Thursday, November 29, 2012

Game Preview: Gophers vs. No Flo

[NOTE:  I wrote this prior to Thursday night's game between North Florida and Florida A&M, a game which North Florida won, 72-47]

The North Florida Ospreys are coming to Williams Arena this weekend, and it's interesting because as unfamiliar as most Gopher fans probably are with UNF there are a couple of easy points of comparison because UNF has losses to two teams the Gophers have already beaten in Memphis and Florida State.  While Minnesota beat both squads by nine, USF fell to Memphis by 15 and to FSU by 8, which tells you the Gophers should win this game.  But you already knew that so let me look a little bit deeper at what you should expect to see on Saturday.

UNF comes into this game 2-4 with wins over Bethune-Cookman and something called Edward Waters which may or may not be related to Andre, and with additonal losses to Kansas State and Savannah State along with those mentioned above.  Although that sounds like total crap, the Ospreys shouldn't be taken too lightly.  Since gaining D-I status a few years ago they've steadily been on the rise from a 3-win team to a 16-16 team last season, and with four starters back they'll be a prime contender in the Atlantic Sun, especially with Belmont gone to the Ohio Valley.  So I'd take them slightly lightly, but not completely lightly.

Really though North Florida, although an A-Sun contender, is a pretty awful team.  Looking at kenpom they don't do anything particularly well.  Their defensive rating is decent, but that's mostly bolstered by opponents shooting just 25% on 3's against them this year, which ranks 21st in the country.  That being said, the three top opponents they've played (Florida State, K-State, and Memphis) are all terrible shooting teams and since they weren't particularly good defending the three last season and have the same coach and basically the same personnel I'm going to guess this is inflated by their opponents rather than some quantum shift in their defensive ability.  [FAMU went 2-12, but they were under 30% coming in so, again, who knows]  They are also a slightly above average 3-point shooting team.  Wow.  This is some exciting stuff.

They do, however, have some interesting players at least I promise.  Parker Smith, which is the most mormon-y name I've ever heard (note:  I have no idea if this guy is mormon) leads the team at 17.0 ppg.  He doesn't get very rebound-y or assist-y or defense-y, but that's ok because he is a flat our straight up scorer.  He mainly shoots 3-pointers (48 of his 67 attempts this year are from behind the arc) and converts them at an impressive rate.  He's hitting at 56% this year after shooting 41% last season.  He's hit at least four three-pointers in five of the team's six games this season, and set a school record last year with 11 makes in one game against Mercer.  He will shoot, and he will probably make a few.  If No Flo is going to make a game of this it's probably because of this guy.  [Smith went for 18 tonight on 4-12 three point shooting]

The other top scorer for the Ospreys is 6-6 power forward Travis Wallace (yes 6-6 PF), who is averaging 10.7 pts and 4.5 rebs per game this season, similar to his numbers last year.  He generally stays around the basket (54% shooting this season) and is a pretty good shot blocker.  In fact with Wallace (1.7 blks per game) and 6-7 freshman BaeBae Daniels (1.8 blks per game) the Ospreys actually bring something of an inside defensive presence to this game, something which should make things a little bit interesting for Mbakwe and Williams, if nothing else.  [Wallace and Daniels combined for one blocked shot tonight, and Wallace scored 12]

The last guy I'll mention on UNF is their point guard, 5-11 senior with a sweet name Will Wilson, who leads the A-Sun in assists this season with 6.2 per game.  What makes him so interesting is he's accumulated those assists while not being able to score.  At all.  His points per game totals in his four college seasons are:  0.9-1.0-1.8-2.8 (this year).  His highest shooting percentage in a season is 36% (28% this year), and he's only attempted 26 three-pointers in his career (and made a respectable 9).  Prior to this season (he's 7-8) he had hit fewer than half his FT attempts (16-40).  Only six times in four years has he scored more than 5 points in a game and he has yet to crack the double figures.  Ever.  Even against Andre Waters' brother's school when he lit them up for 12 assists he went 0-3 from the field to finish with a goose egg.  He's scored a grand total of 128 points in his college career.  Rodney Williams will probably break that for the season in this game (he has 113).  I am completely fascinated by this guy.  Did he score in high school?  Who would win between him and Ed Cota in a game of HORSE?  Not since Morgan State's Reggie Holmes have I been this excited about an opposing player, but for the complete opposite reason.  This is gonna be great!  [Wilson attempted one shot tonight - he missed - and scored 1 point on 1-2 free throw shooting]

Minnesota 83, North Florida 57

Thoughts on the Twins' big Denard Span trade and other things the Twins should do coming soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gophers 77, Florida State 68

Well that was a pretty impressive victory, and one I did not expect.  I'm not surprised the Gophers knocked off Florida State, I figured they had a decent change, but I definitely wasn't expected them to take control of the entire game and win by 9 in a game that wasn't remotely that close.

Sure, Florida State might be down a bit this year, what with the loss to South Alabama and all, but they also scored wins over BYU and St. Joe's in route to winning the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and those teams are likely to at least be in the mix for an NCAA bid this season.  Their RPI isn't very good right now (136) but a loss to USA will do that and by the time the conference season gets going this is going to end up being at least a top 100 win for the Gophers, and you can never have too many of those.  Not to mention that doing it in Tallahassee, the place where top ranked UNC and Duke teams have lost multiple times, makes it that much better.

Florida State certainly didn't help themselves out by missing a lot of the open looks they managed to get, but give a lot of credit to the Gophers for forcing FSU out on the perimeter taking jumpers rather than getting to the rim.  Other than a few very nice drives by Snaer and Terrance Shannon grabbing 8 offensive rebounds the interior defense was incredible.  The Gophers somehow finished with just six blocked shots but I think 3-4 of them came in the first ten minutes and did a good job pushing the Seminole offense outside - not a strength of theirs.  I'm starting to believe this is the best Gopher defensive team I can remember.

