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
Much has been made of Elliott Eliason's drop off in offensive production from the start of the year.
And for the most part, that's fair.
The big man went from averaging 9.8 points and 8.8 rebounds through the first 18 games to just 4.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in the 11 games since then.
But regardless of the decrease in numbers, no one should overlook just how much good Eliason has done this season.
*Even in spite of the recent lull, Eliason lands at fourth in the conference in rebounding (7.1 per game on the season) behind Indiana's Noah Vonleh, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Purdue's A.J. Hammons
*He is third in the league in blocked shots (2.1 per game) behind Hammons and Illinois' Nnanna Egwu, and 27th in block percentage in the nation, according to kenpom.com.
*He is 43rd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.
*He is tied (three-way) for second most double-doubles in the Big Ten with six. Vonleh has the most with 10 and Hammons and Payne each also have six.
Considering the Gophers didn't think they had a "frontcourt" to speak of before the season began, that kind output is extremely impressive, and speaks volumes about the improvement Eliason has experienced since first donning Maroon and Gold.
Of course all of this barely touches on his defensive prowess, which has been the biggest gain for Minnesota, in a year where otherwise their defense has struggled mightily.
Without him, the Gophers would likely be so far off the bubble, we would probably be talking about the NIT right now.
Five tidbits while I try to understand what happened here.
1. Recruiting update: Gophers 2015 PF target Elijah Thomas is taking an unofficial at Memphis this weekend.
2. It's no secret Elliott Eliason isn't giving the same production as he was at the beginning of the year, and the struggles, combined with some recent success from backup Mo Walker have corresponded with minute drops for the big man as well. In the first 18 games, Eliason averaged 26.5 minutes a game. In the last 11 he's averaging just 19 (although Pitino did play him for 30 minutes at Michigan). "We're not moving away from playing him," Pitino said. "I think he's actually been playing pretty well, he's been doing some things defensively and offensively. So no, I don't think there's anything to that."
3. Want to look at how other bubble teams stack up against the Gophers? Use CBS sports' tool to compare the resumes of any two teams. Plus, a new bracket from Jerry Palm. And no, Minnesota's positioning did not change.
4. Don't look now, but Sunday opponent Penn State just beat a team on the road that the Gophers couldn't at home, holding Northwestern to just 32 points and a laughable .57 points per possession last night while the Nittany Lions made 6 of 15 three-pointers. In their last three games, Penn State has held opponents to just 25.9 percent from behind the arc.
"The only color that looks good with gold,, is maroon." -- @JoshMartin
"Minnesota fans, time to turn your attention to the next face of MN HS BBall, Hopkins super-sophomore Amir Coffey (@showtimelefty). #PULLEY" -- @D1Circuit
"Random fact: #Gophers Oto Osenieks is six months older than #MNWolves Ricky Rubio." -- @Gopherhole
"I don't think people understand how hard it is to cut schools during the recruiting process." -- @EliCTMDThomas
Random ranking: Minneapolis bars
1. Butcher & the Boar (most delicious sazerac in the Twin Cities comes from behind that bar).
2. Marvel Bar (most innovative spot in Minnesota).
3. Eli's (arguably the best pastrami sandwich in the midwest plus good, chill atmosphere and TVs at the bar).
4. Rye (drink When Figs Fly and eat a reuben).
5. Parlour (good cocktails with bartenders that love to experiment).
If you did not catch my aMAILiaBAG yesterday, read it now, here.
Five tidbits while I try to come up with something to say about a day that is going to be consumed by work and only work.
1. In case you missed it yesterday, the Gophers announced that Oto Osenieks is done playing basketball for Minnesota, due to his knee injuries. Osenieks will be honored at Senior Day on Sunday at Williams Arena, when the Gophers play Penn State. And more from From The Barn.
2. Nebraska beat Indiana at Indiana last night in a season that has made us writer types seem more irrelevant than ever for voting the Huskers 12th in the league preseason. What a great job Tim Miles has done with that bunch. But it's probably not great for the Gophers, as Nebraska has the capability to push Minnesota off the bubble with a win against Wisconsin on Sunday. The Huskers jumped into Jerry Palm's bracket this morning.
