Monday, January 31, 2011

Week in Review 1.31.2011

 Can somebody please explain to me what is going in college basketball this year?  Michigan State, a final four team last year that lost nothing more than Raymar Morgan and replaced him with more talent, is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament and lost to Michigan for the first time in 23 years, and at home.  Which was Michigan's first road win all year.   Syracuse, who started the season at 18-0, has now lost four straight, which included losses to two other top 10 teams in Pitt and Villanova.  Teams who both lost this week - Villanova twice.  Duke, who looked nearly unstoppable most of the year, lost to St. Johns, the same team that lost to both St. Bonaventure and Fordham.  BYU gave San Diego State it's first loss on the year, and then turned around and got beat by New Mexico, Texas A&M lost to lowly Nebraska, and UCONN completely blew a home game they had in hand against Louisville.  Two of the top five, 3 of the top 10, and 5 of the top 15 teams in the preseason poll aren't even ranked right now.  It's insane.  I know it's great for a fun season and an even better NCAA Tournament, but it's been hell on my bank account so let's just knock this crap off.


1.  St. Johns Red Storm.   If ever a team could have used a win like this it's St. Johns, and beating Duke by 15 is an awfully nice chip to have in your pocket when March rolls around.  They're in good shape RPI-wise thanks to a very tough strength of schedule, and a 4-5 Big East is probably ok, but this game gives them a huge marquee win and stops a three-game skid, not to mention the shot of confidence they probably get considering they just completely blew the doors off the Blue Devils.  The schedule gets easier going forward here, so you can expect to see the Red Storm with a bid for the NCAA Tournament.  Which is what I called, way back in October.  Seriously, sometimes it's hard being so smart.

2.  Penn State Nittany Lions. You gotta admit, they're doing what they can.  It's an uphill climb considering they're just 12-8 and missed every chance to get a quality non-conference win, but they're now 5-4 in a good Big Ten, the RPI is moving up (now #45), the strength of schedule is good (#6), the win over Duquesne is looking better and better, and, even if Michigan State is free-falling, the wins over Illinois and Wisconsin will hold up nicely.  Talor Battle is getting help from PSU's trio of senior forwards - David Jackson, Andrew Jones, and especially Jeff Brooks - and that makes this team very dangerous.  Their home court advantage has been quite strong this year, if they can steal a game or two on the road they'll be in the big dance.

3.  Duquesne Dukes.  At the beginning of the year, the Atlantic 10 was supposed to be very strong at the top with Xavier, Temple, Dayton, and Richmond, and the rest of the schools kind of blah.  Three of the four have been good, but Dayton has sucked (which they deserve) and Duquesne has not only snuck into their spot, but might be the best team in the conference.  They beat Temple earlier this year, and after shellacking Dayton on Saturday are now 7-0 in conference play and tied with Xavier at the top.  The schedule is favorable, with Xavier still to come at home and both Dayton and Richmond on the road, but everything else is against pretty bad squads.  I don't know if they can get an at-large - the RPI sits at #89 despite the gaudy record, but it would be a shame if they fall short because this is a really fun team to watch.  Or at least it was fun watching them destroy the most hated team in the country.  I'm referring to Dayton and it's dirty hippie fans.

4.  Darius Morris.  I said he's the best point guard in the country and he really helps bolster my argument when he does things like he did against Iowa on Sunday:  12 pts, 11 assists, 10 rebounds for just the third triple-double in Michigan history (Manny Harris, Gary Grant).  Considering Kalin Lucas and Talor Battle are not point guards, and I have no idea what McCamey is but he sure as hell isn't a PG (more later), that leaves Morris up against Jordan Taylor, Michael Thompson, Al Nolen, Bryce Cartwright, Aaron Craft, Lewis Jackson, and Jordan Hulls.  Not a bad group, and Craft might end up the best of the bunch eventually, but I'd take Morris for sure over every other one of those guys except maybe Jordan Taylor.  That one would be close, but if you need a pure distributor Morris is your man.  If you need more scoring go with Taylor.  Or roofies.

5.  Georgetown Hoyas.  I'm not sure if there's a tougher team to figure out than the Hoyas.  They're clearly good, but are they GOOD or just good?  They have three awesome guards and a suspect interior, so are they are March sleeper because of their guard play or a March quick out because of a weak interior?  I don't know either, but they are looking like they might be hitting their stride, so if you want to jump on the wagon I'd do it now.  Their win over St. Johns was expected, but doing it by 25 was not, and then going to Villanova and knocking off the #7 Wildcats wasn't.  Austin Freeman is a stone cold pimp (scored 10 of G-Town's last 12 against Nova, and assisted on the other 2), Jason Clark is a dead-eye from deep, and Chris Wright just makes it all happen.  If they get anything from their post guys they're a final four team.  Although they could also go out in the first round.  Just like every other god damn team in this crazy stupid year.


1.  Syracuse Orange.  First their defense was exploited on the road at Pitt, then Villanova shot the lights out to beat them in Syracuse, then they were shredded by Seton Hall - in Syracuse - and followed that up by dropping yet another game to Marquette.  So that makes four straight losses piggybacking their 18-0 start.  Three of the four losses are explainable, even if the home loss to Nova is unfortunate, but that loss at home to Seton Hall is troubling and rather inexplicable - especially since they lost by 22.  The Hall had only two prior conference wins, over bottom feeders DePaul and South Florida, but they roll into the Carrier Dome and run the Orange out of it.  Here's what I think happened - Pitt exploited the zone and showed how athletic guards with some size could dribble-penetrate into the gaps and either score or find open teammates and everybody else has copied them.  Each team they've lost to on this skid has guards who can do just that.  They're done.  Cooked.  Over.

2.  Michigan State Spartans.  Well you knew this was coming, and these guys are just a mess.  A home loss to Michigan and an comeback overtime one-point win against Indiana, also at home, say that this isn't a team that's starting slowly and will peak in March.  No, this is more like a team that sucks and will be lucky to sniff the NCAA tournament, let alone peak during it.  Suddenly, despite being nearly the same team that made the Final Four last year, they're turning the ball over like crazy and playing nearly zero defense - not a great combination.  Their strength of schedule is good, which will keep them in the postseason picture if they can turn it around or at least play like an average team, but it's looking less and less likely that it's even a possibility.  If Wisconsin doesn't implode late in the game in East Lansing, Jeremiah Rivers doesn't miss free throws down the stretch, and Northwestern doesn't blow a lead with 30 seconds to play, the Spartans are 2-7 and in 10th place.  I know that's a lot of IFs, but it just underscores how awful they've been.  And I really don't have a clue why.

3.  Demetri McCamey. I've said it a million times, but I'll say it again:  Demetri McCamey is not a point guard and Illinois will not win their first round NCAA game with him running the show.  He proved me right yet again in the Illini's awful loss @ Indiana this week - Indiana's first win over a ranked team in their last 20 tries.  McCamey's line:  6 points on 2-11 shooting (2-7 from three, nice job getting in the lane, guy), with 3 assists and 5 turnovers.  Even worse, down the stretch Illinois had Brandon Paul running the point, who isn't a point guard either.  Trust me you guys, I know the numbers look like something a good PG would put up (15 pts and 7 assists per game), but just watch him.  Or watch Illinois in any late game situation, several of which they've screwed up already this year.  He's awful.  Please, I beg you, pick against them in round 1 of the tournament.  It's a lock. 

4.  Butler Bulldogs.  I'm actually really sick of writing about Butler, but they keep showing up here because they are a huge disappointment and they suck.  This week they did an absolute awesome job of making sure they don't get an at-large bid, losing to both Milwaukee (at home) and Valparaiso (on the road), dropping their Horizon record to 6-4, overall record to 14-8, and chances of getting an at-large to about 1.4%.  Of course, I'm sure they'll win their conference tournament and sneak in, and everybody will think they are a trendy upset pick, but you'll know they suck and pick against them.  I swear to god if there's a first round Butler/Illinois matchup I'm going to the light something on fire.

5.  The Coreys.  No, not Haim and Feldman.  Those guys rocked in everything, even Dream a Little Dream and that Lost Boys movie with that hot chick from the final season of the O.C. (pictured).  I mean the stupid fake Coreys from Villanova, who are less irritating than Scottie Reynolds but still make me want to punch my own nuts with a pepper grinder.  Villanova had a rough week, losing to Providence on the road and then at home to Georgetown, dropping them to 5-3 in the Big East, and fake Corey Haim and fake Corey Feldman didn't help.  Corey Fisher (Feldman) shot 7-20 in the two games, while Corey Stokes (Haim), whose only identifiable skill is scoring (shooting heroin) went 4-23 (Four.  For. Twenty.  Three) and registered four turnovers against just one assist.  Those two aren't the only reason they went 0-2 this week, because the whole team sucked outside of Maalik Wayns (who we'll call Nicole Eggert), but the Corey's are what make this team go.  Just like grandpa's cadillac.  Probably end up about the same, too.