Offensively they were impressive as well, moving the ball quickly and crisply and knocking down open shots.  The three guards all are showing they can score when needed, with Austin Hollins the jump-shooter, Joe Coleman the pure scorer, and Andre Hollins the streaky hot guy.  Take those three and add in Rodney Williams and this offense is humming.  I can't get over Rodney transformation.  It started last year, hit a stride at the end of the season, and has continued into this year.  He just looks and plays so confidently.  When he gets the ball on the perimeter now instead of quickly passing it on to a guard he's always looking for that lane to get to the hoop, as if he has finally figured out nobody who is big enough to guard him is quick enough to guard him. I'd still like to see him posting up a little bit more, but FSU did a good job of taking away the post up game from the Gophers last night, luckily it didn't matter because the guard play was still good.  Twelve total turnovers for the team was an improvement as well.  Clearly it's an area that still needs to get better, but that was a step in the right direction.

As good as the team looked and as solid as they've been this year I am still concerned about Trevor Mbakwe.  I just don't get what's going on there.  It's not just the numbers, it's that he just doesn't seem like the same player and I don't mean physically.  He doesn't seem into the game.  Last night he made a lay-up and got fouled in a big spot and showed absolutely no emotion (the Ralph Sampson plan, apparently).  I don't know if it was more of a "been here before" or a "I'm bored" but he was an emotional leader last season and I would have thought he'd have a bigger reaction in that spot.  Hopefully I'm over-complicating the issue and he's just still working himself all the way back, but he's going to be the difference for this team and how far they can go.  With him playing the sixth man, bench big guy this is a very good team.  If he can get back to even close to what he was last year and take Elliason's spot in the lineup (although he played quite well last night) that could elevate this team to "great" status.  Yeah, I said it.  I didn't get to see the Stanford game but I had heard that he looked like his old self in that one, which is even more of a concern then that he didn't seem up for this game.  Maybe he was tired (he is super old, after all).  Maybe he's frustrated coming off the bench.  I don't know.  Turn him loose Tubby.  Let him start and play 30 minutes and let's see what happens.

All-in-all, a really good win.  How FSU plays in the ACC this season will determine just how good, but I'd be pretty shocked if this didn't end up as an RPI Top 100 victory.  The team played really well and Tubby showed, as he did against Memphis, that he knows how to shorten the bench when it's needed, something I can't recall seeing in past years.  Maybe he senses what I do, that this is the team he can really do something special with.  That's my feeling, and I'm not optimistic by nature.  With only two meaningful games left before the B10 season starts (vs. SDSU, @USC) the Gophers have a real shot to enter Big Ten play at 12-1 (not uncommon for them) but with three likely Top 100 wins (FSU, Stanford, Memphis) and three others that could get there (SDSU, USC, Richmond).  Not a bad start.  However this isn't the first time a Tubby Smith led Gopher squad has gotten out to a fantastic start in November.  Hopefully this one ends up a little differently.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stuff From TRE

Since burning myself out on the NBA preview, I've been kind of absent.  Here's some stuff that's going on:

Gophers End Season 6-6, Look Towards a Bowl

Don't die, buddy.
Regular Season #2 of the Jerry Kill regime has come to a bit of a tumultuous ending, but all in all I would say it is a success as they finish with a 6-6 record.  At the beginning of the season I had the Gophers at a floor of 4 wins and a ceiling of 6, so in that respect they finished on the high end.  Of course, most recognize the only in conference wins were against Purdue at home and at Illinois.  Not exactly signature wins.  A win over Iowa, Northwestern or Michigan State would have put a nice cherry on top of this season, but not only did they not come out on top, they pretty much got smoked in each of them. 

That being said, Kill has doubled his wins in his second year, even though his QB went to crap early and he's been juggling them ever since.  His team is still very young, and he definitely has a plan for recruiting a certain type of player to fit his system.  Stealing a bowl win is highly doubtful in my opinion, but Kill has surprised before in his career.  Both of ESPN’s dudes have Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against either TCU or West Virginia.  Both have matchups look supremely unpleasant for our Fightin’ Goldies.
Sadly, there are other questions beyond just improving the program for Kill.  AJ Barker engaged the kill switch (see what I did there?) and left the program.  After reading through his novella about why he left it appears he doesn't like to ice injuries nor have people yell at him.  He does like scholarships and acupuncture though.  It would have been a tough call to give Barker a scholarship this year based on just his performance at UNLV.  Listen, if Kill lorded the scholarship over Barker and said a lot of mean things to him, that sucks and all, but I can't help but think this is a dick move on Barker's part to take this kind of shot and potentially damage a program's reputation.  I assume if this really is a massive issue we'll see a whole bunch of players step forward, right?  Otherwise I tend to chalk it up to a kid that couldn't take the heat and sort of thinks of himself as an amateur yogi.  I'm looking forward to visiting his holistic healing shop after he graduates.

The other thing is this seizure stuff.  Before the season, Kill portrayed that they had it all under control with medication and diet and what-not but not only did he conk out for the whole second half of the MSU game last week he also suffered one in October after the Northwestern shellacking.  This ongoing situation is worse than the Barker stuff to me as potential recruits are bound to hear about this and it has to factor into your decision.  It seems to happen more (only?) at our home games which makes me wonder if the second biggest scoreboard in the nation is having an effect.  Kind of like those warnings that come with video games.  Can we get the guy some mega-transition lenses or something?  We need a healthy Kill and you know; we want him to live and stuff too.

Timberwolves Scraping

No glove, no Love?
Our Timberwolves have had some great news with the return of Kevin Love.  He was a beast in his first game back and it was great to see him get so much love from the crowd.  Unfortunately, the hand still bothers him; or rather the “shooting glove” that he’s wearing.  The Wolves have dropped three straight (I warned you it would get rough for a bit) and are sitting at a 5-7 record. He's supposed to glove up until January, but it sounds like he's toying with taking it off. 

