Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NCAA Basketball: Thanksgiving Tournament Wrap

A hell of a lot of good basketball just wrapped up with the pre-Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving tournaments the last two weeks, so much so that it would be easy to miss some of the important stuff, especially with all the drinking and eating and football watching and generally being a complete moron doing really stupid stuff going on.  So I'm here to help.  Tournament by tournament, here's what you need to know:

Championship:  Minnesota Gophers over West Virginia Mountaineers
Biggest positive:  Minnesota.  I wasn't really sure where they'd fall in the Big Ten pecking order.  Somewhere in the middle, likely, but towards the top of that middle or towards the bottom?  Well, wins over three potential tournament teams help answer that and push the Gophers towards the top of the conference.
Biggest negative:  North Carolina Tar Heels.  A year after the worst season for UNC in recent memory, the Tar Heels started this year with a lot of positivity and a lofty #8 ranking the country, but losses to both Minnesota and Vanderbilt show that this team isn't quite there yet.  A loss to one or the other could be shrugged off, since both are possible NCAA Tournament teams, but losses to both sends up a bit of a red flag.
Also of note:  Davidson 64, Western Kentucky 51.  This game, as well as WKU's narrow 2-point win over Hofstra, say that the Hilltoppers aren't going to be making the NCAA Tournament as at at-large.

Championship:  Tennessee Volunteers over Villanova Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Tennessee.  All their losses from last season had me convinced they were badly overrated and would be in the NIT at best this year, and then all the Bruce Pearl nonsense solidified that thought for me.  Turns out their better than I gave them credit for, and the combination of super freshman Tobias Harris on the inside and dynamic scorers Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson on the wings is looking like enough to drive the Vols to success.
Biggest negative:  Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  "Wait, I didn't see them in New York" is what you might be saying, and you're right, but that's because they got bounced out of the qualifying round - the "gimme" round held on their home floor.  Of course they also drew Virginia Commonwealth who was probably the favorite to come out of that region, but it just confirms that this is going to be a dark, dark year in Winston-Salem.  If this loss to VCU (by 21, if I didn't mention it) doesn't cement it, the earlier loss to Stetson and subsequent loss to Winthrop (both also at home) are pretty big clues.  But the biggest clue?  Iowa was favored over them in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup tonight, and the game was at Wake.
Also of note:  VCU 89, UCLA 85.  Not content with just getting to New York, VCU then went ahead and beat UCLA to nab a third-place finish.  That's going to go a long way in getting the Colonial multiple bids this year.

Championship:  Pitt Panthers over Texas Longhorns
Biggest positive:  Texas.  Last year the Longhorns had all the talent in the world, were ranked #1 at one point, and then death spiraled down and didn't even receive an NCAA bid.  This year saw a lot of turnover, and I'm not sure anybody really knew what to expect, as usual with a Rick Barnes team.  Beating Illinois and then hanging right with Pitt before losing by two shows they have some talent, it's just a matter of if they put it all together.  
Biggest negative:  Cory Joseph.  In the two games in New York, Joseph shot just 3-13, including 0-4 from three, with 5 assists and 3 turnovers, and threw up a ridiculous shot at the end of the final with the Longhorns down two when he thought he had been fouled in an attempt to get to free throw line.  The ref disagreed, and he threw away Texas's chance to win. 
Also of note:  Maryland Terrapins.  They went 0-2 in New York, but they weren't expected to win either game.  Losing to Pitt by nine and to Illinois by four bodes well for the Terps' chances in ACC play.

Championship:  Connecticut Huskies over Kentucky Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Kemba Walker.  Coming into this tournament nobody was really sure what to make of UCONN.  Sure, they'd be a middle of the road Big East team most likely, but where would that really put them in the overall pecking order?  Well, Walker carried them on his back to the title here with games of 31, 30, and 29 points, and made sure everybody knew that he was good enough, and had enough talent around him, to make the Huskies a threat.
Biggest negative:  Oklahoma Sooners.  Eesh.  The Sooners looked decent in their opener, hanging with Kentucky, but completely fell apart from there.  First, they lost by 18 to a terrible Virginia squad who just go rolled by Washington by 40+, then they lost to Chaminade, the little host school who had won just five times in the 26 years prior of the tournament's existence.  Not only did they go down, but they went down bickering amongst themselves.  This is going to be a long year in Norman. 
Also of note: Wichita State goes 2-1, but leaves disappointed after blowing their opening round game against UCONN, a game they led by four with just four minutes to go.  It would end up being the only resume-building opportunity the Shockers would get, matching up against Virginia and Chaminade in their final two.  That could hurt come Selection Sunday.

Championship:  Duke Blue Devils over Kansas State Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Duke.  I have no idea how anybody is going to beat this team.  Marquette tried to go small to match Duke's quickness and whichever Plumlee it was destroyed them inside, then K-State tried to run with them and Duke ran 'em out of the gym.  They are good inside (Plumlees), have great guards (Nolan Smith, the unguardable Kyrie Irving), and have dead-eye shooters who you can't leave to go help (Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry).  And that's all without bothering to mention the ACC pre-season player of the year in Kyle Singler.  Look out, because they have a chance to go undefeated.  No, I'm not crazy. 
Biggest negative:  Duke.  The exact paragraph I just wrote is actually more of a negative because I, and everybody with a soul, hates Duke.
Also of note:  Gonzaga 66, Marquette 63.  Marquette lost both games in Kansas City, first to Duke by five and then this one to the Zags by 3.  Though those are both big missed opportunities, they also signal that for the second straight year a down year in Marquette might not be as down as we think.

Championship:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish over Wisconsin Badgers
Biggest positive:  Notre Dame.  The Irish picked up two wins over NCAA caliber teams, beating both the Badgers for the title and Georgia in the opening round.  It's very likely Temple and Texas A&M were the only other teams to even pick up one in Orlando.
Biggest negative:  Temple.  As noted, the Owls did pick up a win over Georgia that looks good, but losses to both Cal and Texas A&M are huge negatives.  A&M might be a bubble team, so that one will hurt, and Cal is likely to be a bottom of the barrel Pac-10 team while the Pac-10 is likely to be a bottom of the barrel conference.  The Owls were supposed to be the class of the A-10, but they sure didn't play like it.
Also of note: Notre Dame 58, Wisconsin 51.  The Badgers came into Orlando with a chance to pick up some nice victories, but Boston College's win over Texas A&M took that game off the board, and Wisconsin blew their chance against the Irish.  They come without a high profile win to show-off in March.

Championship:  Georgetown Hoyas over North Carolina State Wolfpack
Biggest positive:  Georgetown.  This wasn't exactly a murderer's row of teams, but beating Big South favorite Coastal Carolina by 19, SoCon favorite Wofford by 15, and a very good NC State team by 15 is a pretty nice weekend.  The Hoyas will be good, and in an odd-twist, guard dominated - their three top scorers are all guards.   
Biggest negative:  George Mason Patriots.  There's been a lot of early season success out of the Colonial Conference so far this year (VCU, Old Dominion), but George Mason whiffed on their chance to join in by losing to Wofford in the third-place game.  It's not an awful loss, but when you're a mid-major you need to win every one of these types of games to have a shot at a bid.
Also of note:  Wofford 82, George Mason 79.  I already mentioned this above as a negative for GMU, but it's a definite positive for the Terriers.  They have a brutal early schedule, but unfortunately missed out on a chance for an even bigger win by losing to Xavier in triple-overtime last week.  The 2-5 record also includes a loss to lowly Air Force, so an ambitious schedule goes for naught and Wofford will need to win their way in if they want to play in the NCAAs.

Championship:  Old Dominion Monarchs over Xavier Musketeers
Biggest positive:  ODU.  This is what you need to do if you're a mid-major hoping to be in at-large consideration come March.  The Monarchs won the Paradise Jam Championship, beating St. Peter's (doesn't matter), Clemson (possible tournament team), and Xavier (very likely tournament team).  That is two huge wins, and assuming they don't falter in a strong Colonial ODU is in great shape.  
Biggest negative:  Alabama Crimson Tide.  From NCAA possibilities to the bottom of the league, the Tide embarrassed themselves, losing to Seton Hall (acceptable), Iowa (not acceptable), and St. Peter's (abominable).  Remember in Monson's last year or almost last year when the Gophers went to the Old Spice Classic and went 0-3, including a loss to Montana?  This is like that.
Also of note:  Clemson 64, Seton Hall 58.  Two teams that will likely find themselves in similar spots come year's end, this third place game could mean the difference between NCAA and NIT. 

Championship:  BYU Cougars over St. Mary's Gaels
Biggest positive:  BYU.  It's questionable how much the two wins BYU picked up will really help them because I'm not sure South Florida or St. Mary's are tournament teams, but the way in which the Cougars won could be valuable in March.  The win over South Florida went to double OT before BYU hit a game-winner, and then the win over the Gaels was a one point victory on a 3-pointer by the Jimmer with 10 seconds left.  That kind of late game experience could pay-off big.  
Biggest negative:  Texas Tech.  The obvious choice as a downer since they were the team that went 0-2, it's sad for Tech because they have an experienced team with postseason aspirations, but getting blown out by St. Mary's and then blowing the lead against USF late says they suck.
Also of note:  Liberty 67, Chicago State 65.  This tournament has two brackets, a good one and a crappy one, and Liberty won the crappy one.  I can't think of a single reason why that's remotely noteworthy.

