Sunday, February 22, 2015

Minnesota Twins and Roster Change from Last Year

With the Gopher basketball season now essentially over and spring training getting started, I have begun starting to kind of think about baseball.  Usually when I think about baseball I think about the Twins, unfortunate as that is.  So to start, I'll take a look at the roster changes vs. last year, which you should have probably guessed because of the title of this post.

ADDITIONS:

- OF Torii Hunter.  I was really pissed about this signing and although I still think it's pretty stupid I'm not nearly as hot as I once was.  In the long run it doesn't really make much difference since the team is going to be bad with or without him (Vegas over/under for season wins is 70.5), he's only on the hook for 1 year, and if they used that $10 million to sign someone like Jason Hammel that wasn't really going to make much of a dent in the win column anyway.  I'm not sure I buy that he can really help Aaron Hicks, but I suppose it's possible and Hicks can't really get any worse.  Hunter isn't much of a fielder anymore, but he's still an above average bat (well, he was last year at least) and I suppose somebody has to play outfield.  It seems I've upgraded from hating this signing to ambivalence.

- SP Ervin Santana.  Speaking of ambivalence, it's quite strange for a signing of this length and this much money but I really have no opinion on it.  It's just like a shrug.  The Twins signed a competent major league pitcher on a slight overpay for the next four years.  Ok, great.  Sure.  I suppose knowing that even if Santana is great this year it won't really mean much.  The important thing is when the Twins put themselves into contention again, assuming it happens in 2016 or 2017 like they seem to be planning, he'll likely be a part of the rotation so hopefully he doesn't fall off an age cliff.

- P Tim Stauffer.  I've always liked Stauffer because he was featured in The Last Best League, an awesome book you should read, so it's cool that the Twins signed him to 1 year, $2.2 million deal.  At one point he was thought to be a future top of the rotation type starter for San Diego, but a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of 2008 pretty much derailed that.  He returned, and was a decent starter for the Padres for a couple of years before another injury (elbow this time) knocked him off course again.  For the past two seasons now he's been a pretty good reliever in San Diego, putting up a 3.63 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 134 innings.

Helping his effectiveness has been a solid uptick in strikeouts since the move to the bullpen, going to 8.8 per nine innings compared to 6.2 in his starting days.  Though his velocity hasn't changed, since the elbow injury he's abandoned his slider and started throwing a change up a lot more, which has proven to be his best pitch each of the last two seasons, per Fangraphs.  His overall numbers look good for a prominent place in the bullpen, but they do come with one caveat:  Petco Park.  The Padres' home stadium is well known as the most friendly pitchers' park in the league, and Stauffer's home/road splits are not pretty.  We'll find out how much that stadium really mattered soon enough.

P Stephen Pryor.  Picked up last year in the great Kendrys Morales trade, I added Pryor in here because he's on the 40-man roster which means there's at least a decent chance he ends up pitching in the bigs at some point.  I wrote up Pryor here after the trade, and to sum up he's a formerly intriguing prospect who is now a gamble after injuries wrecked him.  He was a big time strikeout pitcher (and wild, as many of those are) with a big time fastball, but post injury was only throwing in the low 90s.  If he can get the heater back up to 95+ where it used to be he could be a useful bullpen arm.

- P J.R. Graham.  The Twins picked up Graham from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft, which means he has to stay on the major league roster or be offered back to the Braves.  Like Pryor, Graham has been derailed by injury, but at one point he was good enough to crack some Top 100 prospects lists so the potential is still there, though he was awful at AA last season.  The Twins did the same thing with Ryan Pressly two years ago, keeping him on the roster and having him pitch in mostly lower leverage situations and he seems to have worked himself into a serviceable reliever, so this kind of move has worked out before (Johan Santana, if you recall, was also a Rule 5 pick-up).  Pressly's minor league numbers were quite a bit better than Graham's so I'm not all that optimistic, but Graham's potential was much better at one time so it's probably a wash.  Hopefully he's back all the way from injury and the Twins stole a good one.


DELETIONS:

-  OF Josh Willingham.  Yeah he was traded last year but I'm including him here because he was around for a while, nobody was paying any attention to the Twins at the end of last season, and I guarantee you somebody is going to ask you this season "Hey what happened to Willingham?".  If you recall, the Twins traded him to the Royals post non-waiver trade deadline because nobody claimed him off waivers because really nobody wanted him at his salary and because he was too injured to be of any value.  That sucked because two years ago they could have gotten a ton for him when he was healthy and hitting bombs.  The Royals took a chance because they desperately needed some pop in right field but Willingham didn't hit particularly well for them and then went 0-2 with two whiffs in the World Series (the guy the Twins got pitched all of 7 innings for New Britain before their season ended.  Stay tuned).  Willingham then retired from baseball at age 36.  Why not.

-  SS Pedro Florimon.  He was actually claimed off waivers in late September by the Nationals which I either never heard or didn't remember, and then was claimed this offseason by the Pirates.  Pittsburgh already has an all glove no hit shortstop in Jordy Mercer, Mercer looks like a slugger next to Florimon.  Remember when he hit .096 last year?  That was neat.

-  RP Jared Burton.  Signed a minor league deal with the Yankees after the Twins turned down his $3.6 million option, the right call by the Twins considering he kept getting worse.  Dynamite in his first Twin season as a set-up man and pretty good in his second, last year his strikeouts fell off a cliff, he started walking too many people, and he stopped being a groundball pitcher.  Good time to part ways, and given all he got was a minor league deal it seems the league wasn't exactly clamoring for his services.