Our guy Brandon Roy just had another knee surgery.  I was super hopeful that top secret overseas surgeries had improved his condition, but it appears that the writing is on the wall.  We’ll have to wait four weeks to see if the latest surgery helps at all.  He had some “loose bodies” removed, so there was actually crap in there and that gives a glimmer of hope.  However, the level III degenerative arthritis is the main issue.  Just watching him get around on the court before the injury makes me think the dream is over.  Chase Budinger also fell victim to the knee monster and had major surgery on his left meniscus.  He’s hoping to return in March.  

This means a whole lot of Alexsey Shved and Malcolm Lee at the shooting guard.  Also, the Wolves made a nice FA pickup by grabbing small forward Josh Howard.  Howard is busting his ass out there when he gets to play, especially on defense, plus he has a headband.  Shved is going to have to grow up fast.  He’s already produced more than expected early on, but he hasn’t been consistent. This feels like one of those seasons where everyone is going hurt all year, but we're looking at Love getting right and Rubio returning and I still feel the excitement of a playoff appearance.

Twins Talking to Literally Everyone

So far, we got this guy.  Don't worry, you don't really need to know who he is.

"Anybody who is a starting pitcher that we've identified as having some ability, you can assume we've touched base with them."
I'm loving the quotes we're hearing from Terry Ryan so far as free agency talks heat up.  The Twins are in dire need of pitching and it appears they'll leave no stone unturned in the search.  Popular thought is that they'll have about $25MM to spend this off-season, putting them at about where they were last year.  As I've stated before they can't be afraid to go over a bit as there are a few pitchers worthy of some cash and there's no guarantee next year's market will be as good.  Names that have been associated with the Twins have been Brett Myers, Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Saunders, Ryan Dempster Joe Blanton and even Brandon Webb.

We've also heard some trade rumors surrounding Denard Span for pitching with Atlanta and Tampa Bay as interested parties. 

The Arizona Fall League has ended.  For a list of Twins farm system players that were in it, check out this post by Eric Pleiss at Knuckleballsblog.  Nate Roberts and Kyle Gibson were named to the all AFL team this year.  Roberts, a 23 year old outfielder, led all players in every triple slash category, posting a 446/565/662.  He reached base in each of his 19 games.  I think he's expected to be at High A Fort Myers after a year in Low A where he hit 299/433/427.  Gibson had 6 starts and a 5.40 ERA in 23 and 1/3 innings.  He stuck out 28 and went 3-2. 

The Walking Dead/Boardwalk Empire

I'm a big fan of both the Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire but as the BE season ends and the first half of TWD's split season also comes to a close it's clear the HBO has much better writing and acting.  For me, The Walking Dead has essentially become like most bad horror movies with terrific plot holes, but also gore and zombies (of course).   So now I have to laugh at the stupidity and the cut corners and cheer for the zombies to eat people.  I guess I shouldn't be overly surprised since the whole story is straight from a comic book series of graphic novels and they apparently are following pretty closely to the script. (not exact, but close enough)  I'm sure the actor that plays Carl is a good kid, but he's not believable at all as a bright eyed kid that's been hardened by the apocalypse.  And get rid of the stupid sheriff hat already!

Oops, bent rifle.

On the other hand, this season of Boardwalk Empire has been a masterwork of interweaving stories that is coming to an explosive ending.  Anyone could die here except probably Nucky Buscemi (and obviously historical guys like Capone) and I wouldn't be surprised.  Other internet nerd contemporaries argue that the Gyp Rosetti character is a bit over the top and a caricature of your typical gangster.  I would argue that guys like Gyp existed, but not likely for very long, in the gangster business. While building up Gyp's rise to prominence they've also advanced the story of Van Alden, Eli Thompson, Chalky White, Richard Harrow and many others.  Pretty pumped for this, you guys.

Capone going for the fork submission.
After these two are over, it's going to be pretty bleak in the TV department.  I'll take show recommendations in the comments section.  TIA  Game of Thrones sounds like it's coming in late March/April.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Atlantis Thoughts and FSU Preview

Normally following a tournament like the Battle 4 Atlantis I'd have 10,000 words to write, however given my circumstances I won't be able to muster that much simply because I don't know enough.  I watched the entire Duke game on my computer, but was at Dinosaur Park (which was sweet) and then a Utah BWW that had nothing but the Utah/Colorado football game on (I'd make a joke here if Minnesota football wasn't what it is) so I had to follow along on twitter, and then for the Stanford game I was driving across the country listening to Hunger Games books on tape and tried to follow along on my phone as well as possible but cell phone internet access in the middle of Nebraska is pretty much what you'd expect.  That being said, nothing has really ever stopped me from having an opinion and I'm not going to change now.  You get what you get.  So here:
  •  I said the Gophers either had to beat Duke or win the next two games in order to make the tournament a success, so I'm calling it a success.  Duke was clearly superior, and Plumlee may be the player I've been the most wrong about ever, but the Gophers played well and the 18 point margin should have been closer if everything those a-holes through up didn't go in.  Both the Memphis and Stanford win should end up being quality victories when March roles around, particularly Memphis once they run through the shitty C-USA.  Hopefully Stanford can manage to stay relevant.
  • Andre Hollins's's game against Memphis was a great one with 41 points, the most scored by a Gopher since 1971, but don't forget the next game he shot 1-8.  He is certainly explosive, but needs to become a more complete player to be a true star.  When the jumper isn't falling he needs to find other ways to contribute, and his 2 assists against Stanford when he couldn't score aren't enough.  Still very fun to watch, but hopefully he can figure out this point guard thing this year.
  • Awesome to see Mbakwe with a double double vs. Stanford.  The couple people I talked to said he looked to be truly back to his old self.  I'm interested to see if he really is and if so, when Tubby let's him loose because it's time to stop playing Elliason so much.  Also I hope he's back because I just took him with the first pick in the second round in our Fantasy Big 10 league.
  • Two good wins now on the ledger, and assuming they can beat South Dakota State at home (shouldn't be a problem) and can win at least one of the away games vs. Florida State and USC, they should be set-up pretty well to get an at-large bid in March.  Of course, it would be plenty easy to blow the season in a pretty good Big 10 this year, but I prefer not to think about it.

