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: The massive edition

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: February 4, 2014 - 10:56 AM

Greetings from Chicago, where I ended up for the night after flying in early to try to avoid the insane snowfall that is apparently looming today. Heading to Indiana now, on the strength of an unhealthy amount of bacon. I was highly disappointed that no one asked me any questions about Super Bowl commercials, because I had a few rants ready. I considered manufacturing a question but thought that not very journalistic. So, fine -- you'll never know how I felt about the Turbo Tax fiasco. Just live with that one.

To submit your questions for future aMAILiaBAGs, email me at amelia.rayno@startribune.com or tweet me @AmeliaRayno. To your questions:

@dadamstein: @AmeliaRayno I did not like Mathieu's shot against Sparty; I liked his shot against NW less. What's coach P looking for in those situations?

They were hoping to get a foul on a drive to the basket. Tough call when the officials haven't been calling them all night, but still probably the best option. DeAndre Mathieu's shot could have been better, but to be fair, he was in a lot of traffic, and it did look like he got bumped.

@attcharlieb: @AmeliaRayno any chance B10 officials will be given option of wearing protective visors? Pitino got a little sloppy Sat afternoon! #spitter

You know, his father has a reputation of that. Richard Pitino used to give him crap for it. Now he's become him!

@thekula21: @AmeliaRayno how many conference wins would give us a tourney birth? 9-9 the magic number? #aMAILiaBAG

Yes, I THINK nine will do it, but the Gophers could use a good road win against a strong team in there. It's not going to be easy to get to nine, either. Minnesota needs five more victories to get there, and they still have five road games less and will have to face Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan again.

@MNfan4ever: @AmeliaRayno With Dre hurt who needs to step up offensively when M.Smith struggles from three-point land in order for Gophers to win in B1G?  

Probably Austin Hollins. We saw him do that against Northwestern in the second half on Saturday, but he really needs to be more consistent with that. Right now, he's not reliable. With Dre out, more than ever, he needs to be.

@KraigKuelbs: @AmeliaRayno Is your excitement at nearing the 10k follower mark palpable every waking moment? You'd get a t-shirt or a paper weight, right?

I'm hoping for a bigfoot paperweight. And yes, my every moment is preoccupied with the idea. Let's make it happen today guys. Put me out of my sub-10,000 misery.

@whbensoniv: @AmeliaRayno #amailiabag When are we going 2 embrace the fact that Gophers have exceeded expectations & just enjoy while Pitino builds program?

Never. But in all seriousness, improved results always result in raised expectations, right? That's how it works. Yes, the Gophers have done some good things this year, but that doesn't mean everyone should be fine with watching them collapse down the stretch.

@oleenfermera: @AmeliaRayno who's the better 1st yr b1g coach? Pitino? Collins? Did the last game make the answer more/less clear? #amailiabag

Honestly, I think Pitino is doing a good job with this bunch, I think he's going to be very successful as a coach. But it is also hard to argue that what Chris Collins has done this year isn't even more impressive. Minnesota at least had some talent to speak of on it's roster. Northwestern didn't have much to boast. But the first year coach has constructed a super safe but efficient defense that has won the Wildcats more games than the Gophers. Color me impressed.

@mtw2550: @AmeliaRayno Eliason dominated Hammons last time, but I'm afraid the tables will be turned this week and it will be another loss.  Agree?

A.J. Hammons is certainly capable of having an off-night -- he's still not as consistent as Purdue needs him to be -- but it's a little hard to believe that Elliott Eliason could shut him down twice in the same season. Eliason has been struggling a bit in the last four games, and if he can't be productive again, Minnesota will have to rely on Mo Walker, whose defensive presence isn't nearly as intimidating. In any case, another loss right now would be very bad new for the Gophers right now.

@GopherBBallFan: @AmeliaRayno Is it just me or does officiating seem more inconsistent this year than before? Little Dre and Mo both got hacked. #aMAILiaBAG

Of course it is. Anytime the NCAA instills new rules or guidelines, there will be an adjustment period. Officials will eventually adapt, but we're in the transition right now.

(Also, I don't think Walker got hacked, but a foul could have been called on Little Dre).

@mattprivratsky: @AmeliaRayno does slower than expected pace have more to do with struggling with defensive pressure or lack of ability to push on offense?

