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
Reportedly, Minnesota could be facing St. John's in the NIT Season Tip-off this November in New York.
According to ESPN's Andy Katz, the Gophers will face the Red Storm in the tournament semi-finals on Wednesday, Nov. 26 at Madison Square Garden. Gonzaga and Georgia -- the other two "host" teams -- would matchup in the other semi-final with the winners of each game meeting two days later in the tournament final. A consolation game would be played as well.
Katz also reported, in his 3-point shot video, that this new eight-team format could be the new norm for the preseason NIT. Before this year, the tournament featured 16 teams. Host teams played two home games which they had to win to advance to New York.
"They really were holding onto this format that frankly, most teams at the high level of Division I did not want to participate in anymore," Katz said. "[Teams] wanted to make sure they had a guaranteed setup to get to a neutral site."
Currently, the Gophers are scheduled to play one home game -- the opponent has not yet been announced -- associated with the tournament, although a team official said there is a change that could change.
Alex Illikainen may have moved far away from the state of Minnesota, but the 2015 power forward is keeping the Gophers close on his mind.
Per Evan Flood of 247sports.com, Illikainen named his top four schools on Tuesday: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon.
Illikainen, a Grand Rapids native who is currently enrolled at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, visited Iowa last weekend and will be at Oregon on Sept. 12, according to Adam Zagoria of zagsblog.com
The three-star recruit (ranked 130th nationally on rivals.com) is the type of energetic, rebounding stretch four Minnesota coach Richard Pitino loves for his free-wheeling offense. The Gophers have gotten two commitments for the 2015 class in guards Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer, and have two more scholarships remaining. The early signing period begins on Nov. 12.
With school starting, 2015 wing Nate Grimes is getting close to the next stepping stone to his decision.
Don't expect Minnesota, the first Big Ten school to offer the versatile forward, to go anywhere.
"He just wants to narrow it down to a list of schools he's interested in, Lamar Bigby, Grime's AAU coach said. "Minnesota is definitely one of the schools that will be on the list."
Bigby said he called Grimes, who is now attending Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, on Monday to begin talking about the narrowing process. Bigby doesn't yet know how many schools will remain as "focus schools," but is confident in Grimes' interest in the Gophers.
"I know they're going to be in the top five, top four, whatever," Bigby said. "No question ... Minnesota was a little more sure about him early. Minnesota has loved him for a long time."
The 6-foot-7 Nevada native could potentially do a couple of different things within Gophers coach Richard Pitino's system. Grimes plays mostly small forward now, but has the skills to play bigger.
"It's hard to box him into a certain position," Bigby said of Grimes. "He's athletic enough and rebounds well enough and defends well enough to play the four, but then he shoots and puts the ball on the floor like a three. So it's kind of like he's a multi-posititional type player. You've just got to put him on the floor."
After a great summer on the AAU circuit, Grimes has picked up a total of 28 scholarship offers. Iowa -- which recruited him a year before presenting a scholarship -- is the only other Big Ten school to have extended an offer, but Ohio State and Nebraska, among others, have been showing interest, Bigby said. The latest schools to offer are Iowa, West Virginia and Temple.
Bigby said Grimes, wanting to focus on school and his final high school season, plans to make his decision in November. He will likely announce a shortened list midway through the month.
Ever since Richard Pitino took the job in the spring, all eyes have been on the 2015 recruiting class. With ample time to scout and court players, it would be the new Minnesota coach's chance to truly flex his recruiting potential for the first time.
With two verbal commitments already in pocket, the Gophers staff is off to a great start.
Point guard Kevin Dorsey, a top-100 recruit and Dupree McBrayer, a highly respected three-star combo guard have a chance to form a very impactful backcourt just one year down the road, when seniors Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu will have both expired their eligibilities.
With four scholarships available, two remain.
Let's take a look at the other main targets Minnesota's staff is pursuing:
Jarvis Johnson: Don't be fooled into believing the Gophers have any less interest in the DeLaSalle standout now that they've landed two backcourt pieces for the class -- Minnesota still very much considers Johnson a high priority in its guard-oriented system. The Gophers have been after the local recruit, who lives practically in Minnesota's backyard, since Pitino took the job, and have only intensified their efforts. Johnson, who has lauded Pitino's style of play, has four visits arranged to Minnesota, UNLV, Wisconsin and Baylor this fall, according to his brother, Ty. He likely won't be making a decision until November.
The 6-foot-2 guard is currently transferring from his home town in Ohio to school in Phoenix for his final season. Watching his last campaign will be St. Joe's, College of Charleston, Drexel, La Salle and Northeastern along with Minnesota, who is looking at him as a potential combo guard. Randall, a great shooter with plenty of range, told Rivals' Ryan James that he plans to visit Minnesota, but nothing has been set up just yet.