Championship:  UNLV Runnin' Rebels over Virginia Tech Hokies
Biggest positive: UNLV.  Wins over both Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State give the Rebels two quality victories.  Since the Mountain West is likely to be very solid again with four very good teams, even if they beat up on each other the Rebels are in good position to nab an NCAA bid once again.
Biggest negative:  Murray State Racers.  Murray State has been tabbed as this year's Butler - not a bad call considering there stellar play in March last year and that they have essentially that whole team back - but they missed out on a big opportunity here.  After beating Stanford in round 1 they lost to both UNLV and Oklahoma State in the next two rounds, and neither game was close.  With their earlier loss to Ole Miss and nothing really left on the schedule outside of the Ohio Valley conference games their hopes at an at-large disappeared this weekend.
Also of note: Virginia Tech 56, Oklahoma State 51.  The Hokies have missed the tournament the past two years due to weak non-conference scheduling and a lack of quality out-of-conference wins.  This at least gives them one good victory - more than they had either of the last two years.

Championship:  Richmond Spiders over Purdue Boilermakers
Biggest positive:  Richmond.  The Spiders were supposed to be at the top of the Atlantic-10 this year and were considered a very likely NCAA Tournament team.  An early loss to Iona, however, had experts like me questioning if this was just another in a long line of A-10 "sleepers" who were actually not very good.  This win over Purdue helps put some of that unease to rest.  
Biggest negative:  Purdue.  No surprise here, this was set-up as basically a coronation for Purdue, but Richmond spoiled that, and that's not good for the Boilers.
Also of note:  Wright State 82, Oakland 79.  Oakland (which is in Michigan) is supposed to be a mid-major sleeper due to the presence of seven-footer Keith Benson, but if you can't even beat Wright State...I mean, come on.

Championship:  Syracuse Orange over Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Biggest positive:  Georgia Tech.  They aren't going to make the NCAA tournament or anything, but the Yellow Jackets needed some positives after losing to lowly Kennesaw State early this year and looking like they might be nothing more than a big joke this season.  Blowing out Albany and Niagara in the early rounds, beating UTEP in the semis, and then losing to the Cuse by just four in the final is a step in the right direction.
Biggest negative:  Michigan Wolverines.  Michigan started the year playing well, beating up on the cupcakes and then even hung tough with Syracuse in the semis, leading for most of the game before losing by just four.  Unfortunately, instead of still salvaging something they ended up losing to UTEP in the third place game instead.
Also of note:  Detroit Titans.  There was a second, consolation regional held in Michigan, and Detroit won it by beating Albany, Bowling Green, and Niagara in consecutive days.  Even if it's not exactly a murderer's row of opponents it's still a nice little run and was highlighted by former Indiana Hoosier Eli Holman who put up a double-double in each game.  Detroit is a nice little sleeper in the Horizon.

Championship:  Kansas Jayhawks over Arizona Wildcats
Biggest positive:  Kansas.  The Jayhawks stomped MAC favorite Ohio, easily handled a very good Arizona team, now rank sixth in the polls and first according to Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats (www.kenpom.com).  And they've done all this without the services of their top recruit Josh Selby.  When he finally starts playing this team is an instant title contender.  Of course, some times a high profile freshman disrupts chemistry to a point where the team gets worse, so let's hope for a little Kris Humphries/Stephon Marbury from Selby.
Biggest negative:  Nobody, really.  Everybody finished where they should, the good teams stomped the bad, and nobody's play stood out as exceptionally poor.  If you had to pick one negative, go with Ohio.  Last year's upset winner over Georgetown in the first round of the tournament was picked to win their conference again, and losing by 57 to Kansas is certainly not what they had in mind. 
Also of note:  Solomon Hill.  Arizona has one of the best player's in the country in Derrick Williams, but he can't do it himself.  If Hill can play like he did against Santa Clara (20 pts) rather than how he did against Kansas (9 pts) more often, Arizona will have a much better chance of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

Championship:  St. Johns Red Storm over Arizona State Sun Devils
Biggest positive:  St. Johns, my Big East sleeper pick, started the season questionably enough, losing to St. Mary's, but handled themselves nicely in Alaska by going 3-0.  With no other possible NCAA Tournament teams in this field, the Red Storm basically had to win this tournament.  And they did. 
Biggest negative:  Ball State.  Not that Ball State is supposed to be anything (it's been a long time since Theron Smith), but it's never good to lose to non-Division I squad, and the Cardinals were dropped by the host Alaska-Anchorage, and in embarrassing fashion, 62-44.
Also of note:  Weber State 82, Drake 81.  Weber State won't be an at-large NCAA team, but they are considered the favorites to come out of the Big Sky, and taking third place in Alaska is a solid outing for this team.  Plus Mrs. W went to Weber State for a year and I visit Ogden almost yearly, so it's always nice to give them a little pub.

And that should pretty well cover it.  There were a few others, but really nobody cares who wins the Cancun Challenge or the Philly Hoop Group Classic because the teams involved are irrelevant, and I think I've typed just about enough for one evening.  There are a bunch more of these tournaments coming up around Christmas-time, including a couple involving Big Ten representation (Northwestern in the MSG Holiday Festival and Indiana in the Las Vegas Classic) so I might recap them after the holidays.  By then I'm pretty sure there will be nothing left to care about as far as the Gophers are concerned.  That team is absolute garbage.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pathetic Effort

Pathetic.  Pathetic pathetic pathetic.  I was actually considering just filling this entire post with that word, but then realized that word wasn't shameful enough.  Then I was going to do shameful, but that isn't strong enough either.  I was going to to check my thesaurus, but then I got lazy.  Also, there just isn't a word to describe that sad disgrace.

Seriously, even with a 10-point lead at the half you could see things weren't as they should be.  Oh, we all laughed, talked, bought concessions, laughed at the baton girl and Doogie's sweatpants, but we knew.  I remarked to one of my companions at the game (@Mpls_B) had been a pathetic effort, particularly on defense.  His reponse, "there's no reason they shouldn't be beating this team by 20 at half."  But shirley, there was no way they wouldn't blow this out by 20, right?


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I can't write about this.  This was reminiscent of the final Dan Monson year or the Kris Humphries year.  Let's try player-by-player, got to be some good there.

Trevor Mbakwe.  Aaah.  That feels better.  This guy is unreal good.  Nearly brought the team back in the final five minutes all by himself by getting offensive rebounds off the nearly infiite amount of  bricks they were chucking up there.  Love him.

Ralph Sampson.  Whatever time machine he found needs a new flux capacitor, because this was like switching out the cool, confident George McFly who punched out Biff with that nerdy dorky one from the beginning of the movie.  Virginia's Mike Scott is a tough, physical player, and after he bumped Ralph a couple of times he crumpled up into his shell like a koopa troopa.  This makes me super confident for Big Ten play.

Blake Hoffarber.  His numbers (and yes, Dawger, his fantasy points) look great, but he missed several open looks when the Gophers were trying to get a run going.  If he hits any one of those shots the comeback would have had a chance, but he missed when it counted.  Also basically refused to guard anybody running through a ball screen.  I think every first half point for Virginia came from the guy Hoffarber was guarding.

Maverick Ahanmisi.  A freshman point guard and not a particularly good one.  He's still better than I expected, but there's no way he should be playing significant minutes in important games right now. 

Austin Hollins.  I'm not even entirely sure he played.  The box score says he did, and says he nabbed three steals, but I'll be damned if I remember a single one of them. 

Devoe Joseph.  Awesome offensive machine in the first half, missed a couple of shots in the second and suddenly got tight, lost confidence and focus, and it was clang city.  And as much as I love him, there's no way he should be anywhere near running an offense.

Colt Iverson.  Got abused by Mike Scott like he was a national league team in 1986.  Brought some good energy on the offensive end, but energy don't score buckets. 

Mo Walker.  Gave them some good minutes in the second half, mainly because he tried.  Jesus christ that is a pathetic sentence.  God they sucked tonight.

Rodney Williams.  Was called "doubtful", then played five minutes, had a spectacular dunk, and re-injured himself.  Hopefully not seriously.

Chip Armelin.  A slower Rico Tucker, and I mean that in the good way.  A little out of control at times, but he at least gives you energy and effort and seems like the only guy who is always looking to score.  If he's not All Big 10 by his senior year I'll eat a donkey. 

Seriously, awful game.  It's easy to point at no Al Nolen and say that's the reason, and really this was such an awful game instead of scoffing like a scoffer and chalking that excuse up to homerism I'm actually considering it as legit.  And, since he's supposed to be out for "a few weeks" we might as well start ordering our NIT tickets now, kids.

When people call me "pessimistic" or "negative", there's a always a game like this around the corner to just prove the old axiom "never trust a Gopher team."

Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Virgina Cavaliers

Tonight your beloved Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team will welcome the Virginia Cavaliers to Williams Arena for the opening match-up of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  A chance to get a quality win, you ask?  An opportunity to get a feel for how good the Gophers can be against a quality foe, you wonder? 

No.  Not at all.

Unfortunately, the way the match-ups fell gives the Gophers a sub-par opponent in the Cavs, a team that won just five conference games last year and saw it's best player booted due to academics, the starting point guard go down due to knee injury before the season started, and last year's top recruit transfer to Central Florida.  Tony Bennett has the program moving in the right direction, and next year's recruiting class is one of the better ones in the country, but this year this team is sort of, well, not good.

They are 3-3, and did manage a win over Oklahoma - but then that same Oklahoma team lost to Chaminade.  The good, or even mediocre, teams Virginia has played have all won handily (Wichita State by 12, Stanford by 19, and Washington by an absurd 43), and so should Minnesota. 