Good question. I think it's a little of both. The Gophers probably haven't been getting out in transition as much as they'd like (probably because they're not getting meaningful stops on the other end), but they're also not speeding up teams with their defense the way they thought they'd be able to. When opponents can easily scoot by the press, their offense isn't rushed at all. In general, I think it's tough to play that way immediately, though, without players recruited for that style. Imagine where Minnesota would be without Mathieu? Even slower.

@Frantzka: @AmeliaRayno Could be alot of teams 9-9,8-10-8,10-8. Who will go to tourney if that's the case?Could B1G tourney be big decider?#aMAILiaBAG

It could be. The non-conference schedule will be dissected, and road wins will be looked at very favorably. It also wouldn't surprise me if a few teams begin to separate themselves a little more in the next couple of weeks.

@brettangel: @AmeliaRayno Why is Pitino so reluctant to use Mo and Elliott at the same time? Seems like it's worth a shot #aMAILiaBAG

He doesn't like the defensive handicap. The matchups become really weird in that scenario. I wouldn't mind seeing it once, just because I feel like they could help each other and create better post-up opportunities inside. But I wouldn't hold your breath. We've brought it up to Pitino several times, actually, and he's joked that he's just going to do it sometimes, so he can point and everyone and tell them they're wrong.

@HDtheTVman: @AmeliaRayno If the season ended today, what seed would the Gophers be in March Madness? Like a ballpark estimate. #aMAILiabag

Well, Joe Lunardi (ESPN bracketologist) and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm both have them as an 8-seed, so that's probably about right.

@Gophs1: @AmeliaRayno If you see two what's the plural of Big Foot. Big Feet? Big Foots?  And do they travel in packs? Herds? A gaggle?  

Bigfoots. Come on man, get with it. You've never had to refer to multiple bigfoots before?

@JohnPKelsey: @AmeliaRayno What's your go-to dip on Super Bowl Sunday? Or any day for that matter. You strike me as a queso fan. #aMAILiaBAG

I like a really good guacamole ... and a few months ago I made a deviled ham dip for a party that might have been the best of all time. That's right. ALL TIME.

@MeloMattGreezy: @AmeliaRayno Is Is Daquein McNeil likely to stay in the rotation when Andre Hollins comes back?

I don't see why not. He was in the rotation before Hollins got hurt. There isn't as much room for as large a role when Hollins returns, however.

@Gophs1: @AmeliaRayno What kind of scotch do the most sophisticated  Big Foot drink?  #aMAILiaBAG

Lagavulin, most likely.

@mattbishop2: @AmeliaRayno Which player has surprised you most that you've seen this year? #aMailiaBAG

That's a little bit tough because there are several candidates. DeAndre Mathieu has been extremely meaningful. Elliott Eliason has taken quantum leaps, even if he is struggling a bit right now. But I think I'd have to say Malik Smith. Much has been discussed about his proclivity to shoot threes (also referred to as a "chucker"), but he's been so much more than that. He's expanded his offensive game dramatically, and has been really efficient from the perimeter for the most part -- so efficient that if anything, he probably doesn't shoot enough. He's been a major spark for the Gophers all season, and he's stepped up in big moments. I really didn't expect that. Kudos to him for working hard, and to Pitino for being a very good judge of underrated talent in bringing him to Minneapolis from FIU.

@ZakBinks: @AmeliaRayno Sasquatch seems like a wanderer instead of territorial. What do you think he's searching for? Love? Food? Peace?

The world's best scotch perhaps. But you're right. Bigfoots are constantly on the move in small packs. Doesn't make them any easier to track down.

@HDtheTVman: @AmeliaRayno What do you attribute the Gophers' ability to play well against good teams, & play poor against mediocre teams to? #aMAILiaBag

It takes a very good team to never play to it's competition. The best teams are able to put their foot down and keep it there, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Ignoring the ebbs and flows of the competition is very tough. Have you ever run alone and then run with another person? I always workout much harder when I'm around someone that is pushing me. 

@TheSambard: @AmeliaRayno Why do the Gophers seemingly never wear gold at home any more? They are the Golden Gophers after all.

It seems like some people are very passionate about this topic -- I've heard it a couple other times before. Sad to say I don't have an answer for you though.

@CollinKottke: @AmeliaRayno if the #Gophers could only improve one thing and one thing only, what should that thing be? #aMAILiaBAG

Their defense. I mean goodness.

@peekay622: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG You are the best basketball writer the Strib has ever had, so don't take this as a sexist Q: why men's basketball?