Oh, and I missed the second half of the Gopher game because I was at a kids' birthday party, so my thoughts on that are:  did you really expect them to win @ Purdue?  Just worry about the games they could/should win.  Let's just win in Bloomington here, mmmmkay?  This one is terrifying.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Game Recap: Gophers 81, Northwestern 70 (plus Purdue mini-preview)

Who knew that putting a 6-11 guy, a 6-10, and a 6-9 behemoth, none of whom possess ball-handling skills that would rank higher than "6th grade" would result in Globetrotter ball breaking out?  Ralph Sampson, Colt Iverson, and Trevor Mbakwe started last night's game together and were in almost the entire time, spending much of it displaying interior passing that surpassed the realm of shocking and went straight into mind-boggling.  Did you know Colt Iverson could pull off a deft touch-pass leading to a Mbakwe dunk?  No you didn't, liar.

Combine the size of those giants (along with a 6-7 Rodney Williams playing shooting guard) with a Northwestern front-line that ranged from "slight and frail as a 12-year old girl with a skinned knee" to "mobile as an oak tree" and it's easy to see why the Gophers dominated the game.  They were layuping and dunking all over people's heads, leading to 53% shooting on a night they went 2-11 from three (the bigs were 15-24), while on the other end the Wildcats (more like Mildcats, am I right?) treated the area inside the three point line as if it were poison, chucking up 39 three-point attempts (61% of their shots) from behind the arc.  Despite getting cracked in the chin, John Shurna was the only player who seemed to try to penetrate at all, and on a night when the shots weren't falling (just 12 threes went in), it wasn't too difficult to shut them down.

Their switch to that dreaded 1-3-1 seemed to confuse the Gophers for a time, something it's done to no other team this year, letting Northwestern creep back and actually grab the lead at the half, but credit Tubby for fixing that issue in half #2.  Getting the ball to Sampson at the top of the key, where he essentially posted up, allowed him to turn and see who had the advantage on their man out of Mbakwe and Iverson, and get them the ball.  Credit Ralph, because as soft as he is on the interior at times, he is a good enough passer that they can get away with playing him at the 3 in these situations.

Blake passed his first test as the team's new point guard, and really surprised me by still being able to score and get shots.  The freshman back-ups were used sparingly, but were effective enough at not screwing up to help get Blake the ball, and Rodney Williams played one of his better games as a Gopher, I thought.  He wasn't flashy, outside of that monster dunk that was #2 on Sportscenter's plays of the night, but he was very effective.  Although he had just four points, he chipped in 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks with just 2 turnovers (44 fantasy points) despite handling the ball more than usual.  I was impressed.

So the Gophers passed their first test post-Nolen, but a far bigger challenge awaits this weekend, traveling to West Lafayette to take on #12 Purdue.  I previewed the Boilers just a couple weeks ago, so you can read that here, but specific to this matchup I have a few quick questions:

1)  Who the hell is going to guard Lewis Jackson?  Seriously, I need to know.  Blake can't.  Rodney probably could, but then who guards E'Twaun Moore?  Maverick can't.  Hollins?  Armelin?  Go zone?  All I know is that even Al Nolen had a hell of a time keeping Jackson out of the lane (remember, Al's biggest successes when Jackson drove were either blocking his shot or stripping him of the ball, not keeping him out of the lane), so I don't have a clue how they're going to stop him from penetrating.  It'll be like a date with your sister.

2)  Will that 3-big lineup work again?  On offense, yes.  Purdue isn't inept on the interior, but outside of JaJuan Johnson (and that's a big "outside of" by the way), their two other size guys (Patrick Bade and Travis Carroll) don't exactly make big contributions (combined average of under 18 minutes per game).  Defensively, however, I'm not sure how it's going to work.  Hoffarber and Iverson will be liabilities, but Purdue isn't exactly the most athletic team in the conference (Carroll, Ryne Smith, DJ Byrd), but if they can play that 2-3 zone as effectively as they played it against the Wildcats they'll have a chance.  And besides, what's Tubby's other option anyway?  They have no choice but to go with Hoff, Rodney, Colt, Ralph, and Mbakwe for the majority of the game.

3)  Is Purdue overrated?  They rank #12 in both polls and #10 in Ken Pomeroy's statistical rankings, and I'm going to say slightly, and also very much at the same time.  Slightly, because I think they are a top 15 type team nationally based on watching them play.  Very much, because if you look at their results they've done basically nothing so far this year.  Outside of a win over Michigan State, they don't have a single win over a top 50 RPI team, losing in their other three opportunities, and they just got shellacked by Ohio State (although, realistically, there's no shame in that - the Buckeyes would have beaten any team in the country last night, including the NBA).  So although they look like a good team, they haven't really proven to be just yet.

4)  Can the Gophers win in Mackey Arena?  Can they?  Yes.  Will they?  I'd say probably not, but I got a funny feeling and it's not just in my pants.  The three bigs lineup has me feeling confident.  Maybe it's just the "shiny new toy" aspect, or maybe I'm a deranged homer, but I just don't see how Purdue can stop it short of Hoffarber shatting himself, and I don't see that happening.  So it all really comes down to if you think the Gophers can stop Purdue.  And guess what?  I think they can.

Minnesota 67, Purdue 64.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Northwestern Wildcats

I can't think of a better way to start out this preview than a quote that frequent commenter Loretta8 left in our comment box regarding Northwestern and how badly they sucked against Wisconsin.  Loretta8, by the way, is a Northwestern fan and one of the authors of Sippin on Purple, the best Big Ten team blog out there (and it's not even close).  Anyway, his take on tonight's game:
Northwestern definitely sucked, letting Josh fucking Gasser get a triple double is one of the low points in program history, and there's a lot of competition for that honor.

As for the weak non-con schedule, I'm furious about it, but not because it's hurt NU's NCAA chances, they were never good enough to get an at-large bid anyways. Instead, it kept them with a decent won/loss record for far too long, allowing for more and more national media stories, from hacks who thought a team that has zero bench and plays defense like it would give them herpes could actually make the NCAAs, same shit the last three years.

I'll save you some time for Wednesday's NU preview: NU sucks, Gophers by 25.

Well then.

Apparently people don't all agree, because earlier this week Snacks e-mailed me about how he is absolutely convinced that the Gophers won't/can't win this game.  Quite a storied matchup here between two teams with fanbases that are convinced they can't win.  The movable object vs. the stoppable force.  David vs. David.  The Washington Generals vs. Prairie View A&M.  Epic doesn't begin to describe it.

In all seriousness though, there's no reason at all the Gophers should lose this game, even without Al freaking Nolen.  It feels like Northwestern should be good because they do actually have some weapons:

John Shurna might not look like much, but he's one of the best all-around players in the country and has been a top 4 scorer in the conference both of the last two years.  Even if he is slowed currently by an ankle injury he still managed to score 24 against Michigan just a few games ago.

Drew Crawford can be incredibly explosive, and he had one of the highest scoring fantasy days of any Big Ten player this year when he put up 25 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals against St. Francis.  And it's not like that's the only team he can brutalize, because he's scored 16 or more in four Big Ten games already.

Michael Thompson, or "Juice" if you're a complete dork, is one of the best point guards in the conference, even if his shooting has taken a bit of a step back, and the second leading scorer on the team.  He's also very consistent, scoring between 11 and 18 points in 15 of 19 games this year.

Besides those three, they have the insanely underrated Luka Mirkovic, who was pretty much the steal of our fantasy league draft, and freshman Jershon Cobb.  Mirkovic is pretty much the slowest player in the conference, and in the Big Ten that's saying something, but he's got one pretty reliable move where he goes from block to block, moving to his left, and ends up sealing his man with his body and making a lefty lay-up.  He somehow put up a 20 and 12 game against Indiana.  Cobb is your typical freshman, just as likely to be a non-factor as he is to contribute, but he did blow up for 18 against Illinois.

In short, this is a very, very good offense, good enough to rank 14th in overall offensive efficiency.  They shoot well from both two (52.2%, 41st in the coutnry) and three (40.4%, 13th), and rarely turn the ball over (9th best in D-I).  They're going to get their shots, and against a piss-poor defensive team like the Gophers they are going to be open and make quite a few.  They will score some points.  That's the bad news.

The good news is that they are absolutely dreadful on defense.  The once terrifying 1-3-1 (learn more here in an excellent post) is now about as effective as an empty gym at stopping opponents.   They can't defend the two (opponents shoot 50.8%, 269th in the country) or the three (36.7%, also 269th), all of which adds up to the 295th effective field goal percentage defense in the nation, the 3rd worse among teams from the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, ACC, Pac-10, SEC, Conference USA, Mountain West, and the WAC - only Wyoming and Oregon State are worse.  This means the Gophers should score some points, especially on the inside and especially because they have the towering trio of Sampson, Mbakwe, and Iverson, who should have their way in the paint.

