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

Opening Tipoff:

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 12, 2015 - 9:30 AM

The DEETS. Minnesota plays at Iowa at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.

The READING. The Hawkeyes' average height ranks fifth nationally, while Minnesota's lands 163rd. Think Iowa's size is a problem for the Gophers? The Hawkeyes aren't the only ones -- coach Richard Pitino says getting bigger in the years ahead is a priority. Preview here.

The BUZZ.

**There has been no shortage of eye-poking talk following Iowa center Adam Woodbury's third incident vs. Maryland on Sunday. The Gophers are downplaying the drama, but center Mo Walker says he's remaining vigilant just in case.

**Minnesota has now won three its four last games after the Gophers notched their first back-to-back wins vs. Nebraska and Purdue at home. The Gophers don't have any road wins in conference play and have managed just two in Pitino's tenure at Minnesota. Starting with Iowa, Minnesota plays four of next five away from Williams Arena. The Purdue game marked Minnesota's seventh in conference that finished within two possessions. Minnesota has lost six of those.
 
**After Saturday's 23-turnover, 17-steal win over Purdue, Minnesota has moved up to second national in steals percentage according to kenpom.com and fourth in defensive turnover percentage. The Gophers have 27 steals and have forced 43 turnovers in the last two games.

**If the Gophers win on Thursday, they will have exactly the same record through 12 non-conference games as last year: 16-9; 5-7. The biggest difference? Last season, Minnesota had victories over ranked Wisconsin and Ohio State among their victories. In a down Big Ten season, the Gophers are still hunting for their first ranked win.

**Minnesota sent Purdue -- a top-40 team nationally at getting to the line -- to the foul line just five times on Saturday, a season low for the Boilermakers. Minnesota has had such restraint just three times this season and two of them have come in the last two games. In home games vs. Nebraska and Purdue, Minnesota allowed just ten free-throw attempts. 

**In the last six games, Andre Hollins is averaging 21.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.

**Ken Pom predicts that Minnesota will win three more conference games to finish 7-11, which should be more than enough to earn its third NIT bid in four years. The Gophers have made the NIT championship game in each of the last two trips.

**Iowa has scored an average of 1.23 points per possessions in its last two games, wins vs Michigan and at Maryland.

The PLAYER.

Before the Gophers' 62-58 win over Purdue, Pitino pulled power forward Joey King aside.

"I know you have a shot-fake quota you have reach," he said, full of snark. "Get it out of the way early and then bombs away ... I don't care how many threes you take -- bombs away."

Apparently that was all the confidence the junior needed. King finished with 4-for-7 shooting (including 3-for-5 on three-pointers) for 11 points.

It was a welcomed night of production for a player that makes the shooting motion far more than he actually shoots.

Trying to explain a now legendary shot fake that is as much a part of his game night as his jersey is -- and is used more like a nervous tick than an attempt to create space -- King said he thinks he picked it up one summer from "one of the older guys" in casual pickup games at Lifetime Fitness. 

Did it ever work?

"Ehhh..." he said. "Sometimes."

In the last few games, we've seen it a little less. King, when he isn't hesitating, has a very nice touch and plenty of range. He's totaled 20 points in the last two games vs. Nebraska and Purdue/

"I'm trying to kind of cut that out of my game," he said, noting that he is at his best when he looks for the open shot.

Consider Pitino pleased with his pregame speech. Bombs away? "He did it and made some really big threes," he said.

Opening Tipoff: Minnesota feeling good after winning three of four

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 12, 2015 - 9:32 AM

The DEETS. Minnesota plays at Iowa at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.

The READING. The Hawkeyes' average height ranks fifth nationally, while Minnesota's lands 163rd. Think Iowa's size is a problem for the Gophers? The Hawkeyes aren't the only ones -- coach Richard Pitino says getting bigger in the years ahead is a priority. Preview here.

The BUZZ.

**There has been no shortage of eye-poking talk following Iowa center Adam Woodbury's third incident vs. Maryland on Sunday. The Gophers are downplaying the drama, but center Mo Walker says he's remaining vigilant just in case.

