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

Posts about Gophers game day

Gophers still trying to find themselves entering the Big Ten tourney

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 11, 2010 - 11:30 AM

Indianapolis - The Gophers might need a Big Ten tournament title to secure an NCAA tourney berth. But various experts think they'll get in with three more victories. Some radicals have even thrown two-and-they're-in out there.

But let's step away from the bracketology for a moment and focus on the moment.

Against Penn State Thursday night, the Gophers will face a foe that excelled down the stretch of the regular season and gave them all they could handle in two tough games.

This season's field isn't great. So logic would suggest that the Gophers have a good chance to make a run.

There's reason, however, to doubt that possibility.

The Gophers are still trying to find themselves. Hate to use the guru-talk, but it's the truth.

At times this season, they've played like one of the better teams in America.

They handled a good Butler team. They topped Ohio State and Wisconsin at the Barn and Illinois on the road.

They were a play away from beating nationally ranked Texas A&M. Ditto for close losses to Michigan State and Purdue.

But their lowlights contrast all of the highs.

Stomped at Michigan. Exhausted at Northwestern. Unraveled at Miami. Unprepared vs. Portland. Procrastinated at Indiana.

So which Gophers team will show up at Conseco Fieldhouse in a few hours? 

The one that believes? Or the one that confuses?

The conference tournament is all about consistency. The teams that get into a rhythm beat that drum all the way to a title.

The others struggle.

My advice for the Gophers: Find an answer early.

If Blake Hoffarber is lighting up the room, feed him. If Devoe Joseph reaches an I-know-you-love-my-brother-Cory-but-don't-forget-about-me mode, let him go.

Maybe, they'll succeed inside. If the Twin Towers are tearing up the paint, go to them.

As much as teams like to talk about game plans and strategy, I don't think things are so complicated this time of year.

Adjust until something works, and when it does, go with it. Just ask Montana's Anthony Johnson. The teams that know who they are play well in these situations.

One of the Gophers' greatest issues this season, potentially their greatest issue in the conference tournament, has been their wavering confidence in who they are.

Are they a team that likes to throw the ball in the paint and let the Big Boys feast? Sometimes. Will they rely on the perimeter players? Maybe. Will they press right away, force turnovers and score in transition? It's a possibility.

My point is that the Gophers don't have a lot of time to figure things out in a single-elimination tourney that they might have to win to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Although the Nittany Lions have struggled this season, everybody in Indiana knows their strategy. Talor Battle left. Talor Battle right. Talor Battle up the middle.

Can't say the same thing about the Gophers right now. Their versatility really helped them this year. But versatility can quickly become ambiguity, depending on their level of success.

They need an identity.

Prediction: Minnesota 65, Penn State 64

Other Opening-Round Matchups: 

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Iowa-Don't sleep on the Wolverines. They don't have a ton of chemistry. And they've been as up and down as any team in the Big Ten, but they have one of the most talented duos in the league in DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris.

Prediction: Michigan 74, Iowa 59

No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Indiana-The Hoosiers were on their way to a better year before Maurice Creek went down with a knee injury in December. Their poor record hasn't stopped them from playing hard. I think they'll give the Indiana fans something to cheer about in the opening round: an upset.

Prediction: Indiana 77, Northwestern 73 (Overtime)




Gophers seeking Big Ten tourney momentum against Iowa

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 7, 2010 - 4:29 PM

If the Gophers beat the Hawkeyes Sunday night, they'll finish the regular season with a 9-9 Big Ten record.

But a win is expected. It's hard to know, however, what kind of squad will show up after what happened at Michigan Tuesday.

That blow out did not define this squad. But it confirmed every concern about this team's inconsistency entering Big Ten play.

They're currently on the outside looking into the NCAA tournament because they've had too many stretches of uninspired basketball.

A big victory Sunday against Iowa might put the Gophers in the right frame of mind as they prepare for the Big Ten tournament.

They'll have to win it all to get into the Big Dance. But they picked a great year and field to enter the conference tourney as an underdog.

Let's see if their heart matches their aspirations in the final days/weeks of the season.

