Friday, December 31, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Michigan State Spartans

I'm trying like hell to muster up the energy to write a preview for this game, but I'm struggling.  The Spartans may just be 8-4, but it's an awfully good 8-4, with all four losses coming to some of the country's top teams.  Still, their loss last week to Texas at home gives Gopher fans some hope - maybe they can pull out an upset as well.  Unfortunately, stats say the Gophers may be just what the Spartans need, rather than the other way around.

Michigan State's issue this year hasn't been their defense, although they did play poorly at times against Texas.  The Spartans rank 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and that's despite playing some very good offensive teams (Duke #1 off. efficiency, Syracuse #8).  So you know they're going to be tough to score on, and that's their strength.

Their issue is on offense, where they rank 47th, just one spot better than the Gophers.  But where that ranking is about where the Gophers should find themselves, for a supposedly elite squad that has ranked #28, #20, #12, #38, #18, #6, and #12 the past 7 years, it's troubling, particularly since they have most of the same team back from last season. 

Although Sparty hasn't shot the ball particularly well (140th from 2 compared to 40th last year), their biggest issue has been turnovers, which have risen from 21.3% of their possessions last year, still not very good, all the way to 23% this year, one of the worst marks in the country.  Unfortunately, the Gophers have become a below average team at turning opponents over, taking the ball away on just 20.6% of their opponents possessions vs. a national average of 21.0%.  Couple that with their inability to defend the perimeter shot, which just so happens to be Michigan State's one major strength on offense, as well as this being in East Lansing, and it's another tough road for Minnesota.

Their best shot would be to go with a strategy that works, again and again, but they have trouble sticking with:  pound the ball inside.  According to's team page for the Gophers, the Gophers have six players who use at least 20% of the team's possessions when they are on the court - meaning 20% of the time the player either misses or makes the team's shot, or turns the ball over.  Of the six, five of them have a better than average efficiency rating - Ralph Sampson, Colt Iverson, Mo Walker, Trevor Mbakwe, and Devoe Joseph.  Notice something?  Four of those five are big guys.  Walker is out for the year, obviously and unfortunately, but the other three need the ball and they need it a lot.  They are what makes this whole team work.

That is also exactly where Michigan State's defense can be exploited.  They aren't really built to stop size.  Delvon Roe is their main frontcourt player, and he's completed stagnated in his development (and is on my fantasy team - go me), although he is a decent defensive player.  Behind him, however, are Garrick Sherman and Adreian Payne - neither of whom play that much.  Michigan State is a perimeter oriented team this year, and it shows.  Texas's Tristan Thompson lit them up for 17 & 15.  Oakland's center Keith Benson went for 17 & 12.  Rick Jackson of Syracuse put up 17 & 16, and even Mason freaking Plumlee was able to toss up a 10 & 10.

There are double-doubles to be had, and the Gophers have several players capable of putting them up.  If the Gophers pound the ball inside and feed Sampson.  Feed Reign Man II.  Feed Iverson, they have a fighting chance, particularly if they can figure out a way to play some capable defense.  This game is winnable.

However, I'm not buying it.  Even if it's working, this team seemingly has an addiction to avoiding sound strategies.  Michigan State will have to play either Sherman, Payne, or Derrick Nix more often than they're accustomed to due to the Gophers' size on the inside.  I'm predicting a breakout game for one of them (smart money is on Payne), a good first half that sees the Gophers either leading or close going into the half, and then a second half made up of poor offensive possessions by Minnesota, including a lot of passing around the perimeter.  Also, this will be the game where we remember the bad parts about the Hoff.

Michigan State 80, Minnesota 70.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Late Christmas!

By now you have all opened your presents and found yourself disappointed, but I have one last gift for you.  If you could have anything you want from this blog, what would you pick?  A live blog of a shark movie, right?  I know.  Well, I tried to watch Sharktopus and type it up, but I couldn't get past a half-hour in.  Maybe I wasn't drinking enough or something, but honestly that was so bad I couldn't even enjoy it.  And I've enjoyed some really, really crappy movies.  So my advice is to stay far, far, away from that turd.

So since you don't get that, what would be your second choice?  If you said a guest post from everybody's favorite rambling lunatic alcoholic vegan hockey fan, you're in luck.  Super Sioux Fan checked in out of the blue to send me this preview of some sort of I think hockey game between two teams I don't care about it.


UMD vs. UND SHOWDOWN TO THE DEATH(or something…)

What is crackin’ kids….SSF here…living the dream. Always.
Well it is that time of year again AFTER CHRISTMAS hockey. That is when my precious Sioux really kick it in to overdrive and who else to start off their ass kicking spree with than the gay ass Bulldogs. SUCK IT UMD. You want to know why I know UMD is super fucking gay? Cause look at some of its alumni:
Lorenzo Music

Now everyone knows the first 4 douchers but the ONLY cool famous person from UMD I could find with this guy…Lorenzo Music the voice of Garfield .

Cool UND alumni:
Phil Jackson
My dad- Dr. Jack Knopp
My sister-Future kick ass lawyer Cassie Marka
Mark O’Stuturd-the guy who invented Summit ..the greatest beer on earth
Ed Belfour-I got his autograph in 1st grade and thought I was the shit!
T.J. Oshie-UND’s #1 alcoholic
Jimmy Kleinsasser
Sally Smith-The president of Buffalo Wild Wings
Zach Parise-Currently the hottest man on earth (according to me)
Ralph Engelstad-#1 nazi
And honestly about 10 million more hockey players I don’t need to name. If you don’t know already then you suck ball congrats on sucking at life.

We play UMD Thursday for one game in their new stadium. Isn’t a new stadium opening kind of like homecoming….you should schedule the shittiest team to play you so you know you will win. Someone was clearly not thinking that one out.

More random shit…

-Dawger and I brought the future Mr. Hockey into this world in Oct.
He is pretty sweet but I don’t know how good of a hockey player he is going to be because he smiles a lot…like I think he might end up a legitimately nice person. What a waste.

-Dawger deals with his new parenting challenges with a case of pounders a week and I rely on coke zero and ice cream sandwiches. I‘d rather have the booze.

-My vagina did not rip after child there is a fun fact and a little info for you all… are. Welcome.
Sioux fan out bitches

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll - 12.29.2010

 My ballot for this week's Star Tribune Big 10 Power Poll, which you can find here at Myron Medcalf's blog page:

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  An absolute crushing of Tennessee-Martin does nothing to hurt their status.  They are still looking like they are head and shoulders above everybody else in the conference.

2.  Purdue Boilermakers.  It's a good thing for the rest of the conference that Robbie Hummel got hurt because JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are basically unstoppable.  They completely destroyed Michigan in Ann Arbor, and any time you can beat a Big Ten foe in their arena by more than 20 you deservea big bump up.

3.  Michigan State Spartans.  Looking at their roster they might be the best team in the conference, but it's tough to know what to make of them since they were just 1-4 against good teams.  Three of the losses are pretty explainable, but a truly elite team doesn't lose to Texas by double-digits at home.  If this wasn't a Tom Izzo team I'd be pretty concerned.

4.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  Back-to-back poor shooting nights and late game collapses have the Illini riding a two-game losing streak as they head to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to take on Iowa.  They way they collapsed in the final minute in both of their recent losses is a huge read flag.  I will personally guarantee you this team loses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

5.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Looking fairly solid, but how good can a team be when they rely almost completely on the three-pointer?  They're going to beat some teams they shouldn't when they're hot, and lose to some teams they shouldn't when they are ice cold.  Also they're boring and I hate them.

6.  Minnesota Gophers.  The loss to Wisconsin in Madison wasn't unexpected, but it's still disappointing.  They just seem like something is missing.  I thought the return of Nolen would bring whatever it was back, but this still doesn't look anything like the same team that won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and I don't even know why or what exactly it is. 

7.  Northwestern Wildcats.  I don't know how to describe them other than pathetic.  They've absolutely dominated some really terrible teams, but as soon as they run up against a half-way decent, but probably not tournament type, squad in St. Johns they roll-over and die.  They're going to need to go at least 10-8 in conference to get an at-large bid.  Just an awful schedule, I have no idea what they were thinking.

8.  Michigan Wolverines.  So much for being a mini-sleeper in conference.  You can't be a surprise team if you can't at least defend your home court, and against Purdue on Tuesday they were completely defenseless.

9.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  I can't move them up any higher thanks to that loss to Maine, but beating Indiana on the road was a big first step for Penn State.  Their road to an at-large bid is razor thin so every game is huge, and that was one they definitely needed.

10.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  The Hawkeyes get a chance to take on an Illinois team that is coming off back-to-back losses, one understandable (Missouri) and one not (UIC).  With the game in Iowa City the Hawkeyes have a huge opportunity to get a big win.