3. Recruiting update: Gophers coach Richard Pitino is expected to watch 2014 power forward Jackson Davis in the first round of the Kentucky 11th Region tournament on Friday, according to Adam Zagoria, but he's not the only one. Indiana, Georgia, Rice, Florida State, Notre Dame, Alabama and Mississippi State are all expected to be there as well to watch the 6-8 Lexington forward.
4. Indiana's Will Sheehey gave a very short, very sweet senior speech on Wednesday. Watch it here.
"Thank you all for being supportive! It means a lot! #GoGophers" -- @OtoOsenieks10
"This is the 1st time that Nebraska has has 10 conference wins in a season since the 1998-99 season. Huge rebuild for the Huskers. #Huskers" -- @BTPowerhouse
"This is surprising: #Gophers Elliott Eliason is tied for No. 2 in most double-doubles (6) IN #B1G play." -- @BTNBrentYarina
"And every #gophers player deserves a senior day. I'm glad Oto gets one." -- @FromTheBarn
"Ridiculous stat: Wisconsin has now won 12 conference games for the ninth time in 13 seasons under Bo Ryan." -- @BFQuinn
*So is the Big Ten actually good or just full of a lot of mediocre teams? Tom Dienhart at BTN debates.
Oto Osenieks has played his last game at the University of Minnesota.
In an unexpected twist on what seemed like a manageable injury, the Gophers sent out a press release on Wednesday announcing that the forward wouldn't be back on the court -- either this year or next.
Osenieks, who last played at Ohio State on Feb. 22, has had cartilage issues in his left knee, spawning from old surgeries. The Gophers have downplayed the injury, not ruling Osenieks out of playing at Michigan until the day of the game.
"Unfortunately, this injury will limit his ability to continue playing beyond this season," coach Richard Pitino said in a release.
Osenieks, in his fourth year at the school, is on track to receive his bachelor's degree in May, but the forward had one year of basketball eligibility remaining after redshirting his freshman year.
Pitino also said Osenieks, who is interested in pursuing a career in coaching, will remain with the team next season "assisting and supporting our team in day-to-day operations."
Osenieks will be honored at Senior Day on Sunday, when the Gophers play Penn State at Williams Arena.
His departure gives the Gophers yet another scholarship option for 2014. The Gophers had one leftover from a three-recruit fall signing class. Then Wally Ellenson made the decision earlier this month to focus on track and field. Now Osenieks has been taken off the roster as well -- giving Minnesota three more spots to potentially fill for next season.
To submit questions for a future mailbag, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @AmeliaRayno.
Thanks for your questions. I'll just jump right in.
@MNfan4ever: @AmeliaRayno What has happened to Dre's scoring since he's come back from injury? Seems to have lost his aggressiveness on offense.
I wondered if we would see a long, slow recovery from him. Remember when Hollins tweaked his other ankle back in his freshman year? It took him forever to "get right" again, and then it was like a switch flipped.
This time around, I was a little surprised the Gophers' staff rushed him back as quickly as they did -- even with the consecutive losses at Nebraska and against Northwestern. At this point, I think it's mostly a mental issue -- Hollins not trusting his ankle as much as he probably should -- but it does seem to be affecting his aggressiveness somewhat. Perhaps the rest this week will help him, psychologically and physically.
@billfehlberg: @AmeliaRayno Beat Penn St. then Gophs need 2 tournament games, or help from other bubble teams. Right?
Two tournament games I'd say to feel very safe. But I think one will sneak them in with their RPI, strength of schedule and good wins.
@cfesler33: @AmeliaRayno What will it take for a team to beat Michigan in the B1G tourney?
After watching the Wolverines dismantle Illinois in ruthless fashion last night, I'm tempted to back off this a little, but really, I don't think any team is invincible in the tournament. With so many back-to-back games, and so many teams playing for their tournament lives, we could see some crazy things. Michigan's biggest challenge will be not to sit back on its heels after wrapping up the regular-season title and a strong seed in the Big Dance. From what Michigan writers are reporting, however, I don't see that happening. The Wolverines have big goals.
