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

aMAILiaBAG: Early brackets have Gophers in the Big Dance; Why the Gophers play zone, Whether the four-guard lineup will stick

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players, Richard Pitino Updated: December 23, 2013 - 11:45 AM

Greetings from Malmo, Sweden. Don’t ever say I never did anything for you guys. After prepping this mailbag on my Saturday/Sunday flight journey, I went to open it on Monday, and my computer decided to promptly eat it. Why? I don’t know. But I yelled about it for 25 minutes and then re-wrote this, in consolidated form. So that long-winded whining session explains why today’s version is a bit shorter than usual. Also could explain why it’s a bit sassier than usual.

Soo, what's up w/ ESPN and CBSSports both thinking Gophs projected to make the tourney?!! Cool, but seriously?! #aMAILiaBAG

@ebart13

To recap, you’re referring to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who has the Gophers as an 11-seed in his early bracket, and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who inserts the Gophers as – can you believe it? – an 8-seed.

But the thing is, these early brackets really don’t mean anything. Palm, at least, does his as if the season ended today, and of course the only things left in the season are all the important parts. For example, neither brackets include Illinois or Purdue – two teams that were routinely picked to finish ahead of the Gophers. But it doesn’t mean that either of those teams are overwhelmingly disappointing, just that they haven’t had any really defining wins (this was before the Illini beat Missouri on Saturday). Minnesota had the Florida State victory, which is one the NCAA selection committee would likely look at favorably. Indiana also isn’t on Palm’s bracket. The Hoosiers have struggled to beat better competition early, but are incredibly young and should only get better and better as the season rolls out. With the way that the young team has already competed, I would be surprised if they end up missing the tournament.

So, it’s nice that Minnesota made the early brackets, but don’t draw too much meaning from that. I don’t think either of them are making a statement that the Gophers look wildly better than anyone expected, but based on the results of the season, Minnesota is probably a little past the bubble. But again, it’s only December!

Why zone? Personnel? Preference? And how long will it last?

@FromTheBarn

The 2-3 is a big part of coach Richard Pitino’s defensive philosophy, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon. He likes the ability to mix things up on opponents, and frankly, none of the defenses the Gophers play right now are strong enough to rely on them in exclusivity. In any case, the zone has had its moments, but it has also been pretty effective at times. Somehow, Minnesota was actually better able to defend the three-pointer in the zone than in man-to-man on Friday.

Do you think we'll see a lot of the smaller lineup in B1G play like we saw today? (Mathieu, Hollins x2, Smith, Eliason/Walker)

@PeteyPT

I think there’s a good chance. At the beginning of the season, Pitino made it clear he wasn’t wild about using four guards at a time and no doubt, he still isn’t. But the team’s personnel is what it is, and there is certainly an argument that a four-guard lineup is the Gophers most efficient option, at least in some matchups. Obviously, this is a guard-oriented squad, and when you’re not getting consistent aggressiveness on the boards from your power forwards (Oto Osenieks is averaging 3.3 rebounds a game and Joey King is averaging 2.7), it takes away one of the big expected drop-offs from playing with four guards instead. Neither are very aggressive in the paint or capable of posting up. Oddly, the Gophers have actually gotten better rebounding from two guards in Andre Hollins (4.1 a game) and the amazingly improved Austin Hollins (7.1). Come Big Ten competition, sheer size is going to be a problem regardless; Pitino has to decide whether the modest increase in inches in worth it.

With the non-conf schedule basically complete, your prediction: do the Gophs make the dance?

@5844cx

The non-conference schedule is never what I was concerned with, with the Gophers. The non-conference schedule means very little. Minnesota has played well, but they haven’t proved anything at all yet. Overall, I think they’ve wound up about how I expected. Originally, I predicted three losses before the Big Ten, I think, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if they had picked up one more, either at Richmond or against Florida State or against one of the scrappier, no-name teams they’ve played. So the Gophers have done a good job of taking care of business, which is great – but it doesn’t change some of the inherent flaws about this team, most notably the lack of size and natural post players. Those weaknesses will bring a lot of challenges in the Big Ten. So for right now, I’m staying pat on their finish (9th in the league). If the Gophers are going to prove me wrong, it’s going to take a lot more than the non-conference schedule.

#aMAILiaBAG Is the recent Strib article on recruiting having an impact on the Gophers interest in Rashad Vaughn #MoveOn

@LisaBruneau2

I don’t think any of the teams that are recruiting Vaughn are blind to the interesting situation involving his inner circle, and I also think it’s not enough – none of it is illegal, or has been proven to be, mind you -- to make coaches stop wanting to go after a very, very talented player.

Amelia,

Why is is that many Gophers shy away from dunking? Specifically Eliason, Walker, and Osenieks.

Ryan

Well, you just named three of least athletic people on the team, does that answer your question?

Those guys might dunk here and there, but for the most part, if they get the opportunity, they’re probably going to lay it up and avoid getting yelled at.

#aMAILiaBAG Do you ever get writer's block like Barton Fink? If so, how do you get past it?

@GopherBBallFan

Are you kidding? All the time. It’s a part of being a professional writer. I like to think that everyone gets writer’s block sometimes, and if they don’t, don’t tell me because I’m already in a really bad mood.

Sometimes I will just take a walk – you know if it’s during one of the four months where walking in Minnesota without getting frostbite is possible – or go do something else to get inspired like play guitar or meditate. Other times, I just don’t get rid of it, I just yell for a while and then force it, and then just never read it again.

Have a great trip. Sure seems unusual that Buggs has seen virtually no action..could they be saving him?

@JimBlasko

Thanks! I don’t think it’s unusual and I don’t think the Gophers are saving him … I just think he has a ways to go before he is a Division I player.

I saw a creature in my backyard the size of a cat, with whiskers, a tail and tiger like markings. Could it be Sasquatch?

@floidaillini11

It’s possible, but then I would be wrong about everything, ever. (And looking for the very wrong things.)

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