11.  Indiana Hoosiers.  It's awfully tough to find any good things to say about Indiana right now.  They had a rough go of it in the holiday tournament they played in Vegas. losing to Colorado and Northern Iowa, and then came home and lost their Big Ten opener to Penn State in Bloomington.  They have 9 wins, but 7 are against some of the worst teams in the country and the other two are against teams that are merely bad.  This could get ugly.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gophers vs. Badgers: Live Blog

Seeing as how it's the opener of Big Ten play, I figured I might as well hanker down with my libration of choice and put some thoughts to paper.  Well, to screen.  You know what I mean.  You don't always have to be so liberal.

20:00 - Ah, the Kohl Center, full of a bunch of retards dressed all in red.  Did I ever tell you I was there for the Lawrence Westbrook game?  So awesome.  When he hit the shot to send the game to OT the entire place went silent, except for me, Bogart, and Dawger up in the upper deck who were pretty much losing our damn minds.  Such a great time, especially later when Dawger slapped a piece of pizza out of some insolent jerks mouth.  But that's neither here nor there, and not my story to tell.

20:00 - By the way, I'm just going to go ahead and admit I'm going to misspell Bruesewitz throughout this entire thing.

19:35 - Great defense by Ralph Sampson right off the bat forcing Jon Leuer into an airball, and he then gets the ball on the block, backs Leuer in, and scores on a nice hook shot.  Great start for the big guy.  It can be easy to take him for granite and concentrate on Mbakwe, Nolen, and Hoffarber, but Sampson is going to have to come up big if the Gophers want to grab an upset.

18:55 -  Rodney Williams just fouled Keaton Nankivil on a 3-pointer, and he makes all three.  Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

18:36 - Rodney makes up for it with a big dunk and the foul.  He even makes the free throw which is pretty unexpected. 

17:39 - Jordan Taylor and Leuer miss 28-footers on back-to-back possessions sandwiched around a missed Blake jumper.  If they're going to keep taking those shots they can have them all night long. 

16:57 - After Mbakwe picks the ball cleanly from Taylor (for serious), Nolen puts up a three-pointer early in the shot clock, hitting backboard before he hits anything else.  Let's just keep the ball inside, ok?  Like right there where Rodney gets it deep against Bruesewitcz where Rodney's athleticism makes it a complete mismatch. 

15:23 - 7-7 as we go to the first timeout.  If the Gophers continue to pound the ball inside they have a chance, and so far the switching man-to-man they're playing has worked well.  I really wish Mo Walker wasn't hurt, because for those 10 minutes he gives per game he is a very quality player, and is particularly missed in a game like this where the Gophers need to get the ball in the paint as much as possible.  Hopefully all he needs is a little tender love and care and he'll be back soon.

15:23 - You know who Mo reminds me a little bit of?  Courtney James.  I mean, Courtney was definitely better as a freshman, but I think Mo has that potential if he loses a bit of weight and works hard.  Or, it might be easier just to get Courtney back.  You know he has eligibility left.  What's the statue of limitations on hitting somebody with a phone book, anyway?

15:12 -  See what I'm saying?  Get the ball inside to Mbakwe and Wa la!  2 points.

14:25 -  Berggren hits a 18 footer and I guarantee this guy is going to be annoying as all hell the next two years.  I don't understand why Wisconsin always has to have someone of his elk.

13:04 -  Hoffarber from 28 feet.  BANG!  Gophers now lead 14-9.  Man, I have really done a 360 when it comes to my opinion of the Hoff.  Maybe it's because they have enough size, maybe it's because they have enough good defenders, or maybe Hoffarber has just developed a complete game this year, but I can't imagine this team without him.  Although yes, he still makes me want to strangle a stranger watching his defense at times.

12:28 -  Wisconsin missed three lay-ups.  That boats well for the Gophers.

10:49 -  Whoops, my comment about Walker earlier is now a mute point, because they just flashed the graphic that he's out for the season.  Really a bummer.  Hopefully he doesn't use eating and more eating to ease the pain.  Not that I've ever done that.  Shut up.

9:20 - Nolen with a rebound.  That's two fantasy points.  And Sampson misses a  three.  He's a little too much in love with that.  Don't be a Rickert.

8:30 - Holy crap move there by Armelin.  This guy is unbelievably athletic.  He's the closest thing to Rico Tucker I've seen since Rico Tucker.  Hopefully Tubby is a smart enough coach to give him a little bit of rope and won't bench him for every turnover the way Monson handled Tucker.  He really just cut off his nose despite his face on that one, and it came back to haunt him.  I mean, you know that's why he was fired, right?  Mishandling the greatest Gopher prospect of all-time is a pretty big deal.

6:58 - 19-19 heading at the timeout.  Jordan Taylor is starting to penetrate and then either score or find an open jumper for any of the plethora of white guys Wisconsin trots out.  Gophers need to nip this in the butt before it gets out of control.

6:00 -  I really don't understand how any of these guys from Minnesota could go to Wisconsin.  What a bunch of traitor jerks.  Wisconsin sucks and smells like venison and cheese and brandy and dumbness.  Who would ever voluntarily move there for four years?  There must be some really good french benefits we aren't aware of.

5:48 -  Devoe cannot guard Taylor.  At all.  Tubby may need to go a "only rest Nolen when Taylor is on the bench strategy."  Whatever, I'm sure he'll play it by year, but if Taylor can do whatever he wants all game things aren't going to go well.

4:11 -  Devoe with a pull up three that hits nothing but the backboard.  He then fouls Taylor on the drive, sending him to the line where he will undoubtedly make both.  Really gunning for least valuable player here, aren't ya?

2:20 - Sampson with a nice little pump-fake from 18 feet out, getting Leuer off his feet and then a nice drive inside for a three-point play to cut Sconnie's lead to 3.  That was badly needed. 

1:49 - Gophers go to a zone,  a move I really hate here because the Gophers suck at playing a zone.  And, on queue, Leuer knocks down a three-pointer.  If Wisconsin goes on a run here, Tubby is going to be this game's escape goat, and it will be well deserved.  Going zone against these guys is loonacy. 

35.6 - 33-27 Wisconsin, and it should have been more but the ball slipped out of Leuer's hand on a wide open layup.  Irregardless, the Gophers are going to need to play better, and are going to need Al Nolen to stop Taylor if they want to win, let a lone stay in the game.

HALF - 33-29 at half thanks to a nice bounce pass by Armelin leading to a dunk by Iverson.  Gophers are within reach, but their defense needs to get much better.  They also kind of drifted away from pounding the ball in the paint on offense.  If they can get back to getting the ball to the post on offense and get back to a man-to-man with Nolen on Taylor, they have a shot.

HALF -  Arapaho of nothing, I'm a little bit annoyed by this Twins offseason thus far.  The losses off the team far outweigh the gains, meanwhile the Tigers and White Sox have clearly improved their teams.  And I don't really see any moves the Twins can make to really upgrade at this point.  Thanks Mauer!  We're now a third place team every year.

19:16 -  Taylor blows by Nolen and finds Gasser for a lay-up, Nolen blows by Taylor and misses a layup, Taylor then finds Leuer for a three-pointer and it's now 38-29 Badgers.  For all intensive purposes this game is over.

18:15 -  Jordan Taylor is completely unguardable.  Case and point, he just went right passed Nolen and then hit a jumper over Sampson who was just a half-second too slow jumping out.  This really isn't fair.

16:56 - The Gophers have made 11 field goals tonight.  Great.  I mean, I could really care less how they score, and if they are scoring from the line that's great, but the offense has been pretty ugly tonight.  Which, along with the defense makes a perfect pear.

13:35 - Badgers now up 45-36 and the Gophers are starting to miss a lot of open shots.  Might be time to give up the goat on this one.

12:32 - I take it back, it's now just 45-41 after a Hoffarber three-pointer.  Taylor called for a pretty clear blocking foul against Nolen, but announcer guy thinks it was a bad call.  I'm pretty sure announcer guy is a complete jackwagon.

11:42 -  Another three by Devoe hits nothing but backboard.  I'm starting to think he might be the worst good shooter in America.  Besides Scottie Reynolds.

10:40 - Joseph for three to cut it to 48-44.  I'm like a reverse jinx tonight.  Seriously this game is chalk full of examples where I rip somebody and then they do something good.  And on that note, Rodney Williams sucks!

8:56 -  Rodney with a great drive.  He missed, but Mbakwe cleaned it up to cut it to 2.  And then Tim freaking Jarmusz hits a three to make it 5.  That's so stupid.  This entire wisconsin team is nothing but two good players and a bunch of dandy little nancies who shoot three pointers every time they get the ball.  It's like watching Michigan play.  When the Badgers play the Wolverines there might not be a two-pointer attempted all game.  Fairies.

6:56 - Gophers just took the lead on a great drive by Devoe who dished to Mbakwe for the dunk, now 54-53.  I have no idea how Minnesota is leading in this game.  My brain is literally exploding right now.

6:42 - So what's Wisconsin's answer after a timeout?  A 27-footer by Leuer (which he missed).  It's like Bo Ryan has completely lost his mind.  I mean, there's no love loss between me and Bo, so I could care less, but it's just bizarre watching them completely disregard anything inside that line.

6:11 - Nankivil for three to give Wisconsin the lead back.  These guys are so gay.

