve got to get some rest for those guys."
Other notes from the 80-65 victory:
When the Gophers faced Syracuse last week in the first round of the Maui Invitational, it was obvious they were short-handed.
With Mo Walker serving the last game of his six-game suspension and Joey King still nursing a fractured jaw, foul trouble was a real issue. Center Elliott Eliason was forced to sit for stretches and the Orange clobbered Minnesota in the paint at times, using its sheer size to overwhelm the Gophers. Even so, Minnesota played Syracuse closely, coming within two points with two minutes to go, and ultimately losing 75-67.
Now, a similar team comes to Williams Arena in Florida State – and the Gophers will see how much of a difference the full complement of frontcourt players makes. Minnesota is still undersized, particularly against the big, physical Seminoles, who have a pair of 7-footers in Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo. Florida State is battle-tested and extremely tough. In a bit of scheduling misery for coach Richard Pitino -- "Embrace?" He asked aloud on Monday? "No. Fear? Yes. Embrace would not be the right word." -- the matchup falls immediately after returning from three games in three days on the islands.
Calling tonight’s game an incredibly demanding challenge is an understatement.
‘They’re big, they’re strong,” Pitino said of the Seminoles. “We’ve got to try to use our speed as a bit of a strength … Syracuse, it appeared they were going over our back on a lot of rebounds. They were just so much bigger. We’ve got to do a better job of blocking out and driving them back. So we’ve got to try to speed them up a little bit more and try not to get in the half court as much as possible.”
The Gophers have the advantage of being able to watch film of this Florida State team facing opponents that tried to do many of the same things Minnesota will tonight. Florida State has already played VCU – with its ‘havoc’-style basketball – and Florida, whose coach, Billy Donovan was one of the major inspirations for Pitino’s own philosophy. But the data isn’t necessarily all that encouraging.
The Seminoles won decidedly over VCU in Richmond, and then came within a single point of beating No. 15 Florida on their court.
Both opponents have many more players recruited to the specific style, and have been doing it much longer than the Gophers – and both failed to ease FSU out of its comfort zone in a meaningful way.
“I thought they did a really good job of attacking Florida’s press,” Pitino said of the Seminoles. “They did some good things to beat it, score some buckets against it. We’ve got to make them earn their buckets in my opinion. I think they’re a very talented team.”
Other notes on tonight’s game:
With Maui in the rearview, there is no shortage of intriguing scheduling ahead.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said on Monday that Minnesota is confirmed for next season's preseason tournament: the preseason NIT, which is held at Madison Square Garden in New York City,
"If you’re going to recruit the east coast and we want to recruit nationally, we believe we can -- given an opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden, that’s as cool an arena as you’re ever going to be in," Pitino said. "Makes you feel like you’re a pro when you’re in there."
Pitino also wrote in his Gophers blog that a Nov. 14, 2014 game against Louisville in Puerto Rico is almost a done deal, and that the staff is "99 percent sure it will happen but we are just ironing out some details."
The game would be held on a military hangar on a base there, ideally.
The Minnesota coach had expressed some hesitation in scheduling an immediate game against his father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and the perennially tough Cardinals because he didn't love the idea of jumping into a competitive relationship with his dad.
But when ESPN called the elder Pitino and suggested the game, the Gophers coach ultimately decided -- particular after Michigan State AD Mark Hollis visited the staff and shared his thoughts on scheduling -- that it was a move that would be good for the program's exposure.
"I just thought about it and I thought if we want to get to where we’re going, it’s all about elevating this program with everything we do," Pitino said. "It’s not just about beating Florida State tomorrow. We want to get to the level of Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, and I think one of those things you’ve got to do to do that is you’ve got to be innovative with your scheduling. [Michigan State coach] Tom Izzo has been a master of that .He’s always been really good at it. I think this is a great way to get our brand out there, to get people talking about Minnesota."
That doesn't mean Pitino is feeling completely at ease with the idea of his Gophers starting out with one of the best squads in college basketball, however.
"I’m hoping they have a bad practice before and they stink," Pitino said. "They’re not always good early, so that’s my hope is that they drop a few early. Anytime you play a team like Louisville, you’ve got to understand what you’re going against. So as much as people are going to make it about Father- Son, when that game starts, it’s all about between the lines. We’ve got a lot of guys back, so I thought ‘You know what? This would be a good time to play them.’"
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