Prediction: Minnesota 82, Iowa 62


Will the Gophers make the NCAA tournament?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 2, 2010 - 2:54 PM

Ann Arbor, Mich. - There are so many unknowns.

If the Gophers win their last two games and their first matchup in the Big The tournament, will they get in? Do they need a Big Ten title to earn an NCAA tourney invite? 
It's hard to say.
But they have to play like a conference tourney title is the only thing that will help them reach their goal.
Michigan, the Gophers’ opponent Tuesday night, has had their number for the last two seasons. I think the Gophers’ new and improved zone, however, will frustrate the Wolverines, but they’ve been a poor road team this year. So anything might happen Tuesday night.
A loss at Michigan, in my opinion, would ruin the Gophers’ chances of earning an at-large berth.
I think the Gophers have to win their final two and earn a signature victory in the Big Ten tournament. They'll have to win a Big Ten tourney crown without another marquee victory.
The good news for the Gophers is that they're playing with more heart. Tubby Smith decided to bring in sports psychologist Jim Cremin before the Wisconsin game, and I think that helped the Gophers re-focus. 
Cremin said he asked players and coaches to write down their goals for the rest of the year when he met with them. Cremin said Smith’s goal was to be more positive going forward.
I think Smith has been more deliberate about praising players in recent games. And I think that has rubbed off on his squad.
I still think Michigan is a bad matchup for the Gophers, but the visitors will play with far more confidence in the second meeting between the two teams.
Prediction: Minnesota 67, Michigan 60
-I talked to a few bracketologists after the Illinois win Saturday. Here's what they had to say about Minnesota's shot at earning an at-large bid:’s Joe Lunardi
 If Minnesota wins its last two and loses an opening round game in the Big Ten tourney, will they get in?
Depends on who they lose to.  Would likely be a "bad loss" at exactly the wrong time.
Or do they need at least one win (assuming they win out) in the Big Ten tourney? Two wins?
 I think three more wins, in any combination, would get them in.
Jerry Palm, 
[Sunday’s] win was nice, but they hurt Illinois more than they helped themselves.  Michigan and Iowa do nothing for them.  I really think it’s auto-bid or nothing. (Pete Tiernan)
 I'm more about which teams will advance in the dance once they get in than speculating on who's in/out. But I'll say this: Minnesota should win out and get at least one win in the tourney to feel like they have a shot. They've had a few quality wins (Butler, OSU, Wisc), but there's still work to do.
Bracketology 101 (Chris Kulenych & Craig Gately)
Even if Minnesota wins its last two games, they would still need to win at least one Big Ten tournament game to get in.
 If they win out, they need to get to the Big Ten semis to be a lock. If they end up as the 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament (which is the best case scenario) they would just need one win - against the 4 seed (whoever that ends up being) - to get in.
If they end up as the 6 seed, they would have to win two games (vs. the 11 seed and then vs. the 3 seed) to get in. That win over the 11 seed wouldn't do anything for their at-large profile, so they'd have to win one more.
In short, win out and get to the semis. That's Minnesota's recipe for a bid.
-According to this ESPN report, the Big Ten paid a consultant to evaluate the potential addition of Missouri, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and/or Syracuse. This has really been a football discussion, but expansion could have a dramatic impact on basketball, too.
Notre Dame makes the most sense for both sports, but I don't think it will ever happen. Missouri could add a lot to Big Ten basketball and football, too.
 -I recently talked to former Gophers point guard Lawrence McKenzie, who is working his way back to the court after recently undergoing hip surgery. McKenzie said his team, Smith’s first Gophers squad, didn’t have the same camaraderie and bond that this season’s team has.
McKenzie said the players on his team didn’t hang out together and get to know each other the way they could have. He said he thinks off-court chemistry has helped the Gophers this year.
"I think they have something that we didn't,” he said.
I agree 100 percent. If McKenzie’s Gophers had this year’s problems, they would have collapsed a long time ago. That the Gophers are still in the hunt for an at-large bid is a sign that they’re still gelling off the floor, despite all of their challenges.
The old phrase “winning takes care of everything” just isn’t true. They’re hanging around because of the bond they have away from the court.