Also I recently learned that the Gophers play Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge tomorrow which seems really, really quick on the heels of the tournament.  So I guess I'll do a quick preview because I love you.

 The Seminoles have recovered from a mind-boggling season opening loss to South Alabama with four straight victories including quality wins over BYU and St. Joe's.  They are known as being a killer defensive team under Leonard Hamilton, having ranked in the top 21 in defensive efficiency six of the past 10 years, and in the top 15 each of the last four (ranks: 12-1-1-15).  They are excellent defensively again this season, currently ranking 45th.  The drop off can be attributed to blocking fewer shots than in years past.  The graduation of Bernard James (2.3 bpg) and Xavier Gibson (1.3 bpg) has left a hole in the middle of the defense that Florida State has yet to figure out how to fill.

What they do have in the middle of the defense is a Terrance Shannon, a 6-8, 240 lb. big ole strong dude who can handle Trevor Mbakwe's strength.  What he can't handle, however, is his athleticism.  Their athletic big is 6-8 Okaro White, but he's only 204 lbs, so he'll probably end up taking Rodney Williams.  Unless, of course, they put Michael Snaer on him, and Snaer is the guy Gopher fans definitely need to worry about.

Snaer, at 6-5, can pretty much lock down anyone on the perimeter and is probably the best defender in the ACC.  He's quick enough to stay in front of quick point guards (Dre Hollins) but is also strong enough that bigger perimeter players can't take him down to the block and post him up.  Whether he takes Hollins or Williams (or someone else) you can guess they'll have a rough night.

Offensively Snaer is the biggest worry as well.  He's the type of player who can just completely control a game and ups his game in big spots, such as when he hit the game winning 3 last season against Duke or his game winning 3 last season against Virginia Tech.  As if he wasn't good enough last year, he's upped his game this season, increasing his scoring (from 14.6 to 16.0 per game) and upped his rebounding to cover for the two lost post players (from 3.8 to 6.4) and assists after FSU's starting point guard graduated (from 1.9 to 2.8).  He's really, really good.

As a team Florida State shoots the ball well but turns it over too often (sound familiar?)  Defensively they are very solid, as mentioned, and excel at creating turnovers.  These are two really similar teams, where the Gophers have more talent and experience, but the Seminoles have home court advantage.  The Seminoles are also the best defensive team the Gophers will face this year, and one of the few teams with the personnel to stop both Mbakwe and Hollins.  I think we're looking at a low-scoring affair, and I think Snaer makes the difference.

Florida State 54, Minnesota 51.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Battle 4 Atlantis Mini-Preview

Hey.  Still in Utah.  Ended up computer-less for the last two days due to circumstances you don't really care about.  But with the Battle 4 Atlantis kicking off tomorrow I might as well do a  quick little preview on the teams, starting with Duke since we know that's who the Gophers play in Round 1.

The Blue Devils are always good, but are generally at their best when they share the ball and have a wealth of scoring option rather than a single player who dominates the ball - which is how this team is constructed this year.

Center Mason Plumlee and wing Seth Curry are the two main pieces for the Dukies.  Plumlee leads Duke in both scoring (21.7 per game) and rebounding (8.7) and has been extremely efficient this year hitting from the floor at a 77% clip.  Obviously that's unsustainable, and according to what I've read about Plumlee he's pretty much been converting dunks and lay-ups and doesn't look to make any kind of actual post move very often.  He's not particularly athletic or strong, so if Mbakwe is back to where he was last year he should be able to destroy him in the paint, and there's a non-zero possibility that he literally kills Plumlee with a dunk in his face.  The way I think of it, and I apologize for this extremely nerdy analogy, is if you're playing chess and suddenly your opponent has his queen in your space and you know you're going to get destroyed, you just hope to hold on and minimize the damage.  That's Mbakwe in this game because Plumlee is really the only post player Duke has and he can't handle Mbakwe.  In fact, if I'm Coach K I figure out who Mbakwe is guarding (most likely Plumlee) and feed him the ball as often as possible after telling him his job is to draw fouls.  I can see Mbakwe being so amped up for this game that he won't be able to settle down and two quick fouls is a very real, and very bad, possibility for the Gophers.

Curry, the brother of all-time chucker Stephen Curry, has a bit of chucker in him (he leads Duke in shot attempts) but plays more under control in Duke's system than his brother did.  Between he and Rasheed Sulaimon the Gopher guards are going to have their hands full.  Both can score inside or out and both hit 40% or better from three this season, and Sulaimon is a big-time distributor, averaging 3.7 assists and a total of 11 versus just 4 turnovers - great numbers for a freshman at the beginning of his career.  Add in the mid-range game of Ryan Kelly (40% 3-pt shooter last year) and his ability to find the open man (2.7 assists per game this year for a 6-11 player) and if the Gophers try to play zone this game is already over.

The key for Minnesota will be in their defense, shooting, and taking care of the ball.  That sounds like every game I know, but it's especially meaningful in this match-up.  Duke has won (the three wins:  Georgia State, Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast) by being an extremely efficient shooting team, whether due to shot selection, dead-eye accuracy, or a little of both.  They shoot 38.4% from 3 this year (67th in the country) and 55.5% from two (33rd), and when combined that makes them the 28th best shooting team in the country.  On the flip side, the Gophers are #1 in the country in opponent's effective field goal percentage, holding teams to 19.1% from three (#9) and 32.7% from two (3rd).  That will likely be the main difference in the game.

The Gophers have big-time opportunities here in offensive rebounding and three-point shooting.  Duke is not a particularly good defensive rebounding team where the Gophers excel at crashing the offensive glass, and Duke really struggles to defend the three (opponents shoot 40.8% behind the arc, 313th in the country).   The Gophers aren't a great shooting team behind the line but they aren't terrible either, the key will be in knocking down those opportunities for open looks that Duke will definitely give up.  The other watch-out for the Gophers is taking care of the ball.  Duke plays a swarming man-to-man that causes a lot of turnovers, something that has been a major struggle for Minnesota so far this year.  If this ends up being a blow-out in Duke's favor this will be the reason why.

