Hartman: Gophers basketball team is showing solid improvement

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2013 - 12:36 AM

Some reserves from last season have made solid contributions that have aided the team’s 7-2 start.

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Gophers Oto OSenieks andFlorida State's Okaro White went after a loose ball during the first half at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Tuesday, December 3, 2013.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Dml - Star Tribune Star Tribune

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The Gophers men’s basketball team, which defeated Florida State on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, is off to a 7-2 start, and the thing that impresses me about the team so far is the improvement of last season’s reserves.

Oto Osenieks has become a solid starter, Maurice Walker is playing much better since coming off a suspension, and Elliott Eliason is much stronger and appears to be twice the player he was last season.

Yes, Richard Pitino and his staff have done a great job improving some players, but we won’t know how good this team is until the Big Ten season starts.

Asked how he feels about the team, Pitino said the trip to the Maui Invitational showed a lot of good things and a lot of bad things.

“I think we showed the ability to play aggressively, never quit,” Pitino said. “I think we showed that the first game [a 75-67 loss to Syracuse] and then the third game [a 83-68 victory over Chaminade]. Just the second game [a 87-73 loss to Arkansas], I’m not sure we did a very good job of playing two good halves, like we were hoping to do.

“We learned a lot about our team — what we’re good at and what we’re bad at.

“Syracuse is good. The biggest thing is we did well [in that game] without Mo Walker and we were even with them on the backboards. So we’re undersized, and to do that showed great toughness by our team.”

Pitino believes Walker’s return will improve the team’s balance greatly.

“When he’s healthy and in shape, he can help a lot,’’ he said. “Then you have a more traditional lineup of two centers; you don’t have to play Joey King who is 6-7, 6-8 at the backup center spot.”

Pitino also said he likes the way his recruiting class is working, including some transfers who came to the team late after his hiring.

“They’re doing good. It’s not a traditional recruiting situation, so to bring those guys in late — DeAndre Mathieu is playing very well, we got him late. You bring in Malik Smith from FIU, and he’s shown to be able to hit tough shots. Joey King as well transferred, so they’re definitely filling a void we needed to be filled right away.”

Can this team compete in the Big Ten?

“I hope so,’’ Pitino said. “I think you have to take care of business certainly at home, that has to be an important part of what we’re doing and we’ve got to be disciplined and continue to improve and continue to get better.”

Pitino likes his freshmen recruits for next season, point guard Nate Mason, a Georgia native playing at Montrose Christian High School in Rockville, Md.; forward Josh Martin, from the Seattle suburb of Bothell, Wash.; and guard Carlos “Squirrel’’ Morris, a junior college recruit who is playing at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.

“I think they’re going to bring something that we don’t have to this basketball team,” Pitino said. “They’re all different. One guy brings great athleticism, another guy brings great speed, and another one has a great ability to score the basketball. It’s all part of the building process, but they’re going to be a nice first recruiting class.”

Ravens on Peterson

Most of the defensive starters for the Baltimore Ravens weren’t with the team in 2009, the last time they faced the Vikings. In that game, Adrian Peterson rushed 22 times for 143 yards in a 33-31 victory.

Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty is impressed with Peterson.

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