Sunday, October 31, 2010

Big Ten Wrapup, 11/1/2010

 This is something new I'm kicking around doing instead of the old Weekend Reviews, which I've stopped doing anyway.  In this space each Monday I plan to run down the results of the Big Ten basketball games from the previous week as well as any interesting news, and also take a look at what's happening nationally on the hardwood.  We'll see how it goes.

This week's version will be pretty short since the Illinois Fighting Illini were the only team to open their exhibition slate, taking on Lewis University on Friday night.  They escaped with a win but it wasn't pretty.  The Illini trailed 29-20 at one point and were actually down 37-35 at half before going on an 11-0 run, holding Lewis scoreless for over five minutes, and ending up with the 75-65 victory.  Illinois used their depth (11 players played at least 12 minutes) and strong second half defense for the win, but struggled shooting from the perimeter (1-10 from three) and taking care of the ball (20 turnovers).  Both of those are going to be year-long struggles for Illinois, and I fully expect them to lose at least one game because they weren't able to hit from the outside.  Mark my words.

Of course, for Gopher fans he big news is the signing of Andre Hollins, who, like current Gopher freshman Austin Hollins (no relation) is a combo guard from Memphis.  Confusing.  Next year's version, the newly signed Andre, ranks #126 on the Rivals top 150, and is the #40 shooting guard and chose the Gophers over Stanford, Harvard, Ole Miss, and Auburn.  No, Harvard is not a misprint, as apparently this guy is a total genius, both off the court as well as on, which bodes well for a combo guard who may end up playing a lot of point.  In any case, another great get by Tubby, and after a bit of an off year this class looks to be back in the territory where he started with Hollins joining Joe Coleman, not only the #1 player in Minnesota but the #116 overall.  Would Hollins be in Minnesota if Chasson Randle didn't commit to Stanford?  I don't know, and it doesn't matter.  It's just Awesome.  Capitalized.

So that's pretty much it.  In other news the ESPN coach's poll was released late last week, and as expected the Big Ten is well represented.  Michigan State came in at #2, with Ohio State at #5, Purdue #8, Illinois #16, and Wisconsin #24.  If you go deeper into "others receiving votes", the Gophers show up as #29 and Northwestern received a single point which makes them team #51, and means over half the conference received votes.  It's going to be a hell of a year, and every game is going to be meaningful.  I can't wait.


The rest of the Big Ten teams open their exhibition schedules, including Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue on Tuesday, Indiana on Wednesday, Northwestern Thursday, Michigan Friday, Wisconsin Saturday, and Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State on Sunday.   


Um, I don't know.  ESPN doesn't exactly report on exhibition games so the info is pretty sparse unless you go to each team/college's official website - something I'm willing to do for the Big Ten but can't exactly pull off for the entire nation.  I mean, no matter how smart I am (and the answer is very, very), I'm still just one man.  Much like Jonathan Moxon.

You can expect my Big Ten preview tomorrow, and then later in the week I'll do a more in depth Gopher preview detailing each player and sort of what I expect/hope for each.

I love college basketball.

And I also love Halloween, especially when it's Wonderbaby's first as a kid old enough to actually trick-or-treat, and it's even better when you do it with Dr. Acula and his kid because then it involves carrying around a 32 oz. travel mug full of White Russian.  Here is a picture for you of Wonderbaby and her haul as well as the whole W family.  I hope you enjoyed your Halloween as much as I did.  Best holiday ever.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mountain West College Basketball 2010 Preview

1.  San Diego State Aztecs.  I don't want to oversell a Mountain West team, because then I'd end up looking like some kind of jackass who pimps Dayton as a dynasty, but this Aztec team is loaded, and if you're looking for a final four sleeper from a non-BCS conference, look no further.  Kawhi Leonard is a complete stud, a potential NBA draft pick, and is top five amongst returnees in the conference in points, rebounds and steals and top 20 in blocks, assists, and field goal percentage.  Mean amongst boys, you might say, and he has his whole posse coming back with him.  You got his buddies down low in Malcolm Thomas, a double-digit scorer who was top 5 in rebounding, blocks, and FG% last year, and Billy White, another double-digit scorer who led the league in FG percentage at 59%.  And you get your starting back court back in double-figure scorer D.J. Gay (ha ha) and Chase Tapley.  Really the only thing they need is a true point guard (Gay is more of a combo) and a shooter.  Well, they signed a top point guard prospect in LaBradford Franklin, so really all they need is a shooter - if they need anything at all.  In case you can't tell, I'm high on SDSU this year.  Got 'em at 100-1, baby.  We goin' sizzla'.
2.  BYU Cougars.  Jimmer is back, and Jimmer is Jimmer, but he unfortunately loses his boy Tyler Haws to his weird mormon mission, what with the strange underwear and the weird supplementary bible works.  That's not to say Jimmer is on his own, because his third little buddy in the back court, Jackson Emery, is back, as is Noah Hartsock to man the lane.  The losses will hurt (along with Haws the Cougars also lose do-everything forward Jonathan Tavernari and starting center Chris Miles), but there is enough talent surrounding Jimmer that BYU should be dancing again this year, if dancing was allowed by the Mormon religion.  And by the way, Jimmer is totally a Utah/Mormon name.  My wife was raised mormon, and her family is bonkers.  She has cousins who named their kids Londyn, Brooklyn, Okland, Dagon, Presley, Daxton, Lindy, Maximus, and Braden.  I swear to god I'm not kidding.
3.  UNLV Runnin' Rebels.  The Rebels looked like the were going to be in great shape, getting all five starters back from last year's NCAA Tournament team, but then Tre'Von Willis choked some chick (that's frowned upon), Matt Shaw was booted after failing a drug test, and Kendall Wallace tore his ACL and is out for the year.  Ouch.  Luckily (for the team and Willis, not so much for the girl) Willis is only going to miss three games, and he'll be joined by Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield, as well as Derrick Jasper assuming he's back from his own knee injury.  That's enough to be near the top in the MWC but bad luck and dumb choices knock them down from loaded to merely good.

4.  New Mexico Lobos.  Usually when a program like New Mexico loses a couple of guys like Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez from a team that went 30-5 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament you can count on a down period to follow.  Luckily for Lobo fans, Steve Alford has them looking like the kind of team where a letdown still means an NCAA bid.  Stepping in for those two are Drew Gordon, the transfer from UCLA who played well in Westwood before heading to the desert, and Alex Kirk (who the Gophers were looking at at one point) who is the one of only two Rivals Top 150 recruit coming to the MWC (he's #116, the other is BYU's Kyle Collinsworth at #134).   It's not an even trade, of course, because Martinez and Hobson were do-it-all wings while Gordon and Kirk are post players, but it's the kind of influx of talent that will help, along with returning point guard Dairese Gary - particularly if Gordon has his head on straight.  Don't forget, he was a top 50 player as a freshman, and was averaging double-figures in points and 2 blocks per game last year.  He's still got the talent to be a star.
5.  Colorado State Rams.  Tim Miles has done a hell of a job, Travis Busch signing notwithstanding (and by the way, I heard he likes to hang out by himself in bars near the campus on Saturday mornings - true story), and he has the Rams solidly turned around from "shitbox" to "mediocre."  I don't know that they can turn the corner just yet, but there is some talent here.  Andy Ogide returns to man the paint for the Rams and he was top five in the league in both rebounding and field goal percentage, and Dorian Green had a very nice freshman season at point for CSU last year, averaging 12 points and 3 assists per game.  And don't forget this is where one-time Gopher PF target Chad Calcaterra landed.  He'll have a chance to contribute right away, but this team isn't quite ready to compete for an NCAA berth yet.  If only they had Travis Busch for one more year, that kind of hustle cures all ills.    

