It’s been one heck of a summer, and now it’s leaving us. The good news is that the days ahead hold the dusting off of fireplaces, blue skies, crisp air, hot toddies and whiskey and chilly walks over fallen brown leaves to the Barn. The bad news, if you’re a Minnesota fan, is that some of those walks to the Barn might be happier than the walks back. The Gophers are young and inexperienced this year, and will likely take their lumps in coach Richard Pitino’s third season, and probably take more of them than last year when they slumped to a 6-12 finish in the Big Ten. Yet the rotation is filled with unknowns and a new cast of characters including some intriguing freshmen, and anything is possible I suppose, at least that’s the belief at the beginning of fall. Regardless, I’m sure you Gophers fans will be here because let’s be honest, you’re obsessed, and I’ll be here because it’s my job and I have no choice, so here we go, let’s sink our teeth into the new season.

@Frantzka: @AmeliaRayno I have no idea what to expect this year and into the future after year one and two. What is your prognosis?

Karl

It’s hard to know what to expect from a team with few veterans and many newcomers. So much weighs on the unknown – how the freshmen will handle the spotlight and the competition, and how the collection of otherwise inexperienced players will handle another offseason of work and new, bigger roles. Considering there are so many question marks, it's hard to have anything other than low expectations. Realistically, the Gophers have an extremely raw frontcourt and a backcourt that will likely take time to gel and grow. Minnesota does have talent— Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason and Kevin Dorsey and Bakary Konate all will have very good careers with the Gophers, I believe, but don't expect them all to get there this year, especially without the luxury of really reliable role players around them. Beyond this season, though, things probably get brighter. The base pieces Minnesota has now are another year older and ideally, another year wiser, then, and current redshirts Davonte Fitzgerald and Reggie Lynch – who could be immediate forces and might be some of the better players on the team – will be eligible. Pitino just needs to get to 2016 without imploding.

@j_auginash: @AmeliaRayno Realistic chances the Gophers have for the following four players from mn: Gary Trent Jr., Goanar Mar, Theo John, McKinley Wright.

The Gophers haven’t offered Plymouth's Goanar Mar or Champlin's McKinley Wright yet, which isn’t to say they won’t, but it’s hard to judge how likely it is that the two prospects would stay home without first a relationship with the coaches. As for Gary Trent Jr., it’s probably a long shot. As a top-15 recruit for his class, the Apple Valley star is getting serious attention from the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Ohio State and Arizona, to name just a few. I also got the impression from talking to him this spring that the Gophers weren’t necessarily going after him that hard, at least at the time. I think Minnesota has a better chance with Theo John, however. The Champlin Park big man seems genuinely interested in Minnesota’s courtship and the Gophers are certainly serious about him. The challenge will be keeping that intrigue throughout this year and next summer if John’s value continues to grow.

@captainlander: @AmeliaRayno Whose play will pleasantly surprise us, once the Gopher basketball season gets under way? #aMAILiaBAG

Good question. I think because of the way this team is constructed – lots of youth, lots of newcomers – there will be a lot of relative surprises this season, but one player I might point out with the potential to make an early impression is Murphy. That possibility is probably compounded by the fact that he hasn’t gotten as much press as freshmen Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer have, and because he was a late addition to the bunch, committing in May. Already this summer, Pitino has lauded his steadiness and confidence, and the Texas forward who was previously committed to VCU has the kind of frame and physical mentality that could earn him success in the Big Ten right away. His defensive capabilities will get him on the court, and if he can use his athleticism to score regularly, he could be a difference-maker. With so little experience on the roster, the Gophers likely will need someone unexpected to contribute in a big way – my guess is some of that load will fall on Murphy.

@MadMc45: @AmeliaRayno Will you (pleeease) be writing or blogging on food, drink and Sasquatch, or will you just be focusing on work? #aMAILiaBAG

I've always been good for a sasquatch reference here and there, so I wouldn't lose any sleep over that, and as for food and drink? Why, I'll direct you to my personal food and travel blog, Traveling Out of Bounds, which is just coming up on its year anniversary. The most recent posts are from my recent European excursion to Paris and Geneva, and posts on Florence and the southern coast of France are yet to come! Lucky you!

@MiNRanger: @AmeliaRayno #aMAILiaBAG Do you have updates on recent MBB grads?

Andre Hollins joined a team in Belgium, the Leuven Bears this summer and Mo Walker will be playing for Victoria Libertas in Italy. Elliott Eliason was with a German team for a couple of weeks but his agent recently sent him to a Lavian team – he’s been there for about three weeks now. I’m not sure about DeAndre Mathieu is up to these days – from his Twitter account, it appears he’s back down South with his girlfriend, Charisma Payne and son, Elijah. I’m sure that cute little guy is keeping him busy. As for former walk-on Kendal Shell, I went to Gopherhole owner Nadine Babu for an update, of course, and she told me he accepted a job at SPS Commerce in St. Paul.