5:20 - Sigh.  Sampson just sits there and let's Taylor hit a three.  Awful defense.  That was as easy as Taylor going to the corner and putting his PIN number into the ATM machine.  Easy money.

5:10 - And Hoff throws it away.  God damn it.

3:56 -  That is now the third three pointer Joseph has put up that has hit nothing but backboard.  You could go ahead and say I'm flummoxed by this, as well by the lack of playing time for Nolen.  That is not helping my fantasy team Tubby.

2:00 - Nolen misses a runner and a lay-up, but Ralph's o-board and draw of the foul on Leuer mean he'll be shooting free throws with the Gophers down 3 when we get back.  Please make them.

2:00 -  Sampson makes just one, but the rebound on the second goes out-of-bound off Wisconsin.   Time to get a bucket here.

1:38 -  Nolen goes right by Sampson but misses the lay-up, offensive board to Ralph who is fouled.  Big shots here. 

1:38 - makes the first.

1:38 - misses the second, dammit.  Gophers down by 1 right now, despite a 40-22 rebound margin.  Everybody has said that the Gophers' poor free throw shooting would cost them, and now it's looking like those chickens might be coming home to roast.

1:10 -  Taylor with a three point play.  I really hate that guy.  He's such a jack of all traits, and he always seems to kill the Gophers in the end.

52.4 - Sampson with a short jumper to pull the Gophers to within 2.  It's not over yet, but I honestly have no faith in the Gophers to stop Wisconsin.  I just don't think they're up to stuff.

18.3 - Nolen with great defense to force a miss by Taylor, but Leuer grabs the huge huge rebound.  Watching that on replay, that is 100% Sampson's fault because Leuer straight up beat him into the lane.  That was a huge play, and should have been completely avoidable.  Just awful.

16.7 - Sampson fouls out to send Leuer to the line for a one-on-one in a 2 point game. 

16.7 - makes both.  Joseph puts the pedal to the medal but misses the shot, and a foul on the rebound by Nolen.  Shit. 

0:00 -  Final score:  Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 60.  The Gophers played better than I thought and at several points were a hare's breath from taking control of this game, but just couldn't get it done.  There are still some glaring on this team, and I don't know how many of them are fixable.  We'll have to see how they rebound from an 0-2 start, because they have no chance at beating the Spartans on Friday.

I'm really bumped out right now.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Wisconsin Badgers

You pretty much know what to expect out the Wisconsin Badgers, the Minnesota Gophers opening Big Te opponent, every year:  a slow pace, a lot of white guys, an efficient offense that takes care of the basketball, a stifling man-to-man defense, and a great rebounding team.  This year is no different:
  1. Pace:  344th nationally (out of 345)
  2. Offensive efficiency:  11th
  3. Defensive efficiency:  31st
  4. Offensive rebounding percentage:  13th
  5. Defensive rebounding percentage:  33rd
  6. Turnover percentage:  3rd
  7. White guys in the starting lineup:  4
So you're not going to see anything we haven't seen year-after-year from Bo and his stupid Badgers in terms of how they operate.  The biggest difference this year is that instead of having a pretty solid all-around team with balanced scoring, they pretty clearly have two guys that are going to dictate how well this team plays.  And joy of all joys, they're both from Minnesota:  Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor.

The two traitors have scored 49% of Wisconsin's points this year, are the team's top two scorers by a wide margin (Leuer - 19.8 ppg, Taylor - 15.4, next guy is Keaton Nankivil at 7.6), and rank #1 and #3 in both rebounding and assists, with each the leader of one.  They're also #1 and #2 in steals, Leuer leads in blocked shots, and they have made the most three-pointers on the team while shooting very high percentages (Leuer = 50%, Taylor 41%).  They really do everything, and they do it well.  Leuer has the kind of inside/ouside game that Ralph wishes he had, but adds in some legit toughness in the paint, while Taylor is tough to guard off the bounce, but can also play the role of catch-and-shoot jump shooter if needed.  If it was just one-on-one matchups I think Al Nolen could handle Taylor and a combo of Ralph and Trevor Mbakwe could check Leuer, but it's not, and that's the problem.

Wisconsin may have two main scorers, but the rest of the guys play solid roles and play them very well.  The Badgers never, ever turn the ball over (average just 9 per game and are third best in the country percentage-wise).  Which means they play that slow, deliberate pace and style and are very patient, waiting until they get an open look without making many bad decisions.  They are also very good shooters when they do get those looks, hitting 38.2% from three (56th in the country) and 50.5% from two (75th). 

Leuer and Taylor shoot high percentages, as I mentioned earlier, but they aren't the only ones who can shoot.  The other gangly white big guys - Nankivil, Jared Berggren, and Mike Bruesewitz - are mostly there to grab rebounds and clog up the lane, but all three hit at least 42% from three when they shoot them.  Meaning Gopher big men are going to be pulled out of the lane by Wisconsin's motion offense, which will help open up the middle for Taylor to drive and Leuer to operate. 

So, to sum up, Wisconsin won't turn the ball over, and won't take bad shots.  They shoot the ball very well as a team, so the Gophers - whose weakness this year has been guarding the perimeter - are going to have to go all out to stop them.  Which will then open up the middle for Wisconsin's best players to do their thing.  And, at the same time, the Gophers play against a defense that is very good at forcing opponents to take bad shots rather than forcing turnovers.  Expect a lot of the "passing the ball around the perimeter until there are 10 seconds left on the shot clock and then giving it to a guard to force up a shot" offense. 

I know Tubby owns Bo and this team has won in the Kohl Center before, but I'm having trouble seeing any way this one isn't a blowout.

Wisconsin 72, Minnesota 55.

Week in Review - 12.27.2010

Merry Christmas and all that.  FYI - I'm off all week, so you can probably expect either a lot of posts or zero posts.  I'm probably going to be pretty busy watching Eastbound & Down, Community, and Parks and Rec DVDs or reading Pillars of the Earth, The Girl who Kicked a Hornet's Nest, or Moonlight Mile.


1. Butler Bulldogs.  Just as everyone, myself included, are questioning if Butler is any good this year they head out to Hawaii and take down the Diamondhead Classic.  They beat Utah, Florida State, and Washington State, and that's probably two wins over NCAA Tournament teams.  The only negative would be that they didn't get a chance to face Baylor, but they did beat WSU, the team that beat the Bears.  Butler needed good wins in the worst way after pissing away every chance, so this was huge for their at-large chances.  With Cleveland State looking pretty studly in the Horizon, Butler gots some competition, so they're going to need everything they can get to help them out in case they can't get past the Vikings in the conference tourney. 

2. USC Trojans.  I think it might be time to recognize USC as an actual halfway decent team, which, along with Washington, Arizona, and Washington State gives the Pac-10 four potential NCAA teams.  After a very, very shaky 4-4 start that included some embarrassing losses, they seemed to start to hit their stride by beating Texas and then Fordham transfer Jio Fontan joined the team and made them immediately much better, giving the Trojans an outside threat to go along with stellar inside dudes Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic.  Fontan, who scored 15 points per game last year for Fordham, has scored 15, 13, and 21 in his three games. leading the Trojans to wins over Tennessee and Lehigh and a near win over Kansas.  Official Pac-10 sleeper here.  Which doesn't mean much, to be completely honest with you.

3.  Klay Thompson.  Ok, so I just assumed Thompson wasn't all that good and people were just all spazzy about him because of his dad, but I watched him play this weekend and the guy's pretty good.  He scored 28, 20, and 31 points in their three games in Hawaii, and he's not just a deadeye shot who can't leave open, although you can't, but he's also good with the ball, can drive and score, and also has a nice mid-range game.  In short, he's a really good scorer.  His zero rebounds against Baylor is a bit disconcerting since he's 6-6, but he's a pretty good defender overall from what I saw.  Very impressed by him  Believe the hype.

4.  Dwayne Bowe.  Confession time.  I traded away Bowe in a keeper league.  I really needed a young, franchise type running back and nearly had a trade in place for Maurice Drew, but the other owner couldn't quite pull the trigger.  After a couple weeks I put together a different trade with Snake for Ray Rice, but he insisted I include Bowe, who I didn't have to include in the trade for Drew.  I emailed the first owner to say I had a trade in place and if he wanted to move he had to make up his mind.  I waited four days, he never said anything, and so I made the trade for Rice.  The next morning I get an email from owner #1 who says "I came in to work today and was going to accept the trade for Drew, but I see you moved on."  Well, suffice it to say, every time Bowe has a good game (like this week's 153 yards with a TD) I die a little inside.  