The biggest concern when it comes to defending Virginia is power forward Mike Scott, a bruising double-double machine (17 pts, 9 rebs per game this year) who has been basically doing the same thing for three years.  He's not a star, but he's an outstanding player, who is unfortunately been thrust into the "#1 option" role when he should probably be more of a complimentary player.  I say that because he is too easy to shut down at times, as shown by the 0 point/3 rebs, 0 point/1 reb, and 2 point/1 reb. lines he put up in ACC play last year.  He also has absolutely nothing playing next to him in the paint - the next five leading scorers are all guards, only one other post player averages more than 1.8 points per game, and that guy (Will Sherrill) is more of a perimeter guy, with 20 of his 28 field goal attempts on the year from behind the three point line.

So clearly this is a guard oriented team, and that's reflected in two of their strengths - they don't turn the ball over a ton (81st in the country) and they shoot well from three (39.4% - 46th in the country), and contrary to what you'd expect, they are excellent at keeping their opponents off the offensive boards (34th in the country).  Also contrary to what you would expect, they are absolutely god awful against the three-pointer, with their opponents shooting 46.6% on the year, 339th in the country - their are only 345 teams.  They are also no very good against 2-pointers, allowing 48.4% shooting and ranking 198th.  An efficient offensive team like the Gophers should be able to absolutely shred them.  Look for Hoff to hit about 8 three-pointers.

And that should be enough.  Hoff should have good looks from three most of the game, along with Devoe Joseph if he plays, and Sampson, Mbakwe and company should be able to find open spots in the paint all game.  I expect this to be similar to the Western Kentucky game in that the Gophers will probably shoot around 60% or so, although scoring will probably be down because Virginia plays a much slower game than WKU, and there should be fewer turnovers.  That kind of scoring efficiency is going to be touch for the Cavs to deal with, especially since their best player isn't a "carry the team" type and should be bracketed by the Gophers' bigs fairly effectively.  The one danger is that Virginia gets ridiculously hot from three - and they can. 

The Cavs shot over 45% from three twice this year, and guards Billy Baron (brother of former Rhode Island sharp shooter Jimmy), Joe Harris, and Mustapha Farrakhan as well as Sherrill have all hit at least three three-pointers in a single game.  If multiple guys are hot tonight, and it's possible given that the Gophers are thoroughly average at defending the three, there does exist a non-zero possibility of an upset.  Ken Pomeroy gives Virginia a 12% chance of winning.  I'd put it at more like 4%.

Minnesota 75, Virginia 60 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll 11.23.2010

Here is my ballot for this week's Big 10 Power Poll, which you can find over on Myron Medcalf's blog on startribune.com each week.  Last week's is here.

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  That win over Florida last week is still the best win of any Big Ten team, and the 19-point win over Morehead State is nice as well.  Plus, have you seen these guys play?  Yikes.

2.  Minnesota Gophers.  North Carolina's loss to Vanderbilt took a little of the luster off the Gophers win, but the weekend in Puerto Rico served notice to the Big Ten that Minnesota is a contender with five wins over possible tournament teams already.  Even in the traditionally physical Big Ten, I'm not sure who can deal with the size and skill combination the Gophers can bring.

3.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  Nothing wrong with a third-place finish in the Coaches vs. Cancer classic, especially when your win is over Maryland and your loss was to Texas in OT.  If one of the trio of wings emerges (Brandon Paul, Jereme Richmond, DJ Richardson) they're going to be lethal.

4.  Purdue Boilermakers.   While most of the rest of the Big Ten contenders are playing in high quality tournaments against NCAA Tournament caliber competition, Purdue played Austin Peay in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.  What ever happened to challenging yourself when you think you're a national title contender?  I should knock them down another couple of spots on general principle.

5.  Michigan State Spartans.  Struggling against Chaminade and losing to UCONN in Maui shows that the Spartans aren't bulletproof, particularly since they lost to UCONN in late game meltdown fashion.  Talentwise they're still in the top 2, but results-wise they're closer to the middle; although there's little doubt Izzo will have them back at the top soon enough.

6.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Wisconsin's loss to UNLV over the weekend wasn't necessarily unexpected - on the road against a probably NCAA Tournament team - but it does drop them to the bottom of the contenders list.  They have a great opportunity to build their resume over Thanksgiving at the Old Spice Classic because they should be one of the two best teams in the field (along with Temple).

7.  Michigan Wolverines.  Bumping Michigan to the top of the lower tier this week, because even though they haven't played a quality opponent they have taken care of business with an average margin of victory of 24 points in their three games.  Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris are starting to look like a dynamic back court; it'll be interesting to see how they do against Syracuse on Friday.

8.  Northwestern Wildcats.  Still haven't played anybody, and haven't looked all that impressive in their wins over cupcakes, struggling to a win over Texas-Pan American.  With their horrid non-conference schedule, the Wildcats' margin for error is razor thin.

9.  Indiana Hoosiers.  They're beating up on bad teams, which is an improvement from last year at least.  Maurice Creek hasn't been the same player he was last year before he got hurt, but his 19 point outburst against Evansville is a sign that he may still get back to that level.

10.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  Yet another team that hasn't played anybody, and even with that soft schedule they don't have a 20-point win.  On the bright side, it's looking like Penn State might have a breakout star (and some help for Talor Battle) in forward Jeff Brooks, who's averaging 17 points a game after putting up just 7.4 last year.

11.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  When I saw Iowa beat Alabama, a supposed tournament team this year, I thought I was going to have to move them up.  Then the Tide lost to a terrible terrible terrible St. Peter's team, Iowa lost to Dan Monson and Long Beach, and everything suddenly made sense.  Even with Gatens back, this is a very poor Iowa squad.

Upcoming this week:

Michigan State will play in the third place game at the Maui Invitational against the loser of Washington and Kentucky.  That's still an opportunity to get a high quality win, and for the Spartans to reassert themselves as a final four contender.  A 1-2 trip isn't disastrous, but would be a huge disappointment.

Another tournament goer is Wisconsin, who travels to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic.  There are bunch of middling teams involved this year, and Wisconsin and Temple should end up the class of tournament, but wins over most of the other teams (Cal, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M in particular) are going to be good wins come March.  Big opportunity for the Badgers here.

Basically only three other games of note the rest of the week:  Michigan will play Syracuse in New Jersey, Penn State will play at Ole Miss, and Northwestern welcomes Creighton to Evanston.  For the Wildcats it's their first opponent worth a damn, while Penn State needs wins of that caliber if they want to grab an NCAA bid, and for the Wolverines we get to find out if they're any good. 

I'm gonna say no.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Minnesota Gophers vs. North Dakota State Bison Preview

When the North Dakota State Bison come to Williams Arena Wednesday night there is one and only one thing to worry about:  a letdown.  You know NDSU is going to come into this game treating it was the biggest game on their schedule, or at least non-conference schedule.  Little brother always wants to knock off big brother, the team is loaded with Minnesota-born players, NDSU is always amped to play the Gophers, and even though the Gophers have always handled the Bison, even when they were good that one year, it's going to be a little difficult to be up for this game coming off the huge tournament win.  So that's the priority - come out firing, come out intense, and play as well as they can rather than coming out flat and playing down to an opponent.  And it would be playing down, because NDSU doesn't have the same firepower bunch of nerds they had a few years back. 

That's not to say they are a cupcake, at least not completely.  They come in at 3-1 with wins over a good Big West team in UC-Santa Barbara and a so-so Sunbelt team in Denver, and took Oregon into overtime before losing, so they aren't exactly going to roll over and die.

The Bison's top player is returning leading scorer is Michael Tveidt, a 6-7 combo forward who was a key contributor on that good NDSU team.  He's averaging 16 points per game so far this year and lit up Oregon for 27.  After struggling with his three-point shot last year and hitting at just a 30% clip, he's been of fire so far this season going 10-15 from behind the line.  That's something that is going to be a concern for the Gophers, because it's not just Tveidt - the entire team shoots 53% from three-point land, good enough for #1 in the nation.  They don't chuck threes in high-volume, but they're great when they do - every player with a three-point attempt on the season is shooting at least 40%.

A couple of big weak spots are going to play into the Gophers' hands, however.  First, the Bison don't have the size to compete with the Gophers dominating front line.  Only one contributor to the team is taller than 6-7:  6-8 freshman Marshall Bjorklund, and most of their other size comes from tall but skinny wing players.  The only other real post presence they is the 6-6, 220 lb. Eric Carlson, a junior power forward who averages 13 points and 6 rebounds a game and who ESPN describes as "playing bigger than he is."  That sounds great and all, but I still have no idea how they're going to deal with Mbakwe, Sampson, and Iverson, and the Gophers should absolutely feast in the paint and on the offensive glass, and NDSU has been terrible keeping opponents off the boards (209th in the country in allowing opposing offensive rebounds) and blocking shots (332nd in the country).  All this points to a dominating performance inside for Minnesota.

Even if the Bison figure out a way to keep the Gophers away from the paint, they will need to take care of the ball against the swarming Minnesota defense, something they've struggled with this year.  They've turned the ball over on 21.4% of their possessions so far this season, ranking them 188th in the country, and that has been against teams that rank 210th (Oregon), 39th (UCSB), and 200th (Denver) in creating turnovers, as well as a D-II school (Mayville State).   Bad news for the Bison, because Minnesota ranks 99th and they've played five quality opponents.  With no experience at point guard and a team assist-to-turnover ratio of 1-to-1, I would be shocked if NDSU held their turnovers under 20 in this game, which will lead to even more easy buckets for the Gophers.

The difference in talent levels here is huge between these two teams, and if that's not enough the Bison weaknesses play right into the Gophers' hands.  This one isn't going to be close.