6.  Wyoming Cowboys.  The success (it's a relative term) of the Cowboys' season this year pretty much rests on the health of Afam Mujoeke's knee.  Two seasons ago Mujoeke won the MWC Freshman of the Year award, and then last year he was having a fine season averaging 17 points per game before he blew out his patella tendon, which sounds pretty terrible.  If he's back at full strength he'll join sophomore Desmar Jackson to give the Cowboys a nice one-two scoring punch, and make them viable enough that they will at least threaten to upset a team or two.  If he's not all the way back, it's going to be a long year in Laramie.  Or longer, at least.  I mean, I assume it's always a long year in Wyoming, what with all the long hours baling hay and milking cows before class and what not.
7.  Utah Utes.  This will be the last season for the Utes in the Mountain West, and it's probably about time to leave before they tarnish their legacy, because after being the dominant force in the conference since it's inception in 1999, winning five of the first seven league titles, they've fallen off, finishing better than 5th just once in the last five seasons and gaining just one NCAA berth.  That probably won't get much better this year.  Both of last year's two leading scorers are transferring (Carlon Brown to Colorado, Marshall Henderson to Texas Tech), and a host of bench fodder is leaving as well (missions and what have you) and the Utes will have a whole slew of new faces.  If some of those new guys turn out to be good guards Utah could finish higher than this because they do have a lot of size in 7-3 David Foster and 7-0 Jason Washburn, both of whom finished in the top five in blocked shots in the MWC with Foster finishing fourth nationally.  So they're big.  And probably slow since I assume the whole team is white.
8.  TCU Horned Frogs.  Well if we want to start with something nice, let's talk about TCU's back court because it's actually quite solid.  Ronnie Moss is an excellent all-around player who led the team in scoring (14.9 per game) and assists (5.9 per game, good for 1st in the conference and 9th nationally) and also chipped in with more than 3 rebounds and almost a steal per game.  He's not exactly a wizard with the jump shot (just 40% shooting last year) and he turns it over way too much (3.8 per game) but still - he's a heck of a player.  Joining him in the back court this year will be Hank Thorns, a transfer from Virginia Tech who had some limited success in his two years as a Hokie, hampered only by the fact that he can't shoot (30% from the field as a sophomore).  And speaking of can't shoot the third guard and second leading returning scorer, Greg Hill, shot just 41% last year, which actually makes him the marksman of the group.  So the guards are good but they can't shoot.  Now let me tell you all the good things about their front court players:  at least they aren't Air Force. 
9.  Air Force Falcons.  Remember when Air Force was kind of good for a minute there, using that slower-than-a-Vickers-Gunbus-offense?  They actually made the tournament in 2004 and 2006, but things have fallen off faster than Maverick after Goose died, and the Falcons have won just won conference game combined the last two seasons - lost that lovin' feeling indeed.  I'd love to sit here and make Top Gun/Fighter Jet jokes for another few sentences, but researching the Falcons makes me feel like Cougar after getting missile locked, and there's no Viper to be my wingman.  Great Balls of Fire!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SEC College Basketball 2010 Preview

There are good looking women in the SEC.


1.  Florida Gators.  I'm not a huge fan of their guards, because I think both Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton can get a little too out of control and both have a tendency to shoot shots that they shan't be shooting, but there is not denying their talent and the Gators have a stellar front court.  Chandler Parsons is a Mike Miller clone sans the bad hair and with a slightly worse jump shot (and he single-handedly won me my fantasy college hoops league last year) and Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin are very good as long as you don't count free throws.  In a down year for the SEC, the Gators are clearly the class of either division.

2.  Kentucky Wildcats.  In what I'm going to assume is about to become a tradition until Calipari is arrested for money laundering, Kentucky lost an assload of good players to the NBA but is reloading with an assload of talent.  It's almost a perfect job of recruiting, actually, because these guys are not only talented but cover all five positions:  You have PG Brandon Knight (Rivals #6 overall), SG Doron Lamb (#21), SF Stacey Poole (#33), PF Terrence Jones (#13), and C Enes Kanter (#3 overall).  Of course, the biggest question is if Kanter will end up eligible, because they aren't particularly strong on the interior without him, but this year will be plenty athletic and is near-perfectly built for the dribble-drive offense Calipari loves.  I'd consider this #2 prediction their downside.  Well, the actual downside was it turns out Cal has been cheating (NO WAY) and they kick everybody off the team or something.  That would probably be worse.

3.  Georgia Bulldogs.  Georgia may very well be on their way back to relevance, believe it or not.  Travis Leslie is an absolute stud, and what Rodney Williams should aspire to become, and they have the league's leading returning scorer and rebounder in power forward Trey Thompkins.  These guys should be two of the best players in the conference, but what makes this team really interesting are a couple of newcomers:  freshman forward Marcus Thornton and point guard transfer from Tennessee State Gerald Robinson.  Thornton could be a great one, with both size and athleticism, and Robinson is the kind of scoring point guard (averaged 15 and 18 points per game in his two years at TSU) who can end up making or breaking a team.  I consider these guys a solid sleeper this year.

4.  Tennessee Volunteers.  I don't exactly know how Bruce Pearl being a huge cheater is going to affect this team, but they're a bit of an enigma already so this doesn't help with the rubix cube here.  I've seen them ranked anywhere from 2nd to 4th in various previews, and with three major contributors and starters gone (four if you want to count Tyler Smith) the second place predictions seems awfully optimistic to me.  I guess it really depends on how good you think freshman point guard Tobias Harris can be (Rivals #7), and how much of an improvement Cameron Tatum and/or Scottie Hopson can make.  I think those three will be pretty studly, but they're all perimeter guys and the Vols are going to be weak on the interior.  Plus I wouldn't surprised if Pearl is dismissed/suspended/whatever and this whole thing collapses.

5.  Vanderbilt Commodores.  If Northwestern is the nerds of midwest, and Stanford is the nerds of the west coast, then Vanderbilt is the nerds of the southeast.  And for nerds, they've had a pretty good run of success lately, making the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years with a sweet16 appearance thrown in.  This looking like it's going to be a down year, however, with two double-digit scorers (center A.J. Ogilvy and point guard Jermaine Beal) lost to graduation, but they've built the kind of program at this point where they'll be back soon enough.  Sophomore Jeffery Taylor is one of the most athletically gifted players in the conference and should blossom with an increased role on offense, and classmate John Jenkins is a three-point marksman who hit nearly 50% of his threes last year on his way to averaging double-digit points per game.  And they're probably all really smart, too.  NERDS!!!

6.  South Carolina Gamecocks.  Remember Devan Downey? He and his 22 points per game have graduated.  Along with Dominique Archie (who only played five games last year due to injury) and his 14.4 ppg, Mike Holmes (who only played in seven before being kicked off the team) and his 9.4, and Brandin Raley-Ross and his 10.6.  So yes, they're losing a lot.  They still have a decent enough inside/outside combo in Ramon Galloway and Sam Muldrow, but let's just say if they were an NBA Jam combo they'd never get picked outside of South Carolina.  Coach Darrin Horn loves to play an uptempo style, but with just Galloway and Lakeem Jackson back with significant back court experience, he'll be relying on newcomers and although it's a good class, that's not generally a sign of success.  This isn't Kentucky.


1.  Mississippi State Bulldogs.  It sucks that Jarvis Varnado graduated, because that guy was as fun to watch as anybody so pardon me if I'm weeping like a fat girl at a prom with no cake while I type this, but the Bulldogs have enough coming back to win their division and make the tournament, mostly because the defied the odds and went 2-0 against the NCAA fascists this offseason.  Dee Bost, last year's #3 scorer at 13.2 ppg, declared for the NBA draft, then pulled his name out after the deadline, and instead of following it's own rules they are letting him back to play another year after sitting out the first handful of games.  He'll be joined on the suspended bench to start the year by PF Renardo Sidney, last year's #16 ranked freshman by Rivals who sat out of all of last season during an NCAA investigation into something or other, but he'll be playing after a nine game timeout.  Add these two to Ravern Johnson, their leading returning scorer, and Miss State should be dancing this year.  With a big thanks to the NCAA for actually being reasonable, not exactly their strong suit.  It's probably in recognition of how much it sucks to lose Varnado.

2.  Mississippi Rebels.  Chris Warren is back, again (he's apparently under the Jess Settles plan), but he loses his two back court buddies (Eniel Polynice and Terrico White) who combined to give the Rebels one of the best three-man back courts in the country amongst teams who didn't make the NCAA tournament last year.  He won't be alone back there, however, because Ole Miss will welcome one of the best names in the country to the program in point guard Dundrecous Nelson (#89 Rivals), as well as Nick Williams, a transfer from Indiana who averaged nearly double-digit points in his year with the Hoosiers.  If the Rebs can get some help in the front court they could finally bust through the bubble and make their first NCAA Tournament since 2002.  Gotta be sick of being predicted to be a tournament team only to end up in the NIT, no?