@rudek14: @AmeliaRayno thoughts on banana runts.
You know, I don't think I'd write a sonnet about them, but if one was in front of me right now, I would eat it.
@MNfan4ever: @AmeliaRayno Referencing your tweet from [yesterday], how many Strib writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Hey -- it's a really tricky bulb situation.
@LP_Minn: @AmeliaRayno Opinion on UVA winning ACC never playing top 1/2 of teams twice? parity or scheduling fluke? good record, but SOS not in top 25.
It was an interesting year in the ACC this year -- Duke and UNC both got off to a slow start and Syracuse, which was one of the last remaining undefeated teams, has just been in free fall during the last couple of weeks. But you can't hate Virginia for their good fortune with scheduling -- sometimes that happens, and the Cavaliers certainly made the best of it. They've been really good on both ends of the ball through a long season and have played incredibly consistently since the start of January -- not an easy thing to do even if you aren't hitting the top dogs as much as usual. It was the first outright regular-season championship in 33 years, too -- since Ralph Sampson was on the roster. That's a special thing.
@philosofootball: @AmeliaRayno How do you feel about facial hair? #aMAILiaBAG
I dig it. Especially when on a sasquatch.
@BPletscher: @AmeliaRayno not counting your currant job, what is your dream job?
Probably being a travel/food/whiskey writer or a political foreign correspondent. Or a spy. It would be really, really cool to be a spy. Or to be in a band.
So basically, I'm still a 10-year-old kid.
@JosephRDelgado: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG Can you explain Joey King? He's had moments, but in general looks out of control and seems like a liability.
Have you glanced at the roster lately? The power forward spot is what it is this season -- a rotating parade of undersized and unideal candidates. Yes, King has had his moments -- the fact that he can hit a clutch three, and simply in terms of his tenacity and willingness to sacrifice his body for loose balls or whatever -- and I think in general we've seen him improve this season, but he's not a great ball handler, he doesn't have great size and he's not a natural rebounder. You have to be realistic about your expectations there.
@Mondragon_John: @AmeliaRayno I know it's early, but what's your guess at probability everyone on Gopher staff is here next year? #aMAILiaBAG
Everyone will be back. It's a young staff and I think they've got another year. Dan McHale will get some calls though.
@jrachiever71: @AmeliaRayno do you enjoy Absinthe?
I do, but I don't drink it often with the notable exception of an absinthe wash in my sazerac.
@ZMoore80: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG Do we have a chance to play in Milwaukee and should I book my hotel now?
Maybe, if they go on a run in the Big Ten tournament and somehow get ahold of a 10-seed, but I don't really see that happening.
@donnelly612: @AmeliaRayno Kodaline? What do I need to know about them? I see they're Irish. That's a good start.
They're like if Head and the Heart and Coldplay had a baby and that band was headlined by a love child of Mark Foster, Kaleb Followill, Adam Levine (crazy night, I know) with maybe a country dude and someone-I-can't-come-up-with-right-now-even-though-I've-tried-for-13-minutes jumping in as well.
And Steve Garrigan has some pipes. And they're going to be huge (I give it 6 months) because they have a very relatable sound and their songs are extremely "sticky" and they are ridiculously good live and they have a cool T-shirt.
Good show, even if LP had to back out because of scheduling conflicts. (Second time backing out of a Minneapolis show? Weird.)
@mlconnors: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG Is Intelligentsia the best coffee you've had? Or are their other spots nationwide that have really stood out?
The best coffee I ever had was at a little cart in downtown Seattle called Monorail espresso, and it was owned by a little, silver-haired french man who knew my name and what I wanted after Day 2, and made me wish I lived there. I have no idea what kind of beans he used, but they were ridiculous. Absolutely zero acidity.
But yeah, Intelligentsia is pretty great as well.
@MKattman: @AmeliaRayno do u own a copy of "In Me Own Words: Autobiography of Bigfoot"?
I do not, but I have browsed it at a bookstore.
@talkgophbuckets: @AmeliaRayno for next year, are you struggling to decide if you should exclusively refer to Carlos Morris as: Carlos or Squirrel?
Oh there is no struggle. He's going to be Squirrel.
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