All-in-all, the Gophers have an excellent opportunity here to grab a big-time win.  Their strengths have a chance to either neutralize Duke's strengths or exploit a Blue Devil weakness.  The game should be a good one, and calls it a 1-point Dukie victory.  If the Gophers can take care of the ball, knock down open shots, control the paint, and limit Duke's three-point shooting they can win this game.  To me, that's just too much to ask.  Not to mention if the Gophers end up in a close game or have a small lead Coach K could coach circles around Tubby Smith, and no matter how well the Gophers play I don't know that they can overcome that advantage.

Duke 70, Minnesota 64.

In game 2 the Gophers will face either Memphis or VCU.  Memphis is currently ranked in the high teens while VCU is just behind the Gophers in "others receiving votes", and although the Tigers would clearly be the higher profile win since they're considered a Final Four contender a win over either would go a long way in March.

Memphis has started slowly, winning both of their games so far but by just 15 or 11 against extremely poor competition (North Florida and Samford).  They're not a very good shooting team and that's continued this season (just 29.4% from 3), and rely more on their guards slashing and getting into the paint through penetration - and they're very good at it.  Joe Jackson, Antonio Barton, and Chris Crawford are a very good three guard lineup, but one the Gophers should be able to match-up with pretty well with the Hollins brothers.  The issue lies with that third guard because Joe Coleman is absolutely brutal defensively and Julian Welch isn't quick enough.  Memphis only has one true post player in Tarik Black who Mbakwe should be able to handle on his own, so I'd expect the Gophers to use Rodney on one of the guards and hope they can muster enough help defense so they don't get destroyed down low by Adonis Thomas.  I don't like this match-up for the Gophers and I wouldn't expect them to win this game.

VCU, on the other hand, is a game Minnesota has to have if they want a good seed in March, particularly if they meet the Rams in the losers' bracket.  That's not to say VCU is bad - you'd have to be a fool to overlook a Shaka Smart team at this point and the Rams should end up hovering around the top 25 all season - it's just that if the Gophers are the team I hope and think they can be this is a game they'll win.

VCU does return four starters from last year's team who won a game in the NCAA Tournament and their style makes me very nervous.  VCU plays an attacking style of defense designed to force steals - and it works (VCU led the nation in steals last season with a mark that was the highest of the last four years).  With all the guards the Gophers have on paper they should be able to handle this, but on paper they're also turning the ball over this year at a rate that's one of the worst in the country.  When the Rams have the ball Minnesota should be able to handle them.  Although they're a very athletic and balanced team they rely on those steals to key their offense.  If Minnesota takes care of the basketball they should win - although that's a very big if.

Game three will come against one of Louisville, Northern Iowa, Missouri, or Stanford.  I'd guess it'll be Louisville in the Championship, Missouri in the third place game, Stanford for consolation, and Northern Iowa in the worst case scenario.

Louisville is my pick for National Champ and they play an absolutely suffocating defense.  They've crushed all three opponents this year by at least 26 points and although the competition has been poor their play is what you'd expect in those situations.  While the Gophers play great shot defense and VCU creates a ton of turnovers the Cardinals do both.  Their only real weakness is they aren't a great shooting team, but I don't think that would matter.  I don't think the Gophers would have a prayer and would be lucky to get to 50 points.  If they end up playing Louisville it's a success because it likely means they won two games already.

Missouri would be another extremely touch match-up for the Gophers simply because of their speed and back-court strength.  They're very similar to VCU in style of play and personnel, with both teams playing a pressing, attacking style but not necessarily pushing tempo on offense.  I would be pretty excited for this match-up, simply because I'd love to watch Andre Hollins go up against Phil Pressey, who I think is the best point guard in the NCAA.  Actually, what I'd really love is for Hollins to just sit and watch tape of Pressey and absorb it, but somehow I think getting schooled by him might do it better.  Best case?  Hollins holds his own and is better than expected.  Worst case?  He learns and gets better.  Win-win?  Yes, I agree that's a pretty generous "worst case" but it's my blog so STFU.

If they end up playing Stanford or Northern Iowa something has gone wrong, although say, losing to Duke and then beating VCU wouldn't necessarily qualify as a disaster, but in any case they have absolutely got to beat either of these squads if they match-up.  Stanford, the nerds who beat the Gophers in the NIT last year, have been dreadful this year and are one of the worst shooting teams in the country which you wouldn't expect from a bunch of nerds who should know geometry and angles and stuff.  Maybe they aren't real smart kids but fake smart kids like when Doug was hired to be a lawyer on King of Queens just because he was good at softball.  Northwestern should take notes.  But anyway these dorks just lost to Belmont.

Northern Iowa, long removed from the great days of Ali Faroukmanesh, doesn't necessarily have a blemish on their record, but one of their wins was over a non D-I team and another took overtime to beat Toledo.  Despite that level of competition they simply refuse to cause turnovers which means the one way to really beat the Gophers if you're worse than them is something the Panthers don't do.  To lose this game would be a travesty like Super Bowl XL or Fletch 2.

Here are your acceptable outcomes:

1.  Win the whole thing
2.  Win the first two
3.  Beat Duke (the next two don't matter if you get that one)
4.  Win consolation

That's it.  That means the Gophers, at a minimum, need to win two games or beat Duke in the first game.  Anything else would be a failure.  I don't like failure.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hello from Utah

What's up, nerds?  Friday the family drove for 10 hours, stopped in Kearney, Nebraska for the night at a horrific Best Western, then continued on our way the next morning for another 11 hours before finally arriving in Utah to spend Thanksgiving here with the wife's family.  Some day when I own my own plane things are going to be much easier.  Anyway we'll be running around like crazy people I'm sure so I'm not exactly sure how much sports I'll get to watch, but there'll be downtime in the evenings so I'll be able to find time to check in once in a while.  Like right now.