-  1B Chris Colabello.  Selected off waivers by the Blue Jays, he was then designated for assignment and has been assigned to their Triple A affiliate in Buffalo.  Always a AAA masher, Colabello never really did much with the Twins outside of his torrid start to 2014 (then crashed back to earth).  Toronto is a good spot for him, considering (if he makes the big club) he'll be backing up Justin Smoak who has pretty much struggled since he broke into the league despite his lofty prospect pedigree.  With the Twins having Kennys Vargas now, they're all set at 1B/DH.  Hopefully.

-  RP Anthony Swarzak.  Filled the long, long relief role well for the Twins the past three years after failing as a starter though last year was pretty rocky, Swarzak was released by the Twins and signed a minor league deal with the Indians.  Cleveland has a pretty solid rotation and a ton of candidates to fill in if someone goes down, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Swarzak catch on in the bullpen, likely in the same role he filled with the Twins

-  OF Chris Parmelee.  The Twins opted not to resign Parmelee, making him a free agent, and he recently signed a minor league deal with Baltimore.  Like Colabello, Parmelee has always hit well in the minors but never had that success translate when given a chance in the big leagues.  He was given every opportunity to win an outfield job win the Twins, but in three years of semi-regular play he put up a line of just .238/.304/.371.  When you combine that with some absolutely atrocious defense, well, you can see why the Twins were done with him.  He has a chance to win a role with the Orioles as a fifth outfielder.

-  SP Kevin Correia.  He was actually traded last year late to the Dodgers who wanted him for some reason, in exchange for a player to be named later or cash.  It ended up being cash because Correia was terrible.  He was awful as a Twin, getting knocked around regularly, and then somehow managed to be even worse with a move to the National League.  He lasted just three starts with the Dodgers before being pulled from the rotation, and then lost three games in extra innings as a reliever the rest of the way.  All in all, his ERA as a Dodger was 8.03 in 24 innings.  The Dodgers opted not to sign Correia.  Neither has anyone else.  I am so glad we don't have to watch him anymore.

-  SP Sam Deduno.  Nabbed off waivers by the Astros late last year, and he's the only one on this list I'd probably rather have than not have.  I realize still believing in a 30 year old pitcher with chronic control issues who has struggled to crack a rotation as terrible as the Twins the last few years is not a real good strategy, but I never said I was a smart man.  He may very well never amount to much more than an inconsistent spot starter or a middle reliever, but man you remember how good he was in the World Baseball Classic?  Remember that 7-inning, no runs, 2 hits, no walks, 9 strikeout game?  Man when he had it going he really looked like a big league pitcher.  Houston mostly used him out of the bullpen after they got him, but his final appearance of the year was his only start as an Astro and he went 4 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs while striking out four.  Most of Houston's starters are pretty crappy, so he could snag a rotation spot or at least a spot start here and there.  I hope we don't regret his leaving.

-  RP Matt Guerrier.  Seems weird, since he's always on the team, but this year he's finally gone.  If you recall last year they signed him after three crappy and injury filled years in the National League (3 years? Wow).  Then they released him in Spring Training to avoid paying some kind of bonus before signing him back again the next day.  He was awful in 28 innings with the Twins before they designated him for assignment, but because of his veteran status Guerrier had the option to refuse the minor league assignment and become a free agent - which he did.  Nobody signed him and he remains unsigned to this day.


The Twins also have a new manager in Paul Molitor with an all new staff, but what the hell do I know about how Molitor or those other guys coach?  I'm just glad they moved on from Ron Gardenhire because although he did some good things here and seemed to be a good locker room type leader, his constant getting kicked out of games and his unwillingness to think outside "the book" drove me crazy.  This team needed new blood.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gophers Lose Again. Season Over.

Well it's over.  Any slim hope, any dream you may have had that the Gophers would go on a miracle run and get themselves on the NCAA bubble is now dead, and it probably was prior to this anyway.  A loss to Northwestern, RPI #147, is a killer, especially at home.  It's a bad enough loss that it may even have knocked them off the #1 seed line for the NIT, which granted barely matters but the one good thing about the NIT is the ability to see teams you normally wouldn't in person and that requires a high seed.  Sure, nobody's exactly clamoring to watch Oregon or Boise State in person, but I enjoy it so shut up.

I'm not quite really even sure what to make of it.  This year's team, though definitely flawed, had enough talent to finish the season in contention for an NCAA bid at a minimum, and clearly sail into NCAA lock status well before Selection Sunday if everything broke right.  Unfortunately everything broke wrong.  An 0-5 start to Big Ten play could easily have been a 4-1 start, however late game meltdowns put the team in a big hole.  They valiantly clawed their way back and started to appear on the fringe of the bubble, culminating in a great win at Iowa that was probably their best game this season.  Optimism abounded about their chances of knocking off Indiana in Bloomington, including Vegas who pegged the Gophers as just two point underdogs.  Eighteen three pointers later that dream was dead, and fifteen more by Northwestern last night killed everything else.

It's tempting to delve into what went wrong with this season and find someone(s) to blame, but I just don't know.  I think Richard Pitino and his staff made a lot of mistakes, but learning on the job in the Big Ten isn't going to be smooth sailing from Day 1.  I think he's trying to coach the team like he learned at Louisville and Florida as if he has the same caliber of players, and he clearly doesn't.  If he can translate his hard work recruiting into bringing in some of those same type of players his system and style will definitely work.  If he can't get to that level of player, however, he'll need to adapt or die.  Any defensive style that allows 33 made three-pointers over two straight games is clearly not working.