Minnesota 88, NDSU 60.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gophers outlast West Virginia, Capture Puerto Rico Title

The Minnesota Gophers had ever opportunity to coast in last night's game against the West Virginia Mountaineers.  They had already beat the North Carolina Tar Heels to give them a signature victory, WVU's Casey Mitchell was hot as fire and unguardable, they were down by 9 early, and it would have been easy enough to just call it a day.  Luckily, they're better than that, and what resulted was a second weekend NCAA Tournament quality game with the Gophers coming out on top and winning the championship of the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip Off, while simultaneously letting the country know that this team is going to be a contender.

It was a great overall game by the Gophers, and really highlighted why great depth is so important.  Ralph Sampson, arguably the team's best player thus far, was off.  Not only was in foul trouble, but the rough-and-tumble Mountaineers helped remind us of Ralph's biggest weakness - rough him up and get physical and he has a tendency to disappear.  Worked like a charm, but didn't matter because famous offensive brick wall Colt Iverson was more than game to step in and bang. 

Colt seemingly grabbed every rebound (he finished with 8) on both ends of the court ( 4 were offensive), and managed to convert most of his opportunities around the basket (scored 15 points on 5-7 shooting) and even hit his free throws at nearly an acceptable rate (5-9).  He even managed to steal a pass at the top of the key and take it coast-to-coast for a breakaway dunk.  I'd say it was a breakout performance, but we've seen this before, and tonight was a great reminder of what he brings to the table.  Solid reserve who can rebound, bang, and take up space at worst, able to control a game in the paint on rare occasions.  He's an excellent compliment to Ralph, and I'm damn glad he's on the team.   

One of the other player performances that really stood out was the play of Al Nolen.  He was absolutely the player in charge out there tonight, on both ends of the court, reminding everyone just how valuable someone with the tag "senior point guard" can be.  It's hard to think of a really good point guard for the Gophers since Eric Harris, but Nolen could be well on his way.  He scored 17 points, made a mind-boggling 11 of 12 free throws, completely shut down Truck Bryant, and just controlled the game on both ends.  I mean, he opened the Gopher scoring with a drive and step-back jumper from 15 feet, and I know I have never, ever, ever, ever seen him do that.  I don't think I've ever seen him do that.  I don't think I've ever seen him attempt it, actually.  He's never going to be an awesome offensive force, but he's improved enough that he's no longer a complete liability, and with his ability to blow by anybody that's really all you need.   

One last performance of note was that of Chip Armelin.  With Rodney Williams struggling and Austin Hollins not playing as well as he had in the past, Tubby turned to Armelin as his small forward of choice, even giving him the crunch time minutes, and Armelin repaid that trust by coming up with a couple of huge plays.  He had a big rebound late and made the assist on the game-winning three pointer by Hoffarber on a nice rotation around the three point line.  Huge game for Chip, and shows that this team will be 9 very quality players deep.

Tonight the players who carried the Gophers in the first two rounds - Sampson, Trevor Mbakwe, and Blake Hoffarber - were overshadowed by Iverson, Nolen, and Armelin, and that couldn't possibly be more of a positive. 

A Championship for the Gophers.  And let's not forget, they did it without Devoe Joseph.  This team has a legit shot at being special.  How special remains to be seen, but this is a hell of a start.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Minnesota Gophers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Game Diary

Your Minnesota Gophers taking on the #8 North Carolina Tar Heels in Puerto Rico.  What's more fun that this?  So of course I'm gonna write some stuff.

19:36 - Good Gopher defense leads to a UNC turnover.  That needs to happen a lot for the Gophers to have a chance here.

19:00 - Another UNC turnover, an airball by Rodney, a missed UNC layup, and a charge on Nolen.  This is ugly.  Fast-paced, but ugly. 

18:03 - Interesting to note that the Heels struggled a bit with Hofstra's zone yesterday - well, as much as you can struggle when you win by 40 - yet the Gophers are going man-to-man here.  If it's to negate the size of the Heels it isn't working.  Zeller has a jumper and UNC's other bucket is off an offensive board.  4-1 Heels.

17:22 - Ralph hits that 16 footer.  I love when he hits that when it's given to him.  As long as he doesn't fall in love with it and turn into a Rickert - which was a problem last year - I love his versatility.

16:30 - Heels go with a half-court trap, which leads to a wide open three for Hoff, which he, of course, nails.  Bring it, Carolina.  Now Justin Knox picks up his second foul, and Zeller has two as well.  Excellent.  7-4 Gophers as we go to the under 16 timeout.

15:50 - Tubby goes with an entire second five here, which causes me to ask, "Is Tubby Smith functionally retarded?"  Four freshman, including Maverick, and Iverson against North Carolina?  This is basically free reign for Carolina to take back the lead.

15:14 - Maverick travels.

15:02 - Henson blows right past Walker and draws a foul.  Makes 1 of 2.  7-5 Gophers.

14:47 - Good pass goes right through Iverson's hands to Carolina.

14:14 - Travel on Armelin.  This is going swimmingly.

13:19 - Terrible pass by Hollins leads to a dunk by the Heels.  7-7.

13:01 - Walker hookshot hits nothing but back board.  Layup by Zeller.  9-7 Carolina.  You know what is so retarded?  You can actually take one or two starters out and leave three others in the game.  You don't actually have to take all five out at a time.  So stupid.  Does he think he's playing South Dakota?  You can't put that lineup out there against Carolina.  Luckily most of the starters are now back in.

11:42 - I think Strickland can actually stick with Nolen off the dribble.  You don't see that very often.

11:26 - Clear goal tend on a layup by Nolen.  No call.  Looks like the refs are wearing their Carolina blue t-shirts under their stripes tonight.  Announcers don't even mention the goal tend.  This is a conspiracy.  Just like in that movie Conspiracy Theory.

10:27 - Mbakwe goes over everybody for an offensive board, and is fouled and sent to the line.  That should be one of two.

10:27 - Nope, 2-of-2, no rims hit.  13-12 Heels.

9:57 - Ralph from 14 after an o-board.  Looking like he's legit

9:13 - Waaaaaaaaay too many offensive rebounds for Carolina.  They missed three three-pointers on that possession, and must have nearly double-digit offensive rebounds already.  That's gotta stop.

7:38 - Iverson showing his value, and he seems to be the only one who can keep Carolina from getting any offensive rebounds.  Still a brick wall on offense.  And that 5-second call on Mbakwe is the Gophers' ninth turnover already.  Turnovers and allowing offensive rebounds.  That's like the arsenic and cyanide of a successful basketball team.

6:03 - Another turnover leads to a Carolina dunk, and it's suddenly 21-16 UNC.  Tubby wisely calls timeout, and it's time, right now, to do something good before this turns into a rout.

5:37 - Hollins fouled on a three-pointer.  Makes 1.  If turnovers and o-boards are arsenic and cyanide, missing free throws is like swallowing a nuclear warhead.

5:24 - Armelin airballs a free throw.  Jesus jumped on christ on a broken bar stool.  He then clangs the next one.  It's a free throw, geniuses.  Nobody is even playing defense.  That would be like hitting a baseball off a tee with nobody playing defense and not being able to get a single (NOTE:  Nick Punto doesn't count).

4:00 - North Carolina is on a whole different level of athletic.

3:38 - Harrison Barnes just made two free throws for his first two points of the night.  If nothing else they are doing a great job on him.  Both Rodney when he's matched up individually and as a team, helping out when he drives or posts.  Of course, he's not doing himself any favors by immediately passing it off when he's got Hoffarber on him one-on-one.  Might want to start recognizing that kind of thing, Harry.

2:52 - Hoffarber is like 1-50 from three tonight.  Also Barnes is faking an injury since he's playing so poorly.

1:46 - Now 2 for 51.  23-22 Carolina.

0:42 - Wow, another terrible call on a backcourt violation that was called on the Gophers but was clearly tipped by Carolina.  I mean clearly and obviously.  Once again, the announcers don't say a god damn word.  I can't decide if these guys are biased or just completely fucking incompetent.  Seriously, how do you get an announcing job?  95% of these guys are dumb as hell and I think half of them don't even understand the game.

0:02 - Blake now 3 for 52.  27-24 Gophers.

HALF - Wow, hell of a half.  Blake, Ralph, and Mbakwe all carried the offense at times, but Iverson might have been the MVP of the half.  The only times Carolina didn't completely own the offensive glass was when Colt was in.  Gophers are right there, man.  Keep them off the boards and stop freaking turning it over every other possession and they could end up with a huge win.

19:36 - Mbakwe wide open for an alley oop and Ralph overthrows him by about 10 feet.  Damn. 

19:04 -  Hoff with another one.  My Hoffboner is growing.

18:24 - Ralph for three.  My hoffboner is only surpassed by my Ralphrection.

17:28 - Barnes is brutal right now.  He's 0-7 on the game, and he's had some decent looks.  How he was named a preseason All-American and Ralph wasn't is a completely mystery.  Well, not really.  Damn east coast bias.

16:38 - Alley oop to Henson.  100% Ralph's fault.  He's in the middle of the zone and he let himself get sealed off away from the basket.  Can't do that.

15:56 - Just saw Corey Joseph be a huge jackass in their game.  Ha ha.  Also got two texts (from Snacks and Grandslam) to that affect.

15:21 - Some genius just fouled Iverson 28 feet from the basket.  Right where he's most dangerous.