Walton is the shooting guard prospect the Gophers are pursuing the most at this point of the recruiting season. The four-star recruit out of Brownsburg, Indiana is ranked at No. 100 according to Rivals and is being courted heavily by Butler and Xavier along with Minnesota. According to Rivals, the versatile offensive guard has expressed interest in visiting Dinkytown sometime soon.
The 6-foot-6 wing is currently ranked 58th in the 2015 class and only moving upward after his recruitment exploded late in the process, getting a big bump in attention in the spring. The Virginia native was in town for the EYBL event in Bloomington earlier this summer and his father, Curt Clarke, made it clear he and his son were serious about the program and the school. The super athletic Clarke narrowed his list last week, naming Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Creighton, Florida, Connecticut and Tennessee as priorities, along with the Gophers.
The Ohio native stands at 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, depending on who you ask, and possibly has room to grow still. Minnesota is very high on the long, smooth wing, along with Maryland, Northwestern, Xavier, Penn State, Nebraska, Tulane and Clemson, and the Gophers are hoping to set up an official visit with the three-star. His recruitment has grown this summer as he's demonstrated an improving jumper from distance on the AAU circuit.
The Nevada native is transferring to Quality Education Academy this fall and told Rivals he plans to wait to sign until the spring. Sitting just outside the Rivals top 100, Grimes also has offers from Boise St, Boston College, Colorado St, Fresno St, Iowa, UMass, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon St, TCU, USC, Wichita State and West Virginia, among others. The 6-foot-7 three-star talent could potentially play some power forward as well.
The San Antonio native is ranked 111th nationally according to Rivals and has lots of defensive potential in his strong footwork and ability to guard spots all over the floor. In addition to Minnesota, the 6-foot-7 forward is also hearing from Baylor, Kansas State, Marquette, Maryland, Oklahoma, SMU, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M.
The 6-foot-5 Trenton, N.J-native seems intrigued by the Gophers, who represent the biggest program making a strong push for his services. St. Joseph's, Rhode Island, Drexel and Wagner are also involved with the physical and versatile wing, eying his ability to handle, shoot and get to the rim.
La Salle, Maryland, Penn State, St. Joe's and Temple are also vying for the smooth 6-foot-5 Burlington wing. The three-athlete is just the type of ball handling, transition-oriented wing Minnesota head coach Richard is seeking.
Minnesota has stayed on the Grand Rapids native like a fitted glove since Pitino and Co. took over the program a year and a half ago. The 6-foot-9 Illikainen transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior season, but the Gophers appear to be no less in the game at this point. The stretch four visited California this winter, and has scheduled visits to Iowa (this weekend) and Oregon on deck. Otherwise, there are a host of other programs that have extended scholarship offers: Creighton, Indiana, Providence, Wisconsin, Texas Tech, BC, Iowa State, Maryland, Nebraska and Vanderbilt among them.
If the Gophers land this physical forward, they'll likely have to beat out another Big Ten school. Morrow, who lives in Chicago but was born in Lincoln, has already set up a visit to Nebraska, where each of his parents attended as student athletes. Morrow, a 6-foot-7 four-star recruit with a solid face-up game is currently ranked 103rd in the nation. He has also set up visit to Iowa and has been courted by SMU, California, Creighton, Arkansas, Iowa State, UMass, Oklahoma State and Wyoming, among others.
Minnesota could certainly use some more big man depth, especially with the status of international forward Gaston Diedhiou in doubt. As of now, it's looking as though the Gophers, who got in pretty early in Nwankwo's recruitment process are in pretty good position to secure another much-needed body in the Florida native. Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog.com reported that Nwankwo will be taking an official visit at Minnesota next weekend, before heading to Rice, Temple and Tennessee. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound center would be a great fit for Pitino's system as a back-to-the-basket guy who has a decent shot up to 10 feet out and runs the floor well.
In one season at the University of Minnesota, Richard Pitino brought in a cache of underrated talent, claimed an NIT title and began stacking the first building blocks of a badly needed foundation.
At Minnesota -- a program without top-notch facilities to boast or a recent history of success -- it will take time. Dedication. Patience.
Pitino and the program need more of the latter with the news that top recruit Gaston Diedhiou did not get into the university.
Here’s my story from last night.
Diedhiou did not fail his standard academic tests. The NCAA Clearinghouse deemed him fully prepared, but he posted an English proficiency score that didn’t meet Minnesota’s standards and will need to take a course this fall in hopes of gaining U of M entry this spring.
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