-  Being in Utah means that the Big 10 Network is not available, and because we are "visiting family" the best I could do was check in on my phone, read texts from Snacks and Grand Slam, and check out the stats after the game.  The 72-57 win over Richmond is a good margin and actually an easy cover, but from the looks of things this wasn't nearly that comfortable of a win.

The 19 turnovers are a terrifying amount for a team with NCAA aspirations and on the flip side turning Richmond over just 8 times is unacceptable for a team that prides itself on defense.  Yeah, Richmond's two best players are their guards who both have plenty of experience handling pressure and I get that, but I still would have expected at least double digits.  On the bright side the Gophers overall shot defense was once again outstanding (Richmond shot just 33% from the field and 20% from three) and rebounding (Gophers won, 37-20) were the difference, as well as Minnesota hitting from the field at a 57% clip.

The Gophers head into the Battle 4 Atlantis undefeated at 4-0 and this was the only game they've been remotely tested in.  Although they responded nicely, outscoring Richmond by 14 in the second half, and in the process gave the Spiders' their first loss, but it was still against a Richmond team that will probably end up in the middle of the Atlantic 10 whose three wins so far were against terrible terrible horrible teams.  I am very impressed with the Gophers' defense and rebounding (rank as the 3rd best defensive team in the country at kenpom) and it's nice to see Tubby shorten the bench and turn Mbakwe loose (9 points & 12 boards) but Duke is going to be a whole new class of opponent.  I don't feel real good about this, but I can't say I'd be completely shocked if they end up pulling this off.  Either way I can't wait to read about it the day after.

-  Sticking with the Big 10, apparently the latest rumor is Maryland and Rutgers might be joining the conference.  Since I don't really care about tradition or any of that stupid stuff and really just want the best possible basketball conference I can get with little to no regard to football, I'm on board with Maryland and would prefer they pass on Rutgers.  What I've more recently heard is that if it becomes official that Maryland is joining that Syracuse might try to jump out of the ACC, which it just joined, to come over to the Big 10 instead which is far preferable to Rutgers.  I'll have more of a post on this at some point but that's about all I got for now.

-  Here's my posts from back in the day the first time I took in a Utah State game and the first time I visited Weber State. 

-  With the first slate of tournaments done here are some observations and notes to pay attention to because I know more than you.
  •  Oklahoma State won the Puerto Rico Tip-off and was the most impressive team to me looking at their victories.  They struggled to beat Akron in the opener and based on that game I thought the Cowboys looked pretty awful, but after topping the Zips in overtime they ripped off wins over Tennessee (by 17) and NC State (by 20) and announced the LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart back-court combination as one of the best in the country.   Nash is unstoppable when he posts up another guard because of his size and skill and it now looks like he's got a lot more talent around him than we thought.  Looks like a legit team.
  • The other team who impressed was Colorado which probably made you think this post was all like pro-Big 12 and stuff because you forgot Colorado was in the Pac-12 now.  On their way to winning the Charleston Classic the Buffaloes beat Dayton (meh), Baylor (great win), and Murray State (good win).  Colorado looks like it has a budding star in sophomore Askia Booker and with a good amount of returning talent, including post stud Andre Roberson, and a weak Pac-12 the Buffaloes are gonna be at the top of the conference and should be able to secure another bid this year.  
  • Future Gopher opponent Florida State won the Coaches vs. Cancer classic with wins over St. Joe's (good win) and BYU (very good win).  These go a long way towards wiping out that crazy horrendous loss earlier this year to South Alabama.   The Seminoles are back to being a really good team and a road win there would be a huge win on the Gophers' March resume.
  • Penn State was the only Big 10 team involved at this point and they ended up going to the consolation game in the Puerto Rico game where they were stomped by Akron to finish in sixth place.  That's a 1-2 overall record (additional loss to NC State and a win over Providence) and an altogether not very impressive tournament.  But what'd you expect from Penn State?  I mean really?
Until the next time.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Game #3 Preview: Gophers vs. Tennessee State

I fully admit I don't know much about Tennessee State, particularly at the individual player level because I'm pretty sure the only time I ever saw them play was in the OVC Championship last year against Murray State and I was paying more attention to Murray State.  That being said, however, the Tigers, with an RPI last year of 112, are likely the second best non-conference team the Gophers will face on their home floor this year (behind South Dakota State) so they're probably worth a look.

Last season the Tigers went 20-11 and 11-5 in the conference and scared the crap out of Murray State in the Ohio Valley Championship game before falling 54-52 and getting an invite to the CIT (where they lost to Mercer).  They also scored regular season wins over Murray and South Carolina.  In short, they were a so-so, not terrible team and they will be returning their four top scorers from that squad this season.

Their top player is 6-9 forward Robert Covington who is averaging 16 pts and 8 rebs in their two games this year after going for 18 & 8 last season.  He's a senior this year and has averaged double-figures in scoring in all four years of his career.  He's a bit of a do everything type, and he led Tennessee State in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks last season while hitting 45% from three.  If the Tigers are going to make this a competitive game, this is the guy who is going to have to go off.

Also worth keeping an eye on are PF Kellen Thornton (shorter than Covington but significantly wider and who stays on the blocks mostly) who already has a 20 point game (vs. BYU), PG Patrick Miller, who has 9 and 10 assists in their two games this year and is a horrendous shooter (or was the last two years), and SG Jordan Cyphers who has a sweet name and is pretty good outside shooter.  It's a very experienced team overall (Miller is a JR. and those other three are all seniors) and they looked to be testing themselves earlier, opening with three games against possible NCAA Teams (BYU, South Dakota State, and the Gophers).  They whiffed on the chance to get a good win in the first two games, so this will be their last chance until they get killed by Missouri in December.

In summation, although this sounds like a decent team on paper the reality is they aren't very good and are no where near the Gophers' class.  BYU beat them by 15 and South Dakota State by 7 so they can stay competitive, but watching the Gopher defense and rebounding so far this year tells me Tennessee State is going to have to shoot really well and cause a ton of turnovers to have any prayer.  Those are two things they were really, really bad at last year.