15:04 -  Hoffarber on Barnes again.  Barnes gets the ball on the wing, one-on-one position.  Rather than doing anything intelligent he takes a three-pointer, which he clangs off.  Huge break for the Gophers that his basketball IQ is right around a six.

12:55 -  Mbakwe just abused Henson.  God he's so awesome.  He's like Randy Carter if Carter wasn't such a little girl in the lane.  Gophers up 41-36.  Still waiting for the inevitable meltdown.

11:34 - Nolen airballs a three, then Rodney airballs the follow.  Feels like this could be it right here.  Jesus.

11:09 - Tie game.

10:46 - HOFFDADDY!!!

9:46 -  Oh my god Mbakwe.  He just dunked on everybody's face from a standing position.  I don't believe the Gophers have EVER had a player who could do that.

8:42 -  Hoff for 2.  I feel like he let me down.  50-43 Gophers.  I feel some excitement starting to build.  Luckily I have a lot of experience quashing optimism being a Minnesota fan my whole life.

8:42 -  I'm going to see Harry Potter tomorrow morning.  Stoked.

8:11 -  Rodney with a very nice drive.  Suck it Harrison.

7:52 -  Tyler Zeller has the second best hook shot in all of the NCAA.  Ralph is first of course.  And you now damn well this game is going to come down to if the Gophers can make their free throws.  How does that make you feel?

7:03 -  I just said "Oh my god" out loud after Rodney's offensive rebound tip dunk like I was a black dude in a movie theater.

6:40 -  So I started up a Fantasy Big Ten Hoops League with some of the all-stars from this blog:  Snacks, Bogart, Dawger, Snake, Optimator, Grand Slam, and Elk.  My team is Shurna, Buford, Nolen, Roe, Gatens, and Novak.  I'm definitely winning.  Although I think Dawger's pick of Hoff in the third round, a pick we all kind of giggled about being too early, might actually end up being the steal of the draft.  I know Snacks is already trying to work a trade.

5:00 - A few free-throws and a lay-up and it's now 58-55 Minnesota.  They withstood one UNC run, can they withstand another?


4:02 - Nolen now to the line for a one-and-one.  These are huge.

4:02 - Makes just one.  Gophers up 62-55.

3:46 - Feel free to get Mo Walker out of the game any time.

3:15 - Nolen just rips the rebound away from Zeller.  God I love good Al Nolen.

3:00 - Can anybody explain to me why Walker shot a three-pointer just then?  And then he fouls Zeller who can now make a three-point play.  That's a six point swing in the negative direction all by himself.  God fuckin' dammit. 

2:39 -  Heels foul Hoffarber, the only guy who can make free throws.  Hits both, 64-59 Gophers.

2:15 -  When the Gophers have their starters out there their 2-3 zone is pretty incredible.  They might not be as fast or athletic as some other teams, but they are definitely quick, and in that 2-3 that's all you need.  And as I type, steal by Nolen.  Ends up with Colton at the line for two.  Come on, bricklayer.  One time.

1:47 - Hits both.  Holy shit.  WTF?

1:16 -  Rodney with a nearly insane dunk over Zeller where he hung in the air for something like 17 seconds.  Now at the line.  Makes both 68-59.

0:56 -  Barnes now 0-12 for the game.  Foul sends Hoff to the line.  Guess who told all you dickholes the Gophers were going to win?  Yep.  Me.  I'm a god damn basketball Einstein.

0:42 -  Carolina hits a jumper to make it 69-61.  I am now terrified I opened my mouth too soon and they're going to find a way to blow this.

0:37 -  Somehow Iverson falls down.  Ball back to Carolina.  Oh god.  It's happening.

0:32 - Sampson fouls Barnes, which means he's fouled out and also that Carolina can put up two points with only five seconds coming off the clock. 

0:28 - Iverson dunk. I'm actually kind of surprised he didn't miss.  Carolina hits a triple on the other end, and it's a 71-65 game with 20 seconds left.  They can't lose this, right?  Right?

0:12 - Somehow Carolina lets 8 seconds run off before fouling Nolen.  At this point just make one and that's ballgame.  And there it is.  Sweet.

0:00 - Ballgame.  72-67 Gophers. 

Now it's on to West Virginia for the championship, and honestly it doesn't really matter what happens this trip was now definitely a success.  Huge win, and basically guarantees the Gophers are about to be ranked.  I'm stoked, kids.  Full on stoked. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Minnesota Gophers 95, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 77

It was a tale of two halves in last nights Minnesota Gophers vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers matchup in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip Off.

You know how whenever anybody criticizes the Big Ten they inevitably mention a "lack of athleticism" and how the players are "slow"?  Generally I think, "hey, maybe Northwestern and Wisconsin and Iowa and some others, but this year's Gopher squad is their most athletic in years and can hang with anybody."  Boy was I proven wrong, because Western Kentucky was far more athletic and far, far, far faster than Minnesota, and during the first half at times I thought we were doomed.  Doomed like poor, stupid Dumbledore. 

The Hilltoppers were getting out in transition, whether after a miss, turnover, or even a Gopher make it didn't matter, and beating the Gophers down the floor to get good shot after good shot.  They were mostly threes, and they were mostly makes, and my tummy got queasy like that time I had buffalo wings with a side of chili for lunch.

Now, there were signs that the Gophers were probably the better team.  WKU couldn't really do anything in the half court, turning it over more often than they scored (or at least it seemed like it).  They couldn't do anything in the paint, because Ralph Sampson and Trevor Mbakwe (and Rodney Williams) basically had it closed off like an amish virgin's pantaloons, and conversely they had no way of stopping the Gopher big men on the block.  Basically the Gophers seemed completely in control on both ends of the floor in the half court, but WKU's transition offense and sloppiness with the ball on Minnesota's part led to it just being a 6 point Gopher lead at half after an Al Nolen three at the buzzer, but it looked like either team could grab control at any point.

And grab control the Gophers did in the second half, starting out with a 12-2 run to start out the half, highlighted by yet another Sampson dunk, and never really looked back.  It turns out you can negate a team's advantage in speed pretty quickly if you just score.  And score, and score.  The second half was essentially a lay-up/dunk line for the Gophers, who just pounded the ball inside, penetrated at will (like me with your sister), and essentially looked completely unstoppable leading to 63% shooting for the game.  Taking away the Hilltoppers ability to run made them play in the half court where they were at a substantial disadvantage, and really led to the Gopher win.


Ralph Sampson (22 pts, 8 rebs, 7 blocks).  The star of the game, as he usually is, Ralph realized early that WKU had nobody who could handle him inside and didn't bother with the perimeter foo-foo stuff.  He attacked inside, early and often, showcasing that hook shot and being just an effective, efficient low-post scorer.  A thing of beauty.  And if that's not enough for you, he also controlled the paint on the defensive end with 7 blocks.  Big Ten Player of the Year?  Big Ten Player of the Year.

Rodney Williams( 17 pts, 7 rebs, 7-10 shooting).  This was exactly the Rodney Williams who gets all the "lottery pick" talk.  He hit threes and did his jumping and dunking thing, but more importantly he put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, he showed a nice mid-range game, and he played good defense and rebounded well.  This is the first time I've really thought we weren't going to see Rodney all four years.  Great game.

Trevor Mbakwe (18 pts, 10 rebs).  He makes such a difference from last year.  Just the prototypical power forward, very strong, very good rebounder, and great athlete.  Controls the paint when he's in, and isn't afraid to mix it up and do some of the dirt work.  He and Sampson are a great combo inside.

Blake Hoffarber (16 pts, 9 assists).  It's pretty clear what he means to this team since Tubby played him 38 minutes (actually he played all the starters at least 32 minutes), and he once again showed why he has that trust.  Guy is just a really solid, smart player who would be an absolutely outstanding point guard if he was a bit quicker.  Or a lot quicker.  But no matter.  WKU is an athletic team, the kind of team that would have taken Blake completely out of the game even a year ago, and he ended up with a huge game.  I don't know if it's his own improvement, a better team around him, or coaching, but Blake looks like the real team leader out there.

Al Nolen (12 pts, 3 assists).  Hit two huge three-pointers in the first half, both from about 25 feet and both after being left wide open.  He doesn't have to be an offensive force, but he does have to keep defenses honest, because if they have to cover him on the perimeter it makes it easier for him to get in the lane - and it did.  He also had an absolutely sweet drive and dish to Mbakwe for a monster dunk.  Seriously, there is very little as fun to watch as good Nolen.  Too bad he's essentially a freakin' two-face.
Austin Hollins (3 pts, 3 rebs, 11 minutes).  He's pretty clearly the sixth man, at least until Devoe gets back, and he should be.  The most important thing for a freshman is to understand teh game and play smartly, and he's got that down, but he also brings an excellent jump shot, a good handle, and a quick first step.  Love this kid. 

Colt Iverson (4 pts, 8 minutes).  Missed two layups in one possession at one point and dropped at least one pass, making it clear that he's pretty much always going to be a threat to be an offensive brick wall on any given night.  Still, he's pretty good at taking up space.

Maurice Walker (1 reb, 5 minutes).  Actually kind of looked disinterested in his 5 minutes last night.  Also good at taking up space, but is less efficient than Colton and doing things like blocking shots and grabbing rebounds.  I honestly still can't figure out what exactly we're going to get out of him this year.  Could range from solid contributor to benchwarmer and it wouldn't surprise me.

Chip Armelin (3 pts, 5 minutes).   Still love this guy, and he hit a big three in the first half.   Still don't really trust him, and he had two turnovers in his five minutes.  He reminds me so much of Rico Tucker it makes my pants tight.   

