Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gophers play Virginia Tech or something I don't care

I have to be honest with yous guys, I'm having a little trouble getting motivated to writing up a preview of Wednesday's game versus the Hokies.  It's just such a kick in the cubes to have Mbakwe go down for the year.  I don't even know if my adjusted goal of an NIT bid is a ridiculously unreachable goal at this point.  I just don't know.  I suppose I could just talk about Virginia Tech a bit.  I suppose that could do it.  If you're looking for Mbakwe/Gopher-related thoughts, here's what I wrote after the injury.

Virginia Tech is in the rare position of having lost their best player from last season and actually becoming a better team because they can now run an offense besides, "Jesus christ Delaney will you give the ball to somebody else!"  They also lost their best post player in Jeff Allen, who averaged nearly a double-double last year, but of course that would be a bigger deal except for the fact that your precious god hates me and Minnesota sports in general and struck down our hercules with a lightning bolt or something.  I don't know shut up.  I'm grieving.

Anyway, Virginia Tech comes in at 5-1 with a win over Oklahoma State and their only loss to Syracuse, and they're doing because the guys who were supposed to take steps forward did so and their much heralded freshman class (#12 according to ESPN) is living up to the billing.  They're actually a pretty fun team to watch outside of their coach Seth Greenberg who's a giant bag of dicks because their sort of built in that all swingman mold - the majority of the team is between 6-3 and 6-9, athletic, and skilled enough to handle the ball or play in the paint.

Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson are the team's two leading scorers (14.8 and 14.3 per game) and although nearly is what you'd call a true point (although Green is closer), but both can handle the ball and run the offense.  Both are more penetrators than pure shooters, though both can hit the open three ball when it's made available, and both are lock-down defenders.  All of which means the Gopher guards are going to have their hands absolutely and completely full all night long.  Jarrell Eddie, whose name I'm pretty sure is all backwards, is the third starter out on the wing and the teams third leading scorer at 8.8 per game.  He's a big wing (6-7) who can rebound (4.2 per game) and handle the ball (2-1 A-to-TO ratio), and another who can hit the three but doesn't depend on it.  I really hate this back court.

Up front is where the Gophers could have done some damage if the world wasn't just one gigantic F-U.  Victor Davila starts at PF or C depending on how you want to define it and one of the few guys on this team who is basically locked into one position.  At 6-8, 242 he is one of the few guys who might have been able to handle the Mbakwe/Sampson tandem which obviously is a mute point now.  Davila is not spectacular and just kind of goes about his business, but that could be because the guy who starts next to him, freshman Dorrian Finney-Smith brings about the kind of unstated spectacularity that you might not even realize is there until you look at the stat sheet.  He's not a big-time scorer yet (just 8 per game), but at 10.3 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists (leads the team despite being 6-8) he's obviously one of those guys who can really play the game but who is just waiting for his offensive game to catch up to the rest of what he can do.  He's struggled with his shot so far (.378 shooting percentage) but eventually he's going to figure it out and rip someone's spine out like he was Sub-Zero performing a Murder Death Kill.  I hope it's not the Gophers, although their heart was already ripped out so what's another body part?

Coming off the bench is some talent as well - freshman guard Robert Brown is the team's third leading scorer, sophomore Cadarian Raines gives the team some size coming off the bench, and combo forward C.J. Barksdale is a big time recruit who is athletic and a bit raw, but the team relies pretty heavily on its starting five and Brown (Green, Finney-Smith, and Hudson all average at least 31 minutes per game and Brown is the only bench player to average over 14) so that's who you need to worry about.  A bunch of long, athletic wing types who play shut down defense, rebound well, and can score a variety of ways.  Great.  Can't wait.

As far as team style goes, the Hokies play slow, but play efficiently by moving the ball for open shots.  They are a good three-point shooting team (40% for the season), but don't rely on it because they have guards who can get into the paint.  Based on Minnesota's performance in Orlando I expect Virginia Tech to do everything they can to get the ball to their guards while they're moving and in position to turn the corner on the defender and get into the paint, drawing help and the kicking it to the open man either for a three pointer or a short jumper or lay-up.  Actually I expect every team to try that since the Gophers can't defend it so far, but Va Tech is built for success using that exact strategy.  Defensively, Va Tech is outstanding defending the three - which the Gophers don't bother with anyway - but are also excellent at defending the two pointer and blocking shots.

Honestly maybe it's just my natural pessimism setting in after Mbakwe's injury after a small period of denial/optimism, but this is an absolutely terrible opponent for the Gophers right now.  The guards are going to get murdered on both ends by the Hokies's perimeter guys, and Va Tech's inside play isn't bad enough for Ralph to take advantage without Mbakwe there to help out.  Barring a miracle, this isn't going to be close - which is a shame, because the Gophers are favored by three if Trevor's there. 

Virginia Tech 77, Minnesota 62.  And let the doomsaying begin.  For once I won't be part of it, because this injury kills this season, and would for any team and any coach.  God damn Dayton.  They ruin everything.  Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go listen to this mix CD I made that is nothing but Coldplay, Dido, and that Time of Your Life song by Greenday.

You know what I think's under that sweatshirt?  Nothing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

There goes the Season

I don't exactly know the best way to articulate this so I'll just go with fucking hell.  Trevor Mbakwe's MRI today revealed a tear of both the ACL and MCL, obviously ending his season and basically the Gophers' as well.  I will preface this by saying this obviously sucks way worse for Trevor than it does for me, of that there is no question.  That being said, FML.  Mbakwe wasn't just the best player on the team, he was it's heart and soul, it's leader, and the only player capable of taking over a game - it's no coincidence nearly ever preview I've written for games this year has ended by referencing a way that he could single-handedly win the game.  He's certainly the best player the Gophers have had in a long time, since Bobby Jackson I'd guess, and the best post player I can ever remember watching, besides maybe Willie Burton.  His injury takes the season from "hey you never know, sweet 16, maybe" to "hopefully they can scrounge up an NIT bid."  Yes, he's that good.  This blows.

Not only does it suck because of Mbakwe's ability, but he was a big reason why this is one of the most likable teams I can remember.  When is the last time you saw a player work so hard and improve their biggest weakness?  Trevor adding a jump shot and completely revamping his free throw technique and going from a 60% to a 70-75% shooter is one of the more impressive offseason changes I've ever seen from a player who had already established themselves as "good."  Voshon Lenard got worse.  Sam Jacobson got worse.  Michael Bauer got worse.  The only thing I've seen even close to it was Eric Harris going from a terrible outside shooter to a dead-eye 3-point specialist.  Just an awesome showing of dedication, and coming from a guy who had a difficult past (how much of that you want to blame on him is up to you), combined with his obvious effort and work ethic on the floor made him very easy to root for.  This just sucks on every level.

How much is this going to affect the team?  I think that's obvious.  Kenpom.com doesn't have individual player stats up yet, so I can't tell you Mbakwe's rebounding rates, but I can tell you that with 27 offensive rebounds and 64 total rebounds on the year he's grabbed 28% of the team's O-boards and 25% of their total rebounds - and that's total total, not just when he's on the floor, numbers that would be significantly higher. 

Minnesota's team strength this year has been their offensive efficiency, which ranks 32nd in the country.  The main reason for that is the team has been extremely strong in 2P Field Goal percentage, offensive rebounding, and getting to and converting free throws.  Oy.  Defensively, the team's strengths thus far have been blocking shots and getting steals.  So I guess that's the good news.  Mbakwe out won't affect getting steals all that much - he's only fourth on the team. 

It's going to take something major for this team to be able to even compete to be on the NCAA bubble without him, but there are some signs of hope.  Maybe it's because I actually like this team that my usual pessimism seems to be lacking this season, but I can see some signs of hope.  Starting with:

-  Ralph Sampson shifts immediately from #2 guy to #1 in the post, something he needs to get comfortable with.  This is the #1 thing that has to happen for the team to have any chance at any success.  Ralph's role as second banana in the paint to Trevor, where he could roam the high post/perimeter, feed Mbakwe down low, post up from time to time and grab the leftover rebounds suited him well - both his skills and his demeanor.  Now he has to become the #1 low post option, something he can either embrace as his last chance to make a mark in his unremarkable college career, or he can shrink from the responsibility and ensure this season goes nowhere.  I fear the latter is more likely, but hold out hope for the former. 

-  The second biggest key to the year is whether or not Rodney can break out.  And I know it seems like a silly question we've been asking for three years now and the answer has always been an emphatic no.  His game against DePaul showed flashes of his potential, even if it was mostly just rebounding and putback dunks, but maybe that's what he needs to turn into and this is the biggest chance he's going to get because there are suddenly going to be a lot more rebounds and put back chances available.  It's clear that he's not going to develop into a perimeter player without a minor miracle, but maybe this is what he's meant to be - an athletic, undersized four.  If he can turn himself into a 10 & 8 guy this year - and I think he can - maybe he puts his offseason efforts into bulking up a bit and becomes a legit college 4.  It could happen.