5.  Colorado State Rams.  Well you can chalk this up as a pretty freakin' big surprise, because I was pretty well convinced this team was terrible, particularly because they lost to Sam Houston State, but they went to Cancun and ended up winning the Cancun Governor's Cup tournament which is a real thing.  It wasn't exactly a loaded field, but they did beat two pretty decent teams in Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi.  This is the part where I'd usually saying something smart about the players involved, but I don't know a god damn thing about Colorado State this year so I'll just post this picture instead:


1.  Gopher Basketball.  Seriously, I'm so sick of this team right now I can't really even write any words.  If they keep doing this crap where they don't play defense or play hard and let the other team dictate the how the game is going to be played and fall behind early they are going to get absolutely destroyed in the Big Ten play.  It's been fine since they've played a bunch of crap schools over the last few weeks, but we're about to start conference play and I have zero confidence that they're going to do anything other than get destroyed.  I can't even talk about it right now.

2.  Michigan State Spartans.  Tom Izzo and the Spartans have earned quite a bit of latitude on slow starts, seeing as their MO seems to be starting slow, grabbing a 3-6 seed in the tournament, and then making the Final Four.  So when they lost to UCONN nobody panicked, especially seeing how the Huskies were playing at the time.  Then they lost Duke and Syracuse, and everybody was ok with it because those are two of the ten best teams in the country.  They struggled to a one-point win over Oakland, and we shrugged.  But Wednesday night they again faced a good challenger in Texas, this time in East Lansing, and they got completely and totally shredded.  And although Texas may be a good team this was not another case of a good team getting beat by a really good team.  This was a case of Michigan State playing like crap:  lackluster on offense, mediocre on the boards, and just all-out terrible on defense including getting beat down the floor for easy Texas lay-ups.  This isn't the same thing we've seen before, this is far more dire - like getting AIDS instead of the clap.  Both suck, but one is annoying while the other can really wreck your year.

3.  Baylor Bears.  This team is good enough and had a good enough year that there's no need to panic or call the Hawaii trip a disaster, but it was definitely a huge disappointment.  The won their opener against San Diego easily enough, but then lost a surprising one to Washington State and got beat by an unranked, but good, Florida State team as well.  Coming on the heels of a loss against Gonzaga and there are some warning flags being tossed about here.  One thing that would really help is if they could shoot from the outside.  In their last four games they've shot just 25% from behind the line, not helped at all by Lace Dunn who went 4-20 in their final two games in Hawaii.  Twenty three-point attempts in two games?  Hey Dunn, you do realize you don't have to just shoot behind the line, right?  You can actually get closer to the hoop.  Who do you think you freakin' are, Rick Rickert? 

4.  Northwestern Wildcats.  I've talked about it on here before, but I really don't get Northwestern's schedule.  In a year where they have a very good chance of making their first NCAA tournament, they schedule like crap out of conference (293rd strength of schedule in the nation, easily the worst in the Big Ten) and set it up so their only chance to get a decent non-conference game was this week in the MSG Holiday Tournament against St. Johns.  But they lost, and they lost bad.  So now they sit at 8-1, and it's a completely empty 8-1, and they are guaranteed that their best out-of-conference wins are going to be Georgia Tech, a bottom ACC team, and Creighton, a mid-level MVC.  And a bunch of wins against sub-200 teams.  In other words, all the other Big Ten contender type teams can aim for 9-9 and be assured of a bid, where Northwestern is going to need 10-8, or maybe even better.  Good luck, nerds.

5.  Renardo Sidney.  The #16 overall recruit last season and #5 power forward, Sidney is a 6-10, 250 lb. beast who by all accounts is extremely skilled.  The problem is he can't get on the court.  He had originally committed to USC, but late in the process there was a "mutual agreement to end the recruiting process" so he landed at Mississippi State.  Where he was then ineligible all last season due to receiving improper benefits while in Los Angeles, and had to sit out the first nine games this year.  He finally played against Virginia Tech, scored 12 points in 25 minutes, and was then immediately suspended for a violation of team rules.  He went out to Hawaii with the team, played in their second-round matchup against San Diego, put up 19 points and 6 boards in 20 minutes, and got in a fistfight with a teammate and was suspended indefinitely.  This guy is a complete mess.  Kind of what I imagine Zach Randolph's college career would have been like it he hadn't been under Izzo's capable watch.  Footage of the fight is below.  Pretty sweet.  Freakin' Buster Douglas and shit. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. South Dakota State Jackrabbits

There are basically two interesting story lines for tonight's Gophers vs. Jackrabbits matchup:  the return of Al Nolen and the return of Nate Wolters.

Less interesting to me is the Wolters story, yet another heart-warmer about a kid from Minnesota (St. Cloud) who was not recruiting by the Gophers, signed with a smaller school, as has gone on to find some success (currently averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals per game).  He is deadly from three (46%) but can score in a lot of ways, and obviously is good with the ball, as he not only averages those 6 assists but does it without turning the ball over - just 1.5 per game - and is a big reason why the Jackrabbits are one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the basketball.  They turn it over on just 15% of their possessions, good enough for #2 in the entire country behind just BYU.

Along with Wolters, they have three other very solid guards in Clint Sargent (13.5 ppg), Chad White (10.4 ppg), and Griffen Callahan (9.8).  White (51%) and Callahan (49%) are excellent three point shooters, while Sargent (28%) is a bomber who leads the team in attempts.  Obviously this team is perimeter oriented, and since they don't turn it over they are going to get their shots.  Naturally, this worries me because the Gophers continue to show an inability to cover the perimeter.  Which brings me to storyline #2.

Al Nolen will return, playing for the first time since a foot injury kept him out after the NDSU game.  Since then we've seen Minnesota lose to Virginia due to a lack of energy and perimeter defense, and barely win over such great teams as Cornell, St. Joe's, Eastern Kentucky, and Akron, letting these teams stay in the game (or lead for much of it) due to a lack of energy and perimeter defense.  Can Al Nolen fix these issues by himself?

It's hard to do a statistical comparison of the team pre and post Nolen injury, because the schedule was so much more difficult before he got hurt, but the results in point spread alone are interesting.  The only true cupcake they played with him in the lineup was North Dakota State, a game the Gophers won by 19.  Their four wins over the crap teams they beat with him out - all four of which rank as worse than NDSU according to - they won by less (5, 10, 13, and 8).  In all four of those game (and Virginia) they either trailed or the game was tight into the second half or halftime - whereas in the NDSU game they started to pull away in the first half and never looked back, something a quality team should do against this level of competition.

That's not to say they were perfect with Nolen, of course.  Siena kept the game tight, but the way they blew out NDSU, the way they ran away from Western Kentucky in the second half, and the impressive wins over North Carolina and especially West Virginia say that this is a far different team with Al Nolen out there.  His numbers might not be the most impressive, and he drives me crazy from time-to-time, but his energy, his ball-handling, his defense, and his ability to get past anybody off the dribble are so valuable to this team - something I didn't quite understand until he was gone.  Like that song Candle in the Wind.

He completely controls the game when he's on the court, and the Gophers don't have anybody who can match his skill set when he's not there.  Chip Armelin may be as fast, but he doesn't dribble as well.  Blake can probably handle the ball as well, but he's far slower on both ends of the court.  Devoe Joseph is a much better shooter, but can't handle the ball.  And nobody is as good at reading a pass before it's made and getting into the passing lane.  Nolen ranks 26th in the country in steal percentage at 5%, which means he steals the ball on 5% of the opponents possessions when he's on the court.  An incredible number that ranks 8th if you only look at major college players and if you count Oregon State as a major college.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm writing so much about him, especially with very few numbers and stats, but maybe this is my apology.  I've bashed Nolen like crazy for his shortcomings without stopping to appreciate what it is he does well and what he brings to this team, not to mention how much they need him.  He's still going to drive me nuts every time he picks up his dribble in the lane with no clue what he's going to do with it, and I really wish he had a reliable jump shot, but he's far better than I gave him credit for.  I love you Al.  You're the best (and I'm not just saying this because he's on my fantasy team).

I believe.

Minnesota 90, South Dakota State 60.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll - 12.21.2010

My Big 10 power poll for the week.  Once again, you can see the total results on Myron Medcalf's blog on, usually updated mid-day Wednesday.  Last week's results are here.

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  As the late great Fred Durst once sang, "Keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin', keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin', keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin, keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin."  Quite the wordsmith.  Seriously though, Jared Sullinger is what nightmares are made of. 

2.  Michigan State Spartans.  Have a good chance to help remind everybody how good they actually are on Wednesday when the play Texas.  On one hand, the schedule has been brutal.  On the other, they're just 1-3 against good teams.  Even if those teams are some of the best in the country, Michigan State is supposed to be there too.  They may not NEED to beat Texas, but it would sure help. 

3.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  The loss to Paul Carter and UIC is likely just a blip on the radar, but going 0-3 shooting and turning the ball over twice all in the final 15 seconds of a close game against an inferior opponent may be symptomatic of a larger issue - lack of a ball handler.  I know McCamey has the assist numbers, but you can't convince me he's a true point guard.  You watch, that will be their achilles heel come March.

4.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Somebody needs to step up and claim this fourth spot, but lately all four teams who could be worthy here have been playing cupcakes.  I'm going with the Badgers here on the strength of their big win over Marquette, even if it was a week ago.  Nobody cares about beating Green Bay.  Especially the Vikings. 