I don't know why, but DeAndre Mathieu took a huge step back this year, both in results and swagger.  His aggressive style was what elevated this team last season, but this year he's been far more passive and when he did try to push it ended in disaster far too often.  He's been playing better (1 turnover in the last five games) and along with Dre Hollins has really improved from early season struggles, but the team was too far behind to really make any kind of move and then came last night to shiv the rest of the season and pack up the corpse.

So I really don't know.  Just a lost season.  A horrible, terrible lost season.  Next season, two starting guards and two centers leave, and it doesn't leave me optimistic.  Though it would be awfully difficult to feel optimistic at all right now.  Different coach, different players, same kind of results.  Usually when the Gophers blow a game they should win by playing like morons I feel mostly rage.  After last night it's mostly depression.  That can't be a good sign.  We move on.  Hey, catchers and pitchers have reported!



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Remember All Those Guys the Gophers Almost Signed? How they Doing?

Remember how exciting last year was recruiting wise, what with the Gophers making so many top 10 lists and top 5 lists only to pretty much not ever sign anybody?  Yeah, I was wondering how every's doing so far this year.  Keep in mind it's awfully early in most of these guys' careers.  All rankings from 247sports.

PG Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, MN)
247 Rank:  #8 overall, #2 PG
Commit:  Duke
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Not really, it was known
Season Stats:  11.3 points and 5.3 assists in 31.5 minutes.
Outlook:  He's basically been everything everyone said he would be.  Maybe the only point guard the Gophers looked at last year who has a clearly brighter future than Nate Mason.  He should die.

PG Ja'Quan Newton (Philadelphia, PA)
247 Rank:  #42 overall, #7 PG
Commit:  Miami (FL)
Close?:  Maybe?
Bummer:  He jumped on a Miami offer so quickly it was hard to get too excited.  Still, kind of a bummer.
Season Stats:  3.5 points and 1.3 assists in 12 minutes.
Outlook:  Typical freshman point guard line so far, and his shooting has been pretty bad (not rare for a freshman).  Having Angel Rodriguez there (transfer from Kansas State) has really cut his potential minutes down.

PG Lourawls Nairn (Wichita, KS)
247 Rank:  #85 overall, #17 PG
Commit:  Michigan State
Close?:  Yes, until Izzo got involved.
Bummer?:  Yes.  After a whole bunch of misses he looked like he might be the big time recruit Pitino would finally sign.  Then Tom Izzo called.
Season Stats:  2.0 points and 2.5 assists in 16.7 minutes.
Outlook:  I was surprised his minutes are this high because I rarely notice him when I watch the Spartans, but that's probably pretty much what Izzo wants on a team with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson.  His 2.5-to-0.9 assist to turnover ratio is nice for a freshman.  Interested to see if he can add any offense next year, since he pretty much never shoots.

SG Riley LaChance (Brookfield, WI)
247 Rank:  #133 overall, #34 PG
Commit:  Vanderbilt
Close?:  At least somewhat.
Bummer?:  Not really.  Just as his buzz was starting to build he suddenly committed to Vandy.
Season Stats:  12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 33.3 minutes.
Outlook:  Basically a starter from day 1 and looking like a pretty big recruiting steal for Vandy.  He's the team's second leading scorer, has hit double figures in 17 of 23 games this year, gashed Purdue for 26 points, and is hitting 40% of his threes.  Maybe wasn't a bummer to lose out on at the time, but he sure is now.

SG Rashad Vaughn (Henderson, NV)
247 Rank:  #13 overall, #5 SG
Commit:  UNLV
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Yeah, but we knew it was coming, particularly after the move to Nevada.
Season Stats:  17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 32.2 minutes.
Outlook:  Dude loves to shoot.  He takes 33% of the Rebs shots when he's on the floor and hits a respectable enough 44%.  The one and done looks like it's not going to happen (hopefully for the kid) since NBADraft.net ranks him 65th and DraftExpress ranks him 37th (14th among freshman), but he's definitely a talented kid.  Another year in college should help polish his game and can only help.

SG Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn, NY)
247 Rank:  #10 overall, #3 SG
Commit:  Seton Hall
Close?:  Painfully close.  Close enough I watched his press conference hopefully until twitter broke the news.
Bummer?:  Extreme bummer.  Would have made a huge national splash, and it seemed like they were so close until the Pirates offered his high school coach an assistant coaching gig.  Sucked.
Season Stats:  11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 25.3 minutes
Outlook:  Good bet he's the Big East freshman of the year.  He's extremely polished, as advertised, and though he's shooting just 37% this year it's a good bet he's going to challenge for BE player of the year before his career his over.  Yeah, this one hurts.

SG J.P. Macura (Lakeville, MN)
247 Rank:  #136 overall, #36 SG
Commit:  Xavier
Close?:  Tough to say, it was never really clear what the interest level was from either side.
Bummer?:  Moreso now than then.  Pitino had a lot of fires going and J.P. was lower priority, so he decided Xavier was more for him.  After the whiffs on higher profile targets (so many whiffs) maybe making him a higher priority would have been the way to go.  Hindsight, and all that.
Season Stats:  6 points and 1.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes.
Outlook:  His shooting has been pretty bad which isn't good when it's your #1 skill, but again, not unusual for a freshman.  He's been coming on lately with 21 and 25 minutes played in X's last two games, and is starting to look like a quality four year player.  I understand why Pitino didn't go hard after him early in the signing period, but man, it'd be nice to have a second young building block beyond Nate Mason right now.