- The development of Andre Ingram.  The Gophers really only have three options to play the post, and Elliason isn't nearly skilled enough to grab anything more than spot time, and although Osenieks has shown to be a pretty skilled player he doesn't have to size to bang in the Big 10, leaving Ingram as the guy who needs to step in for Mbakwe - as far as anybody can.  I've liked what I've seen from him so far, and although mostly a raw athlete he does have some skill and I think he's going to end up being a quality Big 10 player at some point - whether or not that happens this season is key #3 for the Gophers to have some kind of success this year.

- Finally, and maybe most obviously, the guard play needs to get better, and all these other little flights of fancy might be a bunch of mute points unless this one happens.  They all have skills with the ball that I like and little things that can develop further and I think each of Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins, and Julian Welch will end up being quality ball players, but that perimeter defense is just brutal.  Their opponents shot 42% from three in the Old Spice Classic (and if you take out the brick factory that is DePaul it was 46%) and it was the same in each game - guard drives, either off a hand off or a pick, Gopher defender can't keep up, help side defense collapse towards the penetrating guard, kick out for the open three.  Again and again and again.  And if that isn't fixed, nothing else matters.

I hope Trevor can somehow get a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship.  I hope Ralph Sampson seizes his chance to make his senior year something more memorable than as a side kick.  I hope Rodney takes what may be his best and last chance to turn into something more than an athletic freak who never lives up to his potential.  I hope the rest of thing shows signs of improvement and of true development and can turn this year into something less than a lost season, and at least compete to be on the bubble.  I hope I can make it across the border.  I hope I can see my friend and shake his hand.  I hope the pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams.  I hope.
I hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God Mother Effing Hell

I'm sitting here right now watching Trevor Mbakwe cry, which I'm guessing means that this isn't a knee tweak, isn't a minor bump, and his season and by extension the Gophers' season is over.  I actually have a lot of thoughts on the tournament that I wanted to get into, but after this I really don't feel like it and plus I have to go spend some time taking every single implement that could be used to damage home or person and lock them up before the constant rage and disappointment of being a Minnesota Sports Fan gets to me.  I mean, really?  A real live legit All-American candidate and this happens?  A kid who seems to have put a questionable past behind him and has it all turned around with a possible NBA future and then this?  This blows.  I already had most of this crap written so I'll just leave it up here, but jesus this sucks.


1.  Gopher football.  Pardon my french, but what the fuck was that?  I don't exactly follow the gopher football team super closely because they're terrible and I can only dedicate my time to a certain number of leagues/teams, but because they're the Gophers I try to check in as often as I can.  And they've been brutal 99% of the time I've watched them.  Then on Saturday due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances I ended up at the game and holy crap that did not look anything like the team I've seen most of the year.  The defense was '85 Bears-ish and held Illinois to negative yards until their final drive of the 1st half, and MarQueis Gray suddenly figured out how to run/pass at the proper time and in the proper proportion.  I'd talk about the second half but it was so goddamn cold we had to leave before I had to cut off my other hand, but man, talk about leaving 'em wanting more.  Pretty sure we're talking Rose Bowl next year.  Can't wait.

2.  Missouri Tigers.  The Tigers are just straight up smoking fools, and they aren't just blowing out cupcakes, they also won the CBE Classic by beating Notre Dame by 29 and Cal by 39.  I mean Notre Dame and Cal aren't exactly anybody's sleepers, although Cal was ranked #18, but those are decent, NCAA Tournament possibility teams and Missouri is just running right by them.  And I do mean run by, because this squad is top 23 in terms of tempo and top 7 in offensive efficiency, which means they're putting up a ton of points.  They may run into a little issue with a lack of size because they lost one of their only two real big men to injury for the year and routinely run with four guards (Gophers take notes) but this team is a legit sleeper.

3.  UNLV Runnin' Rebels.  Well like whoa.   I guess it isn't all that stunning that UNLV would win the Las Vegas Invitational given that it's held in Las Vegas, but to do it by beating North Carolina in the championship game and in convincing fashion is quite impressive.  It was actually quite stunning how easily the Rebels were able to score, particularly in the second half.  UNLV has some pretty good guards in Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, and Chace Stanback, but it was pretty amazing to see how the Tar Heel guards couldn't stop their dribble penetration, which led to kick-outs for open shots and a team total of 22 assists on the game - it was like watching the Gophers try to stop Dayton, but this is UNC here.  Actually, UNLV has two guys who both averages over 5 assists per game which is pretty crazy.  And with New Mexico looking less good than I thought, the Rebs might have become the MWC favorite.


1.  Memphis Tigers.  And here I thought Memphis was back.  They roll into the Maui Classic ranked #8, the second-highest ranked team in the field, and lay a gigantic egg.  First they get absolutely rolled by Michigan - who is looking good but not great or anything - in a game they only lost by eight but were never really in.  They then follow that up with a 2 OT victory against an absolutely dreadful Tennessee team (seriously that team deserves it's own section here as well), and finally lost to a rebuilding Georgetown team in the consolation game.  Seriously, the Tigers have all kinds of crazy talented guards and seemingly have no idea how to use them.  I'm starting to think Jsoh Pastner is a great recruiter and a terrible game coach.  Similar to, oh, I don't know, John Calipari?  All Pastner needs to do is learn how to cheat better and he'll be a clone.

2.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  Jesus Christ, just when you think the B1G 10 is looking pretty stellar and maybe have a great year, here comes Iowa to stumble through the door like that drunken uncle who was at Thanksgiving who started out by farting and insulting the food, then hit on your mom before crashing through a plate glass window chasing an invisible flying burrito.  We all have one, and now the B10 does to because Iowa lost to Campbell by 16.  Campbell.  By 16.  Holy shit, amiright?  I looked it up and Campbell hasn't beaten a major team, even if we include the MVC, MWC, A10, CUSA, WCC, and CAA, going back to 2001 which is as far back as ESPN has records and I don't really feel like going any further.  Also technically they beat Auburn last year but that doesn't count, and they never beat anybody else.  And they just beat Iowa by double-figures.  God that's so awesome.  Fuck Iowa.

3.  The Pac-12.  I'm getting sick of having to point this out every year, but once again the conference is just garbage.   The conferences overall record is 38-30.  The best team, Cal just got crushed by Missouri, while the other preseason contenders aren't doing much better - Washington lost by double-figures against St. Louis, Arizona lost to a D-II team and can't' beat anyone good, and UCLA is 1-4 with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee.  Oregon State and Stanford are looking like sleepers and Oregon and Colorado haven't done anything offensive, but haven't impressed at all either, and the bottom feeders aren't going to be helping the league's RPI - Utah is 1-5 with their BEST loss against Harvard, Wash State is 2-4 and just lost to UC-Riverside, Arizona State is 2-4 with a loss to Pepperdine, and USC put up just 36 points in an ugly loss to Cal Poly.  I know they lost a bunch of players to the NBA over the last few years but I mean come on.  And speaking of:

The NBA is back the NBA is back the NBA is back! 

I seriously have no idea why I'm so happy about this.  I literally watch around 6 regular season games a year.  I guess there's just something about knowing there's professional basketballing going on in the background.  Like I don't need to sit there and watch the games, but knowing they're going on in the periphery of my brain is just comforting in some way.  It's kind of like the CIA and shit.  I know they're doing all kinds of "illegal" things to help keep me safe, but I don't care.  As long as I don't know about it and I don't get blowed up or whatever I'm happy.

Ok so that's really not the same thing at all.  Too late though.  Go NBA!  Ricky Rubio and whatever!

Say your prayers or whatever that Mbakwe's MRI turns out favorably.  But I fear that seems unlikely.  Suck.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Old Spice Classic Primer

As I'm sure you are aware, the Gopher hoop team will be in Orlando for the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving rather than spending it with their families, simply so the unwashed masses can be entertained rather than actually talking to their family members.  I, for one, could not more be thrilled by this.  Of course, the last time the Gophers played in this particular tournament it was an absolute disaster when they finished in 8th place (out of 8) after getting swept by the murderer's row of Marist, Southern Illinois, and Montana on the way to the end of Dan Monson and the two least enjoyable seasons ever.  Should we fear a repeat?  Yes.  Absolutely yes.

The DePaul Blue Demons will be the Gophers first round opponent on Thursday, and even though that's a scary name they're still the worst program in the Big 6 conferences over the past like 20 years or so - how ever long Mark Aguirre graduated.  DePaul is 2-52 over the last three years in Big East (no that is not a misprint), play in one of the worst arenas in the world, and although they come into the game 2-0 those two wins are over two of the worst programs in history (TX-Pan American and Miss Valley State) and they haven't exactly impressed (beat MVSU by only 10).  So yeah, they're pretty terrible.

