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

Gophers postgame: Another night of poor perimeter defense kills Minnesota vs. Northwestern

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 19, 2015 - 12:08 AM

Read my full game story on Minnesota’s 77-66 loss vs. Northwestern here.

Three quick observations after the Gophers suffered their second straight home loss to the Wildcats.

That three-ball thing is a thing. The Gophers have now allowed 33 three-pointers in the last two games en route to a two-game losing streak. Put another way, Minnesota (16-11; 5-9 in the Big Ten) has allowed its most three balls and its second-most three balls in history in consecutive games. Sunday it was mostly the zone to blame. Tonight, the Gophers were in man-to-man for almost all of it, but it didn’t matter a bit. This problem isn’t going away either, with Wisconsin (twice) and Michigan State coming up in the next two weeks.

Unfortunate time for an Andre off-night. So, he finished with 12 points and six assists and on the face of it, that doesn’t look half bad. But most of his points came after the Gophers had nearly ceased to be relevant – after going down ten in the second half, Minnesota never really bounced back and a Nate Mason layup at the buzzer was the only thing that kept this loss in the two-possession rule (they’ve now lost seven conference battles like that). Hollins has been playing out of his mind in the last eight games, averaging 21 points during that time, so it’s hard to blame him for a lackluster (and scoreless in the first half) performance. But in case there was any doubt, Hollins is needed.

Northwestern (12-14; 3-10) is building young talent. Alex Olah and Tre Demps each had strong nights, but the game was sealed by freshman. Three – Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Nathan Taphorn – combined for 38 points and nine three-pointers, hinting that just maybe the Wildcats have something brewing in Evanston. It’s easy to look good, of course, when 15 three-pointers fall, coach Chris Collins joked, but on the heels of an overtime win vs. Iowa, this was a big one for Northwestern, team with plenty of athleticism and decent size. The amazing thing is that the seniors aren’t even involved. No one who scored a single point for Northwestern tonight will be gone next season.

Gophers pregame: Can Minnesota shut down the perimeter better vs. Northwestern?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 18, 2015 - 6:34 PM

Minnesota hosts Northwestern tonight at 8 p.m. at Williams Arena. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.

Four things to watch as Minnesota tries to rebound from a 90-71 loss at Indiana on Sunday:

Shooting, again. The Gophers defense was, well, less than effective vs. Indiana on Sunday, allowing 18 three-pointers, mostly out of the zone. I'm guessing we'll see more zone tonight against Northwestern, with Minnesota's mid-conference success coming not in small part to its success. But while Wildcats are no Indiana, they can shoot a little bit too. On the year, they currently rank fifth in the conference in shooting from downtown, making 35.8 percent of their attempts. Can Minnesota shut down Northwestern's long-ball hopes? If not, it could be a long two weeks.

DeAndre, revamped. Before Sunday night's game, senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu was deeply mired in a 9-for-42 (21.4 percent) shooting slump that spanned six games. After getting crushed by Indiana, Mathieu -- who had 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting --  called the bounceback bittersweet, but the Gophers will be better if the resurgence bleeds into a strong scoring stretch from the Knoxville native. Tonight, he'll have to prove he can do it in a much different setting.

Pace. Speaking of which, tonight's opponent couldn't bring much more different of a style. When Northwestern wins, it's usually a product of a defense that rebounds well and limits shots inside. Second-year coach Chris Collins also likes to slow it down and make teams execute in the half court. Northwestern plays a sluggish pace, averaging 61 possessions per game, which ranks 329th nationally. Minnesota will need to speed the Wildcats up in order to play its game.

Matchups. Northwestern, with two just two conference wins, doesn't have the reputation that some of Minnesota's recent opponents do. But the Wildcats do have talent. Redshirt junior Tre Demps and intriguing freshman point guard Bryant McIntosh aptly root the backcourt. McIntosh has a top-100 assist rate, but he also leads the team with 13.1 points and spells improvement for the future. Demps has the experience and is a 40.4 percent three-point shooter. Both will give Mathieu and fellow senior Andre Hollins plenty to deal with. Then there's the 7-foot, shot-blocking Alex Olah, who has five double-doubles on the year, ranking third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky and Michigan State's Branden Dawson. 

