Monday, February 28, 2011

Week in Review - 02.28.2011

 So I didn't watch the Gopher game.  I would have, but circumstances conspired to keep me from witnessing that crime against basketball.  We had a family bowling tournament that normally would have ended up with me watching the game with Snacks and Grandslam at a bar or at the alley, but one of my damn wiener kids got all barfy and we had to go home before after just one game (132 - holla).  Then I had the game tivo'd and was going to watch it later, but I got a texted from Bogart referencing the NIT, one from Dawger that mentioned he hated the gophers and hated his life, and one from Snacks that just flat out said, "Don't bother watching.  Gophers lose."  So I didn't watch.

I mean, what's the point?  I would just end up angry and probably hurt either a loved one or myself or a stranger who was walking past my house life before, so I didn't bother.  Not sure if I'll watch another Gopher game this year outside of the Penn State game, and that's only because I'll be in attendance with WonderbabyTM who rocks way more than you do.  There were years in the past when I really enjoyed the NIT, and enjoyed going to games at Williams and checking out teams I normally would never see in person.  This is not that kind of year.  This is more like, at the beginning of the year the NIT was a worst case scenario and the kind of thing that could only happen if there was a complete collapse.  Nobody thought this would be the end result, even if there was always a little nervous laughter and whistling past the graveyard if it was brought up.

Kill me. 


1.  Syracuse Orange.  Well here's a team that's impossible to figure out.  They start 18-0 and look like they're on the road to a #1 seed, then lose six out of eight and appear to be unable to guard quick, penetrating guards, then they follow it up with a four game winning streak including two this week against Villanova and Georgetown - teams with excellent guard play (and even with Wright hurt the Hoyas have good guards), and win both of those on the road no less.  I had a chance to watch decent chunks of both those games and all I can say is wow to Scoop Jardine.  Kris Joseph is a dynamic scorer and Rick Jackson is a beast in the paint, but this team may go as Scoop goes, and this week he was on fire going for 20 pts and 6 assists against Nova and 17 and 5 against G-Town.  I was convinced I would have the Cuse as an early out in March as soon as they faced a team with good guards, but watching the adjustments Boeheim has made to their 2-3 (less ball pressure, more gap help) and Scoop's resurgence now I just don't know.  Just like everything else about this god damn stupid season.

2.  BYU Cougars.  If you're like me you're handsome, rich, and successful, but you also figured that San Diego State was the real threat out of the Mountain West while BYU was more of a one-man trick with Jimmer and weren't a "real" team.  Well you couldn't have been more wrong and should hang your head in shame because the Cougars went to SDSU this weekend and smacked them right in the face, walking out with an 80-67 win, a season sweep of the Aztecs, and what is now looking quite likely like a 2-3 seed in March.  That win followed up a trouncing of bubble hopeful Colorado State earlier in the week, and suddenly BYU's challenges prior to a MWC Tournament semi-final are pretty much done with.  Will this finally be the year they breakthrough and make a run?  Last year they beat Florida in overtime, their first NCAA victory since 1993, snapping an 0-7 streak.  With most of the same team back that went first round-first round-second round, a bonafide star in Fredette, and at worst a 4-seed, I'd say the sweet 16 should be an absolute minimum goal right now.

3.  Colorado Buffaloes.  I realize as Gopher basketball fans we aren't really accustomed to this, but occasionally it happens where a team making a run towards an NCAA bid has the opportunity for a huge, almost status-changing win and actually, you know, wins.  Colorado is just such a team this year, seizing their chance and knocking off the #5 Texas Longhorns 91-89.  They did it in very impressive, "we're not going to let this season die yet dammit we're going to fight" fashion, storming back from a 22-point first half deficit to grab the marquee win they really needed, moving themselves from probably not in to squarely in the middle of the "maybe" tier.  It's just so nice to see a team actually rise up and win a tough game they really need.  I wish I knew what that was like.

4.  Marquette Eagles.  Another middle of the bubble team that took a huge step towards the good side, it now looks extremely likely the Big East is going to send 11 teams to the big dance.  The Eagles snagged a huge marquee victory earlier this week by going into Storrs and beating UCONN.  Not only was that a monster win for them in terms of beating a top flight team on the road, but it also got them above .500 in Big East play - a not insignificant milestone considering the strength of the league.  They then managed to avoid falling into a lull and beat Providence this weekend.  I guess that's not that big a deal since they've lost six straight, but anytime you got a guy who can go for 52, as the Friars' Marshon Brooks did against Notre Dame on Wednesday, you're dangerous.  In any case, Marquette is now almost assuredly in - as long as they don't choke here in the last few games.

5.  JaJuan Johnson.  Man, as much as it's going to help the Gophers I'm really going to miss watching this guy - he's freaking unreal.  When he was younger I compared him to Hakim Warrick, and Snake always refers to him as "The College KG", and he might be better than that.  I loved Hakim Warrick, and compared Johnson to him because of their long arms and ability to shoot outside, but Johnson is so much more than Warrick ever was - and that's no slight to Hakim.  His line in Purdue's 67-47 win over Michigan State was incredible:  20 points on 8-13 shooting, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks.  The amazing thing is that it's not really even that far off his normal night.  He's shooting 50% on the year, and while that might not seem that great for a center, if you watched him play you know how many 18 footers and so on he takes, so that 50% is very, very good.  [Side note:  does anybody know of a site that keeps insane stats for college like shooting percentage on long 2s or other things like that you can find for NBA players?]  The guy is absolutely in a class by himself and should be the runaway winner for Big 10 player of the year.  I'm going to shed a tiny tear when Purdue gets bounced from the tournament and his career comes to a close.  And I'll make sure to follow his pro career in Europe closely. 


1.   Corey Fisher.  Holy Scottie Reynolds, batman!  Villanova lost two games this week, both at home, but both were to very good teams (Syracuse and St. Johns) so it's hard to rip on the Wildcats too much.  Good thing for us though it's not too hard to rip on Corey Fisher, who had a truly Reynolds-esque run this week, shooting a combined 4-26 from the floor in the two games.  That's not a joke or anything, he went 3-16 against 'Cuse and then went 1-10 against St Johns.  And this is their leading scorer here.  Is there some kind of law that Nova must always have a gunner with no conscience who sucks at shooting but loves shooting?  Did Reynolds "will" his ability to Fisher in the school paper after he graduated?  Seriously, anybody who has Villanova surviving the first weekend in their bracket should be committed. 

2.  Arizona Wildcats.  Ah, the Pac-10, where good teams continually find ways to die.  Washington looked like the class of the league but bombed out, leaving the top clear for Arizona.  Until this week, that is, when the Wildcats took their LA trip and lost to both USC and UCLA, and although both losses are understandable the USC loss is a game a good team wins and the UCLA loss was an absolute shellacking by 22.  Suddenly UCLA is looking like the class of the league, but in reality I still think Washington is the only Pac-10 team with a legit chance at making the sweet 16.  Arizona would have to get a really good draw to do it and UCLA has no chance, so it's up to Washington, who recently got swept by the Oregon schools.  Wow, the Pac-10 is awesome.  Good thing for them they have all the hot chicks at least.
3.  Nebraska Cornhuskers.  On the completely opposite end of the spectrum from Colorado stepping up is Nebraska, who crashed on burned their NCAA chances to a level that could only be described as St. Marysian.  First they got bounced at home by Kansas State, a fellow bubble team, and then followed it up by losing at Iowa State - a school/team I love but also a team that you absolutely, 100%, guaranteed cannot lose to if you want to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.  So that won't be happening, but you'll be very happy to know that Nebraska, after decades of ineptitude, has decided to become frisky just as they're about to enter the Big Ten.  Yeah, another team the Gophers should beat but won't.  Another crappy team that will beat them at home as the season winds down and the Gophers desperately need a win.  Another shitty team they won't be able to beat on the road, even when they are supposed to have a good team.  God dammit.  All of it.  Everything.  I hate everyone.  I hate you.

4.  Boston College Eagles.  Allegedly BC is still alive to get a bid, but after they lost to Miami - at home, I'm just not seeing it.  They bounced back by beating Virginia over the weekend, but that brings them to just 7-7 in a very weak ACC this year.  They do have a very good win with their victory over Texas A&M in Orlando, but they also have some brutal losses - Harvard, Yale, Rhode Island, and they got swept by the Hurricanes.  They're just a thoroughly mediocre team, and if they get in the tournament this year that just goes to show just how weak the teams are and just how easy it is to get a bid this year.  And yes, I'm aware that in a year where it's looking extremely easy to get in the Gophers won't make it in Tubby Smith's fourth year here.  Yeah, I'd say we're right where we thought we'd be in Year Four.

5.  Tennessee Volunteers.  There are plenty of confusing teams this year, teams who you can't quite get a handle on, but Tennessee might be the worst of all.  Just this week was a pretty good microcosm of their season - beating a very good, sweet-16 type team in Vanderbilt on the road, and then coming home and losing to mediocre at best, potential Gopher NIT opponent Mississippi State.  As far as the entire season goes, here are some impressive games they've won:  @ Kentucky, @ Vandy, Memphis, Pitt, Villanova, Vandy, VCU - that's a damn impressive list of wins.  But here are some of their losses:  Oakland, Charlotte, USC, @ Arkansas, Mississippi State - those are some bad teams.  Just a mess of a confusing and weird team.  They're so schizo I won't even bet on them come March.