That doesn't mean they don't have some interesting pieces/players and can't be dangerous, however.  Cleveland Melvin (nice name, poindexter) is one of the best players you've probably never heard of.  He was originally a UCONN commit before they told him they expected him to be a power forward (he prefers to play SF) and he won the Big East Rookie of the Year last season after averaging 14 & 5 per game.  He's kind of like Rodney Williams in that he's a small forward with no jump shot who uses his athleticism to get the rim, only if Rodney paid attention all game and actually, you know, wanted to score on something other than a put back dunk over a small white kid.

The other legit scoring threat on this team is fellow sophomore Brandon Young, who is averaging 15.5 per game with four boards and six assists per to follow up a nice freshman year (13, 2.5, and 4).  Young and Melvin actually give the Blue Demons a nice 1-2 punch and they are the reason the Gophers can't show up and just sleep walk through this game.  Luckily, however, I don't think they have much else to get worked up about.

Senior guard Jeremiah Kelly is actually leading the team in scoring at 17.5 per on the strength of 4.5 made 3s per game and a .500 shooting percentage from deep.  This despite being a career 32% 3-point shooter, so I'm sure this will last.  They have two other players who are averaging 10 per game but I don't know who they are and I'm pretty sure Mt. Saint Mary's point guard could score 10 against the competition DePaul has faced.

Oh, and speaking of that competition, guess what DePaul is absolutely dreadful at so far this year - allowing offensive rebounds.  Against TX-Pan American and Miss Valley State they've given up offensive boards on 39.7% of all missed shots, good for 315th in the country.  Against Pan American and MVSU.  Trevor might get 20 boards.  Gophers roll:  Minnesota 80, DePaul 63.

Following that rout, the Gophers will face the winner of Texas Tech and Indiana State, and defeating either shouldn't be all that daunting of a task. 

Indiana State isn't a great team by any means, but they should end up in the top half of the Missouri Valley, and go ahead and take that for what it's worth.  They come into the tournament sitting at 4-0 with wins over some nobodies (East Ill, LA-Monroe, Ball St., and Green Bay) and they've won those four games by a grand total of 27 points so you could say they know how to play in a close game.  You could also say that they haven't looked very good thus far.   Don't forget though, this is the same team that made a run in the MVC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament, and they've got four starters back so they ain't no slouch.

They're woefully undersized with their top two scorers and rebounders both being guards, and only two major contributors are 6-8 or bigger and one of them is a freshman.  Despite that they do a good job of keeping their opponents off the boards and take care of the basketball.  This is a team that the Gophers are immensely more talented then, but are the disciplined type of team that could give them a real problem if they're enjoying Orlando too much and don't focus Rodney and Ralph.  If the Gophers play Indiana State they shouldn't have any real problems:  Gophers 74, Indiana State 65.

On the other hand, if the get the Texas Tech Red Raiders they should be fine, because T Tech is horrible and I'm starting to think they should be kicked out of Division I or at least have to go play in the SWAC or the Southland or something.  They're 3-0 but the beat Troy by 5, North Texas by 5, and Steve F. Austin by 12.  And no, none of those are sleeper teams.  They're absolutely brutal defensively, but could get a little pesky because they play an uptempo style and are very efficient with the basketball (#1 offensive efficiency in the country despite turning the ball over constantly thanks to 44% shooting from three and 61% from 2).

The only real danger from Tech is getting caught up in their style, taking dumb shots, and letting them run-out to get open lay-ups and good looks at the hoop.  They can obviously shoot it, but they haven't gone up against a D-I level defense yet, and even if Tubby is a terrible offensive coach he can handle it on the other end.  Gophers 85, Texas Tech 70.

Then on the other side of the bracket, game 3 will come against either Fairfield, Arizona State, Dayton, or Wake Forest.  You can read about Fairfield here and here.  Arizona State has three guys I'd actually be interested in watching play in Trent Lockett, Carrick Felix, and Keala King but they also come in at 1-2 with losses to New Mexico (understandable) and Pepperdine (gross).  Dayton would be semi-interesting because they actually have some size and their fans are tools, but they already lost to Miami-Ohio so yuck.  And Wake is desperately trying to rebuild their program after one of the worst years in major college history that included a 1-15 conference record and an 8-24 overall mark that included losses to teams like Stetson and Presbyterian.  In other words, the Gophers are better than every team on this side of the bracket as well.

Look, the Gophers are the best team in this tournament and it's not close.  Every one is picking them to win, and they should because they're an obvious pick.  The way I see it this can go one of four ways:

1.  Gophers cruise to the title.  Good, great, grand, wonderful.  Everything is happy and it looks like the team is likely headed for an upper division Big 10 finish and a comfortable Selection Sunday.

2.  Gophers win the title by winning some tight games.  Nothing hurt and it's always excellent to win a tournament.  It might not have been pretty but they won the games they needed to win, it's early and the team's first games away from Williams, and maybe grinding out these wins will help in the future.  I'd still feel good about the team's bid chances, but with a little less confidence.

3.  Gophers win 2 of 3.  Bad, but not a complete disaster.  None of these teams are terrible enough that a loss would spell doom to the season even though the Gophers should be around a 6-8 point favorite or so against everybody.  This would be a pretty big disappointment, and would probably mean that us fans are in for a long year with a lot of inexplicable losses and just enough wins to keep the nail biting going in March.

4.  Anything else.  Complete meltdown.  It doesn't matter if it's one win or zero wins, it means the same thing because losing to two of these teams is just completely unacceptable.  Anything fewer than two wins means the season is done, sell all your tickets before everyone else catches on, and fire up downwithtubby.com because it would be a complete disaster.  Please please please don't let this happen. 

I'm terrified.

Monday, November 21, 2011


The Gophers crushed the Mount Saint Mary's Gaels tonight in a game that could only be described as "ridiculous."  As miraculous as it was without Ralph, the Gophers dominated this game the entire first half and ended up with a 51-18 lead at the half.  I would love to tell you about the second half but I can't because it was stupid and we left at halftime.  Which is interesting, because in a twist M. Night couldn't have come up with we made it for the tip-off.  So we actually made it to the game on time, but it was the very same game we left at half.  Duh Duh DUH!

Seriously thought that was stupid and I'm bored.  Even though it was a monster blowout and you really can't learn much no matter what the Gopher Hole tells you, there are still a few things worth noting.  Three, to be precise.

1.  The Gophers destroyed a team they were supposed to destroy.  I don't have your fancy internet so I can't go back and look it up but when was the last time the Gophers won by 30?  I swear in the last few years every time they've played an opponent of this caliber they struggle to some degree, and even if they end up winning by 20+ there are still moments where they struggle.  Ok fine I looked it up and their biggest win last year was only by 23 over Eastern Kentucky, but they did open two seasons ago with three straight wins of 25+ including two over 30.  But whatever.  I'm not interested in facts, I'm not some fancy scientist.  This win felt more significant. 

2.  It should have become abundantly clear what Rodney Williams is, and for lack of a better term/analogy he's a bully.  When he's far and away the most athletic player on the court and is going against a bunch of little dorks he can just jump over and/or around he dominates like he did tonight.  The minute he has to face anybody who can compete with him jumpingness-wise or opponents who he can't just put his head down and charge to rim against he goes into his little passive shell like Preston from Can't Hardly Wait.  You can be better, Rodney, I know it.  You don't have to be the same one dimensional player you were in high school.  It's time to break free.  Give Amanda the letter, Rodney.  Give her the letter.

This could be you Rodney.  Look how happy he is.  Also I really hope somebody gets this joke.

3.  Mt. St. Mary's point guard is my new favorite player.  Josh Castellanos is like if you took Jordan Hulls but took away his ability and jump shot and everything good about him and traded it for some Alando Tucker glasses.  I've never enjoyed watching someone be terrible so much.  He combines an inability to shoot with an unwillingness to like I've never seen, but then throws the cherry on top by being completely terrified of defensive pressure.  I love him. I couldn't find a picture of him in those sweet rims, but this is about what it looked like:
I'm scared, please don't make me dribble.
It was awesome.  And yes, before some smart ass posts it, I wore Rec Specs to play hoops in 6th grade.  Sorry not all families are rich enough to afford contacts, your highness.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week in Review - 11/17/2011

 My recap of the last Gopher game is here (the win over Fairfield).  In summary, I thought that although it was a very ugly game and the offense was truly atrocious, I liked how the Gophers were able to grind out the win using tough defense and free throw shooting.  That's something the teams of the past couple years wouldn't have been able to do.  They haven't had any easy wins (that should change tonight), but each of their wins so far has shown something positive about this year's edition of the squad.  I feel like I'm setting myself up for some serious disappointment with how I'm starting to think of this team.  God I hope I'm wrong. 