Maverick Ahanmisi (2 minutes).  I was pretty surprised to see him out there at all, actually.  I'm just impressed that he didn't screw anything up 

Really, an incredible offensive second half.  Don't let the 18 point win fool you, this Hilltopper team is going to be very good and should blow right through this consolation bracket.  Come tournament time this win will look very good on the Gophers' resume. 

Speaking of resume building, I can't wait for tomorrow's game against North Carolina.  Not only is it the highest profile opponent I remember the Gophers playing since Kentucky way back in the Final Four that never happened, but it's a team the Gophers could actually beat.  John Henson and Tyler Zeller are big, but Ralph and Mbakwe are stronger - great matchup.  How will Larry Drew handle Al Nolen's pressure?  Will the Gophers be able to score in the half court against a solid UNC defense, and can they minimize turnovers?  Nineteen tonight was way too many and if they do that again they won't beat the Heels.  This is going to be fun.  I have a feeling North Carolina will be a little tougher in the half court than WKU was, but I said the Gophers were the better team the other day and I pretty much have to stick with it.

Minnesota 75, North Carolina 71

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Minnesota Gophers Basketball Team Heads to Puerto Rico: A Primer

I'll assume you already know all about your Minnesota Gophers basketball squad, but since they head to Puerto Rico for the 2010 version of the Tip-Off and matchups will be coming too fast and furious to do a preview of each game, here's a primer on all the possible teams the Gophers could face.

We'll start with Thursday's opponent, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  Names like Orlando "Taco Hawk" Mendez-Valdez, Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton, and A.J. Slaughter might not exactly be known in households across America, but hoop heads should recognize them and know that the Hilltoppers are a perennial contender in the Sun Belt and the program has been built into a mid-major power - 20 wins in 9 of the last 10 seasons and a sweet 16 appearance.

This year is no exception, and the team is led by three senior wings in Sergio Kerusch, Steffphon Pettigrew, and Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo.  Those three are all averaging at least 18 points per game through the Hilltopper's first two games and are scoring over half the team's points, while Patillo has been a beast on the boards, grabbing twelve in each game.  WKU is also hitting over 43% of their threes this year, so it's not just going to be an outside game.    

Make no mistake, the Gophers can't look past this game to a potential second-round matchup against North Carolina, and they have to contain that trio.  If one of them gets off like Clarence Jackson did in the Siena game they're in trouble, and if two of them do it's going to be lights out.  Minnesota took care of business against both Wofford and the Saints - both preseason contenders in their mid-major conferences - so they should be able to do it here, but this is going to be a tough matchup.

If they do manage to get through it, it should set up a second-round dogfight against the Tar Heels of North Carolina, who famously underachieved last year, although did start to put it together in the end and were NIT runner-ups.  Point guard play was a big weakness for UNC last year, and once again this year their point guards look a bit shaky.  Returning starter Larry Drew and freshman Kendall Marshall combined for just four assists against five turnovers in a mere 14 point win over Lipscomb in UNC's only game thus far, and that should be a weakness to exploit for the Gophers.  John Henson and Tyler Zeller played well and give the Heels good size to go against the Gophers, but this is another area where Minnesota should have the advantage with Sampson, Mbakwe, and Iverson.

The X-factor will be freshman and pre-season All-American Harrison Barnes, who is essentially being anointed as the greatest player of all-time.  Assuming he and Rodney Williams are matched up on each other it's going to be time for Rodney to grow up in a hurry and become the defensive stopper he has the potential to be, or his ass will be shredded faster than if he put it into E. Honda's Slap Chop.

The Heels have a lofty ranking at 8th in the country, but I'm telling you right now it's not deserved - the Gophers are the better team.

If something weird happens the Gophers other potential second-round game would be against the Hofstra Pride.  Not a bad team by any stretch, but stuck in the middle of a pretty good Colonial Conference once again this season.  They do have a pretty dynamic player in 6-3 senior guard Charles Jenkins who put up 26 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in their opening game win over Farmingdale State (of course, the team scored 102, so how much can you really take from that game?)  Still, he 21-5-4-2 last year, so he can take over a game, but with Al Nolen on the Gophers side if they do face Hofstra they shouldn't have much trouble.

They could end up facing any of the other four teams depending on how everything shakes out, but assuming they win their first and everything holds according to plan they would likely face either the West Virginia Mountaineers or Vanderbilt Commodores, whether it's in the Championship or the Third Place Game - hopefully WVU in the championship.

The Mountaineers lost quite a bit from last year's Final Four team but are still expected to be an NCAA Tournament team based on the talent that is back, and are the team I would make the favorite to win this thing.  Not only do they have a potential superstar in Kevin Jones, who was second on the team in scoring and rebounding last year while leading them in FG and 3-pt shooting percentage - and stands 6-8, but they bring back two point guards and enough size to tangle with the Gophers, should they meet.  The guards, Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla, will help negate the Gophers tough perimeter defense, while Jones and the other bigs could handle Ralph and the boys in the paint.  This would be an absolutely outstanding game.  Let's hope it happens.

If not the Mountaineers, the most likely third opponent for the Gophers would be Vandy, a tournament team last year who needs to figure out how to replace their starting point guard and center (who were the top 2 scorers) from last year.  It's only one game in, but they look like they're on the right track.  New point guard Brad Tinlsey opened the year with a triple-double (albeit against Presbyterian), while new center Festus Ezeli (who the Gophers were recruiting for a while) chipped in with 14 pts and 6 rebounds.  And, lest you think they have no talent returning, their two best players are their wings:  6-7 do everything Jeffrey Taylor and 6-4 lights out shooter John Jenkins, both of whom were named to the All-SEC Freshman team last year.  Taylor is a possible SEC player of the year, while Jenkins is on basically every list of "best shooter in the NCAA" I've seen.  This one wouldn't be easy either.

What would be easy, and disappointing, is if the Gophers lose their first game, end up in the loser's bracket, and play either the Nebraska Cornhuskers or Davidson Wildcats in the consolation game (or worse).  No offense to either school, but this would mean something has gone horribly, horribly wrong and Minnesota took a big NCAA resume building opportunity and turned it into a loss to WKU and two meaningless wins, missing out on a couple of shots at big-time teams who will end up with very nice RPIs.  Nebraska is going to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 and Davidson hasn't been able to recapture the magic of two years ago and is no longer a dangerous mid-major team, so neither will do anything to build up a resume or give a good idea of how good the Gophers are/can be.

So is it fair to say this game against Western Kentucky is the most important non-conference game of the year?  I'd say yes, without question.  A win over the Hilltoppers all but guarantees two cracks and getting a big marquee win, and even two losses will at least help the RPI a bit.  A loss all but guarantees two games against teams that don't help if you win, but are killers if you lose.  So, basically, don't freaking lose this game.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll - 11.16.2010

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf's power poll, which I will link to once he gets it up and running tomorrow.  My submission is here:

(Link to the poll, now up and running)

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  Not only do they have the biggest and most impressive win after beating Florida tonight, but their one possible weakness - point guard - doesn't look like a weakness any more.  Freshman Aaron Craft has 14 assists against just 3 turnovers in their two games.  Oh, and fellow freshman Jared Sullinger is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds.  Look out.

2.  Michigan State Spartans.  Off the court issues and injuries don't seem to be affecting Sparty, and I don't know why I would ever doubt an Izzo team.  They head to Maui next week, where we should get an idea if they're a national title favorite, or merely a contender.

3.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  We'll know more about Illinois after this week's Coaches vs. Cancer tourney where they play Texas and either Maryland or Pitt, but they've looked good in their three games since struggling in their exhibition contests.

4.  Minnesota Gophers.  If you're ranking the quality of wins by Big Ten teams thus far, the Gophers probably have #2 and #3 with their wins over Wofford and Siena.  The only problem is the Siena game exposed a few too many flaws to put them in the upper tier.  Like several other Big Ten teams they're in an upcoming tournament with several other qualities teams and we'll know more after we see how that shakes out. 

5. Purdue Boilermakers.  Tough to know how they're going to be with Hummel on the shelf when their only game was against Howard.  I'm slotting them below the Gophers due to Minnesota's two quality wins already, but above Wisconsin since they made the Sweet 16 last year with basically the same team.

6. Wisconsin Badgers.  Beating up on Prairie View and North Dakota isn't going to impress anybody.  Going to UNLV this weekend and playing the Rebels right when they get Tre'Von Willis back will.

7.  Northwestern Wildcats.  Got to give the Cats for opening on the road and taking care of business, but their non-conference schedule is so weak this year it would take monumental collapses from the teams above them for Northwestern to move up in this poll before conference play starts.  It may also keep them from their first NCAA bid.

8. Indiana Hoosiers.  Indiana is out to a 3-0 start, and even if they haven't really played anybody their win over a so-so Wright State team by 23 is the most impressive win out of the conference's bottom feeders.

9.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  Barely knocked off St. Joseph's tonight.  This does not bode well for Talor Battle's chances to finally make it to an NCAA Tournament.

10. Michigan Wolverines.  Played, and beat, a team in South Carolina Upstate that I'm not even sure is Division I in their opener.  Although I suppose if they stick to that level of competition it's pretty much the only way they'll have a good season.

11.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  If there was any doubt who the worst team in the Big Ten was going to be this year, and their probably shouldn't have been, the Hawkeyes erased it by losing to South Dakota State.  When Gatens is back from injury they might have enough offense to steal an upset win here or there, but I can't foresee any possible way they move out of this 11th spot at any point.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Minnesota Gophers vs. Siena Saints Game Diary

I was all set to finally make it to Williams Arena for my first game of the year, when the double whammy lightning bolt of pink eye for Wonderbaby and work blowout for Mrs. W knocked those plans out of orbit, leaving me on the couch, watching the game like the rest of you slackers.  So I might as well make the most of it and write some stuff down.

