aMAILia BAG is a new installment on this blog where you send me your questions throughout the week and I answer them here. Send your queries to

Here’s the deal: I will reference you on this blog however you want to be referenced. Therefore, if you want your home town in there, put it after your name. If you want only your first name, write only your first name. If you want to make up a super hero nickname for yourself, that’s fine too (as long as it’s appropriate). But if you don’t sign your email, I will use your full name that’s attached to your email address. OK? OK.

I received an inordinate amount of questions this week, but instead of me just picking and choosing, you folks are in luck. Since the Gophers still aren’t playing until Saturday and there’s just not very much going on, I will do two mailbags this week. One here and one tomorrow. Thanks for all your great questions.

Questions below are in bold and my responses in regular type.

I believe Tubby starts Eliason every game because the rotation is easier to manage, especially for the bigs. If you start Mbakwe: how do you work in Eliason, Walker and Ingram (all offensively limited)...? I don't mind this least on any give time during any point in the game we should have at least one of our big three on the floor (Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe). The three guys on our team that can create a shot for themselves, or at least get some free throws by drawing a foul. Thus, I don't think we'll have the droughts/collapses that we've had in a lot of games during the last two years or so.


Trying to figure out where the question starts here. Is there a question? In any case … I do agree with you, as long as Trevor Mbakwe is in with a group that is able to help accentuate his strengths. It’s a good point about the frontcourt corps being such that it is – Mbakwe coming in off the bench gives the team a spark, while Elliott Eliason in with the second group is much more underwhelming as a scoring threat. Having Mbakwe off the bench maximizes the minutes the Gophers can have one of your “Big Three” on the floor when it looks like coach Tubby Smith isn’t going to quit his five-in, five-out style anytime soon, but spreading your key guys out too much can hurt momentum too. Mbakwe doesn’t totally work in a vacuum. He needs help from the guards and the other big man to set him up so he can stay battling in the paint. The importance of good players around him has become even more evident with the way he and Rodney Williams have played off each other recently. My concern is that the Gophers will need Mbakwe to take on a bigger role and more minutes as the season goes on and that strong, quick, explosive presence down low is needed more and more. If the idea is to mostly play him with the starters and give him the most minutes of any center – why not just start him?

(NOTE: that will be the last question that’s not a question I answer. This is a Q & A, not a message board for me to publish your thoughts. K?)

Do you think the odd schedule (many days off between games for finals and break) will have an effect on the teams performance? Yes, it is an opportunity to get some rest, but do you think it could have an effect on the team's momentum?


Hi Kent. I wrote on this a little last night. You do worry that a long pause like this one could impact a hot team’s momentum, but in the case of the Gophers, I think it’s going to be beneficial. It was getting clear by the North Dakota State game that this team is just a little bit tired right now. They packed in 12 games quickly and have been on the road more than usual – which means they’ve been out of their regular routines more than usual. As Smith pointed out last night, the Gophers have mostly had to focus on game preparation up until this point, and now they have the opportunity to do some individual work and solidify the basics. Considering this team has good work ethic from what I can tell – and have a good balance of success to encourage them, but fresh memories of a tough Big Ten schedule last year – I think the time to catch up and improve in some aspects will be a really positive thing. Usually long breaks like this are only negative if the team slacks off or doesn’t have the motivation to get better. I think this squad is the antithesis of that.

So far this season I have been underwhelmed by the play of Mo Walker and Oto Osenieks. What role do we really see them needing to play going into B1G play? I understand the need for Mo to contribute 10-ish minutes a game but Oto, with Maverick playing so well in addition to Welch improving and now Ellenson joining the team, I just don't see where he fits in with his play right now.

Plymouth, MN

The pressure is up right now for Osenieks to prove his value to this team. With freshman Wally Ellenson joining the cache of available players, struggling Osenieks is the obvious choice to do more sitting. Osenieks was recruited as a shooting specialist, but right now he is making just 26 percent of his shots from the field and is an ugly 1-for-16 from 3-point range. As for Walker, he can be very beneficial to this team, and his size is a huge asset, but – although it’s a tired story line – he simply needs to lose weight. He looks sluggish out there right now, and in order to play with this up-tempo team, he needs to be better conditioned.

Question: I’m a Minnesota alum, and follow the team through your and Marcus Fuller’s reporting. Other than the two of you, who’s agitating for Mbakwe to start? Both of you have alluded to some chatter about starting him, and both of you appear to agree that he should be starting. Reason I’m asking is because so far you’ve both left it unsubstantiated, so far as I can tell. Is Trevor asking to start? His teammates? Tubby’s assistants? Please don’t use my full name if you publish.