5.  Minnesota Gophers.  On one hand, their tournament resume looks great thanks to wins over North Carolina, West Virginia, and a handful of mid-majors who have tournament aspirations.  On the other hand, I've seen with my own eyes their slow starts and poor defense since Al Nolen went down, but luckily it was during the easiest part of their schedule so they only ended up with one loss.  Was it just missing Nolen, or is it something larger?  We'll find out, or at least get a clue, on Thursday when he returns against South Dakota State - a team that already beat Iowa this year.

6.  Purdue Boilermakers.  You know, this team really doesn't have much of a resume right now.  The have so-so wins over Oakland, Alabama, and Virginia Tech, but nothing that really stands out.  Their only game against a truly good team was the loss versus Richmond.  I actually think they're better than the 6th best team in the conference, I'd probably put them third or fourth based on talent, but until they show it - and figure out who is going to help out Moore and Johnson - I've got to put them here.  

7.  Michigan Wolverines.  Wins over Clemson, Utah, and Oakland show that Michigan isn't going to be a pushover this year, and their near miss against Syracuse shows that they can play well enough to upset some people.  They aren't going to be in the NCAA Tournament this year, but things are finally starting to move in the right direction for John Beilein.  Maybe addition by subtraction is a real thing after all.  

8.  Northwestern Wildcats.  I was actually becoming a believer.  I had them all penciled in for the fifth spot based on their ability to take care of business and blow out the bad teams they were playing, all I needed was a little proof that they could handle a decent opponent.  Like St. John's, who they played in the MSG Holiday Festival Championship.  Who blew them away, handing the Wildcats a loss in their only chance to pick up a quality win outside the conference.  With their god awful schedule, it's going to be an uphill battle for them to make their first NCAA Tournament.

9.  Indiana Hoosiers.  The 9-2 record looks pretty, but they've beaten up on some really bad teams while losing in their only two "real" contests (vs. Kentucky and vs. Boston College).  I'm really looking forward to seeing how they handle this week's Las Vegas Classic, where they get Northern Iowa in the first round and then either New Mexico or Colorado.  This game could go a long way towards telling us if the Hoosiers are an upset threat, or just hopeless for another season.

10.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  Actually manage to get out of the cellar on my ballot, something I didn't think would happen at any point this year.  I also didn't think they'd win five games all year, and they already have eight after beating Louisiana Tech.  I know think they'll probably win four Big Ten games:  one against Penn State, one against Indiana, and two shockers.  Let's hope one of them isn't against the Gophers. 

11.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  Ouch.  The loss to Maine essentially guarantees that Talor Battle's career will end without a single NCAA Tournament appearance.  Missing on every opportunity to get a good win and then piling on this bad loss is just an ugly, ugly start to the season, and disappointing on many, man levels.  On the bright side, Jeff Brooks has stepped up to give them a legit second option behind Battle.  Unfortunately it doesn't seem to matter.

Two final things:

1.  I am now desperately in love with Emma Stone

2.  This is the funniest video ever, and it's not even close (no sound needed):

Monday, December 20, 2010

Week in Review - 12.20.2010

 Two last things about my trip to California:

1. On the ride home I sat next to this young woman probably in her early twenties.  Throughout the entire three and a half hour flight she didn't nap.  She also didn't read.  She didn't have a computer.  She didn't do a crossword or sudoku book.  She declined a drink when they came by to offer a complimentary beverage.  She never went to the bathroom.  She never spoke to anyone.  No, she did nothing except stare straight ahead and blink for 3 and a half hours.  Absolutely bizarre and kind of creepy.  She's either a genius who needs nothing more than her brain to be entertained, or dumb as hell with an empty head.  I have my suspicions. 

2.  If you are ever in California you absolutely have to check out In-and-Out Burger.  Absolutely the best burger ever, excellent fries, and it's all at a near fast-food (but it's not fast food) pace.  Get yourself a double-double and order it animal style.  You won't regret it.  So freaking good.  Anyway, on to the real stuff.


1.  UCLA Bruins.  Still not exactly sure what to make of the Pac-10, and I'm still pretty sure they mostly suck, but UCLA picked up a huge win this weekend knocking off BYU (previously undefeated) in Anaheim at the Wooden Classic.  They won by forcing the Cougars into 19 turnovers, 7 by Jimmer Fredette, and got a huge game out of Reeves Nelson, who looks like a nerd but plays like white jesus.  This win, along with the Bruins hanging with Kansas right to the wire earlier this year, shows that the Bruins have the capability to compete with Washington and Arizona at the top of this conference.  They also have the capability to get swept by the Oregon schools.  Buyer beware.

2.  San Diego State Aztecs.  It's not so much that they got a big win this week, but they're still undefeated (now 12-0) and the way they dismantled Santa Barbara by 26 - the same Gauchos team that just beat UNLV and will likely win the Big West - I'm just beyond impressed right now.  They're extremely balanced, have a great mix of inside/outside scoring, and are very efficient on both ends of the court.  About their only weakness is they don't have a true point guard who plays much, but everyone can handle the ball so they'll probably be ok there.  I don't know what odds you'd find at your favorite online betting site, but I can still find 40-1 on them to win the NCAA Championship on mine.  I recommend you jump on it.

3.  Gonzaga Bulldogs.  About time.  After whiffing on every opportunity to get a quality win - they lost versus San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois, Washington State, and Notre Dame - they finally got something to show off in March with a big win over Baylor in Dallas, a semi-road game.  Couple this with their win over Marquette, and the Zags are suddenly looking to be in decent shape after being a bit of a concern even last week.  They play Xavier, UL-Lafayette, Oklahoma State, and Wake Forest before starting WCC play.  ULL and Wake should be gimmes, so if they can split the Xavier/OSU games (and they should, and a sweep is probably likely since both are in Spokane) that would put them at 9-6 with three quality wins going into conference games.  With that schedule and those wins they would probably just have to go 11-3 or even 10-4 to get an at-large.  Shouldn't be an issue.   

4.  Kevin Love.  I don't write a lot of NBA here - because it sucks until the playoffs - but just how freaking sweet is K-Love?  His point/rebs by game this week were:  13 & 14, 23 & 16, 19 & 17, and 43 & 17.  Freaking 43 and 17.  Wow.  He's a 40% 3-point shooter, a decent offensive player inside the paint, and the best rebounder the NBA has seen since Rodman.  Other than your physical tools (which Love is lacking in, as was Rodman) there are two things that can make you an elite level rebounder - an understanding of where the ball is likely to go (positioning) and a hunger to be the one who gets the ball (effort).  Love has both in spades, and has used those tools to.  I don't know about you, but I'd probably find somewhere to do some basketball betting and just take the over on Love's rebounds in every single game. 

5.  Kansas City Royals.  If you're going to trade an ace this is how you do it.  They shipped Zack Greinke and his anti-anxiety medication over to Milwaukee in return for SPs Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi, SS Alcides Escobar, and CF Lorenzo Cain.  The Royals are thought to have one of the, if not the, best farm systems in the league right now, and they just got better.  Perusing some lists, the two starting pitchers they just got are generally ranked in the top 3 in the Brewers' system, Escobar is thought to be a future star at SS even if he didn't exactly have a great first season last year, and Cain is a "toolsy" center fielder of the future type of player.  In short, it was a haul for a team that is already loaded for the future.  Twins better win now, because starting in about 2013 the Royals' dynasty is ON.  (NOTE:  Milwaukee also better win now, because between this trade and the Lawrie for Marcum trade they have essentially killed their future).  


1.  Tennessee Volunteers.  There were quite a few teams who had bad losses this week, but nobody can touch the disaster that was the Vols.  Two games this week - vs. Oakland and @ Charlotte - and two losses.  the Oakland game is rough, because although the Golden Grizzlies are an NCAA caliber team, they've been unable to crab a real impressive win, losing to West Virginia, Illinois, Michigan State, and Purdue.  Then the Charlotte loss...oof.  The 49ers are, frankly, pretty awful, coming into the game at 4-6 with losses to Gardner-Webb and East Carolina, and they just kicked Shamari Spears, their leading scorer, off the team.  Tennessee has shown how good they can be with wins over Villanova and Pitt, and have now shown how bad they can be as well.  And that's pretty much their outlook for the season as well, they could easily be an elite 8 team or a team that gets bounced in the first round.  Or, hell, and NIT team.  That's what I predicted for them going into the season so let's go for that.   

2.  Kansas State Wildcats.  Honestly I thought the Wildcats were a bit overrated coming into this year, but I didn't say too much because I though tthey were overrated last year and then they made the elite 8 so I figured maybe I was wrong.  But now if you look at their results this year it's kind meh.  Their only two notable wins - over Virginia Tech and Gonzaga - both look worse than they did at the time because both of those teams are struggling, and getting blown out by Florida on Saturday certainly doesn't help things.  So it is now a fact - Kansas State sucks.  Also I'm pretty sure their coach could get you wacked with one phone call.