3.  Arkansas Razorbacks.  Mike Pelphrey continues to grab good recruiting classes, but at the same time there seems to be sort of an undercurrent that things might not be all rosy, or maybe that's just the Courtney  Fortson affect.  And speaking of Fortson, I think I'm pretty glad he never ended up a Gopher, because it seems he may have been just as good at killing his team as he was at helping it.  In any case, Pelphrey has this program humming like a good ole fashioned jug band drinkin' moonshine while prepping for a coon hunt.  And if that sounded racist against southerners, it probably was.  I've been to Arkansas.

4.  Alabama Crimson Tide.  Mikhail Torrance was an absolute stud for the Tide last year.  Unfortunately, he's gone.  Fortunately, however, they still JaMychal Green, who is a beast on the block, and swingman Tony Mitchell, who had a very good freshman year and should only get better.  They also have a hell of a freshman point guard coming in with Trevor Releford, who may be the most important cog.  According to something I read, Tide coach Anthony Grant wants to run an uptempo offense, but didn't have the point guard to do it and went slow down instead (their tempo ranked #247 last year), and the hope is that Releford is the guy who can be turned loose.  It might work, and there's talent here, I just don't think it's enough, even in the SEC West.

5.  LSU Tigers.  Every year I keep waiting for LSU to get back to relevance, but every year it seems they're still stuck down at the bottom of the division - and this year won't change that.  Storm Warren is a solid guard, but the other stand-out returner, forward Bo Spencer, peaced out from the program after being declared academically ineligible (at LSU?  LOL).  With that they are very young and I'm not even sure they know what all they have since Warren is the only returning player who averaged more than 4.6 points per game last year.  There is some talent, with SG Aaron Dotson a Rivals top 150 player last year and a good class this year with three more Rivals top 150 types, so they might be on their way back to relevance, just not yet.

6.  Auburn Tigers.  Things were already going to be tough with four starters graduating (including your top three scorers), but the news got worse when Frankie Sullivan, the lone returning starter, ended up needed ACL surgery that will likely keep him out all year and the Tigers' two top recruits, Luke Cothron (Rivals #45) and Shawn Kemp, Jr. (#105) were both ruled academically eligible for the year (Cothron has since fled to UMass).  This leaves Auburn with Earnest Ross as their top returnee, a sophomore guard who averaged 2.8 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes per game last year.  In other words it's going to be a long year.  At least it will be warm.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Atlantic 10 College Basketball 2010 Preview

1.  Xavier Musketeers.  Take note, Dayton dorks, because this is what you call a dynasty.  I remember last year, I think I picked the Musketeers fourth in the A-10 because of who was graduating, and they went ahead and won the conference, again, and made a nice run in the tournament, again.  This year, they once again look like they might be down with Jordan Crawford off to the NBA, but Terrell Holloway is back and I love that little guy.  His development from out of control spaz as a freshman (think Kevin Clark, any year) to stone cold killer has been fun to see, and now in his junior year this is clearly his team and I can't wait to see if he'll be better than Jake Pullen, or merely as good.  With two other starters back, Mark Lyons and a slimmed down Kenny Frease ready to step in and start, and top25-type recruiting class coming in it wouldn't be a shock at all to see them in the sweet 16 for the fourth straight year.

2.  Temple Owls.  On paper this team is probably better than Xavier, but I learned my lesson last year about doubting the Musketeers.  That said, Temple should easily hit their fourth straight NCAA Tournament, and they are certainly back to a perenially good program now under Fran Dunphy.   The Owls lose leading scorer Ryan Brooks, but have enough pieces in place that it shouldn't hurt them.  Juan Fernandez is an oustanding point guard who I really want to compare to Pepe Sanchez, but that's lazy since they're both hispanic so instead I'll say he reminds me a lot of Greivis Vasquez.  With Lavoy Allen also back to dominate the inside, and last year's A-10 sixth man of the year Ramone Moore ready to slide in for Brooks, they're in great shape.

3.  Richmond Spiders.  Of all the graduating players in the conference, nobody is going to miss their guy more than the Spiders will miss David Gonzalvez.  They still have point guard and A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson back, but he and Gonzalvez formed a nearly unstoppable backcourt duo, averaging 32.4 points between the two of them - 46% of the team's scoring - and were the top two assist and steal guys to boot.  Beyond finding someone to fill in for Gonzalvez, the big key for the season is the continued improvement of PF Justin Harper, who is suddenly getting "potential NBA pick" buzz, as well as if Dan Geriot can get back to close to what he was before he hurt his knee.  He was a double-digit scorer and a beast inside before the injury, but averaged less the 7 points per game last year.  If he is recoverd in year 2 post-surgery, this team goes from a good team to a great team.

4.  St. Louis Billikens.  Majerus's team was one of the youngest in the country last year, but came together and closed strong, finishing 11-5 in the A-10 and denied an NCAA berth due to a very weak non-conference schedule.   This year the schedule has been upgraded along with the expectations, because with their top six scorers back - all of whom were unerclassmen last year - they are in position to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.  Kwamain Mitchell (16 points, 3 rebs, 3 assists per game), Willie Reed (12 pts, 8 rebs, 2 blks), and Cody Ellis (11 pts, 5 rebs) are a dynamic trio, and the Billikens were one of the toughest defensive teams in the country last year.  Pay attention to their game November 20th vs. Georgia - the result of that one will help give a gauge on how "for real" this team is.  [NOTE:  I have since been informed that Mitchell and Reed have been suspended due to some chick framing them for some kind of sex allegation.  This obviously means that they're screwed.]   

5.  Dayton Flyers.  I've talked about this on here before, but is there a more overrated program than the Flyers?  They continually get praised as if they've accomplished something, but they've only made one NCAA Tournament in the last six years, and they continually underachieve.  Once again this year they'll be built around an overrated power forward who can't stay healthy and a bunch of guards with gigantic question marks surrounded them .  Either way I still have a special place in my heart for Dayton fans, who are almost identical to Packer fans.  They have the same mix of delusion, overconfidence, and entitlement, mixed with a dash of overconfidence and a sprinkle of questionable personal hygiene and mental problems.

6.  Charlotte 49ers.  Interesting team here.  They were cruising towards an NCAA berth last year at 18-5 and 8-1 in conference play before a 1-7 close to the season,  including losses to G. Washington and UMass, left them out of postseason play altogether.  Last year's point guard (Dijuan Harris) is gone and there's some concern about if anybody on the roster can replac ehim, but they return most of last year's team, including the dynamic inside duo of Shamari Spears (16 ppg/6 rpg last year) and Chris Braswell (10 and 9).  New coach Alan Major has a reputation for getting the most out of post players, so this sounds like a good combo to me.  Not like those pizzeria pretzel combos.  Seriously, who thought that one up?  Gross.

7.  Rhode Island Rams.  The Rams might not make the NCAA  Tournament all that often, but they are always a tough, tough, tough matchup, and there's no reason for that not to be the case again this year.  They lose two double-digit scorers from last year's team, but that doesn't mean they aren't still in good shape.  The three returning starters are all good players and give you an excellent balance of a ball-handler (Marquis Jones - 4.1 assists per game, third in A-10), an athletic wing (Delroy James - 13.2ppg, and second on team in 3-pointers despite being 6-8), and a big man in seven-footer Will Martell (8pts, 5 rebs).  Martell needs to improve because his rebounds and blocks are low for a seven-footer and he's the man down low this year.     
8.  Duquesne Dukes.  The Dukes return one of the best players you've never heard of in Damian Saunders, a double-double machine who doesn't mind blocking your shot right back in your stupid face if you were dumb enough to bring it to his house.  With four other big-time contributors back, including #2 leading scorer in guard Bill Clark and point guard Eric Evans, this will probably be the best Duquesne team in 30 years, not that it's exactly a huge feat, but you gotta start somewhere.  The Dukes made the NIT two years ago but dropped back into the CBI last season - their first back-to-back postseasons since 1980-1981.  Time to take that next step, boy-os.  Do it for Mike James.