Well, PF, it’s been left unsubstantiated because it’s unsubstantiated – it’s our job to analyze different aspects of the team, but we aren’t any more privy to Smith’s unspoken, future decisions than anyone else is. We know what he and the team tells us. Mbakwe is definitely not asking to start – ASKING a coach to start would be a sure-fire way to play off the bench for the rest of the year. And his teammates? The assistants? No … look, in college basketball, the head coach holds all the cards. Smith’s assistants really are not going to question the moves of their 500-win head coach. That would be like me telling my sports editor at the Star Tribune that I think his staff isn’t aligned correctly and such-and-such reporter should really be covering a different sport or should be a columnist instead. They’re not stupid. There is a chain of command. Smith makes the lineup choices. He’s not dumb either. You and I might not agree with everything he does, but don’t think that the only reason he hasn’t started Mbakwe yet is because there’s not enough people advocating for him. If he wants Mbakwe to start, he’ll start him. It really is that simple.

There are some great high school players in Minnesota getting recruited nationally. Have you heard anything about any of these players leaning towards the gophers and have you watched any of them play and what do you think of the talent. Are the gophers interested in the big kid from up north? Can't think of his name or where he plays but he is a center. Grand Rapids I think? Keep up the great work!

Paul Spark

Yes, the Gophers are very aware of the talent in their backyard right now, and I have written a good bit about this. There are six recruits over the next two recruiting years in the area, and getting half of those could effectively change the program. Here’s what we’ve got:

Tyus Jones (2014, Apple Valley): The No. 1 recruit in the nation for his year, according to Jones recently edited down his list of schools he’s interested in to eight colleges, including Minnesota. The list, however, also includes North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State and Baylor. Does that like tough competition? Well that’s because it is. VERY tough.
Rashad Vaughn (2014, Robbinsdale Cooper): Also being recruited by a lot of elite schools, but has a solid relationship with the Gophers, particularly assistant Vince Taylor. Vaughn is ranked at No. 10 for his year on
Reid Travis (2014, DeLaSalle): No. 29 Travis is probably the best chance the Gophers have at landing one of the spectacular 3 for 2014, but the forward still hasn’t decided whether he’s going to continue to pursue hoops or football – he’s getting recruited in both sports.
Alex Illikainen (2015, Grand Rapids): This is “the big kid from up north.” And interest in Illikainen is only heating up. He has offers from a number of schools already and Kansas has shown a lot of interest in the center.
Henry Ellenson (2015, Rice Lake, Wis.): This is Gophers freshman Wally Ellenson’s youngest brother. The kid has talent and will be highly sought after – he already has offers from Marquette, Iowa State and Georgetown in addition to the Gophers.
Jarvis Johnson (2015, DeLaSalle): Johnson is a teammate of Travis. He’s already unofficially visited Minnesota and if the Gophers miss on Jones, you know they’d love for Johnson to be their point guard of the future with Hollins graduating by 2015 (unless he leaves before then).

The Gophers are absolutely interested in and going after all these guys. If they can get one from the 2014 class and two from the 2015 class, they will have quite the nucleus on their hands.


Is it true that porcupines eat all the remains (bones included) of Sasquatches...thus, no evidence...??


Casey, you know your stuff!! Yes, that has been talked about – porcupines eating the remains of Sasquatches. Porcupines are herbivores but are believed to also gnaw on bones. The notion, however, that these creatures do enough gnawing to eat up even a single Bigfoot’s worth of bones is kind of ridiculous (even for me, a girl that adamantly believes in Bigfoot!) So in general, I think the lack of sasquatch bones found can be attributed to two things (neither being porcupines):

1 – In general, animal bones aren’t necessarily easy to find in the wild. You have to do a lot of hiking to ever come across deer bones and there are many, many more deer than squatches. Still, there are people who search for Bigfoot for a living now. Which is why I have reason No. 2.

2 – Many great apes, including chimpanzees, have incredibly emotional responses to close relatives dying. (You could easily get lost in YouTube for an afternoon looking into this phenomenon.) They react by screeching, “crying,” starving themselves even. There’s no evidence that any great apes actually bury their dead, but with squatches being the closest thing to us, well, I might start that theory right now. What do you guys think? ;-)

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More aMAILia Bag: Recruiting, guard play, Wally Ellenson and monsters