**Minnesota has now won three its four last games after the Gophers notched their first back-to-back wins vs. Nebraska and Purdue at home. The Gophers don't have any road wins in conference play and have managed just two in Pitino's tenure at Minnesota. Starting with Iowa, Minnesota plays four of next five away from Williams Arena. The Purdue game marked Minnesota's seventh in conference that finished within two possessions. Minnesota has lost six of those.
 
**After Saturday's 23-turnover, 17-steal win over Purdue, Minnesota has moved up to second national in steals percentage according to kenpom.com and fourth in defensive turnover percentage. The Gophers have 27 steals and have forced 43 turnovers in the last two games.

**If the Gophers win on Thursday, they will have exactly the same record through 12 non-conference games as last year: 16-9; 5-7. The biggest difference? Last season, Minnesota had victories over ranked Wisconsin and Ohio State among their victories. In a down Big Ten season, the Gophers are still hunting for their first ranked win.

**Minnesota sent Purdue -- a top-40 team nationally at getting to the line -- to the foul line just five times on Saturday, a season low for the Boilermakers. Minnesota has had such restraint just three times this season and two of them have come in the last two games. In home games vs. Nebraska and Purdue, Minnesota allowed just ten free-throw attempts. 

**In the last six games, Andre Hollins is averaging 21.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.

**Ken Pom predicts that Minnesota will win three more conference games to finish 7-11, which should be more than enough to earn its third NIT bid in four years. The Gophers have made the NIT championship game in each of the last two trips.

**Iowa has scored an average of 1.23 points per possessions in its last two games, wins vs Michigan and at Maryland.

The PLAYER.

Before the Gophers' 62-58 win over Purdue, Pitino pulled power forward Joey King aside.

"I know you have a shot-fake quota you have reach," he said, full of snark. "Get it out of the way early and then bombs away ... I don't care how many threes you take -- bombs away."

Apparently that was all the confidence the junior needed. King finished with 4-for-7 shooting (including 3-for-5 on three-pointers) for 11 points.

It was a welcomed night of production for a player that makes the shooting motion far more than he actually shoots.

Trying to explain a now legendary shot fake that is as much a part of his game night as his jersey is -- and is used more like a nervous tick than an attempt to create space -- King said he thinks he picked it up one summer from "one of the older guys" in casual pickup games at Lifetime Fitness. 

Did it ever work?

"Ehhh..." he said. "Sometimes."

In the last few games, we've seen it a little less. King, when he isn't hesitating, has a very nice touch and plenty of range. He's totaled 20 points in the last two games vs. Nebraska and Purdue/

"I'm trying to kind of cut that out of my game," he said, noting that he is at his best when he looks for the open shot.

Consider Pitino pleased with his pregame speech. Bombs away? "He did it and made some really big threes," he said.

Walker: "I'll be on the lookout for some fingers coming towards my face"

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 11, 2015 - 3:45 PM

Mo Walker said on Tuesday that he isn't too worried about the drama surrounding Iowa following center Adam Woodbury's third eye-poking incident vs. Maryland on Sunday.

But just in case, Minnesota's center said, he'll "be on the lookout for some fingers coming towards my face."

The chatter about Woodbury's antics has reached a fever pitch this week as the Gophers head to Iowa City -- Walker said he saw a "Woodbury poked you" joke going around on Facebook, playing off the social media site's "poking" feature. 

Minnesota, though, is mostly trying to downplay it. Coach Richard Pitino, in Tuesday's news conference, called the three incidents -- two times vs. Wisconsin, once vs. Maryland -- a "coincidence."

"How does a 7-foot guy intentionally poke a guy in the eye as they're driving? That's difficult to do," Pitino said. "I don't think the kid is a dirty player. I've played against [Iowa coach] Fran McCaffery now three times, I don't think he coaches like that."

Woodbury has also been criticized for raking his hand over the arm of opposing centers in tipoffs, a move McCaffery also said wasn't taught.

Walker, while admitting that getting poked in the eye during a basketball game is very rare, said it's not hard to understand how it could happen.

"Trying to slap down on a ball, trying to close out, get your hands high -- going after a rebound, throwing your hands up," he said. "It could happen."