Now, the X-factor is how the Gophers handle that zone without their point guard.  Guys like Demetri McCamey and Jordan Taylor can penetrate and find open teammates in that zone all night long, and if Nolen was healthy I'd be confident he'd do the same.  It's up to Blake and Armelin and Maverick and whoever else gets thrown out there, so I'm less sure of the results.  I trust Blake, but that's about it.  Can he play 36 minutes of point guard?  Yeah, why not.

Minnesota 78, Northwestern 70


Monday, January 24, 2011

Week in Review - 01.24.2011

 Well, it's now obvious how to fix the Vikings.  Simply trade your second round pick over to Chicago for Caleb Hanie, give him the rock, and sit back and watch him destroy the league.  The guy's like the second coming of Jonathan Moxon!  Of course, if Chicago is smart they're going to demand your first round pick.  Is Hanie worth #12 overall?  I think it's pretty clear that he is.


1.  Gopher basketball.  Ok, awesome might be a bit strong here, but considering that at no point did I expect them to end up winning that game in Ann Arbor and they pulled it out semi-convincingly I can give credit where credit is due - particularly since Al Nolen was out for the entire second half.  I'm not even sure which part was most impressive for the Gophers:  Blake filling in at point guard and doing a great job (6 assists to 0 turnovers) including a couple of big baskets down the stretch, the absolute pounding they put on the boards (out-reobunded Michigan 37-11), or the quality shots they were getting that led to 63% shooting.  Just an all around excellent game.  Now let's hope Nolen isn't hurt for an significant period of time.

At this point the Gophers have to be considered a near lock to make the NCAA Tournament.  An RPI of 24 with a Strength of Schedule of 41, 3 wins over RPI top 25 teams, and just one bad loss (Virginia, RPI 121).  Absolute worst case scenario, will be an 7-11 Big 10 record, and that's if there only wins the rest of the year are home games against Northwestern, Michigan, and Penn State.  Obviously in that case they wouldn't get in, but 9-9 should do it so all they need to do is win 2 games out of @ Purdue, @ Indiana, vs. Ohio State, vs. Illinois, @ Iowa, @ Penn State, vs. Michigan State, and @ Northwestern.  That shouldn't be an issue, with or without Nolen.  I can see an 11 or 12 win season as a definite possibility, in which case the Gophers are set up for a 5 or so seed.  Perfectly placed for a first round loss to Old Dominion. 

2.  Texas Longhorns.  Quite the nice little run by the Longhorns, starting the week off with a ho-hum 21-point win over #10 ranked and previously 1-loss Texas A&M, and then followed that up by going into Allen Fieldhouse and beating undefeated and 2nd ranked Kansas by 11, ending the Jayhawks 69-game home winning streak.  I don't even think it's possible for a team to have a better week, and if you weren't totally sold on the Longhorns, and I wasn't, I don't think you can deny them any longer.  Jordan Hamilton has decided to become a stud, Tristan Thompson is a force, Gary Johnson plays a quality role, and Corey Joseph seems to be figuring it out.  They've got an outstanding inside/outside balance and could make a hell of a run in March.  Of course, Rick Barnes is still involved, so it wouldn't be shocking in the least to see them lose 10 straight and miss the tournament.  We'll see.

3.  Alabama Crimson Tide.  If you're going to make a run an your first NCAA tournament bid since 2006 you need to win some big games.  Which is exactly what Alabama did with their 2-point victory over #12 Kentucky, giving them a much needed resume boost.  They are just 11-7 overall, their losses to St. Peter's and Iowa are a bit tough to explain, and they have a pretty crappy strength of schedule so they still have a ton of work to do.  That was the last game on their schedule against a currently ranked team and they play in the crappy SEC West so a big run isn't out of the question.  They're 3-1 in conference now, so something like 12-4 isn't out of the question.  That would be enough to get them in, no doubt.  It would actually be pretty sweet to have them matched up against the Gophers, because I'd love to see a Mbakwe/JaMychal Green match-up.

4. Memphis Tigers.  There was a lot of preseason talk about whether this was the year Memphis finally lost it's stranglehold on Conference USA (at least on the rare occasions when anybody talked about C-USA) after winning it each year since 2006.  There was a lot of talk about Larry Eustacy's Southern Miss taking the crown, or maybe UTEP or UAB would finally take that next step up or perhaps Central Florida and their hot start signaled the changing times.  Well you can shut your whore mouth about all that, because Memphis beat both UAB and Southern Miss this week, both on the road, and are now tied with UTEP at the top of the standings.  Now, this Memphis team isn't anywhere near the class of Calipari's old teams, but for one week at least they made sure everybody knew they weren't done just yet.  That sentence was stupid and something a hack writer for would write.  My apologies.  Smelly pirate hooker.

5.  Jimmer Fredette.  I've avoided talking about him so far this year, mainly because everybody else is and whenever people like something I automatically hate it (see:  Brett Favre, Nickelback, or Olive Garden) but I can't ignore the elephant in the room any longer - he's really good and really mormon.  He scored 42 points on Saturday on the road at a pesky Colorado State team, giving him two 40+ games in his last three times out and is currently leading the country in scoring at 26.7 points per game.  He's also efficient, and his 48% shooting, including 41% from three, along with his 90% accuracy from the free throw stripe is a good reason why BYU is the 6th best team in the nation by offensive efficiency.  Are they an actually good team?  I'd say yes, probably, but let's wait to see what happens Wednesday against San Diego State.  I know the Jimmer is bad ass though.  Seriously, just watch this: 


1.  Colorado Buffaloes.  Waah wah!  The DWG curse strikes again, and all the momentum and positivity and sleeper talk Colorado built up with their 3-0 start in Big 12 play has now come to a screeching halt after an epic crash and burn this week, losing both to Oklahoma and Nebraska, two of the worst teams in the Big 12 and both losses are resume killers.  The conference is strong enough where they'll have plenty of opportunities to get marquee wins and build their profile back up, but this is a pretty massive setback.  It would be like the Gophers losing to Michigan and Indiana, only if they didn't have those good wins from Puerto Rico.  My bad Colorado fans, you can blame this one on me.

2.  Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Another team who absolutely god awful week and made huge strides in tanking their at-large chances.  Gonzaga, whose overall record is now just 13-7, lost twice this week, to San Francisco and Santa Clara, both contenders in the West Coast Conference, but not the same kind of contender St. Mary's has been the last few years.  In short, the kind of teams that the Gonzagas of the past would just roll right over, but clearly this year's Zags aren't quite the same type of team.  Which is weird, because a nucleus of Steven Gray, Robert Sacre, and Elias Harris should be enough to carry them to a WCC title.  Clearly, all those other dorks I've never heard of must really, really suck.  Now, their strength of schedule was ridiculous and do have wins over Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Xavier so they'll still almost certainly get a bid, but this isn't he same kind of dangerous Gonzaga team, more like out in round 1.

3.  Kenny Boynton.  It didn't take long for me to find my most-hated player after Scottie Reynolds' graduation, so congratulations Kenny Boynton, a chucker of such epic proportions that he makes Chris Kingsbury cringe at his shot selection, Reynolds' himself chuckle at the volume of shots he puts up, and Al Nolen chuckle at his accuracy.  Boynton has shot the rock 121 times this year from beyond the arc, and has hit a whopping 30.6% (and that's after going 4-7 on Saturday), after shooting 29% last year.  This year is 81st in three-point attempts in the country, and out of those 81 players, only four have a worst shooting percentage than Boynton.  Not dissimilar to last year, when he was 28th in the country in 3-point attempts, and had the worst shooting percentage out of the top 100 attempters.  Seriously, you should watch this guy.  He's completely insane.

4. Northwestern Wildcats.  Did you freaking see that score yesterday?  I guess we can cross off "Can Northwestern make it's first NCAA Tournament" from the list of storylines for 2011.  You just can't lose at home by 32, especially to a good but not great Wisconsin team.  As it stands Northwestern's record is now 13-6, and although none of those losses classify as "bad" (margin of loss not a factor), their RPI is a dismal 69, their strength of schedule is horrendous at #122, and their best win right now is over Michigan - their only win over a top 100 RPI team.  It's just ugly, and it's exactly what they deserve for scheduling such a terrible non-conference slate in a year where they knew they were trying to make a run for an NCAA bid.  Terrible.  Just terrible.