3. Illinois Fighting Illini.  Well, it's safe to say Ohio State is now the class of the Big 10, and it's not even close (although I'm sure Michigan State will get there by March).  After building a nice resume thus far with the only blemish that overtime loss to Texas in New York, the Illini froze up and locked up versus Illinois-Chicago and Paul Carter this weekend, losing 57-54 in a game where the final 15 seconds saw them miss three shots and turn the ball over twice.  I still don't trust McCamey, and this is exactly why.  I'm sorry, he's just not really a point guard.  He's just not.  I know he has a ton of assists but he's not a point guard.  This team has first round NCAA loss written all over it. 

4.  Josh Selby.  It's a bit of a stretch to say he sucks considering he was a freshman playing in his first ever game and scored 21 points including the game-winning three pointer, but there are some warning signs here.  First off, he's a point guard but finished with just 1 assist compared to four turnovers.  Secondly, he pushes Elijah Johnson (5 points, 2.5 assists vs. just 1.4 TOs in 15 minutes per game) to the end of the bench, as well as Travis Releford (better than a 2-1 assist to TO ratio).  All that helped lead the Jayhawks to a game against USC where they registered just 13 assists versus 12 turnovers for a team that was averaging 20 vs. 13 going into the game.  It could just be a bad game for the team, or it could just that it takes some time to gel and get used to playing with a brand new teammate.  Or, it could be that one of the best team's in the country, one whose strength was their balance and ball movement, just brought in a ball sync.  We shall see.   

5.  Big Ten naming controversy.  Seriously?  So the Big Ten announces they are going to name the divisions the Leaders and Legends, people freak out, and now they might change the names?  I don't know what's more pathetic, the Big Ten for rolling over and possibly changing the names less than a week after they were announced or the pathetic souls out there who actually care about something as meaningless as division names so, so much that it drives them to write letters and bitch to such a magnitude that it gets the Big Ten to actually reconsider.  So sad.  It's division names, people.  God.

And with the teams in each division already set, how much better are you really going to get?  You can't do geographic names, no matter how many national talk show hosts who don't have a clue what's going on keep saying it, and you can't do anything cute like "Great Lakes" and "Heartland" because, again, morons, the team groupings are already set.  So good luck coming up with anything better than Leaders and Legends, because it doesn't matter what they do, because the guys who drive their truck in team colors with two flags flying out the window and the personalized "OSU4EVA" license plates are going to send their emails from the library (I assume they can't afford computers) and write their letters (most likely in crayon) and bitch because for some sad, inexplicable, pathetic reason, what the Big Ten names it's divisions is really, really fucking important.

Last thing I want to say now that I'm all riled up that I am not a fan of this Nishioka signing.  I can't exactly hate it, because it's a nice cheapish investment, but I would rather have JJ Hardy.  And since the choice was basically Hardy/Nishioka vs. Nishioka/Casilla, this move will be evaluated on a Casilla vs. Hardy basis, so it doesn't quite matter as much that Nishi is going to probably end up a mediocre fielding slap hitter.  Just like Casilla.  God what an awesome middle infield combo.  It's like somebody finally answered my prayers and cloned Nick Punto and let the Twins have both of them as a reward for their constant scrappiness and fundamentalsitude.  $20 says Nishi is a slide into firster.

Friday, December 17, 2010

California Love

Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west, a state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness
The track hits your eardrum like a slug to your chest, pack a vest for your jimmy in the city of sex.

By the way, that means I'm in Los Angeles for work.  Which also means I couldn't attend nor watch the Gopher game last night, but it looks like the Gophers went with their standard operating procedure of sucking for the majority of the game and falling behind to a far inferior opponent, and then turning it on in the second half to cruise to a win that looks a lot easier than it really was.  That's all well and good, but if they are still doing that crap once the Big Ten season gets underway it's going to get ugly in a hurry.  Maybe Nolen can fix all that, maybe not.  We're going to find out.

-  No real exciting meals to report.  Well, actually I had one of the best burgers in the history of burgerdom last night at a place in Hollywood called Lucky Devils.  Kobe Beef burger (medium) with lettuce, onions, and some kind of home made secret sauce.  Outstanding.  And the rosemary garlic fries were out of this world.  Although I think Elk, who I am out here with, made the best call of the night (besides the restaurant) going with the Diablo burger, which was a spicy version of what I had.  I had a chance to try their hot sauce and it was really, really good.  I should have ordered that.

Later in the evening we hit up an establishment called the Pig and Whistle for a couple after-dinner drinks and ended up having one with a Michael Jackson impersonator - unless it was really him and the whole "death" thing was a sham.  Stranger things have happened.  Or not really, I guess.  That would be pretty strange.  In any case it was a bit of an unusual occurrence.  But now I'm in the room with nothing but a few Coors Light silos to keep me company, so let's see what things are going on.

-  Jesse Crain to the White Sox, huh?  And Guerrier to the Dodgers, but that doesn't interest me nearly as much since Crain is going to the most hated rival in the world.  They pretty clearly overpaid, but Crain showed just enough in the second half of last year when he started using that slider all the time where I'm pretty nervous to be facing him in the division.  Will he give up tap measure home runs?  Of course.  But the first time they bring him in to face the Twins in the 8th and he shuts them down 1-2-3 I'm going to die a little inside.

-  And speaking of free agents, this Cliff Lee to the Phillies thing is really unfair.  I know the Giants won the series this year with a combination of insane pitching and Buster Posey and that's it, but the Phillies actually have an offense.  Howard is going to hit 40 bombs, Victorino has developed into one hell of a hitter, and Utley and Rollins are great hitters for their positions, even if they were a bit off last year.  I know Werth is gone, but it doesn't really matter who plays left or center or third or whoever the hell their catcher is.   And their only going to have score 2-3 runs a game to win most of the time, and they won't even need a bullpen because Halladay and Lee are just going to pitch complete games every time out anyway.  Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt are all in the top 14 in active complete game leaders, and that includes ancients like Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer.  Actually, Halladay is 33, and amongst pitchers 33 or younger they rank 1, 5, and 6.  Ridiculous and basically just unfair.  The over/under for their season wins is going to be like 110.

-  Oh, and if the Twins trade for Joe freaking Blanton and his Nick Blackburn-like career 1.34 WHIP I'm going to drive down there and maim somebody.  Why make a trade for a fifth starter when he's worse than whoever you call up from triple A?  Come on geniuses, don't be stupid.

-  Of course, this is not my first time in Los Angeles for work.  Prior to this I was introduced to the weirdness of everybody in the city trying to get a movie produced, and before that I was lucky enough to become good friends with Larry David and learned a little about women.  L.A. is weird, but I always have a good time.  Plus, I was in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode that time with my good friend Larry.  You can actually see my bald spot in the scene.  I'm famous.

-  Interesting week in college hoops so far.  Three teams who I don't think anybody was super sure what to make of (Louisville, Tennessee, and UNLV) all went on big runs early, picked up huge wins (Louisville over UNLV, Tennessee over Pitt, and UNLV over Wisconsin and Va Tech), got themselves highly ranked (Tenn #7, UNLV #20 , L'Ville #20) and then all crashed and burned this week.  Louisville got beat at home by Drexel, Tennessee got beat at home by Oakland, and UNLV by Santa Barbara.  But no real worries, because they're all still better than Gonzaga who is an absolute nightmare right now.  They're going to end up scrambling to even sniff an at-large bid.

-  In case you're wondering what's going with the world's worst shooting guard, Scottie Reynolds was picked 13th in the first round of the NBDL draft by Tulsa, who then immediately shipped him off in a trade to get of his stink.  Since play began he ranks 19th in scoring (behind guys like Pat Ewing Jr. and Roderick Wilmont), and 19th in assists (behind guys like Curtis Stinson and Luke Jackson).  Nicely done.

-  Speaking of the NBDL draft, other picks of interest:
First Round:  Alan Anderson (Mich State like 100 years ago), Robert Vaden (UAB), Magnum Rolle (LA Tech - love this guy).
Third Round:  Lawrence Westbrook (averaging 7 pts, 2 rebs, 2 asts per game with Maine)
Fourth Round:  Derek Raivio (Gonzaga, the living clone of the Professor)
Fifth Round:  Daniel Horton (Michigan, this guy sucked)

And that's it.  Every year I think there's going to be a bunch of funny in this draft, and every year it turns out I've only heard of a handful of guys.  And I know way too much about college ball to not know who this many guys are.  So where are these guys coming from?  Some secret basketball concentration camp?  This is bullshit.

-  John Shurna tonight:  28 pts, 4 rebs, 2 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 1 turnover.  That's 64 fantasy points, baby.  And guess whose got 'em?

-  Shelden Williams is still in the NBA?  What the hell?  The guy's offensive game rivals Miles Tarver and his defensive game is what I imagine Blake Hoffarber would look like if he was taller and blacker. 