SF Terry Larrier (Malvern, PA)
247 Rank:  #23 overall, #4 SF
Commit:  VCU
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Not really.  It was actually pretty exciting knowing a top 25 recruit from the east coast was considering the Gophers.  Signaled a whole new recruiting world.  Of pain.  So far.
Season Stats:  7.0 points and 2.0 rebounds in 17.4 minutes
Outlook:  Pretty good freshman numbers though, stop me if you've heard this before, his shooting kind of stinks at under 40%.  Still, coming into a system like VCU's and grasping it as a freshman well enough to play 17 minutes per game speaks well of his future.  No big whoop, since I don't think he was really ever close to signing with the Gophers.

PF Reid Travis (Minneapolis, MN)
247 Rank:  #49 overall, #10 PF
Commit:  Stanford
Close?:  Agonizingly close.
Bummer?:  Hurt so bad.  Came right down to the wire and all reports the night before his press conference were that it was looking like the Gophers.  Something changed.  Still hurts, especially because I don't even think Stanford fans cared.
Season Stats:  6.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.6 minutes
Outlook:  Ugh.  Look at those rebounds.  His season got derailed a bit with a foot injury where he missed about a month and he's just now starting to get back into the swing of things, but leading a major conference team in rebounding as a freshman (pre-injury he as at 6.9 and the team leader)?  Playing those kind of minutes on a team with a pretty solid frontcourt already?  Gross.  I kind of wish I hadn't done this now, or at least skipped this one.

SF Djuan Piper (Seattle, WA)
247 Rank:  #153 overall, #36 SF
Commit:  North Idaho College
Close?:  Uh.  Yeah.  He was basically all ready to commit and then stupid academics got in the way.
Bummer?:  Yeah.  It was pretty late in the recruiting game at this point and the Gophers were hopefully about to get a decent player late.
Season Stats:  I can't find anything, but he's often mentioned in game recaps and there are pictures of him playing and stuff.
Outlook:  Tough to say when I can't find tangible stats.  The impression I got from looking for nearly five minutes is that, at a minimum, he's a rotation player, and Idaho is, believe or not, a pretty good JuCo hoops area so that's good.  I also found a reference to him being suspended for at least one game, so that's bad.  Stay tuned.

PF Abdoulaye Gueye (Birmingham, AL)
247 Rank:  #301 overall, #77 PF
Commit:  Georgia Tech
Close?:  I think this was a case of Gueye willing to commit, but the Gophers holding him off and then he went elsewhere.
Bummer?:  No.  He was always more of a back-up plan, or at least that's the vibe I got.
Season Stats:  0.3 points and 0.7 rebounds in 3 minutes per game.
Outlook:  He's only played 6 games this year and has only a total of 18 minutes played (what, no redshirts at G-Tech?).  It doesn't bode well that he couldn't get more PT than that at Georgia Tech, but who knows what the future holds?

C Anas Mahmoud (Orlando, FL)
247 Rank:  #87 overall, #9 C
Commit:  Louisville
Close?:  Maybe?  They were at least in the mix.
Bummer?:  Kind of.  Everything happened so fast there was no real build up time to the heartbreak, plus losing out on him to Louisville is kind of like supposed to happen once they're involved.
Season Stats:  1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 9.7 minutes
Outlook:  Had a brief burst of consistent playing time in the non-conference, but he's seen that trail off to spot duty and he hasn't broken the 10 minute mark in playing time since Louisville's first ACC game in early January.  Clearly, Rick Pitino doesn't know how to properly use him and he should look to transfer somewhere he already felt comfortable when he visited and has a desperate need for post players. (TRANSFER TRANSFER TRANSFER!  FREE ANAS!)


And then there's a handful of players who were once Gophers (on some level) who left:

SG Alvin Ellis
Who?:  Gophers signee of Tubby, transferred after the coaching change, although rumor was he would have stayed if anybody had bothered to talk to him.
Where?:  Michigan State
Class?:  Sophomore
Season Stats:  1.5 points and 0.6 assists in 9.4 minutes
Summary:  His stats are actually worse than his freshman year, mainly due to his inability to make a basket (6-30 shooting this year).  I haven't noticed him when I've taken in a Spartan game so I don't know if he's overmatched, but his 2-year results don't look good.

PF Alex Foster
Who?:  Gophers signee of Tubby, transferred after the coaching change.  Seemingly made his college choice based on playing for Tubby.
Where?:  Texas Tech
Class?:  Sophomore
Season Stats:  1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 6.3 minutes
Summary:  He's basically completely failed to crack the rotation in two seasons in Lubbock, and this for teams that have gone 14-18 and 12-13.  Tubby's playing a deep bench this year with 10 guys averaging at least 10 minutes per game, and Foster not being one of them is not a real good sign for the future.

SF Joe Coleman
Who?:  You remember him.  Played two decent, if uneven, seasons for the Gophers before bolting when Richard Pitino got hired, even though Pitino's system probably would have been really good for him.
Where?:  St. Mary's
Class?:  Junior
Season Stats:  3.0 points and 1.0 rebounds in 14 minutes
Summary:  Played in one game for the Gaels before a leg injury caused him to shut it down.  I seriously can't find any more information on him than "leg injury."  Hopefully it's not too serious and he'll get two more years as a Gael to show the world what he can do.