5.  Central Florida Knights.  Hey, remember when UCF started out all hot and were 14-0 and beat Florida and Miami and everyone was "OMG Michael Jordan's kid is single-handedly making UCF into an awesome team" and nobody would ever shut up about it and it was just like John Madden/Brett Favre love-fest and everybody was giving out handjobs?  Remember that?  Well suck it, liberal media, because UCF sucks and Jordan's kid sucks, and you suck.  They're now 1-4 in C-USA after losing to East Carolina and Rice, two of the absolute worst teams in the conference, this week and your boyfriend Marcus Jordan was a combined 3-14 shooting in the two games and probably got his ass beat by his dad because of his losing.  So maybe we shouldn't all be so desperate to turn something into a cute little story when nothing has even happened yet.  And speaking of cute, there are lots of good pictures of UCF fans out there:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big 10 Power Poll - 5 Questions

Gopher Nation from The Daily Gopher is another participant in Myron Medcalf's Big 10 Power Poll for, and he sent out 5 questions to all the voters.  Check TDG on Monday for his recap of everybody's answers, mine are below with his questions in bold:

1 - The Gophers endured probably the most difficult start to the Big Ten season that one could imagine.  On the road against three of the league's best all resulted in a loss, though two of those games were one possessions games with under a minute to go.  Now Purdue is the only road game left against an upper-tier Big Ten team, but what about the other road games?  What road game against a mid or lower tier team concerns you the most and why?

Every single one.  But, if I'm forced to pick just a single game I'll take the game at Iowa on February 13th.  Penn State is an obvious choice, but by the time the Gophers head to their place PSU might not be considered a lower tier team anymore, and there are a couple things going against the Gophers when they head to Iowa.  First, that would be the most damaging game to lose in terms of an NCAA Tournament resume, so that right there has me half convinced they're going to lose.  A bigger worry is a look at exactly when they head to Iowa - it's right after home games against Ohio State and Illinois.  Can you see the Gophers getting one or two very big, nice home wins and then going and laying an egg the next time out in Iowa City?  Of course you can, you're a Gopher fan.  You've been here before. 

2 - The short bench and minutes played by starters has been a hot topic lately.  To me there are two angles to this topic.  First of all this means we are forced to rely on a few true freshmen in the backcourt for the rest of the Big Ten season.  By the time we get to the Big Ten tournament which of the freshmen will step up (if any) and be a consistent factor off the bench.  Secondly, can the current starters (plus Iverson) continue to play the extended minutes they are playing for the remaining schedule?  Will they be able to apply pressure defense and play transition offense without wearing down?  

It's definitely not a positive.  I still think Hollins and Armelin have good potential (and Walker, but he's out for the year) but they certainly aren't ready to play heavy minutes yet, so what choice does Tubby really have?  Those two are capable of giving the team a combined 25-30 minutes each game, slanted towards whichever one seems to have his head on straight that game, and I think I could handle Ahanmisi for about 10 minutes.  Which means Rodney, Nolen, and Hoffarber have to play about 28 minutes or so apiece each night.  With Nolen and Blake getting more like 30-32, that means Rodney needs to play just 22-25 each night, and Mbakwe, Sampson, and Iverson need to play right around 28 per game as well.  That's a lot of minutes for the six main guys, but I don't see any choice.  If Ohio State can do it, why not the Gophers?

3 - The Gophers haven’t won a Big Ten title, officially, since 1982. Even if you include the vacated Big Ten title in 1997, this program has finished top three in the Big Ten two times since the 1980-81 season.  “What will it take for this program to make the strides necessary to compete for Big Ten titles in basketball?”

Talent.  Talent wins out.  Good coaches can coach lesser players up, but in order to really compete at the top of the basketball world you need talent and that comes from recruiting.  Whether it's getting the highly rated prospects or identifying future stars that aren't as nationally recognized, the talent needs to get better.  Tubby has certainly upgraded the level of player coming here since he took over, but right now the program is at a "compete for a B10 title every 4 years or so when a really good class are seniors" and not in the class of the perennial contenders in the conference.  

4 - Let's move on to some Big Ten talk.  We've all been participating in the power poll and Ohio State has been the near unanimous #1 all season.  It would be hard to argue that anyone else will win the league but when all is said and done who will be the second best team in the conference and why?

Wow, that is tough to say because every team is flawed.  Purdue and Wisconsin are both completely reliant on their duos.  Michigan State might be the most talented on paper but they are a mess right now.  The Gophers are still the Gophers.  I'd have to go with Illinois by default.  They're a good, but not great, team and have enough talent spread out amongst all their players to be a threat on any given night, so I'd expect they'll end up finishing second when the season schedule is through.  They'll also lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and that's a guarantee.

5 - The Barn...stand up or sit down? Here is your opportunity to rant...

I will never, ever understand why people think they have the right to tell other people how to cheer for their favorite team.  Not everybody is a yeller, and guess what?  I think when you yell instructions to the players or refer to them by their first names that makes you an idiot with more than a touch of delusion.  How do you like that?  Stand if you want, sit if you want.  Nobody should be able to make you sit down if you want to stand, and nobody should try to make you stand up if you want to sit.  Seriously, just leave people alone, weirdos.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Michigan Wolverines

To be simplistic, there are four types of games in Big Ten play:  Home against good teams, home against bad teams, away vs. good teams, and away vs. bad teams.  We know how the Gophers play on the road against good teams (hard fought games, but unable to break through) and how they play home against bad teams (ugly wins).  We just saw them play a home game against a good team and they played great.  Now, on Saturday, we get to learn how they play on the road against bad teams when they travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.

While all games are important in the Big Ten, the road games against bad teams may very well be the most important ones to walk away from with a W, because although a road win at Michigan or similar team certainly won't get you into the tournament, lose too many of these and you rack up too many tallies under the "bad loss" column and that can definitely keep you out.  Everybody is going to lose their road games, and probably a home game or two, against the top of the conference - that's unavoidable.  It is imperative to take care of business against lesser foes so that loss total doesn't rise high enough to raise questions.

That's not to say beating Michigan should be a cakewalk, because they are tough and they have dominated the Gophers recently.  They've beaten the Gophers four games in a row including an embarrassing loss in Ann Arbor at the end of last year where Michigan just destroyed them 83-55, a loss which likely knocked Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament until they played their way back in with a nice run in the B10 tourney.

This year's version of the Wolverines may be a better team, but it's hard to tell.  One thing's for certain - they have the capacity to play with anybody.  They've played three of the best teams in the land this year in Syracuse, Kansas, and Ohio State and walked away with a 3-point loss, and overtime loss, and a 4-point loss so they're dangerous at any time.  They did, however, recently get blown out @ Indiana in a game where they shot just 36% and are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, so they can also lose to anybody at any time.

Which team shows up on Saturday?  Well, seeing is how they are at home and likely licking their chops to get at a team they've owned, I'd say the good version, and there's enough talent here to see them to the win.

Their best player by far is sophomore Darius Morris who is leads the team in both scoring (15.7 per game) and assists (7.1, 2nd in the country and 5th in the nation), and he's the best point guard in the entire Big Ten (McCamey -> suck it).  Which is why it is going to sound weird when I say not to worry about him.  Not because he's not good, it's because he is so good, and incredibly consistent.  Essentially no matter what the Gophers do, he's going to score his 15-20 points and dish out 5-9 assists.  It's pretty much like clockwork, so instead of worrying about him, worry about his crappy teammates.  None of them are particularly good, but a bunch of them can do just enough well that if a couple of them have good games it could push the Wolverines to a win.

Shooting guard Tim Hardaway is the second leading scorer at 11 per game, mainly because he never stops shooting.  He's an absolute chucker who is fifth in the conference in 3-point attempts despite having hit just 27% of them this year.  But, like all chuckers he can get hot, which he's done a few times this year, scoring 19 points or more in a game three times including vs. Kansas.

Zack Novak is another guy who loves the three, but he's a bit more selective with his shot (36%).  He's also a good rebounder for his size (6.5 per game at 6-4) and can score in the lane.  Even though he looks like your average dork you'd see at the YMCA hoopin' it up, he's actually pretty athletic, has a good shot, and can control a game at times.  He's registered three double-double this year, all against non-cupcakes:  Kansas, Harvard, and Oakland.

Power forward Jordan Morgan is a beast at 6-8, 240 lbs. and is one of the best rebounders in the conference on a per-minute basis, averaging 6.1 rebounds per game in just 23 minutes.  He's not generally a big fan of scoring, but nonetheless like everybody else on this team he's had his moments, notching 20 points twice.

Stu Douglass is another guard, a junior who has basically been a disappointment in his three years at Michigan.  He's not a distributor at all, and isn't much of a scorer, so he mainly just stands around and shoots the occasional three.  Of course, he's had his big nights as well, hitting at least three 3-pointers five different times this year, and put up 17 points in their last game against Northwestern.