Should I only cover womens' teams because I'm a woman? I cover men's basketball because I was hired for the job. Seeking out women-only jobs would be extremely silly. I just don't even understand your reasoning.

@thekula21: @AmeliaRayno paging Charles Buggs!? #aMAILiaBAG

No.

@ebart13: @AmeliaRayno So, what will it take to sit next to you during a gopher game since gluten-free pretzels and whiskey won't work? #aMAILiaBAG

If you can bring these ten things to the table you are hired.

1- provide gluten-free pretzels
2 - provide whiskey-spiked soda bottle (but don't tell my boss)
3 - assume refill duties
4 - execute halftime shoulder rub
5 - execute Sid defense
6 - empty catheter so I don't have to get up
7 - execute mid-second half head rub
8 - assume stat-checking role
9 - wear bigfoot suit at all times
10 - arrange for postgame scotch and pizza

@RJStevens14: @AmeliaRayno How much do you think the loss to Northwestern affects the Gophers tournament chances? #aMAILiaBAG

It certainly didn't help, but there is still time if the Gophers get it together. Plenty of opportunities for signature and road wins ahead.

@trevasis76: @AmeliaRayno Would a losing B1G season be considered a 1st-year success with such an optimistic start?

Not all losing seasons are made equal -- it depends on what the losing season looked like. If the Gophers were able to only win two more games, that would not be successful. If they can get to eight wins total in the conference, but still don't make the tournament, yes, I think you could call that a success. The problem is, when the pleasant surprises come early, they change the expectations and are far less likely to foster warm-and-fuzzy feelings than late pleasant surprises are because fans are left feeling as if the team is regressing rather than building. 

There is danger in setting the bar too high too early with a team that will struggle.

@therealFish4: @AmeliaRayno can you envision yourself retiring to Chadron, searching for Squatch and owning a bar on main street? #aMAILiaBAG

Well, no. I like Chadron just fine, but first of all, I'm pretty sure that area of the country is pretty light on squatchiness, and secondly, half of the reason I enjoyed Chadron is because I enjoy discovering new places (for me). So I need to retire somewhere where it is easy to get around and discover new places.

@HDtheTVman: @AmeliaRayno With Walker playing very recently, could we see him start over Eliason? #aMAILiaBAG

I don't think so. Pitino hasn't changed his lineup all year, and there were several occasions where he could have (inserting Joey King in for Oto Osenieks when the latter was struggling, for example, or replacing the slumping Austin Hollins). 

Beyond that, Mo Walker has played well for about three games. Eliason has played well for most of the year. Don't forget that. Pitino won't make a knee-jerk reaction based on such a small sample size.

@los_jim: @AmeliaRayno jealous that Tim Tebow apparently beat you and had a successful 'Squatch Hunt? #aMAILiaBag

Tebow's a pretender. Sasquatch is much wilier than that. And I would never put that great beast in a head lock.

@bangerang17: @AmeliaRayno are gophers cursed in jan/feb? will tubby's track record haunt us forever? seems pace has slowed into B1G season #aMAILiabag

It is weird, right? But no, I don't think there's a curse. Unless you have a great name for the curse and a good back story. In which case I'm totally on board.

@ebart13: @AmeliaRayno Do you think the #Gophers can ever play as bad as the Broncos did in the Super Bowl? #aMAILiaBAG

Hey, I mean, the Broncos DID get to the Super Bowl.

@NOELTHOMPSON I know Mo is fully recovered from his knee injury, but i see him hesitate going up strong underneath. Do you think there is a mental aspect going on that could be limiting him underneath the basket? Worried about re injuring his knee?

Part of that is definitely mental. You're right -- Walker will often sort of pause as he's going at the rim. Against good defenders, that's all the time they need to adjust. It's clearly a bad habit, and I'm sure Pitino has made him aware that he's doing it. I don't think he's worried about his knee, as he hasn't had any troubles with it for some time. But who knows with those things.
 
Having traveled the country watching college basketball, what is you favorite college basketball venue?
 
(it’s okay if your answer is not Williams Arena as you are not a native Minnesotan)
 
Signed,
 
Bob in Hopkins

Well actually, I do really like Williams Arena -- I think it's extremely unique, and that's a great thing. But probably my favorite so far is Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Such incredible atmosphere, and so tough to play in there with the fans basically on top of you. Covering a game there, however, is incredibly rough. Their media seating is wooden benches surrounded by fans. Last time there I had a dude's knees in my back and his slobber in my ear. Not the greatest deadline environment. 
 

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