1) Minnesota currently sits at 12-9 and fourth place in the B1G for baseball, and 26-20 overall. Last weekend, they swept Purdue, which we always appreciate here in Bloomington. How are people feeling overall about the baseball team with the regular season almost over?
I think that this year is a slight disappointment for Gopher baseball. Not that they were going to be in position to push Indiana for the Big Ten title but with the amount of position players returning and the anticipated solid seasons at the top of their rotation, I think there were higher expectations than to be 12-9 heading into the final weekend with Indiana. The top of the rotation has been as good as expected with Crawford and Meyer both two of the better pitchers in the conference. But lack of hitting is a problem once again this season and there has ended up being a number of young kids playing a lot of innings for Coach Anderson and his Gophers.
2) The Gophers recently traveled to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. Although the end result was an FSU sweep, what was the experience like to play against a national contender? And did Jameis Winston share any crab legs with the team?
I cannot speak to what the experience was like, but playing some of the nation's best is not unusual for the Gophers. This was a unique, late-season trip to a team that just happened to be the best in the nation. And the Gophers really were right there with the Seminoles for the first two games. Game one was a blown save in the last inning. Game two was a 1-run loss and then game three was not so close. Getting a win would have been nice but I do believe it shows that this team is playing much better at this point of the season.
3) Led by Joey DeNato, IU has a strong pitching staff that hasn't given up many runs this season. Which batters for the Gophers have the potential to disrupt the Hoosier pitchers this weekend?
I'm not sure if any of the Gopher hitters should strike fear in the hearts of the Hoosier staff. The team is 8th in hitting in the Big Ten and 9th in runs scored. Connor Schaefbauer can wreak some havoc on the bases when he gets on, leading the team in runs scored and stolen bases while hitting .299 in Big Ten games. Michael Handel is the teams most complete hitter but he hasn't played since being hit by a pitch in game two of the Florida State series.
4) Alec Crawford and Ben Meyer seem to anchor Minnesota's pitching staff. What do each of them bring to the table, and which relief pitchers should Hoosier batters be worried about?
Crawford and Meyer are both very good pitchers and are a combined 6-1 in Big Ten games. Crawford is going to be more of a strikeout pitcher who has given up a few more runs than Meyer. But both give the Gophers a shot to win any game they are pitching. Neal Kunik has come on to be the other starter and in his six Big Ten appearances has a 2.36 ERA while opponents are hitting just .188 against the junior. Out of the bullpen you'll get a couple of sophomore lefties in Dalton Sawyer and Jordan Jess.
5) The general consensus among Indiana fans is that the East Coast B1G expansion, even if it makes more money for the schools, could dilute the quality and tradition of the conference. As fans of a team that's further west than IU, how do Minnesota fans feel about the additions of Rutgers and Maryland?
I think most people around here would tend to agree. This is a money grab and the teams being added are fringe Big Ten teams. Adding Nebraska seemed to make a lot of sense from all angles, this one isn't a good of a fit. Ultimately for programs like IU and MN, this might be good for our football teams. Adding a couple other mediocre programs might net more wins for our football teams. If it provides any benefit for the Gophers, at least we get the divisions realigned.
6) You will be sharing TCF Bank Stadium with the Vikings over the next two years while their new stadium gets built. After years of playing in the Metrodome, how does it feel to get to play host to an NFL team, and could this affect stadium conditions?
It is actually a nice boost to the athletic department financially and the Vikings are making some enhancements to the stadium. As of right now heating coils are being installed in the turf and the Vikings are adding some additional seating to the stadium as they need the additional seats just to be able to handle their season ticket base. And then of course the Vikings are paying the Gophers for the use of the facility. All in all, this is a nice deal for the athletic department.
7) Thoughts on Richard Pitino after his first year on the job? And what is the fear that he could bolt after a couple more years? He was linked to the Tennessee vacancy briefly this spring.
People are pleased with the first season of the Richard Pitino era, but it is early. You may recall that everyone was in love with Tubby after a couple seasons and he too was linked to every opening around the country. This recruiting class is really the first one where Pitino and his staff have had adequate time to build relationships, he has a year of Big Ten coaching under his belt and he needs to parlay that into landing some nice recruits. For him to be successful, he will need to land a couple very talented kids to really lead the team.
Am I concerned about him leaving? Not really. I do think that eventually he will leave and his comments from him and his father about wanting to build something special here and spend his career here are not going to hold. But I think he'll be here until he can get a job that is a clear step up. Other programs may be marginally better than Minnesota but I think he'll be here until he gets a job he cannot turn down. And for that job to be offered to him, he will have to have had some sustained success here. Take the Gophers on a couple runs to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament before accepting another job and at least he'll have left the program in better shape than he found it.
8) Hockey is obviously huge in Minnesota, and unfortunately the Gophers lost in the title game this season. This was also the first year that the B1G sponsored hockey. How did the first year of the Big Ten hockey conference fare, and how did it compare to being in the WCHA?
We kind of hate the Big Ten hockey thing as we have lost a number of great hockey rivalries to be replaced by the likes of Ohio State and Penn State. This was a fun season, particularly the playoffs, but there is a sadness around here about the loss of the WCHA.
Thanks again to GopherNation, and hopefully our baseball games don't end in the same fashion that our football and basketball games ended this past season.