10.  UMass Minutemen.  Leading scorer Ricky Harris is gone and UMass won just twelve games last year, but there is some reason to be optimistic based on what's coming back.   Anthony Gurley, Terrell Vinson, and Freddie Riley are all good all-around wing types who averaged over or close to double-digits in scoring last year and all showed at different times that they are capable of taking over a game against a quality opponent - they just all have to bring that A game at the same time.  If they can find some consistent point guard play (overall UMass had more turnovers than assists) they could finish higher than this.  You could almost call them a sleeper, except they aren't quite good enough.

10.  George Washington Colonials.  GW has ten of last year's twelve contributors back, but one of the guys who is missing is last seasons leading scorer, Damian Hollis, and they weren't exactly world beaters last year, going just 16-13 (6-10 in A10), and it was an empty 16 wins without a single good victory in there anywhere that I could find.  So how do you rate experience coming back, but save a couple of guys, subpar talent?  10th, apparently.

11.  LaSalle Explorers.  If you ever want proof that I'm an idiot, you can look at my picking this team to be one of the top teams in the A-10 last year - probably my biggest whiff ever.  Rodney Green was a superstar and Aaric Murray was a top recruit and I thought they'd surprise.  Well, they did.  They surprised the hell out of me by being a bunch of worthless sucks who sucked.  Now Green is gone, Murray is overrated, and I'll never trust these guys again.  At least until Lionel Simmons II comes to town.

12.  St. Joseph's Hawks.  I don't believe it would be possible to pick a worse time to have a home-and-home with the Hawks, because they were brutal last year and this year ain't fixin' to get much better.  Remember these guys last year?  The team the Gophers beat 97-74 and won just five conference games?  Well, it's basically the same team as last year, except their two best players graduated.  Actually, there is reason for optimism and a good reason to look forward to watching them play, and that's freshman center C.J. Aiken, who was ranked by Rivals as the #8 center who should play immediately.  They also added a couple other solidly ranked, athletic freshman to give them one of the better classes in the conference, that just won't make much of a difference this year.

13.  St. Bonaventure Bonnies.  The good news is that stud big man Andrew Nicholson is back, and last year as a sophomore he was good enough to average 16 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 56% from the field.  Pretty awesome.  The bad news is that Jonathan Hall and Chris Matthews (no relation to Eric and Cory) graduated and took over 25% of the team's scoring with them (nearly 50% of the non-Nicholson points) and starting point guard Malcolm Eleby is gone after getting into a fight on-campus.  Why that couldn't have happened to Lawrence Westbrook I'll never know.

14.  Fordham Rams.  This is familiar.  Two years ago Fordham was terrible, but Jio Fontan had a huge year and was the only bright spot.  Then he transferred.  Last year, the Rams were again terrible, but Chris Gaston was a monster, notching 19 double-doubles, and going 30 & 10 three times.  No, he hasn't transferred, but Fordham promises to be awful once again, so he'd have every right to in my book.  Loyalty is admirable, but who wants to play for at team that's won five games the last two season combined.  Yes, combined.  And I mean five total wins, not five conference wins.  It ain't easy being one of the worst offensive and worst defensive teams in the country, Fordham just makes it look easy.

Other Previews:

Other Previews:
Pac-10 College Basketball 2010 Preview
ACC College Basketball 2010 Preview
Big 12 College Basketball 2010 Preview
Big East College Basketball 2010 Preview

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How dare they play Joe Mauer at Catcher.

I haven't done this in a while, so let's take this piece by Howard Sinker and look at it, FJM-style.

Joe C. offered his perspective on Joe Mauer's 2010 season and it brought out the cyberthugs who launched into their accusations about Mauer's lack of heart, soul and might. (Yes, I'm sampling some Old Testament verse. That's Deuteronomy, Ch. 6, ft. the Lord.)

Clever use of a bible joke there.  I would have gone with a "new musical group" joke myself, but that's just splitting hairs.  Additionally, I love the reference to cyberthugs, basically an admission that we aren't going to pay too much attention to the facts here.  What are we, nerds?  Nerds who live in their mother's basement?

Look at the numbers and the level of sourness is unwarranted.

3-12 for the series, all three hits singles, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts.  I'm not inclined to bust his balls when we're looking at such a small sample-size, but I would say the level of sourness about Mauer in the playoffs is closer to warranted than unwarranted.  And for his career he's been significantly worse in the playoffs than in the regular season, not to mention being 0-9 in winning.

Watch the way that Josh Hamilton has recovered from his late season injuries and jealousy is understandable.

Call me crazy, but I think we're being set up for a thinly veiled article that's letting Mauer off the hook for his poor performance, and excusing it because he's a catcher.

Mauer is going to be a Twin for the next eight years and -- at this point -- if you think that's not a good thing, I think you're very, very wrong.

Probably true and maybe true.  In 2018, he will be making $23 million as a 35-year old, which is pretty dicey, especially when you consider that $23 million was a significant overpayment for the offensive production you got out of him this year.  Luckily, a lot of his value comes from the fact that he can put up those numbers while playing above average defense as a catcher, which gives the Twins a big advantage over pretty much every other team.  Good thing everybody seems to recognize that.

That being said, 2011 is the time to begin transitioning him to another position. By the midpoint of his contract, he should no longer be catching.

I KNEW IT!!!!!!!

As good a defensive catcher as Mauer is, the Twins didn't sign him for $23 million per season because of his defensive skills. They signed him for his batting prowess, which would be considered extraordinary under any circumstances and has been otherworldly because of the numbers he's compiled while catching.

I would argue they signed him first and foremost because of his value to the franchise as, well, the face of the franchise, not to mention sending a positive message to the fans, reassuring them that every star doesn't end up leaving our cute little team.  Secondly, they probably signed him because of his great value as a catcher who can hit.  If you really want to look at offensive statistics only, he was behind both Luke Scott and Sin-Soo Choo in OPS this year.  Once again, incredible for a catcher, merely good for a first baseman or outfielder.

Keep in mind that his contract was enhanced by a few million per year based on his off-the-charts 2009 numbers. As cordial looking as those negotiations appeared last winter, if the Twins hadn't shown Mauer the money, we'd be preparing to watch a free-agent frenzy play out and the population would be outraged. Bet on it.
That Mauer got hot at the right time and forced the Pohlads to dig deeper into their vault bothers me not one bit. If Mauer's contract causes the Twins to do business differently (read: more cheaply), it will be because the Pohlads will have changed their operating philosophy and that would be shameful.

Actually, I think if the Twins do business differently it will because Mauer's new contract chews up such a huge chunk of the payroll.  If they can budget $100 million for payroll each year, things are going to be significantly different with one player taking up 23% of that.  This is like saying if I have $100 to spend on alcohol, and I buy Grey Goose vodka instead of Karkov, I should still be able to get a bunch of Newcastle or Red Stripe instead of having to get Schlitz.

OK, enough preamble.

This, I can agree with.

In seven seasons with the Twins, Mauer has been significantly hampered by injuries in four of them. He missed almost his entire rookie season in 2004 with knee injuries, a month in the '07 and '09 seasons and chunks of  this season despite the fact that he didn't go on the disabled list. He was sidelined enough last season that he actually had 22 fewer plate appearances in 2010 than he did in '09.

This is true.  It's funny how lots of players are injury-prone where others never seem to get hurt.  In 2004, a scientist from Belgium and one from South Africa teamed up to study the phenomenon and came to the conclusion that some athletes are simply more prone to injury due to the way they move.  Seems like Mauer might be one of these, seeing as how his injuries are usually of the "severe" kind and not usually of the "nagging" kind.  I'm actually not even sure there is such a thing as "injury-prone", particularly when one injury has nothing to do with the other.  What do you think, Howard?

That track record is enough evidence for me that the Twins can expect more of the same -- if not even more problems -- as Mauer gets older.

Oh, right.  Got it.  But is this really true?  Grant Hill was labeled as injury prone, but he's played every game the last two seasons.  Fred Taylor has actually played almost every game in more seasons than not.  Our very own Carl Pavano went through this when he was with New York, but has now pitched 200 innings, more or less, two straight years.  But of course, for every one of these guys who seem to break free, you have a Brian Westbrook or a Tracy McGrady who continue along the injury-laden path.  So, to me, it would seem that past injuries are not necessarily an indicator of future results.