Minnesota 78, Tennessee State 54

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What did we Learn from the Marathon?

Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the Gophers latest butt whooping of Toledo but that doesn't stop me from having a couple of quick thoughts on the team and yes it feels a bit weird to have concerns about a team that's 2-0 with wins by 36 and 26 but here we are.  I have 3.

1.  I want to know what's going on with Trevor Mbakwe.  His line looked better in this Toledo game (6 pts - 7 boards - 2 blks) but he still only played 14 minutes which is the same number of minutes he played in the game against American.  Is he still hurt?  Is this some sort of punishment?  I'd really like to know.

2.  Nineteen turnovers against Toledo?  Gross.  Loyola-Illinois, who is terrible, turned it over just 15 times against Toledo.

3.  Is Andre Hollins ok?  Maybe all the expectations are getting to him and he's pressing a bit (2-15 shooting so far, 4 TOs vs. 1 assist vs. Toledo) or maybe he's got something else going on in his head that's hurting his concentration (the shooting, plus five missed free throws already this year vs. just nine all of last season).

 It's early and the team is winning, but all three of these need to get figured out before they start playing real games or they're going to be in trouble.  This Thursday's game against Tennessee State is a losable game, so they may as well start playing better ASAP.  The defense and rebounding have been absolutely outstanding, however, and that's a very good sign even against this level of competition.  Small sample size and all, but kenpom rates the Gophers as the 8th best defensive team in the country statistically (includes rebounding) and that does take quality of competition into account (for example, American shot 24% against the Gophers and 53% in their next game against Quinnipiac - that bodes well for the Gophers). 

Also, in case you were unaware somehow, ESPN just did a 24-hour college basketball marathon.  Thanks to a flexible work environment that allows working from home and the miracle of internet access I was able to take in a decent amount of it.  Here's what I thought was worth noting.

1.  I watched the first half of Youngstown/Georgia (not part of the marathon) and figured Georgia's first half performance (3-24 shooting) would be the ugliest thing I saw all week, but I was wrong because West Virginia looked absolutely god awful in getting destroyed by Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs also looked pretty good and definitely had something to do with it, but WVU just got destroyed on every level.  Gonzaga had open shot after open shot (52% Shooting, 56% from 3) while WVU just threw up bricks (shot 27%, 11% from 3) and I saw at least two times in the first half where a Mountaineer 3-point attempt hit the backboard before it hit the rim.  I'm sure WVU will end up being not this terrible since they're relying on three transfers to pretty much carry the team this year and that always seems to take a while to gel, but that was one of the ugliest performances I can remember watching from a team that was supposed to at least be in the mix for an at-large bid since every Gopher game ever.

2. Kendall Williams (New Mexico) is a stud PG.  I didn't stay up late enough to watch this one after WVU put me to sleep, but Williams put up a line of 17 pts - 6 rebs - 7 assists - 0 turnovers.  Nice. 

3.  The Gophers could have used Siyani Chambers.  The freshman point guard from Hopkins ended up at Harvard because that was basically the only school that recruited him and oh my did he look good against UMass, nearly leading the Crimson to a big upset playing all 40 minutes and finishing with 14 pts, 5 rebs, and 7 assists to just 1 turnover and even more impressive than the stats was just watching him.  He completely controlled the game when Harvard had the ball (his defense, on the other hand, was pretty atrocious).  It got to the point where UMass won the game by doing everything possible to keep the ball out of his hands when they ran their press and then the Harvard dopes turned it over twice in the final minute leading to a pretty surprising comeback win for the Minutemen when it looked like this game was in the bag for Harvard.  Anyway, this kids poise and ability to run an offense was shocking considering it was just his second game ever.  I know we think we're in good shape with Andre Hollins, but I gotta say this looks like a whiff for Tubby (assuming he figures out  the defense thing).

4. The Horizon race should be pretty good this year.  Valpo killed Northern Illinois (not like that's hard) and Detroit was giving it to St. John's pretty good before they fell apart.  I could see either team winning a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.  Of course seeing as how those two teams are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference it probably means we can expect Cleveland State or something to get the auto-bid.

5.  I thought this might be the worst version of Xavier we've seen in a very long time.  Turns out it looks like this might be the worst version of Butler we've seen in a long time.  I'm interested to see how this turns out with Brad Stevens if Butler bombs again.  I realize he's built up all kinds of leeway with the back-to-back Finals runs, but the last couple of years have been really bad (if I'm right about this year) and if Butler doesn't get back to the tournament soon he's going to go from being known as a wunderkind to just another guy at a small school.  He's already been replaced by Shaka Smart as the small school program builder who doesn't bolt du juor and with Tim Miles and John Groce (among others) taking advantage of March runs to move up in the world I wonder if Stevens has already blown his chance.  Considering he was born in Indiana and never left he might not even care, which is good because soon he might not have a choice.

6. Michigan State and Kansas are going to be just fine.  Not that there was ever much doubt, but both teams lost significant, and I mean significant, players from last season so there was part of me that wondered if they'd struggle but both looked very good in Michigan State's 67-64 victory.  Both teams were a little sloppy (31 combined turnovers) but both offenses look to be almost in prime shape already.  Keith Appling was sick (19 points and an insane lay-up to put MSU up 3 with 15 secs left) and Gary Harris joined him in the back court (18 points) to make the Spartans look like they might actually have the best guards in the Big 10 and Branden Dawson looks like he's all the way back from a knee injury.  For Kansas it's much the same story with Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson looking like they can step right in and be a very, very good pair of guards.  What an awesome game this was.  Although that final Kansas play looked very Tubby Smith-errific.

7.  I have no idea how VCU got beaten by Wichita.  VCU has their entire team back.  Wichita has nobody back.  I thought Wichita would finally fade away, but apparently they just re-load.  Must be sweet.