Just kidding.

Take heart, Gopher fans.  Not because of anything to do with the Gophers, but this week kicks off conference tournament week, which is followed by BCS conferences tournament week, which is then followed by the NCAA Tournament.  So just go ahead and let go of this season and enjoy all the high quality ball that's coming in the next two weeks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Michigan State Aftermath

I've taken some time, calmed down, self-medicated, and I'm ready to discuss the Gopher basketball team again.  Not specifically the Michigan State game because if we start talking about that I will probably murder all the furniture in my house, but in a more general, "this whole year sucked" compared to "last night sucked" sense.  I have so many conflicting emotions about it all - sadness, anger, confusion, anger again, sleepiness, horniness, then depression - that I can't really sort it all out, so let's do it in self-interview fashion.  If it helps your visualization techniques you can picture the questioner as Benicio del Toro and the answerer as me without any pants.

Q.  There are some pretty legitimate reasons why the Gophers suck now, right?

A.  Yes, and that's why it's hard to get too enraged (but make no mistake, I'm still enraged) because it's pretty easy to assign the most blame for this disaster on God/Buddha/Allah/Kali/Tiamat/Merlin, as misguided as that might be.  Of course, it all starts with Al Nolen's injury - or perhaps it starts with Devoe Joseph's defection - but in any case the net results is zero point guards, zero depth, and complete disaster.  Blake playing the point when he's not remotely suited for the role, with the sweet double whammy of putting the teams only perimeter threat in a position where, given his abilities, it's more difficult to get shots and score.  Ralph Sampson playing the three, where no matter how badly he wants to be a perimeter guy, he just doesn't have the skill set.  Is he a good perimeter player for a big man?  Absolutely.  Is a three?  Hell mother flipping no.  And you have three freshmen that should be playing 20-25 between them playing about 20 minutes each.

I mean, you can trace most of their close losses to an inability to play well at the close of games, and so much of that starts with a competent lead guard.  Michigan State had Kalin Lucas last night.  Penn State beat the Gophers because Talor Battle made plays.  Hell, Wisconsin just barely beat Michigan, but they did because they had Jordan Taylor out there making plays (and a little luck) just as he did against Purdue.  The Gophers don't have that.  Instead they have players who travel unguarded on a final possession, players who panic at the first sign of a trap, and an inability to execute half-court plays at the end of the game because the only player good enough to get the ball to a shooter is the shooter himself, and passing to yourself is traveling.  Unfortunately.

This game should have been a battle between two snake-bitten and underachieving teams.  Hell, Tubby Smith and Tom Izzo could have traded war stories like Captain Quint and Hooper on the Orca.  Instead of stories about a big Chinese fella in an arm-wrestling contest and a thresher shark's tail, they could have discussed player defections, suspensions, and injured players.  But instead it was more like Tubby was Chief Brody, just sitting there with stupid smile on his face.  Or that dumb Alex kid who paddles out too far on his gay little raft.

In any case, yes, there are plenty of easy excuses as to why this team has underachieved, should you choose to latch on to them.

Q.  Doesn't it seem like some of these guys should be better though?

A.  And really, here is my biggest issue.  I could excuse a bad season if it wasn't playing out in this particular way.  I mean, was every recruiting service wrong about some of these guys or is the seeming lack of development on far too many players indicative a real problem with the way they're taught?  Some of these guys were major, big-time recruits, but I'm not seeing the development.  I mean, Chief Brody was afraid of water and stayed in the car on the ferry ride over to Amity Island from the mainland in the beginning, but ended up the badass who killed the crap out of the shark - where's that kind of development here?  Was Sampson destined to fall in love with his perimeter game and shrink in big spots whether he was a Gopher or a Terrapin?  Would Colton Iverson be nothing more than a stronger, heavier version of the same gangly, elbow-y, pasty tornado if Billy Donovan was in charge of him instead of Tubby?  What about Rodney Williams lack of development?  He's exactly like last year - flashes of potential sandwiched in between long stretches of invisibility.  Would he be stuck in this holding pattern of mediocrity if he had ended up at Kansas or UCONN?  Obviously I don't have a flux capacitor nor any plutonium so I can't generate 1.21 gigawatts to travel to an alternate universe so I don't know the answer to these questions, but it bugs the shit out of me that we aren't talking one guy, or even two, but we're talking three.  Throw Devoe in if you want.  Like, literally you can throw him into the shark-invested waters off Cable Junction near Amity Island if you want.

Then there's the inability to draw up anything resembling an effective play out of a timeout, something I did mention was harder without a true point guard, but it was an issue back when Nolen was still around and has just gotten worse.  Or the way the freshmen seem to constantly freeze in nearly every high leverage game situation - either freeze or go balls out, either way it's a bad choice.  Or the random substitution patterns and inability to stick to anything resembling a consistent rotation - granted that's suddenly become less of an issue this year.  The mass defections of quality players - even excepting Paul Carter that's still far too many transfers in two years.  How about, due to those transfers, there isn't a viable starting point guard on the roster outside of Nolen, and there isn't one on the roster next year.  Maverick Ahanmisi's upside is a good back-up, and, for all the talk that Andre Hollins is going to be the PG next year, he's 1.  a freshman and 2.  playing SG in high school.  It's got disaster written all over it (not him, but the sitch).

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that I thought we'd be farther, here.  This is year 4, and although the team is in better shape than when he first arrived, you don't really hire Tubby Smith to get your program back to mediocrity - that's why you hire Todd Lickliter.  I guess the best way I can put this is that I was expecting this:  "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's just too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing" but instead I think we got the idiots who try to catch the shark using a pot roast with a tire for a bobber.

Q.  How do you foresee the rest of the year/offseason playing out?

A.  It really wouldn't shock me to see them lose the next four games and just call it a season, but I expect them to win two of the next three, win the B10 tournament opener, lose their second, and make a very prestigious appearance in the NIT.  From there who cares.  Then things get interesting.  Who leaves, like Roy Scheider after the sequel, and who sticks around like Lorraine Gary until the disaster that was Jaws 4?

Does Tubby leave?  A frustrating year, an inability to advance the program, and lack of progress towards his precious practice facility could make leaving while his name still has plenty of cachet an attractive option for someone closing in on his last run.  People always question if he'd really want to start over at a new program at his age, but I ask what's worse, that or squandering your last opportunity?  It would surprise me if jumping ship to somewhere that's more of a basketball hotbed and has state-of-the-art facilities and a rabid fanbase (read:  NC State) suddenly looks better to him that what's going here in basketballs Siberia.  Don't forget, he was in play at some level before they hired Sid Lowe, who's about to get canned.

And how about Rodney and Trevor Mbakwe?  There are convincing arguments for either of them to jump ship and go pro.  Rodney could enter the NBA draft and based solely on potential have a shot at being a late first round pick.  He shouldn't, and anybody who takes him should have their head examined, but it's a possibility.  Not to mention the chance that he just decides things aren't working out here.  He's not developing into the NBA player his high-school career suggested he would and I'm guessing he's not blind or myopic enough that he can't see that.  It wouldn't shock me if he decides that he's not ready for the NBA but that Minnesota isn't he place to make that happen.  As far as Mbakwe he's not an NBA player, although he could potentially develop into one with some improvements to his game, but he could make a living playing overseas.  There's got to be a temptation factor there for an "old" senior who has had multiple legal issues and has been in school for too many years.  If he's offered six figures to play pro ball in Australia or Israel, who'd begrudge him for leaving?

The only other transfer risk I really see is Mo Walker.  With his best bud (get it, bud?) and possibly a guy who had a heavy hand in getting him here (although that seems less likely now) gone is he interested in sticking around, especially considering he has essentially a zero percent chance of starting next year?  I think he'll probably stick around, but you never know.

Actually, I think most of them stick around.  I'd say Walker is about 10% to leave, Williams 20%, Mbakwe 25%, and Tubby 50/50%.  I hope they all stay.  I really do, because I'm not ready to give up on Tubby going from the baby shark that ate the license plate to the shark that ate all them people, but I really didn't expect this team to still be sitting where it is.  I really thought they'd be much farther by now.

Q.  So what do you make of the Gophers' chances at this point to earn an NCAA Tournament bid?

A.  Farewell and adieu, to you my Spanish ladies.  Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain.  For we've received orders to sail back to Boston, and so nevermore shall we be seeing you again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New blog format is all Twins all the time. Fuck this shit. Somebody else can do it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week in Review - 02.21.2011

Well, we're in crunch time now, eh?  All that cushion, all that certainty, all that "should be in" stuff that the Gophers built up with those good wins over UNC and West Virginia is now gone and we are into do or die time.  It shouldn't be too much of an issue, because the next four aren't exactly going against world beaters:  Michigan State and Michigan at home, at Northwestern, and then back home against Penn State.  Win three - and they should win three - and they'll be 9-9, which, when combined with their non-conference wins and computer numbers would probably get them in.  Win all four, which is possible, and they're guaranteed in.  But win just 2, and you'll need a nice run in the B10 tournament.  Any less than that, and then turn out the lights - but not at Williams, because we'll be seeing a home game or two for the prestigious NIT.  Really, it's in the teams' hands and in their control.  Win the games you're supposed to win and you're in.  That's it.  Simple, really.  Practically guaranteed.  The Gophers would never let me down.