In addition, his career month-by-month regular-season statistics show a significant decline in September/October in on base-plus-slugging percentage (.846) compared with any month from May through August (.880 to .959 for those four months). I'll use that as evidence that the demands of catching wear him down when the Twins need him most. A statistic wrinkle here is that his 2009 September was excellent (.958 OPS), but because he missed the first month of the season (as well as spring training), that was still "August" on Mauer's baseball calendar.

This actually sounds good, but he neglects to mention how brutal Mauer was in September of his freaking rookie year (OPS = .562), and if you take that out of the calculation you get an OPS of .893, right in line with his career numbers and making September his third best month.  And since August is his second best month, I'm having real trouble with this "wearing down" angle we seem to be going after here.

Oh, and if you want to throw September of 2009 out as well, for some odd reason relating to some sort of baseball calendar, which I picture as baseball shaped and hanging on Mauer's fridge with pictures of various former Twins' catchers on it, his OPS for September is still .871, right in line with his career mark of .888.

Boom.  Lawyered.

And if you want to accuse me of cherry-picking a statistic, I'll counter that OPS is disproportionately significant for the third batter in your order.

Of course you're cherry picking a stat.  By definition.  You also chose a good one to cherry pick, the same one I would have in fact.  This seems like a really weird thing to be defending yourself about, especially with some of the other things going on in this article.

I don't want Mauer to be durable by catching standards; I want 700 plate appearances every season without him wearing down more than other players.

# of players who reached 700 plate appearances last year:  11
# of these players who were NOT leadoff hitters:  6
# of players who qualified for the batting title (aka "regulars"):  151

So the new goal for Mauer is to do something that only 4% of non-leadoff hitters who start regularly were able to do last year.  And would also be an 11% increase over his career high.  Oh and since he wants 700 PAs EVERY year, I looked it up and since 2000 only 32 players have managed 700 plate appearances in back-to-back seasons.

I want to see Mauer be like Josh Hamilton in the postseason, not Nick Punto. (Mauer in the postseason: .286/.359/.314; Punto in the postseason: .286/.375/.333.)

This guy really likes Josh Hamilton.  Also, that Mauer/Punto thing is pretty sad.  Also, they have the same number of extra base hits - one - but Mauer has 39 plate appearances and Punto 25.  Ouch.  Though I'm not entirely sure what this has to do with being a catcher, since Brian McCann had two extra base hits and Buster Posey has three just this year.

And this winter -- when the Twins are facing a combination of interesting roster decisions and uncertainty -- is prime time for the hard discussions to take place and the options to be vetted. If you want to lose sleep over the second-base situation, that's your option. But that's way down on my list.

You know what's way down on my list?  Trying to move Joe Mauer to a new position.

A few options, in quick-hit form:

As you read each of these, keep in mind that moving Mauer from catcher to another position requires someone else to play catcher, somebody who likely hits like Drew Butera.    

*If the Twins are as (privately) pessimistic about Justin Morneau as I am, Mauer and Michael Cuddyer would make a fine first-base share for 2011. Cuddyer would be a better trade candidate if he wasn't making $10.5 million in 2011, but that's another story. Have Mauer catch 90 games and play first base in 60.

Whole lot of Ifs there, not to mention the implied insider knowledge that the Twins are pessimistic about Morneau.  I don't doubt Mauer could play first base, at least as well as Cuddyer (which is terribly), but again, you're nullifying one of the biggest advantages of having him on the team - his advantage over another catcher.  No matter what you think of Cuddy, do you prefer Mauer and Cuddy or Mauer and Butera?  Exactly.

Let's put this another way with a little back of the envelope math.  The average 1B starter in the American League OPSed .828 this year.  Mauer was at .871, so he would be slightly above average as a starting first baseman in the AL - about 5% better.  The average starting catcher in the AL OPSed .754, so Mauer was 16% better than average.  So his bat is 3 times more effective when he's a catcher, and that's just his bat, not to mention turning him from a good defender to, best case, an average one.

I hope that made sense.  And if it didn't, just use some common sense, dummy.

*Corner outfield. That would have to be part of an overall outfield overhaul. If a Delmon Young/ Jason Kubel combo is in left field and Mauer in right, the Twins would have to expect significant defensive improvement from Denard Span (unlikely) or get a center fielder who can truly run the outfield and make up for the shortcoming/inexperience in the corner outfield positions.

So we're going to platoon Young and Kubel now?  The more I read this, the more I think it was put together by somebody playing Baseball Stars.  And, again, you lose a big part of the advantage of having Joe Mauer on your team.  Although he's about twice as good as your average starting outfielder, you're still losing out in the end.

*Third base. That's if Danny Valencia isn't nearly as good over time as his excellent half-season. If Valencia levels off to a .275 hitter with a .325 OBP and 12 to 15 home runs, is that good enough for the future?

Yeah, third base is pretty simple to learn.  I hear that's why that wanker Brooks Robinson played there.

Of those three options, I hope I'm wrong about No. 1 and that Valencia answers No. 3 with continued solid play. That leaves No. 2 as the most likely outcome, and will require some additional moves to go with it.

Tough choices, but that's the price of the confluence of success and questions that are the story of the Twins today.

If the Twins go with any of these options I'm going to pack up shop and move my allegiances to a less retarded team.  Like the Pirates.  Or Gopher football.

I want to see Mauer batting third and playing regularly when he's 40.

I want a PS3 and a full night of sleep.  Also, who bats third when they're 40 outside of Barry Bonds?  Or is this whole thing just an elaborate scheme to try to convince Mauer to get on the roids?

I want to see his 3,000th hit ... and his 3,500th hit.

I want a lap dance from Allison Brie.......and Katy Perry (but she's not allowed to talk or sing).

I want to see Mauer in the second car (behind the manager) in a World Series parade or three over the next few years.

I want my very own dinosaur, the alchemical formula for turning lead into gold, and the complete cast of Mad Men to come over and sing me the complete works of Neil Diamond while Salma Hayek jumps on a trampoline.

I want the Twins to figure out the Mauer issue as they figure out the other puzzle pieces they need to transcend the divide from winners of a weak division to World Series contender.

I want Alan Rickman to follow me around all day, in character as Professor Snape, and say Snape-like things in his awesome Snape voice.  ("I can teach you how to bottle spreadsheets, brew data analysis, even stopper killer powerpoint presentations")

I want, I want, I want.

Gimme gimme gimme....I need....I need!

But I'm not wanting anything unreasonable.

Maybe not unreasonable.  Nonsensical, knee-jerk, and reactionary with a nice bit of panic thrown in, but not at all unreasonable.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

College Basketball Preview: The Big East

 1.  Villanova Wildcats.  I'm very glad Scottie Reynolds, one of my top five most hated college players of all-time, is gone, because I can go back to not hating Villanova right as they look to finally be balanced enough to be a real national title contender - and I mean a real threat, not a media-driven threat that was obviously going to flame out early - thanks again to Reynolds.  Perimeter driven for years, this year Jay Wright and the Wildcats will have a balanced attack. Antonio Pena has made a huge leap from where he was as a freshman to become an excellent inside scoring threat and two sophomores (Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood) were highly regarding coming in last year and had very nice freshman years - and of course Nova is loaded with guards as they always are.  So I guess is what I'm saying is we actually have to worry about Villanova and I don't like it one bit. 

2.  Syracuse Orange.  The Orange lose a lot - again, but Jim Boeheim just reloads - again.  Losing Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, and Wes Johnson would cripple most teams and send them into rebuilding mode, but not the Cuse.  Fab Melo (#2 center) is a better Onuaku, and SF C.J. Fair (#94 overall) and SG Dion Waiters (#29 overall) may not be the equal of Johnson and Rautins, but they'll ease their loss.  Biggest keys to Orange success will be how Kris Joseph develops, and he is looking like he could end up being the next Syracuse star, and finding a shooter to replace Rautins and Johnson, who made 61% of the team's three balls between them at a combined 41% clip.  This is where Mookie Jones (45% last year) can fit in.  Plus, you (and everyone) need a little more Mookie in your life.  You know it's true.