SG Chip Armelin
Who?:  The hyper athletic, somewhat wild but deserved more of a chance shooting guard who played for Tubby for two years before transferring to get more playing time.  Yes he's still around.
Where?:  Southern Miss
Class?:  Senior
Season Stats:  15.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 34.3 minutes
Summary:  He's having a fantastic senior season, leading the Golden Eagles in scoring.  Southern Miss had a pretty solid year for them last year before being bested by the Gophers in the NIT quarters, and with their five top players graduating there was going to be a scoring void, which Armelin stepped into admirably.  Of course, Southern Miss is 6-16 and 1-10 in a terrible C-USA and recently self-imposed a postseason ban (lol) because of questions around former coach Donnie Tyndall's recruiting practices.  Nice to see him have some personal success though.  I always liked him.


Also Better Call Saul has been awesome so far.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Somebody

I'm taking my kids to the Gopher game tomorrow.  I just now realized that I have no idea who they're playing, that's how checked out I am this year.  That's kind of the reason I haven't written a post game post in a while.  I watch the games, I take notes like usual, then the Gophers self combust and lose the game in some kind of disheartening way and I really don't want to write.  There's a limited amount of times one can write about the number of poor decisions this team makes, although I am starting to think I may need to write a post addressing Pitino's in game coaching because I have some questions.  Anyway, it's more fun to write about a team that isn't the Gophers, so hold on a minute while I look up who they play and write the preview for...............Nebraska!

Nebraska, eh?  I'm pretty sure the Gophers already played these guys, let me check how they did.  Just kidding I already know they lost because they always lose.  Looks like I didn't write a preview or a recap of that one, probably because that was when I was still all checked out and angry and stuff.  I remember that one though because I was in the car for the end for some reason and was listening and heard "Hollins misses a three.  Morris rebounds.  He misses a three.  Hollins rebounds, over to Mathieu.  Mathieu misses a three.  Times up."  That was fun.  I asked my dad when I got to his house if any of them were good looks and he said two of them were.  So it was another stupid loss that probably shouldn't have been.  God what a horrid year.

Anyway, Nebraska is still basically a two-man squad with the terrible Terran Petteway and bricklayer Shavon Shields.  The two combine for 35.6 points per game, which is huge because Nebraska scores like 60 points per game because they can't shoot at all and play at a snail's pace.  The two have also combined for 531 field goal attempts which is a terrifying percentage of the team's total of 1,016.  If ever a team was screaming to be triangle and two'd it's this one, and it would actually be hilarious to watch Petteway try to deal with that because man is he ever wreckless.

The guy has a higher usage rate than anyone else in the conference and a top 10 mark in the entire country, yet his offensive rating is below every Gopher other than Bakary Konate.  Watching him is awesome if you love chuckers (and who doesn't?) because he'll just shoot whenever and wherever with little regard to anything going on around him.  He's not a true chucker because he does hit a little bit too many of them and his assist rate is good, but his turnover rate is in Joey King territory and he just forces the action in some hilarious ways.  If the Gophers can speed Nebraska up, easier said than done, there should be at least a handful of laugh out loud moments.

Then there's Shields, who loves to shoot long jumpers.  He hits 22% on his threes so letting him shoot is probably a good idea.  He's much better on 2-pointers at 55%, but just 43% on jump shots so, you know, let the guy shoot and stuff but keep him out of the lane.  Also keeping him off the free throw line would be a good idea since he's an 83% free throw shooter.  Actually both Shields and Petteway get to the line a lot, so another good strategy would be not fouling.

Nebraska has some other guys too but they're boring and I'm boring myself over here.  Looking forward to watching Petteway be crazy in person, and hoping for a Gopher win so maybe we'll get to watch someone fun like Oregon or Tennessee in person in the NIT.  Gophers projected for a #1 seed!!

Minnesota something, Nebraska something slightly smaller.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

That's about it.




Quick Preview: Gophers vs. Penn State

I admit I thought Penn State had a chance to be a sleeper in the Big Ten this season.  I said they had a chance to finish as high as 5th in the league this year (though I also said they could finish 14th and it wouldn't surprise me).  As usual, I'm an idiot and they are terrible.  They're 1-6 in conference play, which is actually worse than the Gophers if you can believe that.  That lone win came against Rutgers at home, and outside of a nice win over George Washington there isn't a single thing in their schedule they can be proud of.  The next best things are home wins over Akron and a 6-point road loss to Michigan State.  It's been that kind of season.

I thought Penn State could be a sleeper because they had an "elite" player (depends on how you want to define elite though) and a bunch of returning upperclassmen.  Hasn't quite worked out.  D.J. Newbill (the "elite" guy) is pretty much playing out of his mind (22 points, 4.5 rebs, 3.1 assists per game with good shooting percentages) but nobody has stepped up to help.

Brandon Taylor is shooting the ball a ton but has stopped driving and become a jump shooter which has killed his percentages, and his increased ball handling has turned him into a turnover machine.  Ross Travis is still an elite rebounder but has pretty much completely checked out offensively and is 5-29 on free throws this year (5-29!!!!).  John Johnson, one of the only perimeter threats on the team, has been suspended indefinitely for being a bad boy. Donovan Jack turns the ball over whenever he touches it, Jordan Dickerson shoots 46% and he's 7-1, and Geno Thorpe has done the opposite of improve in his sophomore year.  Freshman Shep Garner is having a nice season and he's going to be an outstanding four year player for the Nittany Lions in the Tim Frazier/Talor Battle mode (called it!) but he's the only one outside of Newbill who's not having a terrible season.