1.  Iowa State.  And I'm actually talking the football team here, because they were a 28 point underdog against the #2 team in the country on Friday night in Oklahoma State, one of the best offenses in the country, and they stayed with them step for step, tying the game up at 24 with 5 minutes to go in the fourth after a long ass drive culminating in a huge TD.  After forcing a punt, OSU picked off the Clone QB and looked to have a shot to win, but they missed the field goal and we were headed to OT.  Tied up after the first one, some LB dude who the announcer guys said was a superstar dove in front of a Brandon Weeden pass and tipped it up where some other ISU dude picked it off.  All ISU had to do was run the ball straight ahead and kick the field goal to win, but instead every time they gave it to this big white dude OSU basically dove out of the way and then TD Iowa State storm the field woo-hoo!  Seriously though it was pretty awesome, especially because the Cyclones haven't been to a bowl game since I think like 1945.  Of course this also means the BCS Championship could end up being two SEC teams that have already met which would be yawn, but whatevs.  Awesomely fun game to watch.

2.  Purdue Boilermakers.  Purdue didn't win the Puerto Rico Shootout (Alabama beat them in the title game), but they did answer some questions by winning their first two games over Iona and Temple.  Temple is a clear tournament team and Purdue's win over them is the best win any Big 10 team has so far this year, and although people who are dumb like you are going to say "Iona? Who gives a crap about Iona?" in reality the Gaels are legit and should win the MAAC (they're much better than Fairfield) and that might be the second best win any Big 10 team has (Iona just blew out Maryland by 20+).  So if you were worried about Purdue being bad, you don't really have to worry anymore.  I'm glad I could make you feel better.

3.  Kentucky Wildcats.  It's not that what they did was super impressive or anything (winning the Hall-of-Fame tipoff tournament by beating Penn State and Old Dominion), but it's just watching this team is simply stunning.  They are so freaking good.  Anthony Davis is ridiculously athletic and at 6-10 has the ball handling skills of a guard and fellow freshman Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist are just as talented if not more so.  Then they got Terrence Jones, who will probably be a top 3 pick if the NBA comes back, as well as Doron Lamb who would be the best player on almost any team in America.  Add in do it all senior Darius Miller and another freshman in Kyle Wiltjer (who, by the way, just dropped 19 on Penn State) and they're just loaded.  I mean it's ridiculous.  Hopefully they fall apart at some point in the tournament against an opponent who can take advantage of it, because this is easily the best team in the country and I really don't want Calipari to win a title.  But just wow.

4.  St. Louis Billikens.  It seems like Rick Majerus should have turned the St. Louis program around by now, but so far all they have to show for his four years of service is a second round appearance in the CBI.  Every year St. Louis looks like they might have the players to finally contend in the A-10, and every year they don't.  Maybe this is finally the seasons, because the Billikens knocked of Washington on Sunday, and although Washington isn't ranked or anything they should still be an NCAA Tournament team, so this is certainly a significant victory.  Actually, looking back over Majerus's tenure there, his only other notable non-conference wins were over Nebraska and Boston College, so it's probably safe to say this is the biggest win they've had since he got there.  The schedule is gooey soft until a game at New Mexico on New Year's Eve, so there's a very good chance the Billikens start off the season 11-0.  There's also a very good chance they end up missing the tournament after that start, but hey, it's something.

5.  Northwestern Wildcats.  No it wasn't exactly murder's row, but beating LSU, Tulsa, and Seton Hall to win the Charleston Classic is still a nice accomplishment early in the year.  It also made it clear that it's pretty much going to be Shurna and Crawford this year.  The two were Northwestern's top two scorers in each of the three games, with both of them averaging 24 per game, and with the Wildcats averaging 79 points per game that means Shurna and Crawford accounted for 60% of the team's scoring.  Actually besides those two only Luka Mirkovic and Dave Sobolewski managed to hit for double figures in any single game.  And you know what they say, only having two reliable scorers is always a recipe for long term success.


1.  UCLA.  Holy effing meltdown.  First they lost their season opener to Loyola Marymount, which is not good but not 100% terrible.  Then coach Ben Howland suspended the team's best player Reeves Nelson for basically being a whiny bitch, and the team responded by getting whooped by 20 at home by Middle freaking Tennessee State in what would easily be the most embarrassing lost of the year so far if it wasn't for Cincinnati (see below).  It's ridiculous, UCLA should be good.  Here's a list of the top 100 recruits currently on the roster - Norman Powell, Tyler Lamb, Josh Smith, Reeves Nelson, Brendan Lane, Jerime Anderson, David Wear, and Travis Wear - damn near the entire roster!  And yet, here we are.  And next up?  The Maui Invitational, which means they'll probably (probably!) beat Chaminade in the opener since they got lucky there and then get their doors blown off twice and start the year 1-4.  Fire Howland?  Fire Howland.

2.  Virginia Commonwealth.  And this, Shaka Smart, is why you should have taken one of those coaching offers at a power school.  When you catch lightning in a bottle like last year, as opposed to Butler who slowly built their way up, you need to parlay that into a nice step up and a big payday, lest you fade away in bolivian.  VCU went down to the Charleston Classic and walked out with a shiny 7th place finish after losing to Seton Hall and Georgia Tech and then beating an incredibly shitty Western Kentucky team.  Seriously, it was a nice run and a great story, but with the fluky way it happened and losing 4 of their top 5 players Smart needed to bolt.  He may never get this chance again.  Not a very "smart" decision, Shaka.  God I'm clever.

3.  Akron.  When you're a good team in a terrible conference, you need to do everything in your power to boost your NCAA profile because even 1-2 conference losses makes it tough to get a bid unless you have some high profile, quality victories outside of conference.  So when you're the Zips and you beat Mississippi State (at MSU, even) you're all like "dude, sweet!"  Then you go to some tournament held at Valparaiso for some reason and what do you do?  Lose to Valparaiso and Duquesne, two non-tournament teams.  Literally, assuming you don't count things like getting hit by a meteor or the whole team dying of Gonorrhea, this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened.  Considering the best teams left on the schedule are Detroit, West Virginia, and Cleveland State, Akron nearly has to run the table or damn near to get a bid.  Four games into the season and it's already over.  It's like the Gophers of basketball.  Or something.  I don't know.

4.  Cincinnati.  Well there's no easy way to intro this, so I'll just come out and say it:  the Bearcats, who were ranked 20th in the country, lost to Presbyterian.  Presbyterian, who are a D-I squad for just the fifth year.  Presbyterian, who have won a total of 37 games over the last five seasons, and six of those were over non D-I schools including a win over Carver Bible College.  Presbyterian, whose biggest win in history was probably the one over Wake Forest last year, the worst Big 6 NCAAB team ever I'm pretty sure.  Presbyterian, who lost to Duke by 31 already this year and got beat by Western Carolina who lost to South Carolina (who lost to Elon) by 25.  Presbyterian, whose nickname is the Blue Hose for the love of christ.  Yes, that Presbyterian.  This is an awful, awful, awful, awful, awful loss.  Awful.  If the Gophers were 0-3 right now they wouldn't have hurt their NCAA chances as much as Cincinnati did on Saturday.   Just wow.

5.  Eli Manning.  Holy jesus does this guy suck.  Seriously he's got to be the worst quarterback in the NFL outside of Christian Ponder.  It's unbelievable that this guy won a Super Bowl, and not only won one but beat maybe the best team in NFL history in doing so.  God I hope he sends David Tyree a really kick-ass Christmas present every single year, or at least let's him live in his basement.  Seriously if Peyton Manning's neck is all effed up and they like, end up having to put a Frankenstein bolt through his neck and he can't turn his head at all he'd still be a way be QB than Eli.  Cooper is probably better, too.  And Marqueis Gray.

And I'm not writing a preview for the freaking Mount Saint Mary's game.  Seriously, it's a middling team from one of the worst conferences in America whose big goal for the year is to finish .500 in conference play.  This needs to be a 30 point victory.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Ugly Win is still a Win I Guess

Well that was pretty ugly.   23 turnovers against Fairfield certainily isn't going to warm the cockles of my black heart, but at least the Gophers won.  And, in a very weird way, they also impressed me which is probably like me being a serial killer's mom and being impressed because that one time he didn't kill someone, but nevertheless, they did impress me with this win.  Fairfield is a good, well an ok, team, and on a day when the Gophers offense was completely terrible they were able to use some good defense, a trap that they FINALLY broke out, and some absolutely insane free throw shooting, to grind out a win that looked far easier than it really was.

The most impressive stat, I think in the history of ever, was the Gophers shooting 27-31 from the free throw line and outscoring the Stags in that regard by 12 points.  If the Gophers shoot their usual 60%, this is a 1-point game which, obviously, could end up going either way, so you really can't down play the significance of that performance which I'm going to assume is a school record.  Now, Trevor Mbakwe and Andre Hollins were 25-27 of that so it's not like the whole team magically got better, but hey, it's a win.