1.  Purdue Boilermakers.  I think beating the two best teams in your conference qualifies as having a pretty awesome week, and they certainly made their case that they, not Wisconsin, should be considered the second best team in the Big Ten.  Really, though, it doesn't get much more impressive than beating two top 10 ranked teams and conference foes at that, even if they were at home.  E'Twaun Moore had some big-time struggles in mid-season but he's hit his stride big time, hitting for at least 19 in his last four games, capping it off with a career high 38 against Ohio State on Sunday, a game in which he hit 13 of 18 shots and basically dominated the #1 team in the country or whatever they were ranked.  This is a whole different team when he's on (JaJuan Johnson is always on) and they pretty emphatically answered the question, "Who has Purdue really beaten?"  Big Ten actually looking pretty good for possibly three Sweet 16 teams.  But probably zero.

2.  Jake Pullen.  There's little doubt who picked up the biggest win of the week, even if it was way back on Monday night and already feels like it happened a long time ago.  K-State was basically drifting aimlessly, having taken their preseason top 10 (top 5?) ranking and basically pissed it away thanks to complacency and a crazy amount of turnovers, but there's never been any doubt they were talented.  Thanks to Pullen, who scored 38 in that big win over Kansas and followed up with 27 more in a blowout win over Oklahoma, they may be making a late push towards an NCAA bid.  ESPN's bracketology had them as a 10 seed after they beat the Jayhawks, with some late success - like a home win over Mizzou - they could end up a 6 or so seed.  Talk about a dangerous 6 seed, wow.

3.  The Colonial Athletic Conference.  There were four big winners in Bracket Busters:  George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Utah State.  All four of those teams picked up a quality win, which means each of them moved that much closer to grabbed an at-large bid.  Notice anything three of those teams have in common?  Yep, GMU, VCU, and ODU are all members of the CAA, and they TCB ASAP FYI, and can probably now RSVP for NCAA MM, although if either of them go FUBAR and lose to an inferior opponent they'll probably drop to the wrong side of the bubble, but right now it's actually looking fairly likely that the CAA will end up with three bids.  That's awesome. 

4. Cincinnati Bearcats.  You know how it seems like the Big Ten teams who are right on the edge of getting a bid seem to just play like garbage (Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern)?  Teams from the Big East apparently don't subscribe to that style of perpetual disappointment, and Cincy is the latest team from that conference to go from outside the bubble to inside with a very nice week.  First they beat Louisville at home, and in convincing fashion, and then they followed it up by winning a very tough trap game @ Providence, going into overtime before blowing the Friars out by 12.  That moves them to 8-6 now in conference play, and that's big because their last four games are all very tough (@G-Town, UCONN, @ Marquette, G-Town).  This sets them up where they only need to win one of the four to get in.  Still not easy by any means, but if they can't win at least one of those four they don't really deserve it anyway.

5.  NBA All-Star Game.  I'm just kidding, I'm not retarded enough to watch that crap.  

5.  Tu Holloway.  Even though it's pretty retarded to change your name from Terrell to Tu I love this guy anyway. He notched a triple-double on Saturday in a surprisingly competitive game against Fordham, tallying 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.  And he did it with zero turnovers and 8-11 shooting from the floor.  That's ridiculous.  That has to be one of the most efficient games of all-time.  I assume there is someway to look that up, but I'm drunk and tired and I'm not going to do it.  Somebody do it for me.  That's what the comments are for.  Let's assume our lists is 1.  That Bill Walton game, 2.  That christian laettner game, and 3.  Holloway's triple-double.  What else?


1.  St. Mary's Gaels.  If there was an award for most effective killing of your at-large chances in a single week, St. Mary's would stand an awful good chance at winning that award this year, and possibly even for the entire decade.  They started the week in "almost certainly in" status, lost to a terrible, terrible, terrible San Diego team which knocked them to "probably out" status, and then blew there big chance to jump back in, losing at home to Utah State.  With Gonzaga so down this year it's difficult for the Gaels to get quality wins and as of right now their early season win over St. John's is the only real impressive win on their resume.  If they can close with home wins over Gonzaga and Portland, two of the better teams in the league, they would end up at 14-2 in WCC play.  I would guess if they can then at least get to the final in the conference tournament that would probably get them in, but man, did they ever plummet down the S-curve.

2.  Virginia Tech Hokies.  Oopsies.  Honestly, as frustrating as it is to be a Gopher fan - and it's damn frustrating let me tell you what - being a Hokie fan would be a nightmare.  Two straight years of being just barely on the wrong side of the bubble due to softer than Ralph Sampson non-conference scheduling, followed this year by a much better schedule which resulted in losing nearly every meaningful non-conf game and now probably losing one too many conference games they really couldn't afford to lose after dropping a game to Virginia on Saturday.  That gives the Hokies five conference losses:  Virginia, Georgia Tech, BC, UNC, and Virginia - yes, they were swept by Virginia.  Take those two losses plus the GT loss and they're going to need to basically be perfect from here on.  Hopefully not though because their coach is a douche. 

3.  Missouri Valley Conference.  If the MVC wasn't already a one-bid league, it certainly is now as Bracket Busters was not kind to teams from the Valley.  Or, more accurately, teams from the Valley just plain sucked.  Northern Iowa, who needed a win to have a shot at a bid, lost to George Mason (at home).  Wichita State, who needed a win to have a shot at a bid, lost to VCU (at home).  Missouri State, who needed a win to have a shot at a bid, lost to Valpo.  Actually, nine MVC teams played in Bracket Busters this weekend and they managed just three total wins, none of which came from teams with post-season aspirations outside of a possible NIT berth.  Just a terrible showing overall.  This feels more like something the Twins would do.  Somehow.   

4.  Duquesne Dukes.  Oh Duquesne you're breaking my heart.  A surprisingly hot start in Atlantic 10 play had the Dukes at 8-0 and atop conference play, but even more exciting they were looking like a fringe bubble candidate for an at-large bid.  It would be their first appearance since 1977 and behind a potent offense and a stingy defense they looked legit.  Of course, they did nothing in non-conference play so their margin of error was small, and it's now non-existent after they lost to American's most hated team, the Dayton Flyers, a game they led by six late before letting the evil Flyers go on a 10-0 run.  That's now the Dukes third loss in four games with Xavier being the only loss that didn't hurt.  Now Duquesne will need to win the A-10 tournament to make a bid.  I'm sure that will happen.

5.  Baylor Bears.  Well that ought to do it.  Although you could definitely argue that Michigan State or Kansas State are the most disappointing teams this season they are both still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth.  The same can't be said for Baylor anymore, who completely what can only be described as a four-month long dump on their own shoes by losing by 9 to Texas Tech.  AT HOME.  That's Texas Tech, record 12-15, Big 12 record 4-8, and RPI 139.  That's unforgivable.  Although that actually might not even be Baylor's worst loss this year, because they also dropped games to Oklahoma (12-13 (4-8), #132) and Iowa State (14-13 (1-11), #147.  Any one of those losses would be enough to cast a pretty big shadow on their chances in March.  Combine the three, and they're cooked.  Looks like I was right that their 30-1 number to win the championship was way off.  Just turns out I was wrong in the wrong direction.

I didn't have room for him here because too many teams shit the bed this week, but I also want to point out that Durrell Summers shot all of 1-8 this entire week (two games), mainly because in their game against Ohio State he was so bad he only played 16 minutes and in the game against Illinois he shot 1-7.  He should probably just quit and transfer.  I hear Ames is quite nice.

Want to know what else sucks?  When you think you put down on Aaron Baddeley to win the Northern Trust Open at 66-1, and you think you meant to because you specifically checked each book you have an account at to find the best odds. And then you watch the tournament all week and see he's in contention, and then when he's up 2 with just 2 holes to go and you pretty much have the win in the bag you go to check on what the exact amount you're about to win is and it turns out someway, somehow that bet isn't there and you can't blame anybody but yourself because you know damn well you were drinking Wednesday night and probably completely spaced on hitting "confirm" that final time.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Live Blog: Minnesota Gophers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

You know what's great?  Technology.  You know why?  Because a working dad like me can come home from work, eat dinner with his family (homemade pizza), play with the kids, put the kids to bed, watch the best show on TV (Parks & Rec), spend quality time with his wife (wink wink) and still watch a game that started at 6pm thanks to the miracle of DVR.  And I already have a buzz on.  Sweet.

Keep in mind throughout this game that I made a semi-large wager on Talor Battle over 26.5 points+rebounds+assists, so I'll be rooting for him to do well at the same time I'm dying for a Gopher win.  Here's what I know:  Bogart told me to look for Mbakwe at 6:11 left in the first half, and Dawger called me at 8:24, which would be not long after the game ends.  I've been trying to figure out why he'd call me, but I'm guessing at this point we're going down to the wire.  Let's see.

19:24 - Iverson fouled on the games first possession, makes one.  Sounds about right.  It's a bit disconcerting that with the big lineup in the ball didn't get anywhere near the point until there were 4 seconds left on the shot clock, but whatever.

18:36 - Gophers in a zone and are really shading Battle.  Whichever area Battle is the defender is almost playing man on Battle, even without the ball.  Interesting strategy which leads to Battle getting nothing but backboard on a pro range three.  What a stupid bet.