If the Gophers go zone, and they should, barring a monster game from Newbill (certainly possible) they should be able ton hold Penn State down.  The Nittany Lions don't move the ball well with just 42% of their baskets coming off an assist (341st in the country) and they don't shoot the 3 well at just 32.8% (218th) - both of which are sort of keys when going up against a zone defense.  Only Newbill and Garner - both at 36% - are credible three point shooters with Johnson in detention.  Taylor will shoot 'em and he is 8-15 over his last 3 games so the Gophers should probably guard him and stuff, but overall this year he's been pretty brutal (prior to this hot streak he went 4-26).  Letting most of the team bomb away should be to the Gophers' advantage.

Outside of that they're pretty average at most stuff, and I don't mean average for a Big 10 team I mean average for a division I team which includes all 344 teams.  They foul a ton, don't create any turnovers, and are pretty lackluster at just about everything.  They don't get the ball stolen from them much, which could be interesting since it's a Gopher strong point, and they defend ok but nothing special.  It's a disappointing and not very scary team, and one the Gophers should be able to deal with.

That "should be" is really the key.  I feel strongly enough to guarantee you the Gophers have an 8-12 point lead at some point in the second half.  It's a Big Ten road game, and we've seen what happens to this team when they have a late lead.  Is the win over Illinois enough to get this team back on track and confident enough to close this one out?  Probably not but I'm rolling with it.

Minnesota 70, Penn State 62.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Super Bowl! Check it out at SportBet!

The Super Bowl is right around the corner, again, and as such I am gambling on it.  At the end of this post I will list everything I bet on, and they're all really smart bets so you should probably tail me. Want to know more about the Super Bowl this Sunday?  Check Sportbet.com for more news and odds.

The whole deflated football controversy is complete nonsense, although watching people get all twisted up inside about it is hilarious on both sides.  It's not really that hard to figure out.  The Patriots probably did something semi shady but also likely not strictly prohibited by the rules.  Many other teams probably do many similar things.  Or, more likely, it was something like the refs didn't really check the balls or something even more innocent.  Really, who cares if a ball is slightly deflated, do we really think it makes that much of a difference?  Morons, the lot of you.

As far as the game, I really don't know but I think and expect it to be close.  I think both teams will try to establish the running game, and if New England can get Blount going it's going to be a rough day for Seattle, because if they start having to commit to the run Brady should be able to pick them apart with some play action and short stuff.  The other way I see New England winning is getting ahead early, because Russell Wilson just isn't the kind of QB who can come back from a big deficit.  I know they came back against Green Bay but that had nothing to do with Wilson and if you think it did it's because you love him so much and want to marry him.  Green Bay screwed themselves at least three different ways.  God you Wilson lovers are the worst.  I don't even like the Patriots and I'm just praying that they win.  Anyway, here's my bets:


Due to a combination of a Patriots future I made last week at 2-1 to win and a whole bunch of teasers I'm guaranteed to make a profit on the game no matter what because somehow I've nailed every teaser (leaving one side of the Super Bowl) I made last week.  Best case scenario is a Patriots win by less than 7 or a Seahawk win by less than 7.  I make money even if one team blows the other out, but if the game stays close we're going Sizzler.

Props:

Seattle First Penalty called
Katy Perry first song Roar
Ovechkin shots on goal over Wilson TD passes
Arsenal/Aston Villa total goals over Brady TD passes
Delon Wright points over Seattle first half points
Wilson TD passes over Sidney Crosby points
Blount under 4.5 receiving yards
Collins under 8.5 tackles
Revis under 2.5 tackles
Chung under 5.5 tackles
Wilfork under 2.5 tackles
Wagner u 9.5 tackles
Ninkovich u 4.5 tackles
Hightower u 7.5 tackles
Chancellor u 6.5 tackles
Thomas u 5.5 tackles
Wright u 6.5 tackles
McCourty u 4.5 tackles
Sherman u 3.5 tackles
New England longest kick return
Blount MVP
Blount first TD
Blount over 62.5 yards rushing
No defensive or special teams touchdown
Longest TD of the game under 44.5 yards
First punt over 42.5 yards
No roughing the passer penalty
Belichick wearing blue hoodie
Belichick wearing hoodie with sleeves cut off
Katy Perry with Brown/Black hair

No,  you have a gambling problem.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's wrong with the Gophers? Nerd stats and charts!

There was a lot of optimism around the Gopher basketball team going into this season with a trip to the NCAA Tournament looking likely.  At this point, however, it now looks like a return to the NIT might be the best case scenario.  With the majority of the team intact from last season, I thought it might be instructive to look at the players and see if there's any glaring changes.  Looking at the five starters (comparing Austin Hollins with Carlos Morris) here are their offensive ratings as computed by kenpom.com in 2013-14 and 2014-15:


According to O-rating, Walker and Mathieu have essentially been the same player (I'll look closer at Mathieu later because it sure doesn't seem like it), but massive drop offs from Andre Hollins and Joey King and the switch from Austin Hollins to Carlos Morris have drastically hurt this team on the offensive end.