Other observations:

-  Tubby finally pressed, even if it was mostly the man press where you get the dribbler to turn his back and then double when he can't see it coming.  Even though it worked a couple of times I'd still really like to see some kind of diamond trap or half-court trap or something like that.  The team is allegedly athletic enough where they should be able to pull it off.  At least there's some progress here.

-  Ralph Sampson was simply dreadful on the offensive end.  I think the last person who had that many balls go through their hands in one night was Jenna Jameson.  That being said, it was very positive to see him continue to work hard and hustle on defense when he wasn't getting burnt.  So yeah, overall I thought this was a pretty rough game by Ralph, but I'm encouraged because he never seemed to go into a funk and disappear - you knew there was a 7-footer out there the whole time.  Baby steps, to be sure, but he's doin' the work.

- Rodney had one absolutely gorgeous offensive highlight reel dunk, and one spectacular blocked shot.  Which, it could be said, is his season average.  One amazing play on each end of the court surrounded by a whole lot of filler.  The fact that he doesn't even bother to look for his shot anymore tells me all I need to know.

-  Andre Hollins showed some flashes of potential again, and getting to the line 9 times is a definite positive, but he's still a little too out of control at times which is a bit surprising since he's a coach's kid.  Still though, he has an awful lot of Russell Westbrook in him, which is fantastic if harnessed properly and Rico Tuckeresque if it's not.  I'm betting on the former.  In any case, this point guard mess doesn't look like it's sorting itself out, because.....

-  Maverick Ahanmisi is the best pure point guard on this team.  That doesn't mean he ranks high in the pure point guard ratings of the world or anything and I'm still not sure he could even score on a date with your mom with a box of wine and a Blu-ray copy of The Notebook, but he has some court vision - something that I haven't really seen too much of from either of the other two guards just yet other than a couple of isolated incidents.  Mav had two excellent passes, one one a break that bounced off Ralph Sampson's hands like it was toxic, and another pass on a  pick-and-roll where he did that thing you see nba guards do all the time where they throw the bounce pass to the roller - between the two defenders - before the guy is even 100% open and hasn't even turned around yet.  Consider my interest level in young Maverick tweaked.

-  Julian Welch had a play that absolutely, completely summed up his defensive abilities of quick hands/slow feet.  At one point he knocked the ball away from his man, nearly picking him clean but simply knocking it away and making the dude run back to the halfcourt line to recover the ball.  After picking the ball up, his man proceeded to blow right past Welch and into the lane.  Super quick hands, really slow feet.  It'll be interesting to see how that all plays out.

-  Oto Osenieks was probably my favorite player last night, simply because he finally showed why he's known as a shooter.  I said after one or more of the other games that if you're a "shooter" you need to "shoot" whenever you have an opening, and Oto was deferring too much.  Finally, last night, he didn't do that and he asserted himself and hit a couple of big threes.  Of course, he didn't bother with a heat check, which is really lame and dumb because anytime somebody makes two straight threes they owe it to themselves, their teammates, and the fans to chuck it up the next time they have even the smallest opening.  Silly freshman.  Next time Oto, chuck away.

-  Obviously Trevor was the star, and Austin Hollins played with his usual quiet efficiency (although the four turnovers are a bit troubling).  Chip was too quiet, Elliason was meaningless and slow, Ingram still has potential, and Joe Coleman is an absolutely terrible defender.  None of these things are different than any other game (except that one decent game Chipper had), so they aren't really worth elaborating on.  And neither is the next game against Mt. St. Mary's, because the final score is going to be like 95-8.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gophers vs. Fairfield Preview

So the Gophers sit at 2-0 with two double-digit victories over teams with legitimate chances to win their admittedly low-level conferences and reach the NCAA Tournament.  Yet all is not well, because although the final margin of both games would lead you to believe these were fairly easy wins they most certainly were anything but.  Falling behind in the second half twice and coming back twice actually indicates some good characteristics this team has, but if that becomes a habit one of these games they aren't going to come back and are going to end up with a silly loss on their record.  This could be that game, because Fairfield is very likely the best team the Gophers will face this non-conference season outside of Virginia Tech.

Fairfield is on a nice little run, winning 13 and 15 conference games the last two years, with 23 and 25 wins overall and a postseason victory in each year (1 CIT, 1 NIT).  Obviously the goal is to win the MAAC Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament, and this could be the year because they're loaded (for a low-major) with four starters back from last year and two impact transfers coming in.

It all starts with Derek Needham, who has led the Stags in scoring and assists in each of the last two seasons and was all-MAAC in both seasons.  He's a big-time playmaker (5 assists per game average) and excellent defender, but he's also got quite a bit of chucker in him (career 37% shooter, 31% from three).  Keeping Needham out of the lane and away from the rim will be imperative for the Gophers.  Forcing Needham to beat you by throwing jumpers at the rim is a winning strategy, letting him penetrate and find open teammates is a good way to end this game in with an L.

Other than Needham the biggest threat to the Gophers is 6-5 wing Rakim Sanders, a transfer from Boston College who averaged over 11 points per game in each of his three seasons as an Eagle, put up over 20 per game in the team's four game trip to Italy this summer, and scored 25 in the Stags last game.  He can shoot it from deep and is also comfortable putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the rack.  Between Needham and Sanders the Gopher guards are going to have their hands full defensively.  There's a lot of talk about Rodney and Austin Hollins potential as defensive stoppers, and this will be a real chance for not just one but both of them to show what they can do - and they'll need to be successful in order for the Gophers to win.

Fairfield is also well staffed in the paint, starting with seven-footer Ryan Olander.   He's one of the best defenders in the MAAC who was among the league leaders in blocked shots, rebounds, and field goal percentage last year.  Although he spends most of his time in the paint he's also comfortable stepping out and shooting the 3-ball, and he's hit four of seven so far this year in Fairfield's two games.  Similar to Bucknell, they have a guy in Olander who can at least slow Ralph Sampson or Trevor Mbakwe, but unfortunately for them they don't have a second guy.

Their PF, Maurice Barrow, is a good player who made the MAAC All-rookie team last season and is the team's second leading scorer (17ppg) and rebound (5.5rpg) so far this season.  He's also very undersized at just 6-5, 220 lbs and is going to be eaten alive by Mbakwe.  Fairfield only goes six players deep and four of them are guards, so their only other choice for any size is 6-8 freshman Adam Jones who has played a grand total of 12 career minutes.  Despite that lack of size Fairfield still managed to be a very good defensive team last year, finishing 22nd in the nation in overall defensive efficiency

All that being said, despite the fact that Fairfield is the best team in the MAAC it's still the MAAC and they just lost to Providence who has zero shot at making the NCAA Tournament.  That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, moreso than either of the Gophers' other opponents thus far, but it does mean there's really no reason the Gophers shouldn't win this game.  Not to mention that although Fairfield was an excellent defensive squad last year there one big weakness was allowing offensive rebounds to their opponents with an alarming frequency and their even worse this year, ranking 297th in the country.  So you know what that means.

Minnesota 68, Fairfield 60.

She's bowhunting for Stags.  Get it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notes from a Marathon

24 hours of basketball, and nobody with a real job or who lives in a real adult world or who has any kind of life could possibly watch it all.  I tried to watch as much as I could, which mainly consisted of sneaking peaks at ESPN3 while at work, and here is everything I noticed, read, or had someone tell me:

-  Memphis looked very good dismantling Belmont 97-81 in a game they controlled from the start.  Being that this is the same Belmont team that took Duke down to the wire earlier this week makes the Tigers win that much more impressive.  Memphis's guards were able to penetrate at will (just like when I went out with your sister that one time) and made Belmont look like the low major it is.  I don't think they're a very good shooting team and the 50% from 3 and 59% from the floor won't happen very often, but this is the same team that held Duke to just 43%, so who knows.  They're going to run away with the C-USA title.

-  Kent State scored an upset for the MAC, defeating West Virginia 70-60 in West Virginia.  This is the second big win for the league this week after Akron defeated Mississippi State.  I don't know if the rest of the league will be good enough to boost the league's overall RPI enough to get an at-large bid, but both Kent State and Akron not only look worthy of a bid so far, but look like they could score an upset in March.

-  Despite losing almost everyone from last year, Texas's offense is going to be just fine as they dropped a hunny on Rhode Island.  J'Covan Brown answered questions if he can be the main guy for the Longhorns by putting up 35 and that's good because other than Myck Kabongo I haven't heard of anybody else on this team (except Jonathan Holmes but I'm guessing that's a different guy).  Of course, not having guys like Tristan Thompson and Dexter Pittman around doesn't exactly help your interior defense because Rhode Island scored 90 in the loss.  Looks like Texas will be fun to watch and then get bounced early in the tournament.  So that's totally new.