20:00 - Game hasn't started yet, we're currently watching the end of the Wake Forest/Hampton game that is inexplicably going down to the wire.  Seriously, that Iowa/Wake Forest matchup in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge might feature the worst team in Big Ten history vs. the worst team in ACC history.  I guess that's kind of historic, in it's own retarded way.

20:00 - I did finally watch the Gopher/Wofford game and paid like, 75% attention to it.  Two things stood out for me:  Ralph Sampson III looking like he actually wants to dominate fools this year, and Al Nolen doing three things I didn't think he was capable of:  knocking down a three and doing in confidently, penetrating into the lane and aggressively attacking the basket, and getting into the lane and knowing exactly where his teammates were for the dish.  If that was for real, and I'm not betting on it, the Gophers are going to be awfully tough to beat because he's still unguardable.  And also I think I love Chip Armelin like a fat kid loves cake.

19:44 - Austin Hollins starting?  Interesting.  And boy did he just get schooled by Clarence Jackson.  Really can't let that guy get off.  I hope there's nothing going on with Rodney.

19:02 - Siena going zone here, and the Gophers hit threes on their first two possessions, one by Blake and one by Hollins.  Both wide open, too.  I read Siena isn't maybe the strongest defensive team, so the open shots will be there, just gotta keep knockin' 'em down.  Siena has answered with a couple of threes of their own and leads 8-6, but neither of those were due to a defensive breakdown by the Gophers, so I'm not concerned yet.

17:33 - Beautiful move and reverse lay-in by Hollins.  Boy does that kid look good.  He might be better than Rodney Williams already.

16:37 - Hoffarber answers a Siena three-pointer (wide open) with one of his own (wide open).  Not a ton of defense being played here.

15:58 - Al Nolen just hit a shake-and-bake step back jumper.  I feel like I'm in bizarro world with Kevin, Gener, Feldman, and Fargas.  Next thing you know I'm gonna get yelled at for eatin' olives.

15:43 - Another god damn three-pointer by Siena, and the Saints lead 18-13.  The defense isn't even that bad, they're just hitting tough shots.  Can't last, right?

15:10 - Nolen dribbles into the lane and picks up his dribble with no idea what he's going to do with the ball.  Sigh.

14:29 - Rodney is in, and just passed up a jumper so he could throw the ball into the crowd instead.  I wonder if Hollins has just straight up outplayed Williams to the point where he's earned the start.  Wouldn't shock me.

13:44 -  Siena goes man-to-man, forces Rodney into another turnover after trapping him in the corner.  Siena leads 22-15, and I don't want to say I'm getting nervous, so I just won't say anything at all.

13:09 - Rodney drives to the hole.  Shot got blocked, which obviously isn't ideal, but it's good to see him try to make that play.  And then Jackson hits another three-pointer.  Dude is out of his mind right now, with 14 points on 6-6 shooting.  Also Siena as a team is shooting 10-12.  Yes, that's 10-12.  Remember in my preview how I said Jackson was the kind of guy who could single-handedly win this for Siena?  Yeah, it's like that.

12:05 - Just saw that Georgia Tech is losing by ten to Kennesaw State late in the second half.  The bottom of the ACC this year is just brutal.  Like, I think the bottom of the Big Ten might end up being better.

10:22 -  Rossiter finally gets on the board, going right by Sampson as if he was standing still.  I gotta say man, right now Siena looks like they're playing on a whole different level than the Gophers.  Not like the Gophers are playing poorly, but Siena just looks out of their mind good.  You may consider me nervous.

9:34 - Nolen clangs a three.

8:50 - Very quick four straight for Sampson, boosted by a good steal, good rebound off his own miss, and good pass by the Hoff.  Ok, I'm just going to say it.  Blake should play every minute of every game this year.  He's not the most talented player on the team, but he's their best player.  Of course, as I'm typing that Jackson completely loses him around a couple of screens leading to a shooting foul, and reminding me why Blake can't play every minute of every game.  If I had to sum up his offensive contributions vs. his defensive shortcomings in picture form, it would look like this:
You guess which is which.

7:06 - God Rodney Williams drives me crazy.  He's now developed a sideways float on his jump shot, meaning that of the two things he did well last year, he no longer does one of them.  He also just got schooled by a UTEP two-step by a white dude.  I still have faith.  But it's more like my faith that the Loch Ness Monster is real than my faith in gravity still working tomorrow.

5:56 - Georgia Tech is about to lose to Kennesaw.  Really a banner season so far for the ACC. 

3:26 - This game needs more Mbakwe.

2:28 - One handed monster jam by Mbakwe on a run-out off a great pass in transition from Hoffarber (and great catch by Reign Man II).  Seriously, I should be coaching this team.  Everything I say is right.

1:55 - Armelin with a great drive to pull the Gophers to within two.  I gotta say, and I know it's early, but lookin' like Tubby found a couple of gems in this class in Armelin and Hollins.  Those two are looking like they are both going to be outstanding four year players.

1:15 - Mbakwe with a nice baseline spin move into a lay-up and the foul, hits the free throw to give the Gophers back the lead at 33-32.  Who was it who said the Gophers needed to get the ball to Mbakwe more?  Genius.

HALF - Siena goes to half with a 34-33 lead because nobody can cover Jackson.  He should cool off here in the second half and the Gophers have most of the momentum and seem to be figuring this thing out, so I'm not worried anymore.  Gophers will end up winning by eleven.

19:40 - Another  board for Hoffarber.  I honestly wouldn't be shocked if he ends up getting a triple double at some point this year.  I mean, he probably won't because 10 assists in a college game is pretty damn difficult to do, but it could happen.

18:08 - Gophers clang a couple of three-pointers, while Siena scores on a couple layups.  The Saints are the more aggressive team right now.  It's leading to a lot of turnovers, but also too many easy buckets.

15:47 - We head to the under 16 timeout with Siena still up, but just by a count of 42-41 after Hoffarber and Hollins each hit a three-pointer.  I'll tell you what's driving me nuts in this game, and that's this incredible over reliance on the three pointer for offense.  I know that it's what is open, as in other than a couple I don't think most of them have been forced, but they need to be making a more concerted effort to get the ball inside.  Sampson and Mbakwe have been damn near unstoppable when they get a chance, so let's do that more often.  If nothing else, they're getting doubled and opening up the outside even more.

14:38 - Gophers up two, and Siena is doing everything in their power to give this game away.  Time to put this baby to bed.

13:40 - God damn Clarence Jackson.  Another three.

12:32 -  Nobody wants to win this game.  It's just a turnover-fest right now.  It would be like watching Wake Forest play Iowa, but if they decided to play at faster than their usual glacial pace.  And also if Teen Wolf was on one of the teams, because guess who just hit another three-pointer?  Yep, Clarence "Dickface" Jackson.  This is like Lazelle Durden all over again.  I wonder if he's related to Tyler Durden.

10:34 - Work it inside.  Reign Man II gets another dunk.  Work it inside.  Rodney Williams lay-up.  Gophers now lead 53-48, and in case their was any doubt that I'm a god damn basketball genius, I think we can put that debate to rest. 

9:30 - Work it inside, missed layup but the double team leads to a Rodney Williams tip-dunk. 

8:55 - Trevor Mbakwe's head looks like his brain is on the outside.  And he's got another double-double tonight.  It's pretty clear the lineup should be Nolen/Hollins/Hoffarber/Mbakwe/Sampson for now, with Joseph in for Hollins when he gets back Then you have a bench of Hollins, Armelin, Iverson,

6:40 -  Rodney alley-oop, Sampson lay-in, and the Gophers are suddenly up 59-49.  That alley-oop to Rodney was pretty incredible.  He just sort of never came down after he jumped, waited for the ball, and dunked it.  Even though I think he has holes in his game you could drive a truck through it isn't hard to see why pro scouts are drooling when they watch him play.  He's the next Harold Minor.

3:53 - Gophers lead by 10 into the final TV timeout, and right now Siena is a we bit lost and hasn't made an actual field goal in something like 10 game minutes, mostly due to turnovers.  Well, that and piss poor shooting.  I think it's in their heads because when they have the ball now they look more like a group of second graders who don't know the rules - or the Gophers usual halfcourt offense.  I don't know why it's so difficult to remember to just give the ball to Jesus Shuttlesjackson and get out of his way.

2:05 - Rossiter fouls out with 8 points and can't be more than a handful of boards.  Really unimpressed, and I was looking forward to seeing him play since he's supposed to be a favorite for the MAAC Player-of-the-year award.  Talk about a let-down.  This is just like that movie about the werewolf with the guy from that movie with Alicia Silverstone.

1:55 -  Six point game and Nolen misses the front-end right after Rodney hit just 1 of 2.  Let's not make this interesting here, guys.  Remember, they have Kyle Watson from Above the Rim out there.

1:14 - Four point game, Nolen at the line.  Rattles home the first, thank god.  Misses the second, but Kickass Mbakwe grabs the offensive board.  Hoff at the line and I think it's time we put a notch in the win column.