Evan Smotrycz is basically Jon Beilein's wet dream of a player:  white, tall, loves the cock three-pointer.  He's hit double figures in scoring twice this year, and interestingly his two best output games were against Clemson and Ohio State, so he doesn't shrink from good competition.  Not that that's what he'll see when the Gophers are in town.

Jon Horford is also worth mentioning - yes he's Al's brother - because against the Gophers he'll probably exceed his season average of 8.7 minutes because they'll need his size out there (he's 6-9, 220).  He obviously doesn't get much time, but when he's given a chance he produces.  In the three games he's been given at least 15 minutes of playing time (never more than 17) he's averaged 6 points and, impressively, 7 rebounds.  If I was a Michigan fan I'd kill myself, but before I did that I'd be excited to see him play since he'll probably break that season high 17 minutes.  Could be Horford's breakout game.  You heard it here first.

So basically just let Morris do what Morris do, but limit all these other dorks.  None of them are particularly imposing or terrifying in any way, but if more than 1 of them are on it's going to be a long night.  The Gophers shouldn't have any particularly problems with Michigan's defense, but on the other end they're going to have to defend the three-point line like crazy.  Michigan doesn't turn the ball over much (24th in the country in TO %) so they're going to get their shots, and they love the three-ball (8th in the country in 3-pt attempts per FG attempt).  Morris, Hardaway, Novak, Douglass, Smotrycz, and Matt Vogrich all like the shoot the three.  If they're open, they'll make 'em.

The Gophers should win this game on talent, but talent doesn't always win out.  On the road against a team who shoots a ton of three-pointers when they can't defend the three and a team that has won 4 in a row against them and completely owned them lately when this could easily be a let-down game for Minnesota and is basically a desperation must win for Michigan?  Tell me how that sounds like a Gopher win?

Michigan 74, Minnesota 68.

Nice glasses.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Big Ten Power Poll - 01.19.2011

My vote for this week's Big Ten Power Poll. 

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes - Might be starting to show some chinks in the armor, struggling to single digits wins against Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa.  Even more of a concern:  in their five Big Ten games thus far they've been out-rebounded three times and allowed their opponent to shoot at least 50% three times.  Those are the kind of trends that catch up to you eventually, especially since their conference schedule has been soft out of the gate.

2.  Purdue Boilermakers.  Starting to wonder a bit about this team, because although they don't have any bad losses, they don't really have any good wins, either.  We'll find out more quickly, because their schedule is brutally tough for the rest of the month.  One thing they'll need is for E'Twaun Moore to get his shot back, and get it back quickly:  he's 15 for 57 (26%) in their last four games, and they aren't going to beat anybody if he isn't scoring.

3.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  Only their loss to Penn State last week keeps them out of the #2 spot for me, but I still think they're too shaky at the end of games and that McCamey isn't good down the stretch and that it will kill them in either the first or second round in March, but the fact that they were able to hold Michigan State off and get a big win on Tuesday is a step in the right direction.

4.  Minnesota Gophers.  Huge win over Purdue (and avoidance of a let-down game against Iowa) vault them back into the "top of the league" conversation.  They've yet to go on the road against one of the bottom tier Big 10 teams, so this weekend's game against Michigan will be a major test.  That's the kind of game you don't lose if you're a true Big 10 contender, something this team will still have to prove.

5.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Bounced back after a heart-breaking blown opportunity to snag a road win in East Lansing with a convincing 10 point win over the Illini back in Madison.  Still, Badger backers can't feel too good about giving that game away to Sparty.  Their team, the #1 team in the nation at avoiding turnovers, turned the ball over 3 times in the final 1:08 - more than they did in the entire game against Minnesota earlier in the year.

6.  Michigan State Spartans.  I know we're used to Michigan State teams starting slowly and peaking in March, but this year's team just doesn't have that same feel.  They're losing their road games and just barely squeaking by with wins at home, and are very, very close to being 1-5 in Big Ten play rather than 4-2.  Last night against Illinois they managed to keep their turnovers, their achilles' heel so far this year, under control, but couldn't shoot (just 39% from the floor) or play defense (Illinois shot 53%).  I will be absolutely shocked if they do anything in March, because they look absolutely dreadful out there. 

7.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  Well, they're certainly making a run, and an impressive one at that.  They couldn't quite pull it off against Ohio State, losing by 3 in Columbus, but prior to that picked up nice wins two ranked teams; Illinois and Michigan State.  If they had done anything, and I mean anything, in their non-conference run they'd be sitting in pretty good shape for an NCAA bid.  As it stands, however, they're still going to have to be pretty flawless.

8.  Northwestern Wildcats.  Missed out on a huge opportunity to get the marquee win they lack when they lost to Michigan State in overtime, and now they have 3 Big Ten wins against bottom tier teams and are 0-4 against contenders.  They still have some very tough games coming up, as does everybody in this conference, but they also have a really easy stretch in February where they could easily go 5-0.  If they can beat some of the upper division squads, and soon, they could still end up on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they need to start getting wins.

9.  Michigan Wolverines.  They've played three of the best teams in the country (Syracuse, Ohio State, and Kansas) and have played tough, losing by 3, losing in overtime, and losing by 4, but they are also 1-5 in Big Ten play which includes blowout losses to Indiana and Northwestern in the last week.  Tough team to figure out, but it's clear they can beat anybody or lose to anybody in the conference on any given day.

10.  Indiana Hoosiers.  Playing better of late, getting their first Big Ten victory with a blow-out against Michigan, but they just aren't a good team.  It sounds like Maurice Creek may be done for the season, which is for the best because he's clearly not healthy.  Best case is he rests up, gets near his freshman form, Cody Zeller sticks with the Hoosiers and Christian Watford doesn't go pro - then you might have something here.

11.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  It seems like there are some nice pieces in place for the future, especially Melsahn Basabe who could become Iowa's version of Trevor Mbakwe in a couple of years, but they certainly aren't there yet.  They've scared Ohio State and Minnesota and will probably score an upset somewhere along the line but any more than 3 Big Ten wins would be a shocker.

Looking forward, this week in the Big Ten is pretty much a snoozefest now until the weekend, but there are a few solid barnburners:  Ohio State at Illinois and Michigan State at Purdue on Saturday, and then Wisconsin at Northwestern on Sunday.  Michigan State could really use a big win, but at Purdue is no easy feat, but the pressure is really on Northwestern.  Their margin of error is tiny if they still want to grab an NCAA bid, and they have to hold server at Welsh-Ryan, which means beating the Badgers.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Notes from MLK day Action

You may not know this - or you may, I don't really care and it doesn't really matter - but in honor of Martin Head King day ESPN ran a college basketball marathon of sorts, featuring four games (2 Big East, 2 Big Twelve) with some of the top team's in the country:  #2 Kansas, #3 Syracuse, #4 Pitt, #7 Villanova, #8 UCONN, #14 Missouri, #24 Kansas State, and Baylor were all in action.  Luckily due to my company being awesome and giving us the day off I was able to catch a large chunk of each game.  Here are some quick impressions of each team involved.  Pay attention to this, it will probably help you win your NCAA pool in March.

#7 Villanova - They have a much better inside/outside balance than they've had the last couple of years, with two legit low-post scorers in Antonio Pena and Mouphtao Yarou (who is a complete beast).  I think their big weakness is that lack of a go-to guy.  Say what you want about how bad Scottie Reynolds sucked for the first 35 minutes of every game, and he did, but he was reliable down the stretch run, something that's missing a bit this year.  Corey Fisher certainly looked the part tonight, scoring the team's last 11 points, but based on what I've seen in other games I"m not sure that's something they can count on.  Maybe he'll get to that point where he can put them on his back, but I'm not betting on it and am seeing an early exit for Nova in March.  Maybe because I hate them.

#8 UCONN - This is a team that doesn't have to worry about who their go-to guy is since they have Kemba Walker, who once again cemented his reputation by hitting a floater with three seconds left to give the Huskies the big win over Nova.  Walker is good enough that he can probably get UCONN into the Sweet 16, but if they're going to go any further someone is going to have to help.  Alex Oriakhi has all the physical tools to become that guy, and they have several wing players who could step up, so I'd bet on somebody hitting their stride and UCONN being very dangerous in March.  Don't forget, Walker basically won the Maui tournament all by himself, if he gets any help at all on a consistent basis look out.

#14 Missouri - A team that plays that "controlled chaos" style that the Tigers play will always be as good as their guards.  No matter how good your interior types are, and Mizzou has some very good ones, the guards are what make that run-and-gun style work.  Specifically the guys who handle the ball, and I was really impressed by their point guard Phil Pressey yesterday.  Looking at his stats and game log he's very inconsistent this year, which is to be expected out of a freshman point guard, but he looked good against K-State.  They're talented, but relying on a freshman to handle the ball in March is a good way to get bounced early.