-  Baylor's Quincy Miller is the best freshman I've seen so far this year, and that includes Austin Rivers.  Rivers might end up being better (he still kind of seems to be adjusting to either college ball, Duke, or both), but right now Miller is better because he is just straight ready to go.  Super athletic at 6-9, he can play inside or outside equally well, which is a big key because once Perry Jones comes off his suspension Baylor will need him to move out to the perimeter more often since they have Quincy Acy as well.  I'm guessing he can handle it.

-   The Spartans managed to make it look like a competitive game, clawing back against Duke from what was at one point an 18-point second half deficit to finish losing by just five (and covering the spread, woo-hoo!).  It was basically a one-man show with Keith Appling scoring 14 points in the final six minutes.  Two other things I learned from this game:  Draymond Green is much better as a distributor/facilitator rather than a first option, and Adreian Payne is going to be a defensive monster.  As far as getting a read on the Spartans your guess is as good as mine - so far they've played North Carolina on a freaking battleship and Duke when Andre Dawkins was unconscious.  So I dunno.

-  Ohio State, however, defended the honor of the B1G by beating Florida 81-74.  Of course they were at home and are ranked higher, so they're expected to win but since it's a Big 10 team you never know.  One interesting wrinkle was that in the first half the Buckeyes had troubling keeping Florida's guards out of the lane despite having Aaron Craft who might end up going down as the best white defensive guard in history.  Of course it's kind of tough to judge because Florida's guards (Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Brad Beals) might be the best group in the entire country.  And obviously something changed in the second half that I'd love to tell but can't because in a related story I didn't watch the second half because we were watching Harry Potter and I sort of forgot to pull the game up on the computer.

-  I did remember to turn on the UK/KU game, so I can tell you Kentucky is easily the most talented, the most athletic, and the most exciting team to watch in college hoops this year.  They simply have the most ability and they play a Washington-esque brand of circus ball - it's truly exhilarating.  They are also a complete train wreck.  I don't know if I've ever seen anything like it.  Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, and Anthony Davis all have a legitimate claim as the most talented player at their position in college ball, which is why they stomped the crap out of Kansas.  Of course, Kansas is going to have a big time down year (this #11 in the country crap is bullshit, I really wish you could bet on over/under season wins for college teams) so that makes this less impressive, as does the myriad of just simple mistakes they made on both sides of the floor, which again is kind of expected when you have a bunch of freshman and also when your coach couldn't game coach his way out of a whorehouse.  This paragraph is pretty disjointed, isn't it?  Well that's because this team is as confusing as a vagina.  They're either going to win the National Championship or become the first #1 seed to lose to a #16.  No in between.

-  Not part of the marathon, but Iowa State lost to crap-ass Drake, which means the dream of them becoming a sleeper National Title Contender is probably dead, unless of course this is what they want you to think in order to lower spreads and come in under the radar.  That's probably it since Royce White was awesome again (21 & 14) and everyone knows he just does the opposite of what he's supposed to.  Oh my god that's it.  Hoiberg is a genius.  Luckily he has some good soldiers who agree to be terrible like Chris Allen and Melvin Ejim, who combined to shoot 3-20 and 0-9 from three.  Good job guys!  Nobody will see you us coming now!  And we can build this dream together, standing strong together, nothing's gonna stop us now!
And if this world runs out of lovers, we'll still have each other, nothing's gonna stop us now

- The last game of the thing was Stanford/Colorado State. Here are my thoughts.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh my god this would be so awesome

If you're like everybody else in the world, including myself, you aren't paying a whole ton of attention to the whole NBA labor deal.  It's basically a mess where the owners are trying to screw the players, the players can't get out of their own way, and half the owners don't even want to get a deal done because they'd rather not have a season this year.  Plus, with the NBA ranking behind college hoops, baseball, the NFL, and maybe even golf in my sports watching hierarchy I haven't really missed it yet, even if I like tossing it on the tv from time to time.  I've basically just kind of half-assed followed this whole deal by paying attention to headlines and reading things here or there, but a couple of things happened today that really made me perk up.

First, the players rejected the latest offer from the owners which was supposedly an ultimatum of sorts from the owner/league side.  It sounds like the owners won't move to more than a 50/50 split and are continually writing things in that the players don't like and the players are the only ones making any concessions here, so they're frustrated.  It sounds like they will move to attempt to call for a vote to decertify the union and then file an antitrust suit against the NBA - similar to what the NFL players did.

Now, what makes this more interesting this time is that according to David Stern if there is no union then the contracts signed between players and teams are invalid because those contracts are entered into with the understanding that there is a players union (I don't know if this is writing or how clearly it's spelled out).  Stern and the owners plan is to take it to a judge and hope he rules the contracts are invalid.  So what means that?

It means every player is suddenly a free agent.  Which can go one of two ways IF that happens and IF the contracts don't somehow get reinstated and IF the NBA ever reforms.  The first is that it's just an outright bidding frenzy where players can sign with whomever which would lead to superteams forming in Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the other big, attractive markets and kill basketball in Minnesota, Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, etc. (well, more than it already has) and would really just destroy the NBA in general.  The other, far more attractive option, would be a full league dispersal draft.

What?  Yes.  You know how when you buy any sports video game you might have a season/dynasty with your favorite team but if there's a draft option you will also have a draft and inevitably you end up enjoying the drafted season and your other one just kind of goes by the wayside?  Yeah, like that.  But it could be for real.

I know, you're all, "dude yeah right" and you're probably right.  There is an awful lot that would have to happen, and happen in those specific ways, to get to this point, but make no mistake it is an ACTUAL possibility at this point.  This would simply be the greatest thing that's ever happened in the history of all sports ever.  Keep your fingers crossed folks.  It could really happen.


-  Gophers beat South Dakota State 71-55 in another game where they struggled early and were behind in the middle of the second half before closing the game out with a big run.  Eventually that's going to catch up to them, but for now they're 2-0 and both wins are over teams that have legit chances to reach the NCAA Tournament.  I'd write more, but for some reason Old Man sold our tickets to some jackass Snacks works with and the stupid thing wasn't on TV.  And no, I'm not paying $9.99 for a month to see this garbage.  I do, however, have the replay on BTN set to Tivo, so I'll have more info on this later in the week.  For now, I just want to point out this sequence from the play-by-play:

9:0448-52Chip Armelin Block.
9:0148-52Chip Armelin Defensive Rebound.
9:0148-54Andre Hollins made Layup. Assisted by Chip Armelin.

But this one might even be better:

0:2828-28Chip Armelin Steal.
0:2428-30Chip Armelin made Layup.
0:14Nate Wolters Turnover.28-30
0:1428-30Chip Armelin Steal.
0:1228-32Chip Armelin made Layup.

I love that guy. 

-  Purdue almost had the first embarrassing loss for the Big 10 this season, beating High Point by a mere two points tonight and the only reason they won is Ryne Smith hit 8 three-pointers.  Yikes.  High Point wouldn't just be a bad loss, it'd be disastrous. 

- ESPN is doing there 24-hour college basketball kick-off marathon tonight/tomorrow.  I wish they had done this several years ago when I would have gone ahead and watched the whole thing, including skipping classes because hey, any excuse to not go to class, am i right?  As it is now, I'm just looking forward to checking out that nifty Drexel vs. Rider game and/or Morehead St vs. Charleston when I have to get up with my stupid kid in the morning.  I guess day hoops at work is pretty sweet though. 

I'm currently reading this book, because I rather enjoy the kind of book that blends science and history and turns it into an entertaining blend of action/mystery.  Similar to Dan Brown's books, although I consider Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, and James Rollins to be far superior to Brown, even if I still think Angels & Demons was one of the best in this genre.  Anyway, there are three books that suck more than anything else I've ever read:  Meg by Steve Alten (he ends up getting swallowed by a Meglodon and then swimming around in it's body for christ's sake), Hannibal Rising (a clear cash grab where you could tell the author was putting words to paper simply for the check), and some book about the Loch Ness monster that I don't remember that was just a complete mess.  Well I hate to say it, but this baby might be the fourth on my list.  It's just so, so dull and boring.  I've had to page back a couple of times to try to figure out who certain characters are because none of them are remotely memorable.  Just terrible.

-  Clay Matthews is the top and A.J. Hawk is the bottom, right?

-  Eventually I'll write something about the Twins signing Jayme Carroll, I promise.

-  Finally, watch this:

Oh hell yes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week in Review - 11/14/2011 (+ mini South Dakota State preview)

Hey thanks internet.  You are supposed to be there to let me watch the Pacquiao/Marquez fight without having to pay a dime.  Instead I had to watch 3 seconds at a time and then stare at a god damn hour glass.  You failed me internet.  You failed me.  We are totally fighting.