You think the easy answer on Dre Hollins is that he's shooting terribly, but look at these numbers:


We like to harp on Dre's shooting, but he's actually shooting significantly better this season than last, outside of free throws which have been a team wide problem.  The real issues for Hollins are a decreased assist rate versus an increased turnover rate, as well as a steep drop in free throw attempts.  To put these numbers in a per game perspective, Hollins is averaging the same amount of assists per game as last season at 2.4 while increasing his turnovers from 1.8 to 2.3 per game, a career high despite giving up most of his point guard duties.  At the same time his free throw attempts per game have plummeted from 4.9 per game to 2.7, a number near the 2.5 he averaged his freshman year when he was playing just 20 minutes per game.

The assist decrease coupled with the free throw decrease screams of a player who is no longer creating offense by driving to the rim, and indeed a quick check of hoop-math.com shows he's attempting just 13.5% of his shots at the rim, down from 16.8% last season and yet another career low.  More telling, a teammate has registered an assist on 68.4% of Hollins's baskets scored at the rim this year, well up from 34.2% last season, meaning the majority of his at the rim baskets are a result of someone else creating the offense.  Andre is most effective when he uses all this weapons, especially since he's such a good free throw shooter, but he's settled into the role of jump shooter this year and that's a negative.

Next up is whipping boy Joey King.



Though King's shooting has been fine, though down, and is very similar to last season, his rebounding has taken a dip, his turnovers are up, and, again, his free throw rate has been cut in half.  Similar to Hollins, King's % of shot attempts at the rim has dropped from 27.2% to 21.1%.  The rest of his shooting splits are pretty similar to last year, so it could simply be a case of him spending less time around the rim, a case which would also negatively impact his offensive rebounding rate.  If we want to put this another way, King's playing time has jumped by about 25% this year, and you'd expect most counting stats to jump by the same amount if there's no improvement or regression:


While the assist and block improvement are positives and the turnovers are expected given his increased touches and general trouble keeping hold of the ball, the slim rebounding increase and negative free throw number are huge red flags for someone who is supposed to be a power forward.  Though some of the rebounding regression could be ascribed to Mo Walker both increasing his playing time and rebounding rates, Elliott Eliason has conversely seen both his playing time and rebounding rates dip so at a minimum King's rebounding should have increased at a level similar to his playing time, and there's no excuse for such a drastic free throw decrease.

Next up, a comparison between Austin Hollins last year and Carlos Morris this season:


Despite Hollins taking quite a lot of crap (more than he should have) for his senior year performance, it's clear that he was far and away a better player than Carlos Morris has been this season.  The only place Morris outpaces Hollins are in assist rate and defensive rebounding rate, and those are both by a slim margin where Hollins is significantly better than Morris in most of the other categories.  I like Morris and I think he has a shot to be a pretty solid player next season and a great scorer, but the drop-off from Hollins has been significant this season, more than many would have though, and has certainly contributed to a sub-par season.

Lastly I want to look at Mathieu quickly, because his O-rating being the same as last year kind of surprised me.  I don't feel like making a chart, but despite his recent struggles Mathieu's assists are up, turnovers are down, steals are up, and although his shooting is down a bit it's still a good number.  He's fine, just in a bit of a slump.

I don't expect the Gophers to turn it around at this point and make the NCAA Tournament or anything, but I would like to see Hollins get back towards attacking the rim, King play more like a power forward and take some strides since he's going to be important next year (gulp), and Morris continue to develop his all around game because I think he's improved significantly from earlier in the year.  I mean, there are lots of other things I want to see too, but these are the ones uncovered from this post.

It's been a long year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Welcome aboard, Michael Hurt!

Richard Pitino and the Gophers secured their first 2016 commitment recently with Rochester forward Michael Hurt signing on.  Hurt may not have the greatest offer list right now (Gophers, Davidson, Northern Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, and assorted other mid-majors) but the ratings sights like him quite a bit.  247sports has him as the #155 player in the class and #27 power forward, while ESPN has him all the way up at the #59 overall player and #15 power forward.  Likely as time went on Hurt's offers would get more impressive and rumors were Wisconsin and Oregon were sniffing around so locking up the home state kid early a great move by Pitino.

Hurt is a tweener forward, but in this case it sounds like that's a positive.  Rather than being too slow to go up against small fowards and too small to go against power forwards, Hurt sounds like he's too quick for small forwards to handle and too big for small forwards and I really hope that sentence made sense.  He's said to have an outstanding jump shot with a chance to be one of the best shooters in the class and to be a good enough ball handler where he could do a little bit of a point forward thing if needed.  Scouting reports also say he can score well both in transition and the half court, with or without the ball (cutting and such, obviously you can't score without the ball), and when he's the focal point of the defense he's adept and finding open teammates and is a good passer.

Well then.  This sounds pretty good.  The only weaknesses I could find listed by anyone are he needs size to go against college PFs (not a surprise for a high school kid) and he could be a more aggressive rebounder (and this can be taught).

All-in-all, a very good first pick up for 2016 for the team, and someone with a little bit of size as well which is still looking like a possible future issue.  I don't know if Hurt will be able to play PF right away when he gets on campus, but I know he'll be able to shoot and should be a capable player right off the bat.  Good start.  Oh, and he's lefty, so we'll get to look at that sweet, sweet lefty J.  Looking forward to it.

As for tonight's game the Gophers are terrible.  Nebraska 70, Minnesota 56.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Iowa 77, Minnesota 75

It's a good thing I had pretty much already written this season off, because the Gophers found a new way to lose a game as brutally as possible.  Getting blown out, crawling back, taking the lead, losing the lead, and tying it up at the buzzer which oops was actually after the buzzer is a new level of losing.  It was clear he was late, clear enough to me at least that we just left after the buzzer instead of waiting for the ref's review.  Sucks.  Here are some things.  I might get to ten I'm not sure.  They're also probably going to be short because it's not very fun.