17:27 - Jesus christ, Ralph.  Although I don't know if that's really his fault, not really sure why Mbakwe thought it would be a good idea to outlet to Sampson.  But sheesh, that was like watching a baby deer try to stand up for the first time.

16:35 - Rodney Williams with the travel trying to drive, moving his feet before he gets the ball on the ground.  How many times has that happened this year?  Twice per game or so, no?

16:10 - Battle for three.  5-3 PSU.  Sampson with a deep two-pointer to tie it up.  That guy sure loves his jumpshot.

14:26 - Battle with another three to make it 11-7 Penn State.  Hair trigger style too, he looks incredibly dialed in.  Obviously that's a negative.  They have him running baseline against the Gopher 2-3, and they're going to need the wings to pay more attention, because he completely ran Iverson into a pick on that one.

13:38 - David Jackson misses another three.  This guy should play for Michigan.  Complete and total chucker, never saw a shot he didn't want to take, and at 6-7 basically refuses to go anywhere near the paint.  I should also mention he's a starter on my fantasy team.  Yes, my team sucks.

12:27 - Why do they keep calling Jackson "DJ Jackson?"  Is that what he actually goes by?  Because all the literature on Penn State calls him David.  Not that I'd ever question Stephen Bardo, the worst starter on that awesome '89 Illinois team:  Bardo, Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Lowell Hamilton.  That was a hell of  a squad.

12:04 - Armelin loves shooting.  And that's good, because at least somebody is always looking to score.  He doesn't really even seem to force it very often, it's just whenever it's open he's going to take it.  He could end up being a pretty big-time scorer some day.

9:12 -  Another three by Battle, 14-11 Penn State.  Assisted by Tim Frazier.  Those two give me nightmares.  Battle can't graduate fast enough for me.  Or run out of eligibility.  Whichever.

8:16 -  A three by some guy and penn state has five threes making up 15 of their 17 points.  And it could easily be more but "D.J." Jackson can't shoot for shit.  God damn the Gophers are awful at defending the three-pointer.

7:55 - Hey I have a book recommendation for the five of you who read this blog who actually read books:  Scorecasting by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim.  It's basically like Freakonomics, but with sports topics.  So where Freakonomics (also a great book) dug into the economics of drug-dealing and the socioeconomic patterns of naming your children, Scorecasting looks at things like "Does defense really win championships?" (yes, but so does offense), "Does calling a timeout to ice a player work?" (no), and "Why does home court advantage exist?" (it's the referees, for real.)  Just really great stuff, clearly researched by nerds but presented in a way that normal people will enjoy reading.  Read it, if for no other reason that the next time you want to throw something at your tv when your team is on the road and you're convinced they're getting screwed, you'll at least have some facts that support you.

7:42 - Hoff for three, 19-16 Penn State.  Let's do more of that, please.  and Battle answers with a shot that doesn't even make any sense that he made it.  I hate to say I told you so, but he's looking like he's beyond dialed.

6:42 - It's almost 6:11.  I'm giddy with anticipation.

6:11 -  Yep, that'll do it.  Bardo calls Mbakwe a "grown man" which is still the stupidest compliment in history.  Well, other than "dapper."

4:40 - Whoa.  Battle missed.  That's whack.  PSU grabs the o-board of course.  Luckily some guy who isn't Battle clangs the open three-pointer.  Hoff with his third three and it's 26-24 Penn State.  I don't understand how that guy gets open threes against anybody.  If I was a coach every time my team let Hoff have an open three-ball they'd be running laps.  And I don't mean at practice, I mean I'd take whoever's fault it was out right then and there and make him run around the court in front of the fans and cameras and everything.  I'm tough like that.

3:50 - Ralph scores with a jump hook.  I bet you can't guess who Bardo compared him too.  Go ahead, you'll never get it right.  Oh.  Yeah.  It was his dad.  For the 53rd time this season. 

1:41 - Another high-low from Iverson to Mbakwe and teh Gophers are up 28-26.  They are killing them inside, but it should be even worse considering Penn State's only good inside players have both been on the bench for much of this half with foul issues.  Just sad.  I don't feel good at all right now.

0:28 - You know what the best movie I've seen in a long time is?  Threat Level Midnight.

0:00 - 29-28 Penn State at half.  Terrible half if you aren't Trevor Mbakwe (10 pts, 10 rebs at half).  And that's with Jeff Brooks missing basically the entire first half.  My tummy hurts.  I need a beer.

19:24 - Frazier hits a desperation three-pointer with the shot clock at 1.  Great.  Good omen. 

16:54 - Good god does Penn State love to launch the three-pointer.  Is the Big Ten just a three-pointer dominated league?  Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all in love with it, and apparently Penn State is too.  Hold on, let me get my tape recorder out:  "Do some nerd research on if the Big Ten is a more three-point heavy league than the other ones."  There. 

16:04 - I desperately want to see Iverson shoot a three-pointer.  What would that even look like?  Probably similar to watching Ralph try to play PG on a fast break.  Also the Gophers are still losing, 34-32.  They really need to do something about that.

14:29 - Sampson hits a three, white announcer guy gushes, Bardo references his dad (#54 this year).  Seriously, can we calm down with the moistness after Ralph hits a perimeter shot, please?  Yes, it's great that a 7-footer can hit a three, but what would be even greater is if that 7-footer could spend more than 10% of his time in the paint instead of flitting about on the perimeter.  You're a big man, get your ass in the paint and post up.  If the perimeter jumper comes to you, great, but you should not be looking for it.  It's like a counselor once told me, you're not an alcoholic if you're hunting the booze, you're an alcoholic if the booze is hunting you.  Which means I need another beer.

13:32 - Here's my impression of Tim Frazier:  I'm going to drive the lane because nobody on this slow ass team can stop me but I have no intention of even looking to score but it doesn't matter because the Gophers haven't figured this out so they collapse to stop me and guess what I know exactly where my buddy Talor is and I just found him for another open three-pointer which he of course nailed.  Boom roasted.

13:06 - And it's all falling apart.  Fart.

11:53 - Talor Battle must have the patience of a saint.  If I were him and these were my teammates I'd be in prison.

10:38 - Sometimes doing a live blog isn't fun at all.  Penn State 47, Minnesota 37.  I might not type anymore.

8:25 - Five straight for the Gophers, getting it inside to Mbakwe and finding Hoff for a 3-pointer.  Why is it those are literally the only two scoring options for this broke ass team?

7:43 - huh.

6:44 - Rodney Williams for three?

5:59 - Well lookie there, we're tied at 50 on what has to be Iverson's fifth assist at least.  And then he follows it up with an idiotic out-of-position foul where he should have just given up the layup but instead tries to do something and ends up giving Penn State a free point.  Apparently there's no magic IQ juice in retinol.

5:04 - Rodney with a great take and pull up and barely hits the far side of the rim.  Love the aggressiveness, love using the athleticism to create an open jumper, hate the inability to shoot.  And there's a lay-up and the foul for Rod.  Free throw to tie.

5:04 - No.  Of course.  Christ.

4:45 - Rodney now looking extra aggressive, took the rock to the hole.  Unfortunately his handles aren't exactly The Professor level and he basically handed the ball to Frazier.  Fortunately, the refs inexplicably called him for the foul, and fortunately Rodney somehow made both free throws.  55-54 Penn State. 

4:10 - Battle airball from about 35-feet as the shot clock expires.  This I like. 

3:49 - Rodney with a great fucking pass from the top of the key to find Iverson for a lay-up.  Is this a coming out party?  I feel like it might be a little bit.

2:09 -  Hoff to Iverson for a dunk and 3-point Gopher lead.  That was quite pretty, especially when you consider it was a couple of white dorks.

1:08 -  Hoff takes a retardedly stupid shot, which he misses, which leads to a break for Penn State, which leads to an open 3 for Battle, which he of course makes, and it's now 62-60 Nittany Lions.  Mother fuck.

0:52 - Do something, idiots.

0:38 - Hollins travels with 2 seconds on the shot clock.  Here is what happened after a Tubby Smith timeout:  pass in to Hoff, pick with no roll with Mbakwe at the top of the key, over to Rodney on the wing, dribble, dribble, throw to Hollins 35 feet from the hoop with 4 seconds on the shot clock.  That's your play?  Did you even draw anything up or did you just spend the whole time telling the team to play defense?  Honest to Odin, Tubby is a bad game coach.  Not terrible or horrible, but bad.  Bad bad bad.  What the fuck was that exactly?  Every single time they need to run a play at the end of the game they got nothin?  When they get in the huddle do you think Tubby just shrugs his shoulders?  Embarrassing, predictable, and ridiculous.  Also, for the record that's pretty much was Mrs. W says to me each night in bed.

0:22 - 16 seconds.  It took 16 seconds to make sure to foul Battle.  Fuckin' bunch of geniuses here.

0:22 - Lane violation?  Please let this matter.  It would be too sweet for it not to.

0:17 - Oh good, a timeout.  I'm sure we'll be seeing an absolute superb play here.

0:14 - Hoff throws it directly out of bounds.  I'm going to murder someone.

0:06-  Hoff for three after two PSU free throws.  Penn State still up by 2.  I have no idea why I'm still typing words.  FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFfff.