#24 Kansas State - Well this is a fine mess.  The Wildcats were blown out by Missouri, dropping their Big 12 record to 1-4, overall record to 13-6, and record against teams that aren't cupcakes to a very poor 3-6.  That loss was basically a microcosm of their season:  a talented, athletic team with zero discipline who turns the ball over like it's the goal of the game.  They came into the game as one of the worst in the country at taking care of the ball, ranking 256th in the country, and then made things even worse, giving it away a staggering 23 times.  Jake Pullen is basically the same player he was last year, but he's getting no help and their interior players are nearly as likely to turn it over as they are to score.  Who knew Denis Clemente was that valuable?  Second best Clemente in history, in my opinion.

#4 Pitt - Pitt is similar to Villanova for me, in that I hate them, but this Pitt team is built differently - they're actually athletic for once.  Ashton Gibbs is looking like he'll break the line of overrated, overhyped, and crappy Pitt point guards (Brandin Knight, Carl Krauser, LeVance Fields) because he can actually score - not just shoot, not just pass, not just drive, but all those things plus scoring.  Really like him.  A couple other nice guards and some quality size including Kid from Kid N Play, and out of the four Big East teams I saw yesterday this team is most likely to make the Final Four.  God it just kills my soul to say that.  If the Packers win the Super Bowl and Pitt makes the Final Four in the same year you might be looking at the end of DWG 4-eva.

#3 Syracuse -   It's admittedly a little tough to truly evaluate them based on yesterday's action because their leading scorer, Kris Joseph, was out with an injury, but there are a couple of points I can pull out of that game.  The first is a positive, and that's that freshman Dion Waiters is going to be an absolute stud in a year or two.  The second is not, and that's how vulnerable the 'Cuse 2-3 is to penetrating guards this year.  Pitt was able to get into the lane over and over and over again, and that led to some easy baskets.  Some unheralded team with solid, athletic guards is going to stretch them to the limit in March.  Their a tough team, as shown by their ability to hang with Pitt without their best player, but they're vulnerable.

#2 Kansas -  Wow.  This is definitely a national title contender.  I've seen them before but never really watched closely, and they're loaded.  They're basically two deep at every guard position and are incredibly athletic.  Their one weakness is that they are a bit undersized in the front court and don't have a real true post presence in the rotation, but the bigs they do have are more athletic that most you're going to find.  They could be vulnerable in March because I'm not 100% sold on their point guard play, and also because they're Kansas who loses early a bit too often, but I am likely picking them to make the Final Four.   

Baylor - Lace Dunn is one of the best scorers in the country, and he's surround by athletic wing and post types who can score.  So what's the issue?  There's nobody who can handle the damn ball.  When I highlighted Baylor as WHO SUCKED from last weekend, I talked about their high number of turnovers, and now I've seen it in person.  Dunn is basically a pure scoring guard being forced to play point, and that's not a recipe for success.  This team has no shot in March.

Also I just re-watched Adventureland.  Movie rocks.  It actually makes me angry that Kristen Stewart is in those Twilight movies, because she's really good as the kind of quirky, goofy chick, but in the Twilight movies (and yes, I've been forced to watch all three) she's completely wasted because they took a character that was undeveloped with no depth (yes, I've read three of the books) and gave her even less of a personality in the movies.  Such a waste.  I love K-Stew.  Top 10.  And way hotter than Lisa P.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week in Review - 10.17.2011

Guess who has two thumbs and kicked ass in their Golden Globes pool?


1.   Minnesota Gopher Basketball.  Not for the Iowa game, because that was very meh and actually shameful in parts, but for the win over Purdue earlier this week.  I said before that game that it wasn't necessarily a must-win but was a must-compete, but really it was pretty close to a must win and they won.  Jesus that sentence sucks, I'm too distracted by this Washington game and the Golden Globes.  Replace that with something that makes more sense.  Go read  And, um, go gophers.    

2.  Florida State Seminoles.  What is it about FSU?  Why do they just completely own Duke?  This was the third time since 2002 they've beaten Duke when the Blue Devils were ranked #1, and this time was certainly impressive.  This wasn't a win because they caught Duke on a bad night, this was a win where they just outplayed them and controlled the game from the beginning.  In mid-second half, Duke was down 40-29 before going on a 13-2 run to tie the game up.  Rather than folding, the Seminoles responded with a 10-3 run of their own (with 8 of those points coming from Derwin Kitchen).  Every time Duke would pull close, Florida State would score (again, usually Kitchen).  Their trademark stingy defense (#6 in the country) held Duke to 31% shooting, and on this night was joined by an efficient offense to pick up a huge, and badly needed win.  This completely wipes out that loss to Auburn last week, and puts FSU back on course for an NCAA bid. 

3.  Penn State Nittany Lions.  It looks to me like the Big Ten just got deeper.  You got your good teams (Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State), your pretty good teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State), and your might be good teams (Northwestern, and now Penn State).  Penn State now has to be considered a threat for an NCAA bid.  Earlier this week they beat Illinois to grab to two consecutive wins over ranked teams (they beat Michigan State last week).  They were starting to look like a dangerous home team, and that's it, but on Saturday they went to Columbus and gave Ohio State everything they could handle before falling 69-66.  Make no mistake, if PSU plays that exact same game on the road they will beat nearly every other Big Ten team, and that includes your precious Gophers.  We are now at the point where a road win in State College will be a minor miracle.

4.  Texas Longhorns.  Texas has had bigger wins this year (Illinois, Michigan State) but this week's victory over Texas Tech in impressive fashion (30 point win on the road) is the one that finally won me over and is forcing me to admit that this year Texas might have it all put together.  Tech is actually pretty bad this year, but the disappointing Texas teams the last few years always had a tendency to struggle or lose these kinds of games on the road.  To come out and completely destroy the Red Raiders on their home floor is a very good sign.  They also killed Oklahoma, but I'm pretty sure five random guys who read this blog could do that.

5.  Mississippi State Bulldogs.  Miss State had enough talent to be picked by many to be a top SEC team thsi year, but started off crappy enough to be featured as "WHO SUCKED" multiple times and generally looked like crap, including a fist fight in the stands between two of their players.  Renardo Sidney is back from suspension from that fight, however, and now Dee Bost has returned after the NCAA's bizarre decisions to reinstate someone who entered the NBA draft and withdrew well after the deadline and things might be starting to come together, Pepper.  Not that beating Ole Miss and Auburn at home is necessarily some sort of meaningful run, but when you've lost to Hawaii, East Tennessee State, and Florida Atlantic this year, you'll take anything.     


1.  Oregon Ducks.  Not because they lost to Auburn in the title game, but because of that goofy foo-foo offense they trot out there.  Seriously, it's not even football.  It's like watching a flag football game up at UMD.  Nobody lines up normally, there are like six guys in motion, and it's more ballet than anything else.  I kept expecting them to bust out the weave.  And really, if that's your offense, fine.  But when you have the ball inside the five-yard line, just line up like a normal team.  Bring in two tight ends and a full back and give the ball to LaMichael James and have him run up the middle.  There's a reason why everybody does that on the goal line - because it works.  Serves 'em right getting goal line standed.  Cut the cute crap.  And Auburn wasn't much better, they subscribe to the same theory of offensive retardetry.  God damn circus football.  AND STAY OFF MY LAWN!!!

2.  Baylor Bears.  This isn't easy for me, since I've pimped Baylor as a National Title Contender from here to White Castle, but it's looking more and more like Baylor is more pretender than contender.  You just don't get rolled by Iowa State if you're a good team - no offense to the Cyclones.  Really, look at their results.  Who is their best win over?  Texas Tech?  Oklahoma?  Arizona State?  Oof.  They've lost basically every single game against anybody decent all year.  You want to know their problem?  Point guard play.  Last year they were one of the most efficient offenses in the country, ranking 3rd.  This year turnovers are killing them, and they're turning it over on 22.7% of their possessions, 273rd in the country.  Who could have known Tweety freaking Carter was so important?  Probably not even Tweety Carter's mom.  

3.  Central Florida Knights.  Ok, can we please all settle down about UCF and Mike Jordan's son?  There was never any serious doubt that UCF was overrated, and thank god they finally went and proved it this week losing to both Houston and Southern Miss, the former a loss to a non-tournament team and the latter a blow-out by 17.  They're still a good team with pretty decent shot at an NCAA bid, but that's all they are and now that they aren't undefeated anymore maybe ESPN can cool their jets a bit.  Although with Marcus Jordan, yes Michael's stupid son, leading the team in scoring you can fully expect a disproportionate amount of attention to be paid to UCF.  And he's only a sophomore, which means we can expect two more years of this.   