1.  Gopher hoops.  Click here for a proper recap, but to put it short, that was a solid win against a solid team, and the fact that they were able to actually manage to come back from down 5 with six minutes to go, against said solid team, just really impresses me.  I guess I have a low impress threshold.  I suppose it's just one more thing Gopher basketball has stolen from me.  And yet I can't stop going back.  I'm like a beaten woman, aren't I.  Oh my god I'm Aaliyah and the Gophers are Chris Brown.

2.  Royce White.  God mother hell shit fart.  This sucks.  Royce with 25 and 11 in his ISU debut, with 3 blocks and a couple assists to go with it.  And here's you, sitting there in your Laz-E-Boy watching Cops and swirling your brandy around even though it's fucking Korbel and making snide comments about how you wonder how many security guards he's pushed down or how many laptops he's stolen.  It's people like you that will always hold the Gopher basketball program down with your judging judgement.  What about the bible, fella?  Doesn't it say "don't be a pompous judgmental ass or I'll turn you into a pillar of salt" or something?  I think it's in Leviticus.

3.  Utah State.  There were better wins this weekend - UNC's over Michigan State for one - but between pure emotion and actual effect on an NCAA bid Utah's State's win over BYU might end up being the biggest.  In terms of NCAA Tournament implications, Utah State always needs quality wins since they're in the WAC where quality wins are basically impossible to come by and this was only one of three games against quality opponents for USU.  Huge win in the RPI sense.  Also a huge win in the "i hate these fuckin' guys" sense, because Utah Staties hate BYU, mostly because they're a bunch of prissy dickheads.  Here is a video of Utah State students welcoming BYU to their arena.  Solid effort.

4. Kendall Marshall.  You know how sometimes thing don't live up to the hype like Terra Nova, every Hannibal Lecter movie after Silence of the Lambs, flavored Mountain Dew (other than Live Wire), the last two George R.R. Martin novels, or having kids?  Well I finally got a good chance to watch Kendall Marshall on Sunday against UNC-Asheville and this dude is straight legit.  The stats are crazy - he had 15 assists - but just watching him it's clear he's the best point guard UNC has had since Ed Cota and he might even be better.  He's got that smooth playability about him where he doesn't really look like he's moving quickly or even really trying (like Evan Turner) but continually gets past people and his court vision is off the charts.  Whether it's a simple entry pass, running the break, or getting the ball up the court as fast as possible by passing it ahead, he's a legit point guard and as far as pure points go I'm thinking he might be the best in the country.  Outside of Justin Cobbs, of course.

5. Mark Sanchez.  Actually he sucks and couldn't get the Jets in the end zone with four plays inside the 10 at the end of the game, but he's awesome because as part of a teaser I had Jets/Pats under 54 and so boom.  The final leg is Vikes/Pack over 43, and there's almost no way the Pack doesn't even get there by themself, am I right?


1.  UCLA.  You know how the Pac-10 has been in shambles for a few years and getting even two NCAA bids was kind of an accomplishment?  Well it's probably going to happen again.  Arizona looks like a sloppy mess right now, but at least they managed to not eff it up so badly that they actually lost, unlike the Bruins.  Yes, UCLA managed to lose their opener.  Not only did they lose, they lost to a mid-tier WCC team in Loyola-Marymount.  At home.  By 11.  The first time LMU beat UCLA since 1941.  Ouch.  Particularly impressive was point guard Lazeric Jones going 1-11 from the field for the Bruins, but they'll get some help at the point next game when Jerime Anderson is back, who was suspended one game for stealing a laptop this summer.  Huh?  A one game suspension for stealing a laptop.  How interesting.  Personally I would have run him right off campus and made sure he transferred out, probably going to a school in a neighboring state where he'd have a right smashing debut.  It's the proper way to handle it.

2.  Butler.  I know Butler lost to Evansville last year early and still made the Nat Champ Game, and I know that losing Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard would be pretty tough for anybody so dropping a game to Evansville (in Evansville) is probably not that big a deal. Then again, last year at 9-9 was the first time Evansville reached .500 in conference (MVC) play since 2000 so losing to them is not exactly excusable.  Let me put it this way, outside the Aces two wins over Butler the last two years their only notable non-conference win dating back to 2001 was over Purdue in 2005.  This ain't exactly a giant killing program.  Maybe Evansville just has Butler's number, or maybe it's going to take a while to adjust to no Howard and no Mack, but maybe Butler just flat sucks this year.  They're going to struggle there's no doubt, because there's some quality Horizon opponents this year.  And speaking of......   

3. Vanderbilt.  You know how every time Vandy has a supposed good team they get bounced early in the NCAA Tournament?  Well apparently this year's version decided just to go out and start disappointing people right away because they lost on Sunday to Cleveland State 71-58.  Now in reality losing to Cleveland State isn't that bad of a loss because Cleveland State is one of the best teams in one of the best mid-major conferences in the country, and they will likely be in the running for an at-large bid come end of the year if they don't win the Horizon tournament.  But still, this was at Vanderbilt and the Commodores supposedly have their best team of all time and are ranked 7th in the country, so due to those circumstances this is a pretty crappy loss.  Vandy sucked, you might even say.

4. Kansas City Chiefs.  Actually there were so many NFL teams who embarrassed themselves this week it was hard to pick just one.  The Chiefs lost (at home) to Denver despite the Broncos completing just two passes the entire game.  The Ravens lost to the T-Jax led Seahawks while passing 53 times and only giving Ray Rice eight carries.  The Lions got smoked by the Bears by something like 50 points, the Eagles continued their unstoppable march to mediocrity by losing at home to a terrible Eagles team, and Buffalo reminded everyone they are Buffalo by getting crushed by Dallas.  Just a bizarre week in the NFL with a lot of really ugly games by ugly teams.  I'd say at this rate the Vikings actually have a chance to beat the Pack tonight.

5. Cain Velasquez. I don't know why I keep trying to get back into these fighting sports.  First Mayweather/Ortiz which ends in Floyd knocking out Ortiz while Ortiz is defenseless (his own fault but still), then Hopkins/Dawson which ended with an essential body slam and/or an old man looking to quit.  Now Saturday night I decide to check in on UFC and I get to see Velasquez, the "champion" (quotes should be read as air quotes), get hit in the face once, fall down, and then cry.  Seriously, pros should be able to take a punch, if I wanted to watch someone get knocked out I'd just ask someone to hit me (although the one time it actually happened after Dawger pickd a fight with some gang member and some other dude sucker punched me in the face and I was all like I will kill you mother fucker but he knocked my glasses off so I couldn't see shit and had no idea what was going on but I asked some other gang member dude to help me find my glasses since it was bullshit that the dude sucker punched me and he actually helped me look for them).  So yeah, I could beat up Cain Velasquez.  FACT.

As far as the Gophers go, they keep it going by taking on South Dakota State tonight.  The Jackrabbits are on a very similar plane as Bucknell as far as talent level goes - a good team from a terrible conference - and it should be a similar story to the Bucknell game - they have some good players and can be dangerous if the Gophers either don't play well or take them too lightly, but the Gophers really have no excuse for losing this game.

SDSU is another team that shoots the ball very well from three (41% last year) and they have a player in Nate Wolters who can take over a game and who many people who are stupid think should be a Gopher.  Wolters has a shot at winning Summit League Player of the Year this season, averaged 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game last year, and opened up this year by dropping 32 (with 11 assists) in the Jackrabbits' win over Western Michigan.  Wolters is also from St. Cloud, which means people in this state are needlessly in love with him and also means he'll have a bit of extra motivation.  Him coming out and scoring 30+ is a very real possibility.

There are a couple of other decent players here (Jordan Dykstra in the post and SG Griffen Callahan both have the ability to score 20), but, like on Friday, the Gophers have more size, athleticism, ability, talent, and depth.  I expect SDSU to come out with a burst of emotion and grittiness and keep this one tight in the first half, but the Gophers should pull this one out by 10+ by the time it's over.  Of course, I say should, but once again this isn't a cupcake opponent and if the Gophers let them get hot from the perimeter and nobody's making shots for the Gophers isn't going to be tough.  Mbakwe and Sampson will probably be doubled again all day, so somebody else is going to have to help.

Or Mbakwe just grabs 20 boards and scores on putbacks all game because SDSU has absolutely nobody who can keep him off the glass.

Minnesota 72, South Dakota State 62

(If you're looking for something a little more in-depth, I'd assume From the Barn has got you covered)

This picture comes up if you search for Jackrabbits Cheerleaders.  Good enough, amiright?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gophers beat Bucknell with a Late Surge

Read that post title again.  Doesn't seem likely.  For the past few seasons anytime "late surge" has been involved the Gophers have usually been the one who got surged on, and it almost happened again Friday night, but - and this is major - it didn't.