0:06 - Battle misses the first.  There's still a chance.  Makes the second.  Timeout Penn State.  Can't wait to see what kind of brilliant play Tubby draws up.  I'm willing to bet it ends up with Maverick getting the ball at the near free-throw line having to Tyus Edney it, but he will get to about mid-court and then throw it out of bounds.

Great play.  Just great.  Awesome.  Coaching genius.  I hate this team.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Hard to believe at this late date that the Gophers still haven't played Penn State, but here we are, with these two titans of college basketball about to square off, bubble implications abound.  The Nittany Lions sit at 6-7 in conference play and are tied with Minnesota (and Michigan) for sixth in the conference, but while the Gophers are in right now and the Wolverines are starting to trend towards an outside shot at a longshot bid, the Lions are moving in the wrong direction and have ceased to be included on ESPN's Bubble Watch.  Basically they'd need a miracle run that would include wins over the Gophers twice, Ohio State, and Wisconsin to get back in.  The scary part is I think they can do it.

They already have a win over Wisconsin this year - the clear second best team in the league, and pushed Purdue to the wire at Purdue.  They also still have that win over Illinois, which might not mean all that much right now but they were playing well at that time, and a win over Michigan State that will probably look better as time goes on.  They also gave the Buckeyes their stiffest non-Wisconsin test so far in conference and did it in Columbus.  Simply put, this team can beat, or lose to, any team at any time anywhere.  And it all still starts with Talor Battle.

He has some decent help this year, finally, which we'll get to later, but Battle is still that scoring dynamo who can single-handedly win a game for PSU.  He can hit the three, get to the rim, hit the mid-range, and get to the line.  He can score or set up his teammates, he grabs a ton of rebounds for a little guy, and he's a good defender.  To make it worse, he's basically torched the Gophers every time they've played other than one game in his freshman year, and tends to raise his level of play when needed - like when Penn State needs to win out the rest of the year to get him to his first and only NCAA  Tournament.  I fear what numbers he's going to put up, but based on his success against this team and Nolen still being out I think 35 isn't out of the question.

The good news for the Gophers is that most of his help comes from Jeff Brooks, a 6-8 senior who has made an incredible leap this season, nearly doubling his stats from last year (from 7.4 to 13.6 scoring, from 4.2 to 7.0 rebounding, and from 0.5 to 1.7 blocks all while increasing his field goal percent from .500 to .578).  I say this is good news for the Gophers because although Brooks may accidentally wander outside from time to time he's more of your classic banger, and with Sampson, Iverson, and Mbakwe in the paint Brooksy is going to find it tough to operate - just ask Christian Watford, Melsahn Basabe (the second time), or Jordan Morgan.

Outside of those two, Penn State does have some additional players worth looking out for, including two more senior forwards in Andrew Jones and David Jackson.  Jones a 6-10, 245 lb. big man who isn't much offensively at just 6.2 points per game, but who can help control the game through his work on the boards.  He averages 5.8 per game, good for 12th in the conference, and has hit double-digits twice in conference play including 14 against Wisconsin.  Jackson, on the other hand, is more your slasher/shooter, standing at 6-7 and averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 36% from three.  He doesn't completely rely on the three to get his points with less than half his FG attempts from behind the line, but he can use it to light up at opponent - he's hit three 3s in a Big Ten game three times this year.  Since I'm not worried about Brooks, Jackson may be the biggest concern behind Battle.

I say maybe because the last guy I want to mention for the Lions is an intriguing sort, and that's sophomore point guard Tim Frazier.  Frazier reminds me quite a bit of a taller (6-1) Lewis Jackson - lightning quick with a great ability to penetrate off the dribble and the kind of player we wouldn't worry all that much about if Al Nolen was around.  But he's not, so I'm worried.  Frazier is more of an assist guy with 4.8 per game on the year compared to 4.8 points per game, but he's gaining confidence and becoming more aggressive.  After averaging 3.7 shots per game and 4.6 assists through PSU's first 20 games, he's averaged over 7 shots per game over their last four, increased his assists to 5.8 per game, and has shot 22 of his season total 56 free throws - that's 40% of his attempts in 17% of the games.  He's attacking the basket and either scoring, setting up a teammate, or getting fouled.  Basically Frazier is peaking right as he's about to play a team that's going to have trouble guarding him.  Ungood.  I'm looking for a career game here.

As far as team play goes, Penn State is a pretty good offensive team (36th in the country in offensive efficiency), if a bit of a chucker-type team (276th in 3-pt % despite shooting an above average amount of three-pointers), and a decent defensive team with some weaknesses.  Unfortunately, their weakness - not forcing turnovers and getting torched from three - are things they don't really have to worry about with the Gophers who will turn it over plenty on their own and couldn't hit a three-pointer (outside of Hoff) if they fell out of a boat.

So what we have here is a desperate team full of desperate seniors who need to basically win out home for those seniors to have a chance to make their only NCAA Tournament appearance at home against a team that historically plays poorly on the road, and one of those seniors is one of the best all-around players in the conference who torches the Gophers regularly when they do have their best defender, a player who is currently out and who is also the only player on the roster who can guard the team's point guard who is gaining confidence and ready to explode into a mini-star.  And also the best ways to be sure to beat Penn State - taking care of the basketball and hitting threes - are things the Gophers suck at.  So yeah.

Penn State 67, Minnesota 63.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Talkin' Twins

With baseball camps starting to open up and baseball preview magazines hitting the store shelves I can't help but to have my thoughts turn to baseball (and the fact that the Gophers are driving me crazy isn't helping).  Here are my quick thoughts (ok, probably not quick) on the team this season, position-by-position:

CATCHER:  Joe Mauer is going to be who Joe Mauer be, which means he'll probably hit around .330 and OBP over .400 - both outstanding numbers for a catcher.  The real question is if he has power more like in 2009, or is the 2010 version the real one.  Personally, I think 2009 was a bit of a fluke, but I think he has more power than we saw in 2010, although it's harder to see thanks to the power reducing abilities in Target Field.  I would put his HR total OVER/UNDER at 10.5, but as long as he keeps banging out those doubles his other numbers make him one of the most valuable players in the game.  And are we really going with Drew Butera at back-up catcher again?  Seeing as how he's the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and both of the other intriguing options (Morales, Ramos) were shipped off I guess so.  I mean, I like the guy, he's excellent defensively and his name is really fun to say, but you could DH for him and let the pitcher bat instead and at worst that's a lateral move.

CORNER INFIELD:  Was it really just two seasons ago Justin Morneau played in 163 games and finished second in the MVP balloting? It seems amazing given how fragile he's been and missing half a season after getting bumped in the head is a huge red flag.  It's hard to believe it's even possible he won't be ready to opening day, but then again I said the same thing about last August, September, and October.  Plus, we already know from Corey Koskie that the only reason somebody born in Canada plays baseball instead of hockey is because they can't take a hit, so temper your expectations, I've got a bad feeling about this.

As far as third base goes I liked what I saw out of Danny Valencia last year, but I didn't quite see enough to be ready to hand the job over to him for the next five years.  I'm also not sure what other options they have because Matt Tolbert should never, ever start a game and the only other 3B on the 40-man roster is Luke Hughes, but it's starting to look less and less likely that he's the guy.  I do like Valencia, and his second half numbers were still good and probably more what we're likely to see this year.  If the power he showed in September carries over, the Twins will likely have a very good defensive third baseman who hits .280/.320/.460.  Solid, but not spectacular.  Like Reese Witherspoon or Chipotle.

MIDDLE INFIELD:   I can't wait to hear Dick and Bert butcher Tsuyoshi Nishioka's name over and over again.  I guarantee that they come up with a nickname within a week of the season opener, probably something as simple as Yoshi, which is fine as long as it's not the next Kaz Matsui, which is what he's known as around my house.  Maybe I've just been beaten down by scrappy, light-hitting middle infielders with little to no plate discipline for so long that I have the same confidence in him that Jerry's mechanic has in that gasket.

And speaking of light hitting middle infielders, Alexi Casilla will get another chance to start, because as Lindsay Lohan and Dean Koontz have proven if you just keep giving second and third chances things will eventually work out.  Seriously, how is Dean Koontz on the best-sellers list all the time?  I read about 10 of his books just thinking I must have grabbed his bad ones and kept waiting to read a good one and I never found one.  Servants of Twilight was decent, but everything else is just total crap you'd have to have a brain injury or the intelligence of a lamp to enjoy.  Family Guy is mostly stupid and written for cretins, but I laughed my ass off during and episode right after Stephen King got hit by a car when Peter hit somebody with his car and goes "was that Stephen King?" and Lois says "No, it was Dean Koontz" and Peter puts the car in reverse and runs him over again.  Suck it, Koontzy.   

OUTFIELD:  Here we go again.  A bunch of mediocre to kind of good bats packaged along with terrible terrible terrible defense.  Honestly, with Young, Span, and Kubel out there if there was a contest between those three and Carlos Gomez all by himself who do you think would catch more fly balls?

Defense aside, Span is the biggest concern and he really needs to be more like his 2009 self than last year's version.  His walk rate dipped last year from 12.2% and 10.5% in 2008 and 2009 down to 8.5% last year and after walking 17 times in April he walked just 16 times in May & June combined and 17 times in September & October combined.  Basically he stopped walking and starting flying out too much.  He is absolutely a key to this team and needs to be their table-setter.