-- 

Walker, who played with a wrap on his right wrist for most of Saturday's win over Purdue, said the injury -- sustained when someone came down on him with an elbow hasn't been a concern this week. "The wrist is good, it hasn't been bothering me the last few days," he said.

Woodbury eye-poking trend goes viral as Minnesota prepares to travel to Iowa

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

After it happened a third time, the Internet nearly broke. 

And now, with Minnesota traveling to Iowa City tomorrow to take on the Hawkeyes on Thursday, the buzz about Iowa's Adam Woodbury "eye-poking" trend isn't going away yet, even if coach Fran McCaffery desperately wants it to.

"I'm 100 percent behind him, I know the kid and quite frankly I think there's too much talk about it," he said on yesterday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.  

But talk there is.

Sunday, the Hawkeyes center, while defending point guard Melo Trimble, poked the eyes of a Maryland freshman in what would have been a small moment in a 71-55 blowout at Carver-Hawkeye arena. 

Except that is not the first time this has come up. 

In a recent game vs. Wisconsin, Woodbury poked the eyes of both Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes while defending the Badgers -- incidents that had ESPN broadcaster Dan Dakich characterizing Woodbury as a "coward" and calling for his suspension. 

Now this is all getting pretty ridiculous after the third incident, and clearly Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is getting sick of it as well. 

When asked in the Maryland postgame news conference how such an odd thing keeps happening if it's indeed not intentional, McCaffery responded with "Next question. Ask an intelligent question."

When another reporter asked why the previous question was unintelligent, McCaffery responded with "Because I said so," before abruptly ending the press conference.

 

It's hard to believe a player could poke three other players in the eyes accidentally in such a span, but it's perhaps as difficult to believe it's intentional, McCaffery said, a notion that Maryland coach Mark Turgeon gracefully echoed.

"I think you have to be pretty talented to be moving full speed and poke a guy in the eye and try to do it," he said on Monday. "That's just my opinion. The league has got to look at it obviously. The kid apologized and Melo is fine, so we move on."

On Monday, McCaffery reiterated that it's not something Woodbury has been taught and made the incidents out to be a product of the center's strong defensive skills. Woodbury was issued a flagrant foul for the most recent poking incident. He wasn't penalized for either poke vs. Wisconsin.

"He's always been a good defender in the fact that he can move his feet as a 7-1 guy," he said. "I've been watching this kid since he was a sophomore in high school. He's always always poked the ball, stripped the ball. You're playing a team like Maryland, they're going to drive the ball. No matter who you play now they run ball screen stuff. They're coming at him and his options are try to take a charge and swipe at the ball. 

"I know the kid. I know what we teach and I know him, I know his character, I know his background. He does not want this attention. He doesn't deserve it. It's not anything malicious, anything intentional.

"I mean, think about it -- here we are, we've got the game firmly in hand. Do you think he wants to stop, give them two free throws and the ball and get a flagrant foul, be in foul trouble? He's playing the best basketball of his life, he had 16 points. Do you think he wants to be out of the game with foul trouble? He's too smart for that."

Woodbury apologized to Trimble after the Maryland game, just as he had with the Wisconsin players and again called the poking strictly an accident, which perhaps raises as much concerns about his method of playing defense as it does about an incident that has heaped unwanted attention on Iowa City.

"He drove into me," Woodbury told the Quad City Times after the Maryland game. "Usually guys bring the ball right in front of them. I was trying to swipe down on the ball and he put his head in there. I talked to him about it afterward and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it."

Live Chat: Fresh off consecutive wins, Minnesota heads back on the road

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 9, 2015 - 8:57 AM

Fresh off its second win in as many games and the third win in the last four, Minnesota is heading back on the unfriendly road this week -- first to Iowa, then Indiana. Can the Gophers keep the momentum and carry the much needed surge away from Williams Arena? How much different is this team than the one that began the year? Let's discuss -- come join me at noon for an hourlong live chat about all things Gophers and Big Ten basketball ... and let's be honest, I'm sure we'll hit on some important food, booze, travel and Bigfoot topics as well.

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