@UMN26: @AmeliaRayno what gopher newcomer should we be most excited about?

Beyond Murphy, I think Dorsey has the chance to make a quick impact. The speedster point guard, although another undersized player at the position, embodies Pitino’s style, a la DeAndre Mathieu before he started trying too hard to be Rajon Rondo last year. He has the ability to be the kind of pesky, steal threat Minnesota will need to take another step in Pitino’s pressing defense, the quickness to help the Gophers capitalize in transition and great vision and ability to involve players on offense as well. He’s not an elite scorer yet, and he sits behind sophomore point guard Nate Mason currently, but if he takes off early, we could see the two play together in a small, quick, three-guard lineup.

@AOMinnesota: @AmeliaRayno Another bad year for non-conference home games, any reason we can't schedule Northern Iowa or Marquette? Mizzou?

Well, it isn’t easy to convince Power Five programs to travel to Minnesota to play on a raised court in a hostile environment, especially when many schools already have multiple non-conference travel commitments for each season. However, given how much Pitino talked last year and over the summer about adding an attractive home opponent, I am a little surprised the Gophers didn’t manage ANY intriguing non-league home matchups. I’m with you, not exactly blown away by Chicago State or Milwaukee. It’s a shame that Oklahoma State, the one big-name opponent outside of Clemson (which is scheduled as part of the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge) will play Minnesota on a neutral site in South Dakota. Most Gophers fans won’t have the luxury of traveling four hours there and back over the weekend, so it’s not realistic to call that a true “home” opportunity for Williams Arena fans. It will, however, be a nice change of pace for those who can.

@rwbeuc: @AmeliaRayno What's good in the whisk(e)y world for you at the moment?  #aMAILiaBAG

I’ve always been a rye whiskey fan but last year I got on an especially good kick. My lineup, more or less consisted of Whistlepig (ever-so-smooth), Bulleit (cheap and good), Michter’s (for spicyness), Sazerac (a bit sweeter, in my taste), George Dickel (warming on a cold night) Rittenhouse (another bargain), Koval (clean, almost herbal) and Willet (which hits you over the head with oak and vanilla). I say “last year” because I don’t drink much whiskey in the summertime, turning to wine and gin instead, mostly. When the leaves turn and the temps drop, I go back to whiskey. These days I kind of associate the start of basketball with whiskey. Maybe because part of my travel rotation always includes checking out whiskeys and whiskey bars in the area. I’m sure there will be more exploration this year. Some of the ryes on my list to try include Prichards, Leopold Brothers and Masterson’s – I will hold a whiskey tasting at some point, perhaps I’ll blog about it.

@mrod13143: @AmeliaRayno will ISU win National Championship?

You’re heeeeeeeelaaaaaaaarious.

@CreaAlex: @AmeliaRayno Who will be the team leader in each offensive and defensive category? #aMAILiabag

That’s a big question … if you want to measure overall steals, say, I think Mason will lead that category. He will be challenged on overall defensive presence by Murphy and Dorsey. Offensively, Mason could lead in points as well, or Carlos Morris could if he can be smart enough to stay on the court. Rebounds? Where are the rebounds going to come from anyway? Bakary Konate may or may not be ready for the distinction of boards leader, but it’s almost surely going to have to be him. Murphy should be able to help that cause from the wing. Joey King is going to have to get a lot better too, if the Gophers are going to hang with any Big Ten teams, but we haven’t seen any hints that he will yet.

@zmotalk: @AmeliaRayno How big of a jump do you think Gas can make this season? Gophers will need him be at least average to just compete in BIG.

You’re right, Minnesota certainly will need Gaston Diedhiou to be a factor if the Gophers are to compete in the Big Ten. I’m not sure that’s realistic to expect, though. The media hasn’t been allowed to watch Minnesota practice in any capacity over the summer, but we know from the last time we saw Gas live that he has a very long way to go. Diedhiou has the physical presence of an impactful frontcourt player but from a pure basketball perspective, he’s extremely raw. Last year, he wasn’t sure of the rules at times, where to be on defense or how to contribute on offense. Expecting all of that to change is one summer is a pretty big stretch. It will be interesting to see what steps he has taken come fall because if he can at least be serviceable, the Gophers have a chance to steal a few games. They’ll need Diedhiou to step in for Konate, who is foul prone and certainly still growing as well and probably take some minutes at power forward as well.  If he can’t be relied on for spot time, it could be a long winter.

@RTM59: @AmeliaRayno Can Jarvis [Johnson] & family grant the university to release responsibility while he plays so the university isn't liable if he plays?

No, that’s really not how it works. The university’s doctors are the professionals in this situation and it would look pretty bad if they publicly said it would be dangerous for Johnson to play (he has a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and then the team played him anyway. At this point, the Gophers have played their cards on the subject. If Johnson plays, it will be elsewhere. The unfortunate thing is that one would think these circumstances – the university doctors believing it would be too risky to clear him – could have been determined long ago, before Johnson was on campus.

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