-  You ever just sit around wondering who the top scoring Big Ten college basketball players would be in a Bi g Ten fantasy league (pt = 1pt, reb = 2 pt, assist = 3 pt, block or steal = 4 pt, turnover = -2 pts)?  Well wonder no more.  The top ten in our league:
1.  Jon Leuer, Wisconsin
2.  Darius Morris, Michigan
3.  Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
4.  Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
5.  Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota
6.  Draymond Green, Michigan State
7.  Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
8.  JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
9.  Demetri McCamey, Illinois
10.  E'Twaun Moore, Purdue

It's worth noting I have none of those people, and also - not coincidentally - I'm the only team that's 0-2 thus far.  Also props to Snacks, Bogart, Snake, Dawger, Elk, Grandslam, and Optimator.  I sent an email one random morning asking if anybody wanted to do fantasy Big 10 hoops, and by that afternoon we were in round 3 of the draft.  Nice work, gentleman.

-  By the way, yes, that's Blake Hoffarber at #5.  He's having a hell of a year.  14.8 points per game (13th in the B10), 4.9 assists (3rd.  THIRD!!), 3.5 rebounds (39th), and 1.7 steals (5th, and wow) all while shooting 40% from three (leading the conference in both makes and attempts) and turning it over just 1.6 times per game despite being the defacto main ball handler.  Actually, he's been efficient enough on offense to rank #63 in's offensive efficiency ranking, which may not sound that great but keep in mind there are 340-some teams and this ranking includes all those dudes from smaller conferences who dominate.  In terms of Big Ten players, he ranks behind just Jon Diebler, John Shurna, Jordan Hulls of Indiana, and Jordan Taylor.  Combine fantasy points, which shows he's putting up numbers, and efficiency rating, which shows he's, well, efficient, and you could make a case for him to be behind just Taylor as the most valuable player in the Big Ten this year.  I can't believe I just typed that sentence.  I'm now going to pull my fingers off with bolt cutters.  Which I just happen to have here in the hotel room.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Akron Zips

The Akron Zips travel to the Barn to take on your beloved Minnesota Gophers tonight, and it's an intriguing game to be sure.  Not so much because the Zips are great, because they are struggling this year after dominating the MAC the last several seasons and don't have an "All-MAC" type player they usually do, but because they actually bring some size into the Barn.  Among their top five players are three post guys, sophomore center Zeke Marshall, senior forward Brett McKnight, and junior forward Nikola Cvetinovic, and they all present some interesting issues.

Marshall is the big tall shot-blocking center (2.7 per game), standing at seven-feet tall with a long wingspan and a good pedigree (was Rivals #43 recruit in the country when he signed with the Zips), but he's rail thin and weighs just 218 lbs., and that's after "bulking up" this off-season.  He's capable of putting up some big numbers (22 pts, 8 rebs, 3 blks vs. Youngstown) but isn't generally a huge threat on the offensive end, partially due to his 56% free throw shooting.  His height is good, but his lack of bulk is going to be an issue against that big Gopher front court.

McKnight doesn't have to worry about bulk, at 245 lbs. he's a bit of a bull, but he's a bit short on height at 6-6.  Still, he's got the game to step outside and hit the three, and is a tough matchup with his inside/outside offensive skills.  Good news for the Gophers, however, is that McKnight has been suspended indefinitely by the coach for violating team rules, and hasn't played since the season opener.  I can't find anything on if he's going to be able to play tonight, so I would assume not, but I wanted to include him here for completeness sake because if he does play he's a concern for the Gophers as one of the Zips top returning players from last year's 24-win team.

The last post player I want to mention, Cvetinovic, is likely the Zips' biggest weapon.  He's 6-8, 230 lbs. so he has the size to play inside with Minnesota, and he's the team's leading scorer at 13 per game and has played some of his best ball against Akron's better opponents (nearly a triple-double against Dayton and 18 and 19 points against Detroit and UIC.  I haven't seen Akron play at all, but his lack of three-point attempts and propensity to get to the free-throw line make me believe he's a banger.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the Gopher front court handles a legitimate post threat.

As far as the perimeter goes, Akron does return two starters in point man Steve McNees (7 pts, 3 assists per game) and Darryl Roberts (9 and 2), along with  Brett McClanahan who has developed into a major weapon and is second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 5.9 per despite standing just 6-4.  All three of these guys can shoot from 3 (33%, 42%, and 35%) and we all know that is a major issue facing Minnesota's defense right now.  Similar to most of the other games against sub-par opponents, the Gophers should handle these guys but if they let one or more of the perimeter shooters get hot things can get interesting in a hurry.  Add in the solid front court that Akron boasts, and this could be a pretty interesting matchup.

Adding to that worry is the fact that, despite doing almost nothing well, their one major strength is that they don't turn the ball over, giving it away on just 17% of their possessions which ranks 36th in the country.  This tells me that they will get their shots.  They don't shoot very well overall as a team, either from 2 or from 3, and they don't rebound their misses, but they will get shots.  If the Gophers don't cover well and allow open looks, something that's plagued them this year, Akron will be able to stay in the game.

That being said, it's not as if the Zips have shown much of an ability to upset anybody.  As far as quality opponents go they've played Dayton (lost by 12), Cleveland State (lost by 13), and Temple (lost by 35).  Wins over Detroit and UIC show they can hang with so-so teams, but when it comes to top 100-type opponents they are staring at a likely double-digit loss.  The Gophers are pretty clearly a top 100 team.  So why can't I see them winning by double figures?

Minnesota 73, Akron 66

I won't be at the game and probably won't be able to watch the game, unfortunately, since I will be in the city of L.A. Angeles for work purposes.  Will their be blogging from the hotel room after a drink or two?  Sources say it seems likely.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big Ten Power Poll, 12-15-2010

My ballot for the Star Tribune's Big 10 Power Poll.  I took a good long look at each team's overall resume this time instead of just adjusting up and down based on the last week's results.  It didn't make all that much of a difference, actually.  The overall poll is found on Myron Medcalf's blog at this link, and is usually posted by mid-day on Wednesday.

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  The only team where I can't find any flaws so far.  They've beaten some very good teams (Florida, Florida State), handled decent teams with ease (Morehead State by 19, IUPUI by 21, Miami-OH by 19), and blown out the bad teams (average margin of victory = 35 vs. sub-200 teams).  Clearly the class of the league with a great balance of scorers.  They're going to be awfully difficult to beat.

2.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  Other than the overtime loss to Texas, the Illini actually have the most impressive overall body of work in the conference.  Wins over North Carolina, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Oakland, and other than playing Toledo they haven't played a sub-200 type team.  If they can beat Missouri next Wednesday it's going to be awfully tough to keep them out of the top spot.

3.  Michigan State Spartans.  The record isn't the best, but that schedule is absolutely brutal.  The do have a great win over Washington and there's no shame in losing to Duke, Syracuse, or UCONN - especially how they were playing at the time.  And, once again, there's no use worrying about Sparty in December.  Izzo always builds for March.

4.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Any of three teams could rank here, but I'm going with Wisconsin on the strength of their recent wins over Marquette and NC State, and the fact that their win over Boston College is starting to look better and better.  Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor are a hell of a 1-2 punch, and, no shocker here, they're currently one of the most efficient offenses in the country right now.

5.  Purdue Boilermakers.  Their only loss is still the neutral court loss to Richmond who is looking like the class of the A-10 right now.  Other than that there are some decent wins (Alabama, Virginia Tech, Oakland) but nothing that truly stands out.  Still wondering who that third scorer might be?  Maybe they don't need one.

6.  Minnesota Gophers.  Even though their win over West Virginia is arguably the best win by any Big Ten team, their defensive struggles keep me from putting them any higher.  If they had been playing anybody but cupcakes these last two weeks there would be a few more losses in that record.  Maybe this is a case of being so close that I see every wart, but they just aren't a very good team right now.  Hurry back Al.

7.  Michigan Wolverines.  Wins over Clemson, Harvard, and Utah along with keeping the game close against Syracuse (closer than Michigan State did) are better than anything the team's below them have accomplished this year.  Plus I can't get over Darius Morris.  Did you know he's second in the country in assist rate?  48% of Wolverine baskets when he's on the court come from his assists?  And he's leading the team in scoring while shooting 55%!  Sleeper candidate for Big Ten POY right here.

8.  Northwestern Wildcats.  Maybe I need to have them above Michigan, but this is the emptiest 6-0 I've ever seen.  The win over Georgia Tech was so-so as was their win over Creighton, but outside of that it's just a bunch of sub-300 creampuffs.  Not the way to get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time.  Next week they play in a tournament that has them looking at a likely matchup with St. John's in Madison Square Garden.  They have to win that one, or they might have already knocked themselves out of at-large consideration with that schedule.

9.  Indiana Hoosiers.  Seven wins and two losses is all well and good, but have you see the quality of competition?  Their best win is against a 5-5 Wright State squad that has two of its wins over non Division I schools, and five of the other six wins are against sub-200 teams.  This might be an ugly B10 season for Indiana.

10.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  The loss to Virginia Tech assures Penn State will come into conference play without a good win on their ledger.  Their win over Duquesne is decent and there are no bad losses so they aren't out of it, but they'll have to go on a nice run in the Big 10 if they want to get Talor Battle to the NCAA Tournament.