Gophers' last stand at Illinois Saturday afternoon

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 27, 2010 - 2:07 PM

Champaign, Ill. - No need for some lengthy blog post.

You all understand the stakes.

If the Gophers lose at Illinois Saturday afternoon, their extremely slim chances of earning an NCAA tournament at-large berth will be ruined.

In that scenario, they'd have to win the Big Ten tourney title to get a bid. Tough task for a team that's won just three games away from Williams Arena this season.

Winning out and getting to the Big Ten tourney title game, however, could be enough to secure an at-large berth.

No room for error.

Forget the history. The Gophers can beat the Illini.

But they could've/should've won games against Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, etc. They haven't proven that they can finish.

I think this game will be decided in the first 10 minutes.

We'll either see a Gophers team that's willing to come out tough against an opponent they haven't beaten on the road since 1996 or we'll see a squad that's run out of fight.

Double-digit win for the Illini or close victory for the Gophers? 

Prediction: The cycle is broken. Minnesota 66, Illinois 64


Gophers, Boilermakers face off in key matchup for both teams

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 24, 2010 - 3:02 PM

This is the big one.

Minnesota v. No. 3 Purdue at Williams Arena Wednesday night.

Purdue hopes to lock up a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed, as it pursues its dream of playing in the Final Four in nearby Indianapolis.
The Gophers got a shot of confidence during an impressive pair of wins at Williams Arena last week. They topped nationally ranked Wisconsin and Indiana in two of their best all-around performances this season.
But can they win?
Why the Gophers will win
Everything went wrong in the first matchup
The Gophers led Purdue 24-20 before a collapse in the second half. They missed 13 of their final 16 shots. Al Nolen went 1-for-10. The team's top scorers, Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook, scored a total of 12 points. 
Plus, Ralph Sampson III didn't play that game due to an ankle injury. 
The Gophers, who played one of their worst games at Purdue, haven't looked that bad at Williams Arena all season.
They're a different team at home. I think they'll feed off the home crowd and avoid the kind of funk that hurt them at Purdue.

Hoffarber is the Big Ten's top three-point shooter (48.7 percent in conference play). But he's even better at Williams Arena. The junior shooting guard is shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc in home conference games this season.
The zone
I don't know if the Gophers will rely on a big lineup and its accompanying zone against Purdue. The Boilermakers' motion offense might eventually find ways to expose it. But I think it's a great option for the Gophers. It gives them variety on defense.
And a zone with Colton Iverson and Sampson should make things tougher for JaJuan Johnson inside. And Johnson is the guy the Gophers have to limit.
He played well against Indiana and Wisconsin. His 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in those games helped the Gophers on both ends of the floor. Having him for the first time this season against Purdue increases Minnesota's chances of pulling off an upset.
The Stakes
The Gophers know this might be it. A signature win against the Boilermakers should put them on the bubble. They played with a sense of urgency last week. If they can combine that attitude with execution, something they lacked in the first game, they'll have a shot.
Why the Gophers will lose
They're facing a very good team at the wrong time
The Gophers beat Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. Quality victories. But Purdue is a different kind of opponent.
They're playing extremely well and they have a chemistry that the Buckeyes and Badgers didn't have when they played the Gophers at Williams Arena.
They're the best team in the league for a reason. They've played some tight games. But they've found ways to win in nine straight games.
They haven't been able to win close games
The Gophers have suffered eight losses by single digits. The good news is that they've only lost twice at Williams Arena this season. And both games were close.
I expect the Purdue game to be close, too. But the Gophers haven't proven that they can win in those situations.
They pulled ahead early against Wisconsin and Indiana. Then, they played good defense down the stretch to hold them off.
I don't think the Boilermakers will allow the Gophers to pull away. So how will the Gophers respond when they're in the middle of another close game against a very good Boilermakers team?
It's a bad matchup
The Gophers haven't beaten Purdue under Tubby Smith. The Boilermakers have a very talented trio that gives them threats from every area on the floor. They're good defenders. Just a tough matchup for Minnesota. And they continue to get better.
Prediction: Purdue 77, Minnesota 75



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