Speaking of luck... Minnesota isn't the only one who has lost a lot of close games. Before Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa on Sunday, the Wildcats had lost ten straight, but six of those have come by eight points or fewer.

Can Minnesota still make the NCAA tournament? The Gophers are starting the conversation

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 17, 2015 - 6:28 PM

So here the Gophers are: 5-8 in the conference, fresh on the heels of a shellacking at the hands of Indiana but with a three-game winning streak (and three of four) still fresh in minds.

Is the NCAA tournament in the picture? Is Minnesota in the conversation?

Right now, the Gophers prospects look very slim. But with five games remaining, the team is starting the talk.

"We have not talked about the NCAA tournament at all this year," coach Richard Pitino said in a news conference on Tuesday. "I know it surprises people but we haven't. But we talked about it yesterday ... we've got four seniors who play substantial minutes who want to go to an NCAA tournament so I know that's on their minds."                                                                                                                 

One of those seniors is Andre Hollins, who has certainly been playing like he's got dreams of the Big Dance on his brain. In the last eight games, Hollins has led the team in scoring seven times and is averaging 21.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. It has, without a doubt, been the best all-around stretch of his career, as he keeps one eye on its finish.

"It's on our minds a lot, especially since we know last year we were that close to making it," Hollins said. And especially our seniors... we all experienced the NCAA tournament. We know what it takes and we know what it's like to play in there. It's an unbelievable environment.  I want to leave playing my best basketball and playing in the NCAA tournament.

"At the beginning of the season, you don't really think about this time, but you know, it's fast approaching. I'm just going to cherish every moment of it. I see the big picture but I'm taking it one game at a time, one practice, one game at a time and trying to give it my all each day so at the end I know I gave it my all. Hopefully it will result in an NCAA tournament berth."

Last year, the Gophers fell just off the tournament bubble after putting up an 8-10 conference record and winning just one game in the Big Ten tournament. But even though Minnesota is just one win off from its record through this point last season (5-8 now compared with 6-7 then), the Gophers' strength of schedule isn't at all similar. Last season, the Gophers landed in the top ten nationally. This year, after getting crushed 90-71 at Indiana, Minnesota sits at No. 82.

At this point, with the Gophers currently tenth in the Big Ten standings -- in what has been an overall disappointing year for the league -- Minnesota might have to win out to be considered. That would include a victory at Michigan State and a pair vs. overwhelming favorite Wisconsin -- which would account for the only two ranked wins the Gophers have on the year.

The formula is a bit overwhelming.

"I think the biggest thing is you can't overlook tomorrow," Pitino said, meaning Northwestern (8 p.m. BTN). "This team came in and beat us last year.  We need quality wins and we've got games up on our schedule, quality wins, tough opponents ... we've got opportunities ahead but we cannot overlook Northwestern."

Sunday's rebounding mess shows Gophers still have a ways to go

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 16, 2015 - 2:48 PM

Early in the second half, Richard Pitino had some extra words for Joey King after a timeout was over and the power forward had retaken his seat on the bench.

The coach put his face up to King's and let him have it.  

Yes, several times King was slow to close out on a perimeter shooter, and he -- like every player in maroon and gold -- was scored on plenty. 

But that wasn't Pitino's biggest concern -- his rants revolved around rebounding.

"He wasn't boxing out," Pitino said either. 

He wasn't the only one. Rebounding has been a concern for this year's Minnesota team all year: the Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage and during the Gophers' 0-5 slump to open conference play, Pitino felt the need to implement elementary box-out drills in practice once more, something that would otherwise be considered a time-waster in the heart of the Big Ten slate. 

Sunday's 90-71 blowout loss at Indiana brought a new low despite a rare matchup in which Minnesota had the size advantage. 