3.  Pittsburgh Panthers.  I've never seen a Pitt team I liked, and I'm not going to start now, but it's impossible to deny that they look pretty loaded this year.  The real question is if Ashton Gibbs is a bonifide star or just another in a long line of Pitt point guards who got a disproportionate amount of praise for their skill  level and couldn't shoot.  Look it up, but from Brandin Knight to Carl Krauser to Levance Fields, Pitt always has point guards who couldn't hit a jump shot if they were in an empty gym, but were universally loved and praised by the media.  I'm afraid Gibbs, who shot under 40% from the field last year, is yet another one and is going to cause my anti-Pitt rage to fire itself back up again, despite all the anti-rage medication I'm on.

4.  Georgetown Hoyas.  Georgetown is going to look a little weird this year because they're going to be missing the most Georgetowny thing - a good, big center.  From Ewing, Mourning, and Mutumbo to Hibbert and Monroe, they always seem to have a good center (not counting all those years between Mutumbo and Hibbert), but not this year.  What they do have, however, is a trio of very good guards in Chris Wright (scored 20 in 3 of team's last 4 games), Austin Freeman (leading scorer last year at 16.5 per game), and Jason Clark (42% three-point shooter).  It seems like the Hoyas have disappointed every year since their Final Four year, so maybe this is another breakthrough coming since they say guard play is the key in March.  And, in case you're really concerned, they did sign 6-10 Moses Abraham, the #11 center in the country for 2010, and he could eventually develop into a top flight center in a year or two.  Long live tradition.

5.  West Virginia Mountaineers.  Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler are massive losses, particularly Butler who wasn't only their best player but also a stone cold end of game killer, but there's still enough here to make the Mountaineers an NCAA Tournament team.  Kevin Jones was basically Butler's understudy all year and is a very similar player who I expect to take a big leap forward and help lead this team, and they get both of their point guards back in Joel Mazzulla (who can't shoot) and Truck Bryant (who seems to alternate between being injured and being in trouble).  There are a lot of questions on the interior and a lot of pressure will be on John Flowers and Deniz Kilicli (and Kevin Noreen, who is from Minneapolis and the Gophers had zero interest in so that will be interesting to see how that works out).  Also Noah Cottrill (freshman PG) looks just like the Professor and as such I love him.

6.  St. Johns Red Storm.  Might be a little high, but optimism reigns in NYC for a once proud program who has fallen into irrelevance, and I'm buying into it.  New coach Steve Lavin finally left the booth for this job, and he's hit the ground running already landing a couple of big time recruits for 2011.  But don't think the only optimism is for the future, this year's squad returns nearly everybody from last year's NIT team, and they have a good mix of inside and outside scoring.  I'm not saying we're heading back to the glory days of Felipe Lopez and Zendon Hamilton or anything, but don't be surprised if they surprise some people (but not you because I just told you they'd be good.)

7.  Connecticut Huskies.  I've got a weird feeling about UCONN, and I am starting to think their run as a top flight college hoops program might be coming to a close.  Now, they're still good now and should make the NCAA Tournament this year (although they should have been one of the best team's in the country last year and that didn't exactly work out) and they continue to get good recruiting classes, but there's a lot going on here.  Calhoun's health issues, the new NCAA infractions (that have led to two assistant coaches getting canend), Ater Majok leaving...I don't know, it just feels like bad news coming, whether the NCAA hammers the program or not.  In any case, they'll be good this year and Kemba Walker is a stud.  At least until he gets arrested.

8.  Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Better without Harangody?  Yep, and if you recall, they made their late run at an NCAA bid when he was on the shelf last year, winning their last four regular season games, including wins over 2 ranked teams and 2 bubble teams, then winning two in the Big East tournament to grab an NCAA berth.  This year white guy central and top two players Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis will add a third top white guy in Purdue transfer Scott Martin.  You may remember him as the fourth member of Purdue's E'Twaun Moore/JaJuan Johnson/Robbie Hummel class who was actually ranked similarly to Hummel by Rivals.  He had a solid freshman year, then transferred (and had to sit out), and then blew out his knee before last season began, so this will actually be his first action since 2007 (much like my good friend Theory).  The biggest question, however, is can they find a point guard to get all these white shooters the ball?

9.  Marquette Eagles.  Marquette was supposed to be down last year after losing their kick-ass guard trio, but Lazar Hayward (T-Wolves, what up?) was a beast and Jimmy Butler made huge leaps and helped carry the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament where they just barely dropped their first round game to Washington.  Hayward is gone, as are starting guards David Cubillon and Maurice Acker, but Butler returns along with third leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom.  If they get can good point play from either sophomore Junior Cadougan or freshman Vander Blue they might surprise some people.  As long as they beat Wisconsin (they play every year, don't they?) I'll be happy.  Go to hell, Badgers, go to hell.

10.  Seton Hall Pirates.  This might actually be a bit low for the Pirates, as I think they have real sleeper potential - in the conference, not necessarily nationally - but they also have a high chance of implosion as well.  Herb Pope is as talented as anyone but is essentially a walking injury risk, Jeremy Hazell is a scoring machine but is also a tremendous chucker, Keon Lawrence was very good for Missouri but had a terrible year last season in his first as a Pirate, and Jeff Robinson - well, I have nothing really to say there.  But the moral of the story is the Pirates have their top four players back, but with a new coach and some volatile personalities this story can go either way.  I'm rooting for things to go well, I do own a Seton Hall hat after all, but it will be interesting.  Last year, coach Bobby Gonzalez played a wide-open, uptempo style, but new coach Kevin Willard's Iona was a slow-down, deliberate team.  Interesting to see how that all ends up shaking out.

11.  Louisville Cardinals.  Another down year is in the cards for the cards before things start to turn around with a great class Pitino is bringing in for 2011.  Louisville loses its top three scorers from last season in Samardo Samuels, Edgar Sosa, and Jerry Smith, along with fellow starter , leaving the team with a whole lot of role players and no star power.  I don't know, I guess Terrence Jennings was supposed to be the next Earl Clark/Terrence Williams/Francisco Garcia, but man Pitino already has a very good 2011 class coming in, even after missing on a couple of key targets, so this is going to be a transition year and probably not very fun.  Except maybe for Rick, assuming he finds another team employee's wife to hump around with.
12.  South Florida Bulls.  Dominique Jones was completely awesome, and losing him is a big blow, but there's still some talent here in Tampa.  Gus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous are both over 6-10, and both are excellent interior scorers and good rebounders.  That kind of size and talent is going to give some teams fits.  Former Ohio State problem child Anthony Crater is still getting in trouble now that he's a Bull, and didn't exactly light it up when he did play, but he was once a pretty highly regarded point guard coming out of high school with a lot of good offers from a lot of good programs.  You know what they always say, if you give a headcase enough chances, he will always come through for you in the end and never, ever end up a huge disappointment. 
13.  Cincinnati Bearcats.  This was my sleeper team last year, but their inability to close in tight games killed them and they ended up in the NIT (where they lost to freaking Dayton) instead of in the Final Four.  With Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn now gone, there are major holes to fill and with the incoming class very meh it's going to be up to the returnees if Cincy is going to be something other than a cellar dweller.  I watched a lot of Cincy ball last year, since I had a crush on them, and center Yancy Gates is the only one who was remotely impressive last year.  Other than that they are a bunch of solid players but no real stars, and "point guard" Cashmere Wright was awful.  Remember Kerwin Fleming?  Throw out that improbable run he had in the NIT after Monson let him play streetball and you have Wright, except he's expected to start and lead the team.  Yeah. 

14.  Providence Friars.  In reading up on the Big East, I discovered that this team was really, really bad defensively last year.  In fact, they ranked 237th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency ratings, which put them at dead last amongst all BCS conference teams.  They accomplished this by allowing opponents to shoot 52.2% on 2-pointers (327th), only turning their opponents over 18% of the time (290th), and allowing an offensive rebound on 36.6% of their opponents misses (309th).  So, to recap, the Friars almost always allowed their opponent to get a shot off, and it almost always went in, and when it didn't go in, they usually allowed them to have a second chance at it.  That is not good.  On the bright side, their offense was actually quite efficient.  This will all probably happen again. 

15.  Rutgers Scarlet Knights.  The big signing of Mike Rosario a few couple years ago didn't exactly turn the Scarlet Knights around, and now he's transferred out to Florida and the team's second best player, Greg Echenique has left as well to go play at Creighton.  New coach Mike Rice has already made some big moves on the recruiting trail and things are looking up, but this year will be tough with nobody over 6-8 on the roster.  Talented sophomore Dane Miller is back, but Rutgers will struggle to win more than a couple of games in conference play this year, the talent level just isn't there, despite an awesome home arena.  Quincy Douby is rolling over in his grave. 