11.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  The win over Northern Iowa was nice, but other than the win over Alabama in the Paradise Jam there are no other remotely decent wins here, and there are some very bad losses.  The Hawkeyes are going to be better than I expected, but that really isn't saying much at all.

It's clear to me that Ohio State is the best team in the league with Illinois and Michigan State right there.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue are on the next tier, and it's awfully tough to separate them right now.  I'd put Michigan and Northwestern in the next group, although Northwestern has the potential to move up a tier once they finally play somebody.  Indiana is probably a half-step above Penn State right now, and the Lions are about a half step above Iowa.  Seems pretty clear to me, until conference play starts and we get a better idea of how everybody matches up against each other.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Week in Review - 12.13.2010

 So how about those Minnesota Gophers?  The second half, and specifically that huge run to start the half, was great and all, but this team is just flat, man.  Sampson and Mbakwe played well when they go the ball, and Trevor continues to shock me with the things he can do, but this team is certainly in a bit of trouble.  Up just three points at half to Eastern Kentucky?  And that lead was only because Maverick Ahanmisi hit a half-court shot.  Not to mention how much worst it should have/could have been if the Colonels didn't miss a whole ass-ton of wide open three-pointers.

I know Al Nolen is gone, and he's the "glue guy" or the "catalyst" or whatever, but he's not going to be back until something like three weeks into the Big Ten season and if they don't learn to play better without him they're going to dig themselves a nice hole in the standings.  The Big Ten is deep and very good this year, playing like they have the last three games against any Big Ten team, including Iowa, will result in a quick deficit leading to a quick loss.

I won't say they sucked, because they did win and do a nice job in the second half and pounding the ball in the paint, but I can't say they're awesome either because they won a game they should have won by 25 by just 13.  Just two more games to get their shit together before conference play starts and the Gophers travel to Wisconsin and then Michigan State to open.  Right now I don't see any possible way they aren't starting 0-2. 


1.  Jared Sullinger.  In our Big Ten Fantasy Hoops league, Sullinger went #3 overall to Elk and there was some questioning of the pick by some of the other players.  Although he was putting up good numbers he was outscored in Week 1 by several players who went right after him - Draymond Green, Jon Leuer, Demetri McCamey, etc. which made the pick look even more curious.  But Sullinger turned it on this week with a 40 point, 13 rebound performance against IUPUI and followed it up with "just" 17 and 5 against Western Carolina.  No, the competition wasn't exactly the best, but Sullinger is now 6th in scoring and 2nd in rebounding (to Mbakwe) in the Big 10.  Not bad for a freshman, and not bad for the #3 pick in the fantasy league.

2.  Rick Jackson.  I don't know if you're aware of this but Rick Jackson - the Syracuse power forward - has become an unstoppable monster.  He's like a better version of Trevor Mbakwe - yes, I'm serious.  After putting up a 17 pts./16 reb game against Michigan State during the week he followed it up with an 18 & 10 against Colgate this weekend, and that now gives him 8 double-doubles in the Orange's ten games this year.  With Jackson's development into a stud, Kris Joseph's big-time scoring ability, and solid point play from Scoop Jardine, the Orange are suddenly a contender without having gotten anything from their heralded freshman class.  If those develop as the season goes along, watch out. 

3.  Terrence Jones.  I read somewhere a lot of talk about how this class of Wildcats isn't like the last one, and you shouldn't expect a full-on stripped down roster:  Doron Lamb is almost certainly a 2-year player, Brandon Knight might have to go a second year, etc.  But one player who is basically certain to bolt is Jones, who is basically running circles around every opponent other than North Carolina.  He's had five double-doubles in nine games and has put up some absolutely monster performances including Wednesday against Notre Dame where he put up a 27 point, 17 rebound performance - and that was his second 17-rebound game on the year.  Guy is a beast.  He's also going to be a bust in the NBA.  That's a call, Bert.

4.  Louisville Cardinals.  I don't know exactly how this ended up happening because based on personnel it was looking like a down year in Louisville, but suddenly the Cardinals are 8-0 and extremely relevant after beating an awfully good UNLV team this weekend in Vegas.  Terrence Jennings is finally starting to show some of the Terrence Williams/Earl Clark he was supposed to be, but this is a very balanced team with 9 players who score at least 5.5 points per game and 6 who score at least 8.4, and is led by a dynamic backcourt of Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva.  I don't know if they have enough size to get through in March, but right now has them as the 11th best team in the country and an absolute lockdown defensive squad.  Good back court, balanced scoring, and great defense?  That's basically a blue-print for March success.  Add in Pitino and they could be a nice sleeper team.

5.  Boston College Eagles.  Coming into the year it was supposed to be Duke at the top of the ACC, followed by whoever emerged out of Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, or Florida State, and then a bunch of crap.  While most of the bunch of crap has lived up to it's name, BC has risen to the top and may have had the best week out of anybody this week, beating a pretty good Providence team at home and then going into Maryland and knocking off the Terps.  An embarrassing early loss to Yale has basically been wiped out, because other than those two wins they've also knocked off a bunch of BCS teams - not good BCS teams, but good enough to help out that RPI - Indiana, Cal, Texas A&M (also UMass).  Nice little surprise team here.


1.  Mid-major "dynasties."  If we don't count the Atlantic-10 as a mid-major, and I don't, the two biggest mid-major dynasties are clearly Butler and Gonzaga, and suddenly each of them is facing the prospect of having to win their conference tournament to get into the big dance.  Butler sits at 5-4 and has lost every meaningful game and lost to crappy Evansville.  Gonzaga is 4-5 and in the middle of a three game losing streak, and outside of a win over Marquette they've done nothing, getting crushed by Illinois, Washington State, and Kansas State.  A couple of other really solid mid-majors over the last few years, Siena in the MAAC and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley, are looking like they can forget at-larges as well.  Siena is now 2-5 with some really, really bad losses (Albany, Princeton) an dis dead in the water, and Northern Iowa is 4-3 with losses to Iowa and Milwaukee.  Basically the first four teams I think of when I think mid-major are all either already out of the running for an at-large or are facing a major uphill battle.  Weird year.  Not counting the A-10, Mountain West, or Memphis, the Colonial might have the three best mid-major teams in the country.

2.  St. Johns Red Storm.  Wow we wow wow.  Well apparently my sleeper Big East squad is more sleepy than sleeper, because they had an absolute brutal week, losing to two A-10 bottom feeders in St. Bonnie's and Fordham this week.  St. Bonnie's is bad, but they are at least a halfway decent squad, but the loss to Fordham is inexcusable.  The Rams are 5-4, but are still one of the worst teams in the country after winning a total of just 5 games the last two years.  In short, these two losses are hugely embarrassing for St. Johns, and they almost kill their post-season chances.  They play in the Big East so they could go on a run and end up in good shape, but losing these two games says pretty definitively that this team sucks way too hard to do that.  I am awesome and picking sleepers.

3.  Pac-10 Contenders.  There are exactly two good teams in the Pac-10:  Washington and Arizona.  Both played road games against decent, but beatable, teams on Saturday with a chance to show how good they really are.  Both failed miserably.   Washington lost by one to Texas A&M and Arizona got crushed by BYU.  This whole demise of the Pac-10 thing is completely out of control.  I think this is year 3 of them sucking it up.  Get your shit together or we're going to have to replace you with the Mountain West.

4.  The Metrodome.  Nice stadium, lol.  Where are we, exactly?  Bratislava?

5.  Kyrie Irving.  I'm not a Duke fan, not remotely, but Irving's injury and possible out-for-the-yearedness really sucks in a lot of ways.  First, he was incredible and fun to watch.  Like a Ty Lawson who could score, and he was only a handful of games into his freshman year and was just getting better.  Seventeen points per game on 53% shooting and 45% from three with 5 assists and 4 boards as well and a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio?  Wow.  And we lose out on a juggernaut Duke team that had a legit shot at going undefeated.  Not that I like Duke, I hate them, but remember how much fun it was rooting against the Patriots their undefeated year?  And how awesome it was when the Giants beat them in the Super Bowl?  We could have had that again in March, but now we will just have to root against Duke with all the regular hate, not super extra hate.  I miss super extra hate.  I wish Favre was still a Packer. 

And about this whole JJ Hardy trade:  I don't get it.  The assumption is that the signing of Nishioka is apparently now imminent, which is fine, but we don't know anything about how his game will transfer.  Ichiro is great, but look at Kaz Matsui - no thanks.  And either way, he can play both middle infield positions, so would you rather roll with a starting tandem of Nishioka and Hardy, or Nishioka and Casilla?  Should be obvious.  With such a pedestrian return for him - two middle reliever prospects of dubious value - this trade doesn't make much sense to me.  I'll let Aaron Gleeman break it down since he does a better job than I and I've already written enough for one day, but Hardy was a valuable piece.  Even if one of the two players they got back becomes a competent reliever that's not as valuable as a quality everyday shortstop.  Not impressed with this off season so far.   Not at all.