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

aMAILia BAG: Gophers' offensive adjustments? Is Mbakwe hurt? Does Tubby keep his job?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: February 5, 2013 - 11:36 AM

aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions (to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter or and I answer them here. Questions below are in bold, while my responses are in regular type.

What exactly were the "offensive adjustments" the Gophers supposedly made recently? #aMAILiaBAG


Ah, yes – totally fair question considering how egregious the Gophers’ offense looked against Iowa. They went back to playing timidly – standing around in the half-court while Andre Hollins helplessly dribbles around, gets double-teamed and hopes that one of the defenders will fall on his face so he can dish it somewhere. It seems like often the other four are so “in” the game, that they have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. They’re watching the action instead of getting involved.

It’s hard to take anything substantial from a one-game sample (that’s pretty obvious after Sunday), but Minnesota really did look different against Nebraska. It wasn’t that the things they were doing were working better (as they should against a team like Nebraska), it’s that they were doing them at all. The biggest thing was just the constant screening the Gophers were doing, bigs for guards, guards for bigs. That created a lot more space for the team to work and also, just gave them more movement and possibilities. If you screen and move around that much you will ACCIDENTALLY get some chances. But against Iowa, that efficiency disappeared.

Why? Darned if I know. I think part of it is that the Gophers thought they had it down after the Nebraska game, only to each wait for someone else to make something happen against Iowa. The idea of stripping the offense of its frills and getting the basics down really well only works if everyone works on it constantly. In other words, if guys aren’t explicitly focusing on “screen, cut; screen, cut,” it goes from a basic offense to no offense. If coach Tubby Smith can’t get the players to buy into that, then there is a need for more plays that actively involve a large number of guys to force them to move that way.

Is Trevor's wrist hurting him? He doesn't seem to be able to hold on to the ball?


Both Smith and Mbakwe are downplaying the injury (which is a sprain in his right wrist and a bone bruise), but it’s obviously still sore, and the center is icing it after games. That might be part of it right now. Another wrinkle is that he’s just been using one hand a lot lately, a habit of his that is probably exaggerated a little with the sore hand.

Said Smith: “He used one hand a lot, and that’s just a tendency he has, and he’s done that in the past, but coming off the knee surgery, I think he tried to use the other arm for leverage a lot … but he can play pretty good playing that way.”

Could tubby start eliason and bring mbakwe off the bench? That may be a reach, but it could be an option.


Reach. I toyed with this idea briefly when Smith seemed stuck to his hockey line rotations and that group was struggling to be productive, but the reality is – the only reasons we were seeing Mbakwe do anything in reserve earlier in the season was because

a) he was playing against greatly lesser competition and

b) he was also playing stints with the starters

Were the Gophers to do that now, what would stop teams from just throwing two guys on Mbakwe at all times? Not only does it not increase the productivity of the bench, but it also almost completely neutralizes Mbakwe.

An interesting spontaneous thought, but it just wouldn’t work.

Say we get to the tournament, but lose in the 1st round. Does Tubby keep his job?


Well, I think there is just too wide a range of scenarios within that question to make a hard and fast statement either way. In the tournament, you never know what can happen. What if the Gophers enter as a five-seed and then run up against a team that happens to shoot 70 percent from the field all night? What if Minnesota wins the Big Ten title, enters the tourney and then loses? I’m not saying these scenarios are going to happen, only that simply a first-round loss at the Big Dance isn’t – in and of itself – necessarily a predictor of how safe Smith’s job will be. Now, say the Gophers slide into the tournament and then lose their first game and play just really poorly – then I think we could see some coaching changes around Smith potentially. If Minnesota manages to MISS the tournament altogether – yes, I think Smith is fired in that scenario. But as always you have to remember his $2.5 million buyout.

#aMAILiaBAG looking way ahead here... Any chance either one of the Hollins' leaves early to go pro? Just curious


Way ahead – I don’t think you’re in any danger of losing either of them after this season, I’ll just tell you that much.

Everyone talks about how strong Trevor Mbakwe is, why doesn't he post up more? #aMAILiaBAG


If Mbakwe starts getting a lot more touches, we can talk about whether he needs to post up more – but right now, the biggest issue is that the Gophers are having a tough time getting the ball to the center often enough. Part of that is because Mbakwe probably isn’t as big of a focus in Minnesota’s offense as he should be, and part of it is because the Gophers truly struggle to get the ball inside against zones, and end up settling for jump shots.

After few weeks off, back with hopefully a good question. What is wrong with the bench, Playing time, confidence? #aMAILiaBAG


I wrote about this a little yesterday, but to give you a short answer, I think the answer is some of both. Smith is struggling to find the right way to use his bench, to get the most out of them. The important thing is that he’s proven willing to search for solutions rather than just throwing out the same old thing – but it’s clearly still a process. The one bright spot of the “hockey” line changes Smith was doing perpetually up until very recently is that such a subbing pattern forced the bench to work, and try to score. What happens when you sub in one or a couple at a time and then at the end of the day you realize NO reserve has even attempted a shot?? Well, that means it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

How far do you think the #Gophers can go in the NCAA Tourney? Assuming they play their best bball come that time #aMAILiaBAG


If they play at their highest capability and get some good matchups? Getting to the Sweet Sixteen wouldn’t be out of the question.

How can the #Gophers get Rodney Williams to be more productive in conference games? #aMAILiaBAG


I think there needs to be a bigger emphasis on actually running plays for him – if you’re going to do that for one player, you do it for your incredible athlete. We saw some of that in the Nebraska game, and he responded impressively (it might have also had something to do with the Huskers lack of inside presence). And in general, if the Gophers are getting more movement, better spacing (see above), he’ll be able to get open more often. And lastly, with Williams, a lot of it is about confidence. If he gets a good dunk or two early on – that can go a long way.

What is your most hated team in the big ten? #aMAILiaBAG


Most hated team? I’m a reporter, not your buddy at the bar – remember?

When are the #gophers going to figure out a zone #aMAILiaBAG


Your guess is as good as mine.

Besides committing fewer turnovers, what do the #Gophers need to do to beat Michigan State? #aMAILiaBAG


1- Play with the same physicality they did in the Big Ten opener

2- More movement (see above) in the half court

3- Get some solid production out of Rodney Williams

4- Wake up the bench


All the areas on Finding Bigfoot are so squatchy and no vid. I still watch and say "really? Nothing?" #GilligansIslandsyndrome<>.


I know … it gets to be a little disappointing after a while. But the deal is – with that huge, loud posse they carry around, they’ll never find anything. These creatures are ELUSIVE, remember? If seven plodding men with two trucks worth of equipment could stealthily uncover a band of sleeping squatches, well – we wouldn’t be talking about how hard all of this is, would we? Some of those squatchers are certainly serious – like my boy, Bobo Faye – but don’t forget that the show is run by producers that just want to maximize drama even without any product. The result is that they get you REALLYREALLYREALLY excited (or is that just me?) over what turns out to be a squirrel.

Of course, I’ll keep watching anyway because I just can’t get enough.


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