16.  DePaul Blue Demons.  The team with the worst arena in college ball will once again be the worst major college team in the land, except I think this makes three years in a row.  Things might be looking up a bit with a new coach in Oliver Purnell, who has built programs up before (Dayton/Clemson), but this year is going to be another rough one.  Last year the team was built around two players (Mac Koshwal and Will Walker) who scored over half the team's points on a per game basis, and now both are gone.  With not much here and a less than imposing incoming class, it's going to be a rough year.  These guys are like the football Minnesota Gophers of college basketball.

Other Previews:
Big 12

Monday, October 18, 2010

Notes and Links on a Tuesday

-  According to Adam Zagoria over on the Twitter, (who you should follow) and confirmed by Rivals, Ryan Boatright will attend West Virginia in 2011.  This sucks for many reasons, including the fact that I desperately wanted him like a school boy.  And also the fact that he was really good:  #11 PG in the class according to Rivals, #48 overall, and the #2 non-committed PG behind Quinn Cook.  I don't know what exactly happened, but I know the Gophers were at least showing some interest at some point, but either they or he decided they weren't interested because the Gophers aren't on his official list and he's not listed as having received an offer.

Doesn't make it hurt any less.  It's like that girl you were secretly in love with in high school.  You know, she never reciprocated, but you guys were really good friends so you always thought you had a chance, and then that one time she picked you to be her physics partner and you got to go over to her house and eat dinner and it was magical, and then your physics project was kick ass and you're feeling really good about things and then she goes to prom with some dumb soccer player from a neighboring school.  Or something.

-  Sliding into first is dumb enough, but to slide into first and then somehow miss the base?  I gotta say, I've never seen that before.  Leave it to Gardner to take sliding into first into a whole new stratosphere of dumb.

-   Speaking of dumb, at what point do we get to leave this whole Brett Favre dong pic thing alone?  Come on, who hasn't done something similar?  I've texted pictures of my junk to at least seven people, five of whom didn't ask for it and four of whom were women.  So big deal, right?  He's just like a big kid out there, remember?  So to him it's probably not even sexual, it's just a funny picture of a funny body part.  You can't talk about his youthful kidlikeness and boyish exuberance and then expect him to act like an adult when it comes to being responsible in regards to pictures of his crank.

By the way, did you hear those pictures were actually supposed to be going to his wife?  They were intercepted.  Seriously though, how do we even know that's his schlong?  Other than the fact that it's throwing an interception in one of the pictures?

I can do this all night.

-  Back to Ryan Boatright for a second.  With WVU also picking up Tommie McCune, that means that is the second recruit Huggy Bear has ganked from Tubby.  I don't think I like this matchup.  I feel like Huggins is going to get his man every time.

-  The name I most often hear from people with an opinion but haven't really thought about who the next Gopher football coach should be is Tony Dungy.  Thank god he finally put that rumor to bed today, which is weird because he also put that rumor to bed back in September, and now we can move on to more wild speculation.  Or, more accurately, less wild speculation such as Mike Leach, who admitted he would be interested in the job if he was contacted.    Couple things.  One, how fun would it be to watch that Texas Tech offense come to Minnesota?  Answer:  legendary.  Second, I highly doubt they would hire someone here at the U who had been fired for locking a player in the closet.  Although based on the reason (kid couldn't play after a concussion) I'd say the Twins should maybe look into him as a bench coach.

Serious write-up on Leach as a possibility can be found here from The Daily Gopher.  It's a lot of words so I'm going to assume it's good.

-  Good recap on that midnight madness thing right here.  I think my favorite part is that Ralph Sampson not only participated in the 3-point contest, and was one of only three contestants, but that he almost beat Devoe Joseph, losing only 9-11.  He's always had the confidence to take the shot, but I only remember him hitting one big one against Purdue.  If he's truly added that to his arsenal, and added it without taking away anything inside or becoming one of those 6-11 dandies who flit about the three-point line all game, he's going to be unstoppable.

-  There's a reason Cliff Lee has such a reputation as an incredible playoff pitcher.

-  Also Chris Johnson sucks.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sick of Brew

15-30 overall, 6-21 in the conference, 0-2 in bowl games.  That might not even have been the worst of it.  I think three offensive coordinators, three different offensive schemes, losses to North Dakota State, South Dakota, Northern Illinois, Florida Atlantic, and Bowling Green were the biggest issues.  That and the perception (and reality) that the program hadn't just stagnated but was actively moving backwards.  And now, as of Sunday morning, Tim Brewster is no longer coach of the Minnesota Gophers.

When Glen Mason was let go I was in favor of it.  I thought he had taken the program as far as he was going to, and although it wasn't terrible it was completely mediocre and you knew exactly what you were going to get:  a 4-0 non-conference record, a slightly below .500 Big Ten record, and a lower tier bowl berth.  Not a failure or a bad year, but it became clear that was Mason's ceiling and a new coach was needed to take the next step in turning the Gophers into a viable Big Ten football program.  Enter Brewster.

He said all the right things and certainly brought enthusiasm, energy, and positivity to the job - unfortunately those traits rank significantly below things like recruiting, team management, and game coaching on the ladder of job traits one should have to be a successful college football head coach.  I was a bit leery of the fact that he had never been a head coach, and was, in fact, a tight ends coach in the NFL, but we were assured that he could recruit, and to me that was the most important thing.  And then, well, he didn't.  Not really.  He brought in some nice players, but nothing remotely program changing, and seeing as how he couldn't coach his players up, and may have in fact coached them down at times, it was pretty clearly not working and was time to make a change.

Sadly, I think part of the reason he was let go in mid-season was because Maturi was starting to feel the heat and people were starting to question his ability to do his job.  Since people always need a scapegoat, it was easy to let Brewster go, nobody outside of Sid would object, and take the heat off of him.  For now.

It's up to Maturi to make the next hiring, and he's stated that they are looking for a "Tubby Smith."  I won't speculate on who that could be, but here is a list of 30 possibilities - although more like 29 since he has Tony Dungy on there.  I think they need to go one of two ways:  either an experienced coach who may be looking for a change (the Tubby Smith route) or a young, up-and-comer who has had success at a smaller school/smaller conference.  Either way, it needs to be somebody who has shown he can coach and shown he can win.  With TCF Bank Stadium now in play the old fallback of "we can't compete without a stadium on campus" has been eliminated.  There are no more excuses, and I'm sick of getting rolled by our biggest rivals (Brewster was 0-7 vs. Wisconsin and Iowa).

In any case it should be fun to follow the rumors and see how it all shakes out.  Hopefully if we're shocked, it's more like the Tubby Smith kind of shocked ("Holy Shit!  They hired Tubby Smith!") rather than the Tim Brewster kind of shocked ("They hired a TE coach with no real experience?").

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pac-10 College Basketball 2010 Preview

Last year was nearly a disaster for the Pac-10, where getting even two teams NCAA bids was looking like it might not happen even late in the year, but this year things should be a little better.  Washington and Arizona should be among the elite teams in the nation, and a number of other teams should be improved.  Of course, that's basically the scouting report from last year, just replace Arizona with Cal, and that was a struggle, so who knows.  These guys play their games so late that nobody is watching anyway.  Except degenerate gamblers.  Hi.

1.  Washington Huskies.  One thing is for certain, the Huskies play an exciting brand of basketball.  I remember being in Chicago for their game against New Mexico, and just being mesmerized by how fast the pace of the game was.  Me, Bogart, and Snacks had all bet the over, so each time little tiny Isaiah Thomas got the ball, sprinted down court past all the Lobos and made a layup we cheered and fell in love with him a little bit more.  The game ended up being a blowout, so the pace slackened and that over never cashed, but the moral of the story is that Washington is awesome.  Quincy Pondexter is gone, but Justin Holiday should step in fine, and their three guard lineup of Thomas, Venoy Overton, and Abdul Gaddy are as good as it gets.  Rather than fighting for a bid like last year, the Huskies should have theirs locked up by January.