He also needs to find a way to get better defensively, because he needs to cover for the three corner guys:  Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer.  Young finally put up an offensive year his potential said was there, and although it feels like the kind of thing you can't quite trust, in fact he put up the best year of his career in the same year where his BABIP was at his career low.  Yes, low.  Meaning with a little more luck he could have had even better numbers.  I actually anticipate his power going down a bit, because I think that surge we saw was a little more fluky than anything else, but I can easily see him hitting .320 or so over the course of the year with 40 or so doubles and 15 homers.  That's a very, very good year.  If he ever figures out some plate discipline he would have a chance at being truly dangerous.

Kubel I don't know about anymore.  He's one of the best on the team when it comes to plate discipline, but regressed quite a bit from his career year in 2009.  A lot of that can be attributed to a BABIP of just .280, 20 points lower than his career mark, and he should be able to bounce back to something closer to that 2009 version than last year's, but the real problem is that Kubes continues to be absolutely dreadful against lefties and at this point I don't think you can wait for him to snap out of it.  If he's in the lineup even once against a left-handed pitcher it's one time too many.

Finally, Cuddy will be returning to the outfield, assuming Canada-boy gets himself back into play, and that's not exactly a good thing.  I know he's a great teammate and his ability and willingness to play any position where he's needed is an excellent quality to have, and he's got a great arm.  He is also nearly as slow as Young or Kubel and still refuses to lay off the outside slider in the dirt with two strikes despite the fact that every single pitcher throws it at him every single time he has two strikes on him.  Honest to god, how do people watch Mark Reynolds day-in and day-out?  Cuddyer doesn't strike out nearly as often as Reynolds, but he just makes me so angry.  I'm not even especially anti-strikeout, even if they are fascist, but he just looks so weak and over-matched when he does it.  At least Adam Dunn has the decency to swing hard when he misses a ball by 2 feet.

DH/BENCH:  Jim Thome should basically have the DH locked down.  I'd say the Twins would be better off sitting him against lefties, but what's your other option?  I already mentioned Butera and Tolbert, neither of whom could get a hit even if they were married to Whitney Houston.  And, assuming they carry 11 pitchers, they only other player on the bench will be Jason Repko.  I secretly love Repko and have even used his name as a password on an account for something or other, but sometimes reality sets in and I remember he OPSed just .671 last year, a number basically identical to Tolbert, even if Repko seems like 10x the hitter Tolby is.  So basically this is a pretty damn shallow bench. 

STARTERS:  Pretty underwhelming here, yeah?  I hate that they're just rolling with the same group, although I can't really come up with any kind of master plan to make it any better, but lame, right?  Baker is a #3/#4 on most teams, Slowey is a #4, Pavano - although I'm glad to have him back - is a #3, and Blackburn should be in AAA.  We still don't know how good Duensing can be, but I think his absolute upside is a #3, which leaves Liriano for the excitement factor, and the Twins seem to be doing everything they can to try to make sure he isn't in their long term plans, which is ludicrous considering his 3.62 ERA last year was basically a worst case scenario based looking at his other stats - Aaron Gleeman breaks it all down better than I ever could here.  Is it a good enough rotation to win the Central even though it's not as good as Chicago's group?  Yes.  Good enough to win the World Series?  Well, I'll just wait for Kyle Gibson while I ponder that one.  But no.

CLOSER:  I'd imagine that Matt Capps will start the year as the closer with Joe Nathan getting eased in, but if Nathan looks close to form he'll slide back into his old job.  That's as it should be since Nathan can be unhittable at times and has stuff Cappsy can only dream about.  And a full season of Nathan, regular season only I mean, makes me feel pretty good.  A full season of Capps makes me feel sweaty and nervous, like a fat girl before her first aerobics class.  Don't you fear he's got a little bit of Bobby Jenks in him?  Like, he's just a half mph or half inch or a little bit worse luck away from a 6.00 ERA?  To put it another way, if Nathan is even 90% back from injury his downside is basically Cappsy's upside.

BULLPEN:  As much as I don't love Capps as a closer, I think he's a good option as a set-up guy and that's good because if the starters are underwhelming the bullpen is just a picture of guy with a thought balloon and in that balloon is a question mark.  Basically other than Capps and Jose Mijares we have one gigantic guessing game, with the biggest question being, "Why the holy hell did they essentially get rid of Rob Delaney in order to grab Dusty Mother Effing Hughes, somebody so bad at pitching a baseball that the KC Royals didn't even want him?"  And who is Scott Diamond and why, by taking him in the Rule 5 draft, is he good enough to warrant a guaranteed spot on the major league active roster?  Jim Hoey is getting a lot of play as a guy who could be a big-time setup guy, but he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2007 and owns a career ERA over 8.  What about Neshek in year 2 since his elbow fell off?  Is Glen Perkins head on straight and is his stuff good enough to become a reliable bullpen option?  Can Anthony Slama's mustache get anybody out, or is he your classic AAAA type player?  Is Alex Burnett a mop-up/long relief type who won't embarrass you or something more?  Are Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak future starters, relievers, or ushers?  Why did Eric Hacker get a major league contract?

I mean, look at this.  That's what, 9 possible guys for 3-4 spots and doesn't even take into account that they have 6 non-Gibson starters for five spots.  I guess the one big positive is that they do have a lot of options, so maybe that increases the odds that enough of them work out to make this a viable, quality bullpen.  Sort of like increasing your chances of winning the Powerball by buying two tickets instead of one.

OVERALL OUTLOOK:  I don't know, man, it seems like everywhere I look the Twins are getting picked to win the central again, but I don't know.  It feels to me like the White Sox and Tigers did more this offseason and it wouldn't take much to push either of those teams out ahead of the Twins.  I haven't really broken down the rosters to really get a clear view, but right now it feels like the downside is a rough year and third place division finish, while the upside is a narrow division win and a quick exit from the playoffs.  It's hard to get excited about that.  Again.

But you know what?  I'll be watching.  Damn near every game.  And I'll be living and dying on damn near every pitch.  And when I'm fishing up at the cabin the radio will be tuned to the game every damn night.  Because it's the Twins, it's baseball, and I couldn't shake it if I tried.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Weekend Review - 02.14.2011

Damn you Turtle Lake.  You win this round.  At least I'm killing it with BetUS’ college basketball predictions so I don't have to worry about moving into the poor house.  At least not yet.  Onto your college hoops report:


1.  Minnesota Gophers.  Wow.  That was pretty awesome.  Not the loss to Illinois of course, which was pretty disappointing, but I was becoming convinced this team was coming apart at the seams and that they were going to lose to Iowa, sounding the death knell on the season.  Instead, they went out and beat the Hawkeyes soundly by a final margin of 62-45 in a game that wasn't even that close and was never in doubt.  This tells me that the team should be good enough to hang on to their NCAA bid, and hopefully Nolen will come back in March, and then we'll just see what we'll see.

Special shout-outs to Colt Iverson, Rodney Williams, and Maverick Ahanmisi for their play last night.  Iverson looked like a 6-11 point guard in his role in the middle of the Gopher offense against the Iowa zone, consistently finding the open man and helping the team get open shots.  He only ended up with 1 assists but he definitely was a big reason the Gophers shot well and controlled the game.  Williams took over the game for a stretch, showing the actualization of his near limitless potential, even if it was too short-lived.  Finally, Ahanmisi played his best 11 minutes as a collegian, scoring 7 points, dishing 2 assists, and most importantly looking like a legitimate Big Ten point guard.  I'm not sure I'm quite ready to hand over the keys to him for next season, but I'm sold on him as a backup and he might end up pretty good later in his career.

So, yeah, Iowa is a bad team and this win isn't exactly like beating an NCAA tournament team or even an NIT team, but at least we know they aren't in a death spiral here, and should most likely still end up in the dance.  And then hey, who knows, am I right?

2.  Xavier Musketeers.  Huge week for X, which starting off with them beating an NCAA bubble team in Georgia and ended wit them reasserting their A-10 dominance by knocking off Duquesne, the team they were tied with at the top of the conference standings, and they did it at Duquesne's place - whatever it's called and actually I don't even know where Duquesne is.  I'm going to guess Massachusetts.  Anyway, Xavier has overcome a rough start and is starting to round into form.  Either they just needed some time to adjust at the beginning of the year or they really aren't that good - it's just that the A-10 is down this year.  Tread lightly.

3.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Giving Ohio State their first loss will get you a mention here.  And now they're 9-3 in the Big Ten, have basically solidified themselves as the second best team in the conference, and are looking like they're a Sweet 16 team with upside.  Great.  I still hate them.  Seriously, how can they be this good with guys like Tim Jarmusz, Keaton Nankivil, and Mike Bruesewitz as integral cogs?  Bo Ryan is a freaking wizard.  Crap.  I think I accidentally realized I respect him.  Still hate him though.

4.  Pitt Panthers.  It's a wide open year with about 15-20 legit final four contenders, and nearly every team has some pretty severe flaws that could end up knocking them out early.  The one exception I've found is Pitt, a very balanced team who showed some serious moxie this week, winning on the road at both West Virginia and Villanova, the first loss for Nova at home since 2007.  And they did it without leading scorer and point guard Ashton Gibbs.  They're a good offensive team, a good defensive team, they score inside, they score outside, and they have great guards - everything you could want for success in March.  If I didn't hate the Pitt program so much, I'd be a huge fan.  Damn you Carl Krauser. 