It looked like the Gophers were mostly in control in the first half, but due to four three-pointers by Bucknell's Bryson Johnson (including a ridiculous one while floating sideways), poor shooting by the Gophers and a complete inability to hit free throws Minnesota was only up 2 at the half.  I thought they had it in control and even texted Snacks, who was at some concert, that it was only a matter of time and the Gophers would win by double-digits.  I was right, in the end, but man it did not happen how I was expecting.

With 7.5 minutes left in the second half, Bucknell hit a 3-pointer to take a 2-point lead.  After Rodney hit one of two free-throws I turned to Bear and said, "Watch, Bucknell will hit a three here, Gophers won't score, and Bucknell will hit a third one."  Boom.  Well almost, Rodney did make another free throw in there but Bucknell did hit two more threes and were suddenly up seven with just shy of 6 minutes to play.  It was playing out like Virginia last year, and both teams even wear the same colors.  I felt ill.  And then a strange thing happened.

The Gophers started making free throws, hitting 15 of their last 17 (after going just 8-18 prior).  They started attack the basket after a second half that had mostly consisted of perimeter passing amongst the guards with little penetration or post presence.  They started hitting the boards, playing better defense, and essentially just played the way the Gophers should play.  Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins, Julian Welch, and Ralph Sampson took over this game in those final six minutes, particularly Mbakwe, and took this game back, a game that was following a familiar script before the big twist ending, M. Night style.

A lot of people will be unsatisfied with this win, seeing just the name Bucknell and realizing the Bison are a very solid team who likely will end up in the NCAA Tournament.  Even more impressive to me was the way they fought back against that good team.  That's something I'm not accustomed to in recent years.  I'm giving this game a solid B+, despite the slow first half.

Other game thoughts:

1.  I'm pretty sure Bucknell gave us the blueprint for the defense nearly every opponent the Gophers face this year will roll out - double Ralph and Trevor on the block and force the other guys, and specifically the other guys outside shooting, to beat them.  With poor 3-point shooting from the entire team so far this year, including the two exhibitions, it's a pretty good strategy and what teams should do.  Keep in mind that the Gophers don't necessarily have to hit three-pointers to beat it, they just need use those double-teams to find cutters and move the ball for open shots.  Although hitting some threes would help - Austin Hollins three-pointer to cut Bucknell's lead to two was one of the biggest of the game.

2.  Speaking of hitting cutters, Ralph Sampson was absolutely brilliant in the high post.  He's always going to be a good passing big man, and was against Bucknell, but when he's knocking down that jump shot he's an incredible weapon.  He hit several deep jumpers last night, and because he loves the deep jumper so much when he gets that going it energizes him and it showed on the boards and blocking shots last night.  He was still way too tentative on the block for a 7-footer, but you can handle that when he puts the game together like he did on Friday.  I'm still afraid that if Sampson's jumper isn't falling he's going to go into a funk and cost this team some games.

3.  Julian Welch is absolutely confusing, because he has incredibly fast hands and very slow feet.  Bucknell's guards were routinely able to get past him, with or without the ball, but he was also able to get two steals were he just straight out picked Cameron Ayers and nearly had a third.  It was so bad that Ayers stopped bringing the ball up the court when Welch was in the game, and once Julian checked out he'd go back to being the point man.  Pretty hilarious.  Those good defensive plays looked pretty and will color a lot of opinions, but Welch is definitely a sub-par man-on-man defender overall.  Still, to be able to just pick a D-I point guard's pocket, and I did like what I saw from him offensively since he was one of the few guys who was willing to attack the basket.  I'll say I'm impressed but have some reservations.

4.  Trevor Mbakwe is going to be in foul trouble in some games.  I know this isn't going out on a limb, but it's crazy how he just throws his body at people whether it's with the ball, on defense, or positioning for a rebound.  You get the wrong ref on the wrong day and Mbakwe's going to spend a lot of time on the bench.  That's not going to be a very fun day.

5.  Joe Coleman has a long way to go.  Not that it's going out on a limb since he's a freshman, and it's not even surprising or anything, but Coleman is meh so far.  His defense is pretty terrible, although I think that's mainly due to lack of focus more than anything else, and his big highlight play against Bucknell was a near three-point play (he missed the free throw, natch) where he basically charged right at three Bucknell defenders, somehow made the shot, and was gifted with a foul call.  He's still playing like he's the only show in town and he's up against Spring Lake Park.  I'm not giving up on him at all, I just don't expect he'll play much once we hit conference play.

6.  Bryson Johnson of Bucknell is one hell of a shooter even if he looks like this assface I used to play against in high school.  He's aslo absolutely terrified when he gets the ball in the paint and has no idea what to do, even if he's the one who brought the ball in there with him.  He only had one turnover, but there were at least two other times he got into the lane and just had no idea what to do with it and the team didn't get a good shot.  Way to be well-rounded, nerd.

I think that'll pretty much do it for now.  No matter what dumb people think this was a good win.  Also I didn't mention Rodney Williams because, once again, there's nothing worth mentioning.  I wish there was a way to trade him to someone who still believes.

Anyway, Gophers win and it's a good win.  I'll take it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gophers vs. Bucknell Preview

Well here we go.  After two less than inspiring efforts in their two exhibition wins the Gophers jump into the real season with a tester right out of the gate against last year's Patriot League champ Bucknell, who has essentially their whole team back.  The Bison are accustomed to being dangerous, having knocked off Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournament and Arkansas in 2006, but it's worth noting that they haven't won a meaningful non-conference game since beating Xavier back in 2006-2007 and had their doors blown off by UCONN in the first round of last year's tournament

That's not to say they aren't going to be a handful, because as I mentioned they have a whole lot back from last year, starting with Minnesota native Mike Muscala.  Muscala is a big dude at 6-11, 235 lbs., and is a force on the interior (15 pts & 7 rebs per game) but also has a good mid-range jumper.  With Mbakwe and/or Sampson on him he's going to have his work cut out for him, and neither he nor Bucknell as a whole were much of an offensive rebounding team last year so the biggest key will be defending those first shots, and that's exactly what worries me about the game tonight, because Bucknell has a ridiculous amount of shooters.

Four returning players shot better than 35% from three last year and the team hit at 40% last year, 7th best in the country.  Especially scary is shooting guard Bryson Johnson who shot 46% from behind the arc last year while setting a school record for 3-point makes.  Throw in Bryan Cohen (44%, and oh by the way the two-time Patriot League defensive player of the year) and Cameron Ayers (36%) and we are going to find out in an awful hurry if the Gophers weakness of the past few years is a thing of the past or something that is again going to rip fans' souls out, and I'm really hoping I'm not about to go watch another Virginia game.

Basically this game is going to come down to a few key points:

1.  The three-point shooting thing I was just talking about.  Once again, Bucknell is a terrible offensive rebounding team and with Sampson, Mbakwe, and Rodney Williams I don't expect the Gophers to give up many offensive boards.  For Bucknell to win they're going to have to hit shots, and they can do it.  It's up to the Gophers to defend the perimeter and make them at least make tough shots rather than wide open ones.  I'm terrified for this.

2.  Andre Hollins handling pressure.  As mentioned Bucknell has the two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year in Bryan Cohen.  Since the Gophers don't have an obvious perimeter weapon for him to guard it makes the most sense to put him on the freshman point guard to disrupt the offense (although I'm hoping that Bucknell's coach buys into the hype and puts Cohen on Rodney).  Hollins will need to be able to get the team into the offense because both Maverick and Welch will get eaten alive.  Either Andre or him in combination with his brother Austin will need to be smart with the ball.

3.  Which Ralph Sampson shows up.  Bucknell has a huge advantage over most mid-low majors in Muscala, because most teams on that tier don't have a 6-11 dude who has both some athleticism and some skills.  Unfortunately for them their only other size is a 6-8 power forward who played less than 5 minutes per game last year, so unless he's suddenly ready for prime time Bucknell is going to have to choose to put him on either Mbakwe or Sampson and hope the other one doesn't kill them.  If Ralph is invisible and/or terrible that allows Muscala to be on Mbakwe - a matchup I'd still expect Trevor to win, but not as easily as if Muscala has to guard Sampson instead.  Hopefully Ralph realizes this is his last year and he should, you know, try and stuff.

4.  Bucknell's point guard play.  The only player Bucknell loses from last year is their starting point guard, obviously not an easy position to fill.  The have Cameron Ayers ready to go, but he was more of a combo wing type last year than a true point, so this will be a big test.  We didn't see much pressing by the Gophers in the two exhibition games, but with a brand new point guard as the opponent it would be a wasted opportunity not to give it a try tonight.  I'd even say it's downright stupid not to.  So why am I so convinced they won't do it?

So there you have it.  Bucknell is a smart, veteran team with some good players, great shooters, and enough ability to give the Gophers a scare.  They're also undersized, not nearly as athletic as Minnesota, and are very likely going to get destroyed by Trevor Mbakwe.

Minnesota 74, Bucknell 66.