4.  E'Twaun Moore.  Holy geez, guy is trainwrecking all over the place.  Purdue went 0-2 this week with losses to the Gophers and West Virginia and since the Boilers are basically a two man team, and JaJuan Johnson is blowing up and could have been in the WHO WAS AWESOME category (averaged 27.5 and 9 in the two games), guess who is killing them right now?  In their two games this week he shot 2-14 and 6-18, which takes his shooting in their last four games to a robust 15-57 (26%).  Now, he definitely does a ton for them outside of scoring (23 rebounds and 20 assists in those four games) but Purdue can't win without him scoring.  They don't have enough pop beyond their two studs to do any damage whatsoever if either of them fail to show, and now Moore has done exactly that four games in a row.  To sum up:  that's bad.

5.  The ACC.  God this is sad.  The best conference, by far, when I was growing up has now become a conference where you can't even point at a second team and say "that's an NCAA team."  Other than Duke, what do you have?  North Carolina, who has struggled most of the year but seemed to be finally putting it together lost to lowly Georgia Tech yesterday.  Maryland blew a twelve-point second half lead at Villanova and threw away a chance for a non-Duke ACC team to grab a meaningful non-conference win.  NC State and Virginia Tech were supposed to be in the mix but have been big disappointments, and Boston College, who was suddenly looking like they were making a run at a bid, just lost to Miami.  You know they're going to get 2-3 at large teams in, but at this point it's impossible to pick who the teams will be, outside of Duke.  They're looking more like the Pac-10 than the ACC I know and love, and I don't like it.

Happy MLK day, everybody.  I hope you all have the day off, as I do.  If you don't you kind of suck.

Get it?

Lastly, I want to call your attention to a new Minnesota themed basketball blog, Rise and Fire, which has already changed names once.  They're new, and who knows if they'll stick around or flame out like so many others, but so far I'm picking up where they're putting down.  And also they list me as a "great hoops link", so they have great taste.  And are probably deranged or not all that bright.  Maybe both.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Seeing as how it's already Friday, I'm going to make this preview short:  Iowa sucks.

Ok, I'll give you a bit more.  Iowa is a decent defensive squad, but a god awful offensive team.  They rank 150th or worse in the country in every offensive metric other than offensive rebound percentage, where they're ok (57th).  They're a bad shooting team (34% from three - 165th in the country, 47.6% from two - 173rd, and 64.5% on free throws - 284th), who turn the ball over all the time (21.7% of possessions, 224th in the country).  And although they're good at forcing turnovers and rebounding, they also let other teams shoot the lights out (166th vs. 3-pointers, 211th vs. the two-pointer).  Really, they're not a good team, and the Gophers should roll.

So why wouldn't they?  Other than the obvious hangover after the biggest win of the year, Iowa does actually have some decent players who, if a couple are playing well, could make this more work than it needs to be. Matt Gatens can still light it up at times, averaging 13.2 ppg and shooting 37% from three.  He just dropped 20 on Northwestern and hit up Illinois for 21 earlier this year. 

Bryce Cartwright, their new Fresno transfer point guard, is one of the top assist men in the conference (4.6 per game) and also scores 11 per, relying on penetration to lead to his points and easy buckets for his teammates.

Melsahn Basabe is maybe their most interesting player, having signed with McCafferey at Siena and then followed him to Iowa.  Basabe has games where he's invisible, but then will have games like he had against Ohio State where he scored 22 points, grabbed 13 boards, and blocked 6 shots while battling super stud Jared Sullinger or the 12-14-7 he put up against Iowa State.  I'm looking forward to him and Mbakwe battling.

Eric May showed a ton of promise as a do-everything type of player last year as a freshman, but hasn't really improved in year 2.  He's scored just 3 points in Iowa's last two games and has seen his minutes dwindle a bit.  He might be hurt, but I don't really know because I didn't look it up.

Then they've got a bunch of dorky big guys like Zach McCabe, Andrew Brommer, and Jarryd Cole - any of whom could potentially have a big game since they are all likely to get a lot of minutes as Iowa tries to deal with Minnesota's size, but probably won't.

Look, Iowa isn't as bad as I thought they were going to me, but that's still a far cry from being a good team.  I am expecting a bit of a slow start out of the Gophers, however, since they're going to be flying a bit too high and will likely take the Hawkeyes a bit too lightly, but their too talented to be seriously threatened here.

Minnesota 76, Iowa 62

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Live Game Blog: Minnesota Gophers vs. Purdue Boilermakers

Alright, I'm not a true fan.  It's now 8:00pm, and I'm about to watch the Gopher/Purdue game.  I couldn't watch it live because I'm stupid enough to have two kids, and said kids take up too much of my attention for me to be able to pay any kind of attention to the game, so I Tivo and I wait.  Such is life.  So now I'm here with my remote, a box of Turning Leaf chadonnay, and a bowl full of beef-flavored ramen.  Since I'm clearly living the high life, I thought I'd invite you along with me.  I'm really hoping the Gophers can pull this one out.

19:28 - Colton Iverson (starting for Trevor Mbakwe) with a really nice move, taking the ball from the free-throw line to the block with two dribbles, backing in on whoever Purdue's dorky white center is, faking to the left and tossing up a nice jump hook to the right.  Swish.  Honestly that whole thing was a thing of beauty.  It's amazing how he can do that and then look like the fat kid who quit hockey to play basketball on the 8th grade B team the next trip.  I coached 8th grade B team once.  I know of what I speak, and it ain't pretty.

19:04 - Rodney draws E'Twaun Moore.  I love this.  Challenge Rodney and hope he steps up. 

18:18 - Ok, JaJuan Johnson has now hit a three-pointer and an 18-footer to give Purdue a 5-4 lead.  Hopefully Ralph will soon realize that you have to guard him on the perimeter as if he was a guard, not a typical plodding center.  And he just hit a turnaround 12-footer over Iverson.  This is ridiculous.  We on this blog have been calling him "The college KG" since his sophomore year (because we have such an eye for talent), but that might not be high enough praise. 

16:58 - And he hits a turnaround over Ralph.  This is just ridiculous.  I think "The college Jesus" might not be high enough praise.

16:16 - Trevor Mbakwe in to a nice ovation.  I approve of that.

15:53 - Rodney and Nolen can't decide if there's supposed to be a switch on a pick, leading to a wide open three-pointer for Purdue and a 12-6 lead.  I don't know if the Gopher players are dumb or if Tubby just can't coach, but this shit happens way too often. 

15:50 - By the way, how about everybody out there pays attention to flights from MSP to Chicago (either airport) leaving either the 17th or 18th of March and returning the 20th and then email me if you find something cheap.  Sound good?  Thanks guys, you're the best.

14:59 - Mbakwe draws the foul inside and that might have been against Johnson.  I'd know for certain if this announcing team was remotely competent, but instead they're busy telling us that the only way to stop E'Twaun Moore is to hope he gets food poisoning.  Really, jackass?  I know you're trying to be cute but it turns out you're just a retard.

14:30 - Austin Hollins with a nice take for a lay-up and the foul, cutting the lead to 14-12 (13 if he makes the free-throw).  Where the hell has he been?  And he misses the free-throw.  Hollins has been awfully non-descript for several weeks.  I know that's probably typical, but I liked it better when he was a tish more dynamic.

12:53 -  Looking like a white-boy shooting battle might be breaking out between Blake and Ryne Smith.  My money's on Blake.

12:03 - Noeln for three!  And we're tied at 17.  Do you remember in my preview of this game how I said D.J. Byrd was the new Brian Cardinal.  Well, he's in the game and he's rockin' black socks, a shooting sleeve, and some sort of tank top under his jersey.  He just looks annoying.

11:44 - I love how they have Magic Johnson talking about "content of character."  I love the guy, he's still my favorite all-time NBA player besides Billy Hoyle, but this is the guy who cheated on his wife for years and years to the point where he contracted HIV and was damn lucky he didn't end up giving it to her or his kid.  I really don't think a "content of character" piece is really the place for the Magic Man.

10:17 - This announcer is so bad I seriously want to kill him.  My head is literally exploding right now.

9:43 - God damn this ramen is hot!  Why you gotta play me like that, ramen?

9:00 - Nolen airballs a three.  That's more like it.  22-21 Purdue thanks to a DJ Dickface three-pointer.

8:31 - Chip Armelin just stole Moe Hargrow's move.  He got the ball on the break on a 2-on-2 situation, saw the Purdue's guy guarding him was a white dude, and just took it right at him and ended up scoring.  Hargrow used to do that every time.

7:48 - Lewis Jackson now abusing Al Nolen for back to back lay-ups.  That's not supposed to happen.  I thought Nolen was a better defender than that.