2.  Arizona Wildcats.  Arizona's streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament bids was snapped last season, but they should be back again after losing only the disappointing Nic Wise, who never made the leap they were looking for last season.  Derrick Williams was terrific in his freshman season, averaging 16 pts and 7 boards per game while shooting 57% and looking straight dominant at times, with 23 points or more five times last season.  Williams is surrounded by plenty of other talent, but replacing Wise, who might not have been great but was certainly good, at the point is going to be the real key to the season.  Lamont Jones came in last season with a good pedigree but struggled at times.  If he hasn't improved this prediction is going to look awfully silly.  Might end up being the first prediction I've ever whiffed on - ever.

3.  UCLA Bruins.  Despite what seems to be near constant defections, whether to the NBA or to other programs, over the last few years, UCLA does seem to be on the way back.  Looking at just the stats of the returnees you wouldn't be impressed, but these guys have talent.  Tyler Honeycutt (last year's Rivals #28 overall) is well on his way to becoming a do everything type stud, Malcolm Lee really started to come into his own last year (12 pts, 3 ast per game), and nerdy Reeves Nelson (11pts, 6 rebs as a frosh) is already showing an impressive array of low-post moves. Add to that group Rivals #18 recruiting class and they're looking to be in good shape, assuming people stop transferring.  Plus in the good news department, their top recruit, center Josh Smith (#23 overall) who weighed in at 305 lbs. has reportedly lost a bunch of weight and is in (relatively) great shape.  Plus, don't you just feel better when UCLA is good?  It's just icky otherwise.  

4.  Washington State Cougars.  They're getting an awful lot of press due to Klay Thompson, which makes sense because he's probably the only player in the league who might be better than Derrick Williams from Zona.  His low shooting percentage (41%) and high turnovers (3.4 TO to 2.3 assists) are the only blemishes on his record, but those numbers should improve with better/improved teammates in Pullman this year.  The real question is will he have better teammates, because outside of point guard Reggie Moore everybody is a questions mark.  In a normal year in a normal conference, one great player, one good player, and a bunch of questions wouldn't make you the fourth best team, but the Pac-10 is down once again, so Wazzou should be in play for an NCAA berth.

5.  USC Trojans.  They definitely have a great inside tandem, maybe the best in the conference, with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson in the paint.  Vucevic was called "the best true center in the conference" in an article I saw, and his numbers bear that out as he averaged nearly a triple double last year (10.7 pts/9.4 rebs per) and blocked more than one shot per game, while Stepheson was one of the highest rated recruits in the country coming out of high school and on his way to North Carolina in 2006.  He hasn't quite put it all together yet, but he's got one last chance.  This team will be especially interesting when Jio Fontan, an outstanding point guard who transferred from Fordham and will be eligible mid-season, joins the team to balance out the inside strength with a perimeter threat.

6.  Stanford Cardinal.  Losing Landry Jones, who led the conference in scoring and was second in rebounding last year, is definitely a bit of a buzzkill, but at least they have Jeremy Green back to soften the blow (16.6 ppg) as well as three other starters, and they're going to need every bit of that experience because everybody else on the roster is either a walk-on, a benchwarmer, or a freshman.  There is certainly some talent mixed up with these freshman - PF Dwight Powell is Rivals #25 overall recruit, while SG Anthony Brown is #65 - so there's certainly some upside here.  If the youngsters are ready to play the Cardinal could move up a few spots.  Plus this conference sucks, so anybody with a pulse could move up a few spots.

7.  Arizona State Sun Devils.  They certainly like to shoot the three, leading the conference last year in attempts by over 100 over the second place team, and they also lost both their penetrating point guard and their only inside presence, and are left with just five scholarship players from last year back this year, two of whom are dandies who only shoot threes.  With your #1 PG and #1 post player gone, how open are those looks going to be?  Now, some of the newcomers have talent and could step in - Keala King is the #8 PG in the country according to rivals and could step in at the point immediately - but there is still a distinct lack of big men that will limit how much ASU can accomplish.  But at least they still have the hottest chicks in the land.  Seriously, check out the internet sometime.

8.  Oregon State Beavers.  They looked to have a little momentum going into last year and were considered a bit of a sleeper in a weak Pac-10, but unfortunately couldn't capitalize, and now nobody cares again.  That center with the weird name is gone, the Tarvers (no relation to Miles) are gone.  Calvin Haynes is apparently a very good offensive player but I wouldn't know because I don't think I've watched an OSU game since the days of Corey Benjamin, partially because they're never on TV and partially because they're usually boring and/or bad.  I have, however, giggled about the nickname Beavers recently.  Because I'm 12.

9.  California Golden Bears.  I'm not sure any team, outside of Kentucky, lost as much from last year as the Bears, and this year is going to be rough.  Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher might have been the two best guards in the conference last season, and they're both gone, as are third-leading scorer Theo Robertson and only viable inside presence (and fourth leading scorer) Jamal Boykin.  But, as Denise Fleming (who is not a tampon) said in Can't Hardly Wait, "Don't look back, you should never look back", so instead let's talk about what the Bears have going for them this year.  It's nothing.

10.  Oregon Ducks.  I'll say this about the Pac, it's easy to pick the last place team because the Ducks are an absolute disaster right now - like Iowa, but worse.  After Ernie Kent was fired there was such a mass exodus of players that I can't even keep up, which is made extra difficult because I don't pay particular attention to Oregon basketball.  Four of the players transferring were bench players with varying degrees of playing time, but Michael Dunigan - who just signed to play in Israel - would have been their top returning post player.  The lack of depth will be exacerbated by de-commits by incoming freshman (I can't find a list anywhere, but I know there have been some) leaving the Ducks with just 9 scholarship players, most of which are pretty mediocre.  New coach Dana Altman has already signed a very good class for 2011, but according to NCAA rules none of those players can play this year.

Other Previews:
Big 12

Carry on My Wayward Son

In news that is super not shocking to anybody who has been paying attention, the nation's #20 point guard (#90 overall) according to Rivals and Gopher target Naadir Tharpe signed on with the Kansas Jayhawks today.

Tharpe had been a big target of the Gophers, and at one point they were looking like the front runners to land him.  He seemingly had cut his list to Minnesota and Rutgers, or at least those were the only two schools he had made plans to make an official visit to see, but ended up canceling his visit to Rutgers after they signed a different point guard, leaving the Gophers in prime position to secure a commitment.  Despite reporting that he had a great time and really liked Tubby, Tharpe never declared his intention to enroll at the U, and the writing was on the wall.

As more time passed, Tharpe garnered more and more interest with teams like NC State and Oklahoma sniffing around, but then came the big blow:  enter Kansas.  After their higher rated higher profile point guard targets went elsewhere, the Jayhawks went after Tharpe and it didn't take long for them to woo their strumpet.  Josiah Turner (#2 PG) chose Arizona on September 19th, Anthony Wroten (#8) chose Washington on October 13th, and suddenly Bill Self was after Tharpe.  He scheduled a visit to Lawrence for October 22nd, but apparently didn't need it, because after Self called Monday night to extend an offer he didn't even take 48 hours to accept.

So basically the Gophers are the nice, safe, mildy attractive chick while Kansas is the super hot chick with the killer rack who puts out.  I'd like to make some kind of pro-Gopher joke here, but I can't.  Why wouldn't you pick the hot chick with the sweet ass?  The only thing the dumpy girl has to offer is you know she won't upgrade to a better guy in a year.  Which, by the way, is apt because that's kind of what I see happening to Tharpe.

I have a feeling he's a bit of his element here, and KU is just going to upgrade the position in one of their next classes, leaving him on the bench.  They've already offered the #4, #5, #6, and #9 point guards for the class of 2012, so to torture this analogy a bit further, they've basically got four better looking, more successful dudes on speed dial.  If people still used speed dial.

But that, of course, is really neither here nor there, and what we really need to concern ourselves with here is that there is suddenly only one recruit remaining who we really care about who could become a Gopher, Andre Hollins, and it suddenly looks like the point guard cupboard is bare (Hollins is a combo guard).  With Al Nolen graduating after this year, and the only point guards on the roster being a shooting guard, a guy who might not be D-I material, and a football player, I'm beyond nervous.

Fact of the matter is they need to land a point guard, and they need to land a good one.  Going into battle with a bunch of last minute hail mary type signees isn't going to get it done.  This isn't Iowa.