5.  St. Johns Red Storm.  I feel like I'm writing about these guys almost every week, but this was another monster week for the resurgent storm, dismantling UCONN at home and then winning a very big bubble implications type of game on the road at Cincinnati.  I don't know exactly where they rank on the bubble and a 14-9 overall record isn't pretty, but a 7-5 Big East record with wins now over Georgetown, Notre Dame, UCONN, and Duke tells me that based on talent this is absolutely an NCAA Tournament team, and an RPI of 20 with a strength of schedule ranked #2 says the same.  They still have two gimmes in home games versus DePaul and South Florida, so at minimum they should end up at 9-9 in conference play.  That's got to be good enough.


1.  Northwestern Wildcats.  They seem to land here almost every week, don't they?  I'm not even sure what else there is to write anymore, but they're just so hard to ignore because jesus.  This week they lost to a bad Michigan team by 9 after allowing 52% shooting by the Wolverines, one of the poorer shooting teams in the conference and that wasn't nearly the more embarrassing loss of the two they registered this week.  They got smoked by Penn State by 24 in a game where they mustered just 41 points in a brick city effort, shooting just 18-52 and 2-21 from three.  Basically they can't shoot or play defense and are 4-9 in the Big Ten, just one game out of the cellar.  I'm not even sure they're a NIT team.  Maybe CBI.  Sorry Loretta8.

2.  Syracuse Orange.  Another team that seems to find it's way into this section quite a bit lately, the Orange had yet another rough week, this time dropping a home game to Georgetown and then losing on the road at Louisville.  That makes them 2-6 now since starting the year at 18-0, and although they aren't really in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament their seed has slid rapidly, going from a possible #1 to #4 in the latest bracketology.  They have two guaranteed wins in their final five games (DePaul and Rutgers at home), but a quick exit from the Big East tournament could get them down to a #5 and a matchup with a dreaded 12.  If they end up against a team with quick, penetrating guards they're going to be in trouble.  Actually, they're pretty much screwed and I don't see any way they make it out of the first weekend alive.

3.  Missouri Valley Conference.  Guess which conference basically guaranteed that they won't have an at-large team this year?  Assuming you aren't a retard you probably figured out I'm talking about the Missouri Valley.  Wichita State, the conference leader and a team that's 20-5, lost a home game to Southern Illinois, a team that you think is good until you remember that it's actually not 2005 anymore, and Northern Iowa, the third best team in the MVC, lost to Wichita as well as Evansville, continuing a losing streak that starting last week with a loss to Drake.  UNI is definitely out, while Wichita's win over the Panthers keeps them barely hanging on by a string.  They would probably need to win out and then make the MVC Tournament final to have a chance.  Missouri State also has a chance, but they too would need to finish very, very strong.  Looking more and more like a 1-bid league this year, even with a weak bubble and expanded field.

4.  Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.  The weekend loss to Memphis really puts the Eagles in a bad spot, now a full game back atop the C-USA standings of co-leaders UAB and UTEP, and with only one win this year over an RPI Top 50 team their at large chances are fading.  They still have home matches against both leaders and need to win those games and take care of business against the various other conference also-rans, but road games against UCF and Tulsa aren't going to be easy.  Larry Eustachy has made USM relevant again within the conference, but will need a strong finish to make them relevant on a national level.

5.  Utah State Aggies.  So are we just going to have zero mid-major at-larges this year?  Butler, Gonzaga, and Memphis were all givens in the past but most likely will all have to win their conference tournament, and now Utah State kicked away their chance at a bid on Wednesday by losing to Idaho.  It sucks that they are basically eliminated from at-large consideration since they are 23-3, but it's their own fault.  Their best win out of those 23 is probably their win over Long Beach, who ranks 116 in the RPI and 101 at  Yes, that's right, Utah State doesn't have a single win over an RPI top 100 foe, and they've only played two (Georgetown and BYU), leading to a ridiculous strength of schedule rank of 157.  They get to play St. Mary's in Bracket Busters coming up here on Saturday which will help, but this loss to Idaho (RPI 156) is extremely damaging.  Like crawling through a tunnel covered with razor wire and sharks.

For those who like Twins talk stick around.  I'm aiming to get a Twins post up here on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Must win?  Sort of.  The Gophers are at 5-6 in Big Ten play right now, and need to get to at least 9 wins, meaning they need to go 4-3 to close out.  With strong reservations, let's go ahead and give them the home games against Penn State and Michigan as wins.  That means they need to win two out of home games against Illinois and Michigan State and road games at Iowa, Penn State, and Northwestern.  I have no faith in this team to win any of those road games, and at best I see them taking one.  So although this isn't a MUST WIN game, it's certainly a must win game.

Luckily for the Gophers the Illini are on the skids despite an abundance of talent on a paper which, by the way, is not where the games are played.  They pop up very well according to Ken Pomeroy's metrics where they are the 24th best team in offensive efficiency and the 25th best team in defensive efficiency, which leads to them being ranked as the 15th best team in the country, but they sure aren't playing like it, losing 5 of their last 7 including losses to Northwestern, Indiana, and Penn State.

A lot of their issues can be traced to Demetri McCamey, who may be starting to finally prove what I've been saying for years - he's not a real point guard.  BOB COUSY AWARD FINALIST (L-O-freaking-L) McCamey has seen his play really tail off in those last seven games.  He's shooting just 29% in those games after shooting 51% prior to that this season, and is hitting just 35% from beyond the arc where he was at 54%, and has seen his scoring average drop from 16.2 to 11.3 points per game.  His lack of confidence has affected his aggressiveness, and if you take out a bizarre game against Wisconsin where he shot 21 free throws his FTA per game have dipped from 4 per game to 2 per game, including a 3-game stretch where he got to the line just once.  His assists are down from 7.3 to 5.4 per game (3.9 outside the MSU game) while his turnovers are slightly up, and his steals are down about 50% as well.  Simply put, he's a mess.

Such a mess that Brandon Paul has taken over the point guard duties at times towards the end of games, and he's not even a point guard and averages under 2 assists per game.  He's a superb athlete and will probably end up being a damn good, possibly even great, player, but he's a wing - not a point guard.  Unfortunately there are no other options.

It would be a shame if anybody liked Illinois, because there is a lot of talent here.  Jereme Richmond might be the most talented freshman in the conference not named Sullinger or Armelin, D.J. Richardson is starting to come into his own as a gunner, and Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale form a near perfect tandem inside where Davis does all the dirty grunt work while Tisdale minces around about the perimeter knocking down threes and blocking a shot or two with help side defense.  Even that dork Bill Cole can knock down plenty of three-balls if you don't guard him.

There are a lot of tough matchups here for the Gophers, and although I think Davis and Tisdale will struggle against the Gopher bigs I also think the slashing and scoring abilities of Richmond, Richardson, and Paul are going to give Minnesota fits.  Those three can get to the rim and score mid-range, while Richardson and Paul are perimeter threats and all three are superb athletes.  Seriously, you're going to see a lot of what Rodney Williams could/should/would be when you watch those three on Thursday.

However, as we are learning as Gopher fans, it doesn't matter how good the rest of the team is if nobody can get them the ball in the right spots, so much of the Illini success (or lack thereof) falls on McCamey, the "point guard."  And, frankly, if the Gophers simply keep this one close and make it a wire-to-wire, down to the final possession affair odds are he'll shoot himself in the foot.  Look:

2/5 vs. Northwestern:  misses front-end of the 1-and-1 with :07 left.  Turnover with :20 left.  Illinois loses by 1.
1/27 vs. Indiana:  4 second-half turnovers, 0 second-half points.  Illinois loses by 3.
1/22 vs. Ohio State:  bad pass with 0:16 left, although the turnover was given officially to Mike Tisdale.  Scores 2 points in the final 13 minutes.  Illinois loses by 5
1/11 vs. Penn State:  turnover as time expires, Illini don't get a final shot.  Illinois loses by 2.
12/22 vs. Missouri:  down 2 with 1-minute to play, Illinois gets outscored by 9 and loses by 11.  Can't specifically narrow this one to McCamey, but as the PG he gets most of the blame.
12/18 vs. Illinois-Chicago:  down 2, McCamey turns it over with :02 left to play after missing an open three-pointer with :06 left, Illinois's third miss in the final :15.  Lose by 2.
That is a lot of late game meltdowns for a supposed good team.  And if it reads ugly it's even worse watching it.

Talent-level:  advantage goes to Illinois, and both teams are basically head cases, so this one is very tough to call.  The one big thing I keep coming back to is how are the Gophers going to run an offense with their guards going up against the athletic wings Illinois puts out there?  So I figure we're looking at a narrow Illinois win.  But then I realize that Illinois can't win narrowly, because they'll implode if the game is close, and I don't see an Illini blowout, so.....