Gophers win 76-69.  Good win.  Not a great win, but Siena is a solid team who threw their best shot at the Gophers, and Minnesota weathered the storm, shut Siena's offense down completely, and tore them apart in the paint after spending too much of the game living on the perimeter.  Nicely done.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Big Ten Wrap-Up, 11.15.2010

It was a pretty good week for the Big Ten, as long as you aren't a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes.  The Hawkeyes opened the Fran McCaffery era at home with a resounding thud of a loss to South Dakota State, 79-69, forcing just 10 turnovers and allowing the Jackrabbits to knock down 10 three-pointers.  SDSU is not really supposed to contend in the Summit League, so this isn't a loss to a sneaky mid-major contender; this is a loss to a bad team by a really bad team.  Suddenly my prediction of five total wins this year for Iowa is looking downright optimistic.

As far as the other teams go it was pretty much cupcake city.  The best win definitely goes to our Minnesota Gophers, beating up the favorite to win the SoCon in Wofford, 69-55.  Because of the mini-vacation that Mrs. W and I took (a vacation that ended up with us getting propositioned by swingers) I haven't had a chance to watch the game yet, but I have it on Tivo and will put some thoughts up on it soon, probably Tuesday to go along with any thoughts I have after the Siena game tonight.  In any case, it was a nice win for the Gophers, and a good way to start the season.  Particularly with the Devoe Joseph suspension it was important to start the year strong and they certainly did. 

The other team worth highlighting here is the Illinois Fighting Illini.  After struggling in their two exhibition games, the Illini seem to have hit their stride beating UC-Irvine by 14, Toledo by 39, and Southern Illinois by 18 to jump out to a 3-0 start.  I still think Illinois is being overrated by a lot of people, but they are starting to look like a Big Ten contender.


The Gophers take on Siena (previewed here) on Monday, and that kicks off a pretty good week of Big Ten hoops.  On Tuesday Ohio State travels to #11 Florida in what should be a hell of a game, and then on Thursday a couple of tournaments get started:   Minnesota goes to Puerto Rico to open against Sun Belt favorite Western Kentucky, hoping to get a second round matchup against North Carolina, while Illinois gets Texas (and then either Maryland or Pitt) in New York in the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney.  Iowa travels to Xavier to get killed on Friday, while Penn State welcomes a sneaky Fairfield team that might end up walking away with an upset.  Finally, the good games wrap up on Saturday with Wisconsin traveling to UNLV, and then the final Puerto Rico Tip-Off game for the Gophers, which will hopefully be the championship.


Not much in the way of marquee games or big upsets this past week, but Georgetown went into Old Dominion and won a battle of a game, while Temple knocked off Seton Hall in a game that way loom large when it comes time to talk bubbles at the end of the year.  Other than that, the best win of the week (outside the Gopher win over Wofford) would probably go to Syracuse, who used a huge second half to beat a decent Northern Iowa team by 22.  The Panthers aren't the class of Missouri Valley this year, but they'll be one of the better teams in the conference so beating them by over 20 is a nice win for the Orange.

Meanwhile, along with Iowa two other teams lost games they certainly shouldn't have:  Siena getting beat by Vermont and Wake Forest losing to Stetson.  While Wake was pretty much known this was going to be a rough year, I don't think anybody would have expected them to lose to a team like Stetson - a team that was legitimately one of the worst in the country last year and is usually right around that tier.  The Siena loss is more puzzling because despite losing some key players they were still expected to be one of the better mid-major teams.  Vermont isn't really supposed to contend in the American East, so this loss is a huge hit for Siena's at-large hopes already, and by extension will make a Gopher win over the Saints less impressive on paper. 


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Minnesota Golden Gophers Basketball: Upcoming Opponents (+ Devoe Joseph opinion)

After a couple quick appetizers of exhibition games, the Minnesota Gophers basketball team finally gets things underway with a quick couple of games against quality mid-major opponents in the Wofford Terriers tonight and the Siena Saints on Monday.  Since I am going out of town this weekend for a much needed vacation away from the kids I won't be computering at all, so I might as well fire up two previews for the price of one.  We love to give out sweet deals like that here at DWG, particularly on all your stationery or invitation needs (look to the right).

I'll start with Wofford, since they're first and that's a logical way to do things.  The Terriers may be the Gophers' stiffest test that doesn't take place in Puerto Rico this offseason, because this team is very solid.  They return four starters from last year's SoCon Champion team, a team that won 26 games last year and almost knocked off Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year and almost beat Pitt in last year's season opener.

Most importantly amongst those returning starters is Minnesota-boy Noah Dahlman, the SoCon player of the year last season after 17 points and 6 rebounds per game while shooting 58% from the floor.  He's an absolute brute who never stops working on the glass, and because of that relentlessness he's almost impossible to shut down (he's scored in double-figures 48 straight games).  Unless he's added a jump shot in the offseason his range doesn't extend beyond the paint, and that should play well for the Gophers.  He won't be able to out-muscle Colt Iverson or Trevor Mbakwe, and even if he can push Ralph around a little he's still got the reach on Dahlman.  Wisconsin and Illinois both kept him in check last season (10 and 5, 13 and 2), and I expect the Gophers to do the same.

Dahlman is the only returnee who averaged more than 9.5 points per game last year, so there's no one player to focus on outside of him, but Wofford won a lot of games with their defense last year, ranking 41st in the country in defensive efficiency.  Luckily for the Gophers, however, they come by that ranking mainly by defending the three well (not a key for the Gophers outside of Blake) and keeping teams off their offensive boards (not something the Gophers rely on).  Most of all, I had the opportunity to watch Wofford play against Wisconsin as well as in the SoCon Championship against Appalachian State.  They are slow.  S-L-O-W.  They caught a huge break getting Wisconsin in last year's tournament because both their pace of play and overabundance of non-athletically gifted white dudes helped Wofford to keep pace.  That won't happen against Minnesota tonight.  Wofford is a good team, but the Gophers shouldn't have any issues here.

Minnesota 71, Wofford 53.

Now we move on to a mini-Mid-Major dynasty in Monday's opponent, the Siena Saints.  Siena has made the last three NCAA Tournaments, notching wins over Ohio State and Vanderbilt, but have some big shoes to fill - they lose last year's national assist leader in Ronald Moore, last year's MAAC player of the year in Alex Franklin, and maybe the best all-around player in program history in Edwin Ubiles - not to mention their coach Fran McCaffery who has gone on to national basketball power and totally good situation Iowa.

That's not to say the cupboard is bare, because the Saints return two absolutely excellent in players in 6-9 forward Ryan Rossiter and 6-4 guard Clarence Jackson - either of whom could end up winning the MAAC Player of the Year Award.

Rossiter, one of the goofiest looking mofos you're ever going to see, averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per game last season, to go along with 1 steal, assist, and block.  He's a smart player who uses an almost plastic-man type body to get himself into great position, and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country.  He doesn't have the size to bang with Iverson or Mbakwe or even Sampson, but he's smart and he's crafty.  If Iverson starts on him I'd expect Colt to spend a good amount of time in foul trouble.

Jackson, who averaged 14 points per game last year, is a dynamic scorer who can hit from the outside (71 threes last year led the team) and can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.  He's streaky, and can be shut down (11 games in single-digits) but he can also explode (9 games over 20 points).   It would behoove the Gophers to not let Jackson get off, because he's the type that could single-handedly win a game for the Saints.  Since he's probably a little bit too big for Al Nolen to take one-on-one, this could be a great chance for Rodney Williams to show that he can be a defensive stopper.  He was the physical tools for it, so this could be a great test if he gets the matchup.

Outside of those guys Siena is a great big pile of unknown, since Jackson, Rossiter, and the three departed starters from last year made up 77% of the team's minutes played and 85% of their points scored.  I'm sure there is talent there somewhere since McCaffery had created a bit of a mini-dynasty and that recruiting area is rich with potential hidden gems, but if the Gophers can shut down at least one of the Jackson/Rossiter duo they should have little trouble with the Saints.  If this was last year I would be concerned, but since this team is in flux and has a new coach, I'm confident in the Gophers.

Also I want to mention that the Saints have a player named Just-in'love Smith.  Ouch.

Minnesota 76, Siena 65

[Since I posted this I saw on Twitter that Devoe is suspended indefinitely due to non-academic off the court issues, and won't be playing until at least after Puerto Rico.

Snacks has since texted me that he "hates Tubby" and "hopes Devoe transfers."  I'm not quite to that point, but it is rather frustrating how the Gophers are constantly dealing with off the court issues.  Either Tubby is far too strict or he recruits nothing but headcases, either way this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the coach.  No matter how you feel about the issue or whose feet you choose to lay the blame at, this clearly sucks ass.  Once again a promising Gopher season is starting under a dark cloud.

I'll reserve further judgment until we know more (if we ever do), but it's time for the University to decide if it wants to be a basketball school or not  I'm not saying they should let athletes get away with murder, but at UNLV Tre'Von Willis choked his girlfriend and got three games.  At Michigan State Korie Lucious was busted for drunk driving and got just one game.  At Memphis Jelan Kendrick missed a few practices after threatening his teammates, and it's looking like Lace Dunn might not miss any games at Baylor despite being arrested for domestic assault.  And Devoe is going to miss at least five games for something that will likely be in the realm of skipping class or smoking a j.

Look, I understand some people's need to believe that their University "does things the right way" and "doesn't put up with any crap" and "only recruits good kids."  I do.  And that's all well and good, but, with all due respect to those of that view point, Fuck that.  I don't give a crap what Devoe does in his spare time, and if he graduates or not is really the thing I care about least in the entire world.  I want him to play ball, and I want my team to win games and I don't care how they do it or whether or not the players still call their mothers every week like good little boys or if they go to church every Sunday.  I don't care about that, I just want to win, baby.  Royce White was already run off, and Trevor Mbakwe almost followed him.  Who's next?]