The Hoosiers have out-rebounded ten of 13 Big Ten teams this year even with their undersized lineup, so the Gophers losing the battle on the boards wasn't completely shocking. But Minnesota didn't just lose, it was embarrassed. The Gophers managed just 16 boards vs. the Hoosiers, ten fewer than their next lowest total all season and less than half of Indiana's total (35). The Hoosiers -- who hadn't held a team to fewer than 21 rebounds this year -- grabbed ten offensive rebounds despite the fact that they shot a jolting 59.3 percent from the field. That means Indiana grabbed 45.5 percent of its misses, and it converted about half of those into points, tallying 11 on second chances. 

That's a recipe for disaster. 

"Obviously, when a team sets a school record for threes (Indiana had 18), you're disappointed," Pitino said. "But the rebounding  was what really, really disappointed me ... we did not do a good job of that at all."

Part of this is due to Minnesota's zone, which is tougher to rebound out of because of the naturally created hole in the middle. Sunday, with a lower percentage of rebounds falling their way, starting center Mo Walker and power forward Joey King combined for just a single rebound. Minnesota's guards, meanwhile, struggled to corral the long rebounds created by all the perimeter shots Indiana took. That's mostly a matter of effort and blocking out their man when it comes to Indiana, the league's smallest team.

"They take a lot of shots that people are not ready for," Andre Hollins said. "It's a lot of long shots and they get a lot of long rebounds. That was one of the things that hurt us, rebounding out of the zones. They got a lot of long rebounds and we didn't grab them."

The sluggish performance on the glass was, after Indiana's three-point barrage, probably the biggest contributing factor to the Gophers' loss, and it was another reminder -- with good defensive rebounding teams Northwestern (Wednesday, 8 p.m.) and Wisconsin (Saturday at 11 a.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.) on deck, along with overall rebounding wizard Michigan State (Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.) -- that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Gophers postgame: Rebounding and threes did Minnesota in at Indiana

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 15, 2015 - 10:56 PM

Read my full story on Minnesota's 90-71 loss at Indiana here.

Three quick observations before I go seek out some mind-erasing whiskey:

There were a few threes tonight, in case you didn't notice. Not very many of them came from the Gophers camp. But enough (18) came from the Indiana camp that a team with a long storied past of hitting the three ball set a new school record. It was a brutal dismantling of whatever defense Minnesota happened to be set up in. Freshman James Blackmon Jr. seemed to have a knack for hitting the gut-punch -- a shot to end every Gophers feel-good moment or small run. And even Troy Williams, who had hit one three-pointer all year, joined in the fun, tripling his season total. Some of that was just the product of a very good shooting team, a very good offensive team. And some of that was Minnesota not closing out on guys and not rotating quickly enough in the zone. It was by far the worst we've seen from the zone in about 5 games.

Rebounding, rearing its ugly head. Speaking of the zone, Minnesota has always struggled to contend on the boards out of it. It didn't help that Indiana was getting so many long rebounds with all the long balls. But the fact that Joey King and Mo Walker combined as the starting frontcourt for one single rebound is just concerning. The Gophers have a size advantage on very few teams, but this is one of them, yet they were nearly doubled in effort by the Hoosiers. Interestingly, the one guy who did OK was Charles Buggs, in his second consecutive start, who used his athleticism to leap in and grab five off the glass.

Just in case your mind had drifted to the Big Dance... This should be enough to snap you to your senses. It was going to be very hard for Minnesota -- which has put together a much inferior RPI and strength of schedule compared with last year -- to get an NCAA tournament bid no matter what. The Gophers don't have any ranked wins and they were going to have to go through Wisconsin to get one in the regular season. But in any case, a loss tonight probably slams that door shut. The Iowa win was a nice one (although it looks less so after the Hawkeyes were knocked off at a Northwestern team that was on a ten-game losing streak) and following it up with another road win here would have been nicer. Never fear, the Gophers have almost surely played themselves into the NIT, which they OWN. 


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