Minnesota 67, Illinois 64.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Truth about the Top 25

Since the Gophers don't play until Thursday, I have a break from the usual Week in Review, Preview, Recap, Preview schedule, so I'm going to do you all a favor.  I'm going to go through the Top 25, and give you a quick synopsis of each team and their probably March outcome.  So take notes, mental or otherwise, because this is the kind of stuff that can help you win that precious $110 in your March Madness pool so you can splurge on Coors Light instead Natty Ice the next time you need to pick up a case.  And, go:

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes -  You've seen 'em, you know 'em.  They are so balanced, with guys like William Buford and David Lighty who can go inside or outside individually, not to mention a beast inside in Jared Sullinger and a dead-eye outside in Jon Diebler.  They aren't particularly deep, and they've had trouble putting away some bad teams that they should just destroy so they aren't invincible, but I don't think they're in any danger of losing until at least the Sweet 16, although if Florida State makes it in they might be an intriguing second round matchup.  If you're the type who likes to bet on college basketball, betting against them with the spread in those first two rounds, however, might be a nice idea.

2.  Kansas Jayhawks -  If I have to pick a national champion to throw my cash at in a sportsbook, right now I'm going with Kansas.  I watched them take everything a very, very good Missouri team could throw at them last night and they just fired right back, eventually just wearing the Tigers down with their nearly limitless group of scoring options.  They aren't huge, but have decent enough size and good enough guards to beat anybody, although they can struggle if freshman Josh Selby tries to do too much.  Plus they're Kansas, and it's hard to trust Kansas.

3.  Texas Longhorns -  Harder to trust than Kansas is Texas, even if they're looking like the best team in the country at this particular moment.  They have been beating some very good teams handily over the last few weeks, and it doesn't matter if they're home or away.  The real question is if recruiter extraordinaire and mediocre game coach Rick Barnes can manage to stay out of the way.  It will be interesting to watch if they get matched up against a lesser team with a great tactical coach. 

4.  Pitt Panthers -  These guys look really, really good and just won at West Virginia with their best player on the bench.  They have the same efficient, physical offense they usually do, but this time the trigger-man, the aforementioned Ashton Gibbs, is a legit scorer and not an offensive liability, which makes them far more dangerous than previous versions of nearly this same team which flamed out.  They're one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the country and, along with Kansas, are pretty much guaranteed to be in my final four.

5.  Duke Blue Devils -  Here's the thing about Duke:  with Kyrie Irving they're the prohibitive favorite to win the whole shootin' match, but without him they're going to struggle to reach the Sweet 16.  But what could be even worse is if Irving doesn't come back until the NCAA Tournament.  If Duke has to try to integrate him in the first round they're going to be a big risk to lose because they play a completely different style with or without him.  Keep that in mind.

6.  San Diego State Aztecs -  A lot of people will probably dismiss the Aztecs based on the conference they play in, but don't make that same mistake.  This team is as athletic as anybody in the country, they have a bonafide star in Kawhi Leonard, and they are well balanced in however way you want to break it down.  A legit sleeper for the final four - which they assuredly will be no matter what their seed says.

7.  BYU Cougars -  Jimmer is Jimmer, and we've seen players carry teams on their back and reach the final four in the past (Larry Bird, Danny Manning), but I don't think BYU has enough complimentary pieces around him to make that kind of run.  I see this as more of a Wally Szczerbiak situation but with a better seed and a likely place in the Sweet 16.

8.  Notre Dame Fighting Irish -  I seriously know nothing about Notre Dame this year except they are exceedingly white and somehow they are in the top 10.  I need more information, but right now I think they're either a sleeper or overrated.

9.  Villanova Wildcats -  No Scottie Reynolds helps, and they have more balance inside/outside than they've had since Dante Cunningham left, but it's hard to completely trust the two Coreys.  You don't really know if they're going to put up 20 each and carry the team or steal their dad's Caddy and date rape Heather Graham. 

10.  UCONN Huskies -  Similar in some ways to BYU in terms of Kemba Walker vs. Jimmer Fredette, but Walker has more talented teammates and I think his/their ceiling is more final four-y.  His teammates are all completely unproven sophomores and freshmen but they're undoubtedly talented.  If they get one guy to step up to help Walker they're dangerous.  If they get two?  Final Four, homeboy.

11.  Georgetown Hoyas -  Any team built around three guards is going to be a threat in March, because although some cliches aren't true there are some that most assuredly are - the three most well known?  1.  Never get involved in a land war in Asia.  2.  Guards win in March.  3.  Black people can't swim.

12.  Syracuse Orange -  I want to like their chances, and a record of 20-4 says they are a threat, but I watched them play Pitt, Villanova, and Marquette and that patented 2-3 zone is extremely vulnerable this year.  Put a couple of good guards out there and it morphs into swiss cheese (Jamie Feick -> hi).  They'll be alright, but a team like Florida or Vandy will carve them up.

13.  Wisconsin Badgers -  I'm done evaluated this team.  Obviously they are impervious to any sort of analysis based on paper, because they have outperformed expectations 38 years in a row, and once again they shouldn't be as good as they are.  How far can a two-man team go?  Why are you asking me?  I already said I'm done trying to make sense of these nerds.

14.  Purdue Boilermakers -  I've said this in some variation in almost every Big Ten Power Poll, but I'll say it again:  Purdue absolutely passes the eye test as a Final Four type contender, but in reality they haven't beaten anybody who is anywhere near a Final Four contender.  So what do we make of this?  Well, they play Wisconsin at home on Sunday and I think that game will give us a better idea of what we're working with here.  Until then, I'm just going to stall whenever anybody asks my opinion of Purdue.  Hold on, the baby's crying.

15.  Arizona Wildcats -  I have no idea how this team can be ranked this highly.  Because they've won five straight in the crappy Pac-10?  The only impressive victory in there is UCLA.  Because their best win in non-conference was either NC State or Oklahoma?  No, I'm sorry.  I am a Derrick Williams fan, but he's got little help and their guard play is suspect at best.  This team is absolutely first-round loss material.

16.  Louisville Cardinals -  No here, I think, is a sleeper, but I'm not quite sure.  Pitino obviously knows how to coach, their guard play is superior, and that road win at UCONN is one of the more impressive that any team has picked up all year, especially managing to hold on through double-OT.  I'm just not sure what to make of them outside of Siva and Knowles, and Terrence Jennings is the kind of guy who can just disappear for an entire game, which would spell their doom in March, which is a pretty dramatic and hacky way to put it.

17.  Florida Gators -  Their two leading scorers are guards, which is good, but those two guards are both semi-retarded gunners who both shoot less than 41% from the floor, which is bad.  Honestly, this team could make the final four or lose in the first round and I wouldn't be shocked.  Except for the make the Final Four thing.  That would actually be pretty shocking.  Sorry I lied.

18.  Kentucky Wildcats -  I personally think Terrence Jones is the most talented freshman in the country, and his raw ability is off the charts.  Very similar to his teammate Brandon Knight, actually, which means this is yet another team that could go either way.  Like your sister.

19.  Missouri Tigers -  This is a team I really like.  They played extremely well against Kansas for an entire half+, and faltering down the stretch against the Jayhawks isn't anything to be ashamed of.  They're another guard-oriented team, and an efficient offense combined with a circus-ball type style of play means they can beat anybody at any time. 
 20.  North Carolina Tar Heels -  They were overrated to start the year, but that overration means they are suddenly starting to look underrated.  Harrison Barnes seems to be figuring things out, and there's a reason he was ranked as a top talent in the first place, and moving Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup is already paying dividends. 

21.  Utah State Aggies -  Most boring team in history.  And I say this having attended multiple games at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in my life and had a rollicking good time on each occasion.  But they're just kind of boring.  They beat the crap out of bad teams and never play anyone good.  Could they upset a team or two and reach the final 16?  Absolutely.  But they're just as likely to miss the tournament, because an early loss in the WAC tourney might knock them right out.  Please, please, please beat St. Mary's in Bracket Busters.  I don't know how I'd handle March without USU.  Probably with a trip to Chicago and a bunch of booze, but I might just do that anyway. 

22.  Texas A&M Aggies -  From 10th to 22nd, but I guess losing four out of five, including dropping a game to Nebraska (LOL) will do that.  Despite his epic choke job against Texas I still really like Khris Middleton and if we were talking some one-on-one individual challenge I'd pick him as a sleeper, but it turns out in March they don't let you do that and they make you play 5-on-5, so my confidence in TAMU is significantly lacking.

23.  Vanderbilt Commodores -  The nerds of the Southeast, the Commies put Northwestern to shame because they will actually occasionally kick your ass on the basketball court.  I definitely dig the Jeffery Taylor/John Jenkins combo although I'm not real confident in anybody else.  With the right matchups they could end up making a nice postseason run but with the wrong ones we're looking at more of a waah wah.

24.  Temple Owls -  Rough year for the A-10 despite high expectations, and I'd be pretty surprised if any of their teams manage to make it through the first weekend of the tournament (sorry X).  I guess Temple would have the best chance, but in case you can't tell I'm super enthused about it.

25.  West Virginia Mountaineers -  May as well change the team name to the Mediocriteers.  They do have a guy like Casey Mitchell who can get hot enough to carry them to an upset or two in March, assuming he doesn't end up getting booted from the team, so I suppose that's nice.

There are a few other squads with a shot at making a mini-run despite not currently being ranked - Wichita State, George Mason, Washington, Marquette, UCLA, Baylor, and Missouri State are your notables, with Washington the most likely of that group to make a sustained run.  Then you have some teams with votes that are basically guaranteed upset victims in the first:  Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama, UNLV, Colorado State, and UTEP would fit in this bucket. 

Well there you have it.  Remember all this stuff, because it's genius, dawg.  Genius.