6:54 - Jackson splits the top of the zone (Nolen & Armelin) and finds Moore for a wide open three.  I know the guy is quick, but that's just awful.  Just awful.  Once again, either these guys are kind of dumb or Tubby is an overrated coach.

5:26 - Nobody bothers to pick up Barlow on the wing and he coasts in for a lay-up.  The amount of mistakes this team makes on a nightly basis is mind-boggling.  I'm starting to think they're more talented than I give them credit for, just because they can actually compete despite making so many dumb plays.

3:23 - Sampson gives the Gophers the lead back at 34-33 with a jump hook over Johnson, but the importantly is that he got the ball on teh block, ignored the double-team, and aggressively went for the bucket.  I don't even care that he made it, just showing that kind of aggressiveness is a good sign. 

2:45 -  Jackson tried driving on Nolen again, but this time Nolen blocks his shot and causes the jump ball.  Much better.

1:21 - Rodney misses an alley-oop dunk.  Freaking awesome.

HALF -  Gophers lead 41-40, and that was a great, great half of basketball on the offensive end.  Even their half-court sets are looking smooth and and working.  JaJuan Johnson (18 pts already) is ridiculously hot and making everything, but they've managed to take E'Twaun Moore out of the game for the most part (1-8 shooting).  If the Gophers keep playing like this the rest of the game, they're going to take this one.  That Lewis Jackson/Al Nolen match-up might be the key to the game. 

19:42 -  That play where Blake comes from the corner off a double-pick and curls to the free-throw line seemingly works every time.  I'm thinking his rep as a guy who only shoots threes leads to poor defenders on him, and when he takes that cut further inside they can't keep up.  With a sample size of tonight, that certainly looks to be the case, because Ryne Smith isn't going to win any defensive awards.

18:41 - Sampson goes to the deck to dig out a steal, and it leads to a three-pointer by Blake to give the Gophers a 46-40 lead.  They just have more energy right now, and Purdue seems near meltdown mode.  Of course, this is usually where the rug gets pulled out and the Boilers go on a 11-2 run.

16:59 - Lewis Jackson just hit a fadeaway three-pointer.  Lewis Jackson can't shoot, and never shoots threes, and only chucked up that one because of the shot clock about to expire.  Great.  And just to add insult to injury, announcer guy tells us that Jackson is back from injury and healthy and is hitting 45% of this three-pointers this year.  But, in reality, he's 1-5 on the season.  So this guy is still a jackdonkey.

16:11 -  Hoff from 28 feet.  Dude is dialed tonight.  I'm hoping we get a heat-check from 35, Jake Sullivan style.

15:14 - Hoff hits the jumper on that same curl pick play, and is fouled.  Tonight is his night, folks. 

15:14 - Of course he misses the free throw, because that makes total sense.  53-45 Gophers.

14:53 - Jackson beats Nolen again for the lay-up.  This is embarrassing for Al, for real.  It's also embarrassing for everybody else.  Where the hell is the help every time this guy gets in the lane.  He's 5 foot 9, somebody slide over and make him pass it, jesus christ.  I think I learned that in third grade.

13:37 - Purdue just took the lead 54-53 on two Johnson free throws.  Yes, they made up 8 points in a minute and a half.  I'd go into detail but it's depressing.  Let's just say that after a near flawless night from the team overall they've suddenly decided to do stupid crap on offense and stop playing defense.  My mood is darkening.

12:48 - Nolen just passed up a wide-open three-pointer because he missed his last two attempts.  God damn it's hard to win with a PG who can't/won't shoot.  And, as I type, he then steals a pass for an easy dunk to give them back the lead.  The love/hate is strong with this one.  He's the Sam to my Diane.

11:37 - Iverson with literally the worst defensive play I've ever seen to give Johnson a three-point play.  He's half-fronting him and decides to try to steal the entry lob but half-way there realizes he can't get it and stops, but by then he's so far out of position he's really just rubbing up on Johnson's hip and giving Johnson a wide open layup and instead of saying "Fuck it, I fucked up" and letting him score, he kind of pelvis-checks him but not hard enough so he can't score, just perfectly hard enough to get called for a foul.  Brilliant.

10:51 - You know what would be really god damn awesome?  If they could avoid allowing Johnson to catch the ball when he's already in the lane.  You're allowed to push him out before the ball gets there, girls.

10:09 - Nolen again passes up the wide open three.  Even if he misses he really, really needs to shoot that shot.

9:44 - Sampson might actually be retarded.

8:14 - Chip Armelin is suddenly everywhere.  Announcer guy wants us to know that Chip Armelin "did a great job of pulling out."  That's what Mrs. W said last night.

7:47 - Steal by Nolen, then Rodney decides to just glide with the ball and not really bothering putting it on the floor.  Turns out the refs don't like that very much.  We're tied here at 61 folks.  Barn-burner.  Need more expensive fancy wine.

7:25 -  Remember in Major League how Willie Mays Hayes had to do pushups every time he hit the ball in the air?  I'm starting to think Mbakwe should do push-ups every time he doesn't get a rebound.  Good lord.

7:00 -  Nolen with his patented "drive into the lane pick up the dribble with no idea what to do and turn it over."  I don't like this Nolen.  I like the gooder Nolen.

5:55 - Nolen with the rip right out of Moore's hands, leading to a lay-up and possible three point play by Rodney.  This is the Nolen which is the good one.  He's like some kind of god damn two-face.  In fact, I'm going to roll with it.  He even kind of looks like him:

4:35 - Sampson gives the Gophers the lead with a nice hook in the lane, which naturally leads to these announcers having to gush about his dad and then show footage of him from when he played for Virginia.  I can't even express how old that has gotten, I can't even imagine how much our Ralph must hate that.  I'm surprised he hasn't gone all Oedipal yet.

4:12 - We're down to 14 on the shot clock before Nolen passes the ball.  Timeout, Gophers.  Thank god.  Tubby is a master at drawing up out-of-bounds plays after a time-out (see:  Ohio State game).  This is sure to lead to points.

4:00 - Apparently the play was for Sampson to can an 18-footer.  Ok then.  Sampson jumpers are kind of like a handjob from a fat chick.  It's not really what you want, there are better options, and it's not the way things are supposed to go, but if it works you'll take it and be happy.

3:34 - Tied again.  Time to figure out a way to get the Hoff a look.  Or Nolen, who had another wide open three and this time didn't turn it down, and buried that sumbitch.  Hey, if Lewis freaking Jackson is going to be perfect from the free-throw line even though he only shoots 60% on the year and is going to hit a fall-away three, we get to have Nolen hit a couple treys.  It's only right.

2:05 - Gophers 70, Purdue 67, Boilers ball and a timeout.  Great googily moogily, this game reminds me why I love college ball and specifically the Gophers.  Please don't make me remember why I hate them.

1:45 - After Ryne Smith misses a wide open three (thank you), Purdue grabs the board and it leads to Moore with an open three from about 23 feet.  He hits backboard first and it clangs away.  Seriously, something is wrong with Moore.  This is three straight just awful shooting games.  I mean, it's good for the Gophers and all, but wow.

1:12 - Hoff drops the ball out of bounds.  Shit.  Still a three-point game.  Wow, not off Hoff.  Should have been a foul and if not should have been Gopher ball.  Yuck.

0:53 - Rodney blocks Jackson's shot and it ends up Gopher ball.  Remember how I talked about how when Jackson drives there needed to be people coming to help?  If you don't recognize how I'm a bonafide god damn genius I'm going to drive to your house and shoot you to death.  With logic and trivia.

0:30 - White guy on Nolen!  White guy on Nolen!  Drive! Drive!

0:27 - Yes!  He drives and is fouled.  Ha ha, stupid white people.  Go play hockey.

0:25 - Naturally, Nolen misses.  Did I mention it was 1-and-1?  Freaking great.  Guaranteed E'Twaun Moore three-pointer here, even though he hasn't hit shit all night.

0:10 - Timeout Purdue because the Boilers are running around like a bunch of guys playing in an intramural league who decided to go get blitzed before their game.  Which I assume is all of them.

0:10 -  Announcer guy's big plan is for Ryne Smith, the smallest guy on the court other than Lew-Jack, to set a single screen to get JaJuan open for a three-pointer, even though he's not actually a three-point shooter.  God this guy is a freakin' idiot.

0:00 - Ball game.  Gophers win 70-67.  Apparently Matt Painer went to the Tubby Smith school of drawing up plays because Purdue ended up with DJ freaking Byrd shooting up a forced three pointer.  Brilliant. 

Awesome awesome win for the Gophers.  I said this wasn't a must-win, but getting it here is just so big.  Not only does it give them another marquee win, but it proves that they are a quality team, something that has been in question since Puerto Rico.  I'm a very happy guy right now.

And by the way, check out what this guy predicted this game's score to be (at the bottom).