1.  Dre Hollins still can't shoot.  I consider myself a fairly analytical basketball mind, but there's really no rational reason for Hollins to continue to miss at this level (2-12 last night).  I still think he's settling for jumpers to much and not getting to the rim, but it's not a huge shift from last year (14.1% of shots at rim this year vs. 16.8% last year) and if he's not 100% that could be the reason, but he's just flat missing even the wide open looks.  I wish I knew more about stuff like shooting form and balance and release points and all that, because at this point it's gotta be mechanical.  Or at least I hope so, because if it's mental it's going to be tough for him to pull it together after so many, many, misses.

2.  Carlos Morris and Nate Mason were offensive superstars.  The duo accounted for 38 of the Gophers' points on 14-25 shooting - that's good!  Both have been showing off multi-faceted offensive games recently, and that only bodes well for the future.  Wait, let me rephrase.  The Gopher offense should score a lot of points next season, and points are fun.  The defense right now looks to me like it will be absolutely dreadful. We're getting pretty used to it, but there's a very good chance it's going to be worse next year.  Much worse.

3.  If they make their free throws at the end of the game, they probably win.  This is something people want to focus on and it's tough to blame them.  Yeah, there were tons of other things that could have changed the game's outcome and the Gophers shot 12-16 from the line for the game, but missing the front end of two one-and-ones with a slim lead in the final two and a half minutes is pretty tough to ignore.  I, and plenty of others, said if the poor free throw shooting didn't improve from earlier in the year it would cost this team at least one game, and here it probably did.  Weird to say in a game they shoot 75% from the stripe, but tough to ignore that situation.

4.  Pitino's new starting lineup didn't matter.  Another thing I heard some whining about is how Pitino's different starting lineup (Eliason-Buggs-King-Hollins-Mason) screwed the team because they started the game in a 10-2 hole.  Just shut up.  That didn't matter.  First, it was so early in the game that an eight point lead is not really close to insurmountable.  Second, nobody on this team is so good compared to his replacement that his not being on the floor is going to make any significant difference.  The only change that would make any difference long term would be Eliason in for Mo Walker, and it looks like Walker came in at about the seventeen and a half minute mark (we missed about the first five minutes or so because Macs was SO slow bringing the food out).  This is a dumb point.  He tried something kind of dumb to "spark the team" because that kind of dumb stuff sometimes works.  This time it didn't, but it had little bearing on the team's loss.

5.  Pitino's offense seems to have lost its edge.  Remember when the Gophers ran some cool plays?  Good enough stuff that I would point some of them out here?  What happened?  I know the base offense is kind of to let the players create and not have a pet play (like Tubby's flex) but the Gophers don't really have the types of players who can do that consistently.  It works at Louisville and Florida because those guys are really, really good (Florida this year excepted).  There needs to be a little bit more of a plan on the offensive end, especially when Mathieu is running rough.

6.  Maybe Mathieu should have shot a pull up at the end.  I guess in hindsight yes he definitely should have since he couldn't get the lay-up off, but he's fast and he's used to get where he's going and it's not like he was late by some huge amount of time.  He saw a lane, he got to it, and it almost worked.  He shares plenty of blame for what's gone on this season, and I have no idea what's going on with his dribbling which was near flawless last year but seems to have gone to hell, but don't put a whole lot of blame on him for running out of time.  I saw some classy chap on twitter call him dumb.  He makes a lot of dumb turnovers, sure, but this is the kind of thing that just sucks.  It happens.

7.  I thought the defense on Iowa's last shot was fine.  I haven't rewatched it, which I probably would have if this season was going any where but it's not so I really don't feel like it, but my first impression was the defense was there, Uthoff just made a tough shot.  I don't want to look at it again.  If I'm wrong, it's probably the first time so give me a break.

8.  Joey King is like, trying to be unlikable.  He hit two monster threes in the second half.  After both he did some cocky thing with his shooting hand like, simulating a ball going down into the hoop.  Don't do that.

9.  It may be time to let the kids play.  This season is in oof status, and I'm not advocating a wholesale benching of the seniors or anything it's probably time to at least start glancing towards next year.  With both Mo and Eliason gone that means Buggs, Bakary Konate, and Gaston Diedhiou are going to have to log a lot of minutes next season (gulp).  Time to let them get more than a little taste and at least get some idea of what you have going into next season.  Also probably time to be hitting the Juco, late signee, and transfer ranks pretty hard.

10.  Well now what?  I don't believe this team is anywhere near as bad as an 0-5 Big Ten team usually is, flaws notwithstanding,  Kenpom still has them ranked #50 in the country, which kind of seems silly right now, but on the other hand they've mostly blown out bad teams and played good teams close, which is a recipe Kenpom generally likes.  Unfortunately there are other metrics out there that mean more to the NCAA Selection committee such as RPI (#106) and Strength of Schedule (#103) which have pretty much now reached a level where anything the Gophers do short of nearly running the table isn't going to be enough to reach the tournament, and there's even some work to be done to go back to the NIT.  Time to just try to have some fun with the rest of the year and watch the guys develop for next season and beyond.  Luckily, I had already tricked my brain into thinking that way after Purdue.  Even so, this season has been a disappointment on a level that I don't know if I've ever experienced.

I do think they'll smoke Rutgers on Saturday though.