8.  Alex Poythress is ridiculous.  I have no idea why I didn't know how athletic this guy is but I'd put him up there with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist last year.  It's probably because his name sounds pretty nerdy.  Honestly I couldn't even have told you if he was white or black before tonight because I didn't know anything about him, I just thought he sounded kind of like a nerd.  He's not.  He just dunks on Duke nerds' heads.  He's like a taller Rico Tucker.

Realistically looking at the year prior (Championship) and the year after (have you seen that recruiting class?) this is the worst team of that three year span for Kentucky and it's not really even close, and yet I'd be shocked if they aren't in the Final Four this year again.  Betwixt Calipari's ability to recruit the one-and-done type talent and the mystique and allure (good stripper names, fyi) of Kentucky that place is set up to be the closest thing to a dynasty since UCLA in the 60s or 70s or whatever.  Maybe both.  Effing Kareem.

9.  The other day I went my whole family went to Joe's Crab Shack to celebrate my birthday and there was this dude at the table next to us who ate his corn on the cob with a fork.  And I don't mean like that he cut the kernels off with a knife and then ate them like niblets, I mean he straight up just used his fork to scoop it right off the cob.  I wasn't sure if it was impressive or not but then Snacks got his dainty thing on and was like "I hate corn on the cob because I don't like getting it in my teeth and stuff" and he tried it and couldn't do it.  So basically this dude had a lifetime of experience of scooping corn kernels off the cob with a knife.  He was like MacGyver crossed with Mr. Pitt.  I didn't know if I should laugh or be impressed, but I certainly made sure to have everyone look.  Changed my life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Game #2 Preview: Gophers vs. Toledo

What's better than a little Monday night MACtion?  Pretty much anything really unless you mean those defenseless scorefests the football teams play, but when you're talking Toledo basketball you might as well be discussing the finer points of the cover 2 zone blitz eagle zipper hero because these guys are terrible.  Really terrible.  Last season was the first time in four years they hit double digits for victories.  The last time they made the NCAA Tournament was 1980, although they did win a game in the CIT last year over McNeese State.

Not only have they generally been awful, but because of poor academic performance Toledo is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament (same deal that happened to UCONN).  And, because the MAC is a one-bid league, they aren't eligible for the MAC Tournament either because if they won the MAC would end up with zero teams in the dance (unless Ohio has a crazy good season - always possible with D.J. Cooper involved).  Somewhat surprisingly, only one player transferred after the news of the academic sanctions broke (third leading scorer Curtis Dennis) so Toledo ends up having nearly the entire team back from last year's surprisingly adequate squad, although their RPI of 241 wasn't exactly a resume booster.

The Rockets are very perimeter oriented with three pretty good guards (the top three returning scorers) highlighted by Rian Pearson, who at just 6-4 is actually the leading returning scorer and rebounder in the conference (averaged 16.4 pts and 8.5 rebounds).  It's good that he's such a good rebounder for a guard because he can't shoot for shit, so expect him to drive the lane all the time and stuff.

Basically this is a pretty terrible team.  They suck defensive, are below average offensively, don't rebound well, and just lost by double digits to Loyola-Chicago in their opener.  The only thing that makes them remotely dangerous is they are overall a pretty good 3-point shooting team (36.8% last season) and they have a bunch of different guys who can hit them so if they get hot they could make this interesting, but there's no way they'll be able to stick with the Gophers.  The main key to watch in this game is Trevor Mbakwe, because I'm starting to suspect perhaps he's not as close to 100% as I had hoped.   He's got time because although the next two games (Tennessee State and Richmond) are against ok teams the Gophers should be able to handle them with or without Mbakwe.  The next game, vs. Duke, on the otherhand?  Get well, Trevor, get well.

Minnesota 77, Toledo 54.

Around the Conference/Country:

A few games of note took place this weekend, with problem no result more interesting than Purdue's loss to Bucknell 70-65.  The result actually isn't nearly as surprising as you might think at first glace because Bucknell is a pretty good, experienced team who will actually have an outside shot at an at large bid and Purdue is not only sort of identity-less early this season but were also without Terone Johnson who led them in scoring in the exhibition season.  The Boilers bounced back and crushed Hofstra, but getting so thoroughly outplayed by Bucknell probably signals this is going to be a long year.

Also worth talking about were Michigan State's loss to UCONN, simply because it seems like the Big Ten starts every year well-ranked and then they lose all these early season big-time games, and Florida State getting knocked off by South Alabama.  Florida State, of course, is the Gophers opponent in the Big 10/ACC Challenge so it sucks to see this possibility that FSU may not end up being a quality opponent.  South Alabama has a chance to be a pretty good team and could be tops in the Sun Belt (although my money is on North Texas) but I'd just rather have FSU be undefeated, or close to it, by the time the Gophers play them.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What to do with Derrick Williams? MiniGophers-Illinois Preview

 Standings - Northwest Division
Teams W L Pct GB L10 Stk
MIN 3 1 .750 - 3-1 W2
OKC 2 2 .500 1.0 2-2 W1
POR 2 2 .500 1.0 2-2 L1
DEN 2 3 .400 1.5 2-3 W2
UTA 2 3 .400 1.5 2-3 W1

Shved's new haircut = speed.

Our Wolves are winning early in the year with a combination of solid defense, timely runs and the benefit of playing mostly crappy teams.  While Orlando, Brooklyn, Toronto and Sacramento isn't a murderers row, there are 8 new Timberwolves playing significant minutes that were not on the team last year.  This is a testament to how well Rick Adelman can coach.  I've seen a dozen different lineups, often with 5 non-starters in together;  and yet they still play solid basketball.  The one thing that has gotten out of hand at times is the turnovers.  For some, like Shved, I'll chalk it up to nerves and for others I'll chalk it up to growing pains as they learn the offense and each other.  Shved can play, by the way.  Another nice scoop up for our guy KAHN.

Some tough games are on the horizon:  Friday vs Indiana, Saturday @Chicago and Monday @Dallas.  They could easily drop all three of those games against 3 likely playoff-bound squads. In fact, over the next 15 games only 5 look like cupcakes.  My hope was and remains that we are no worse than a few games under .500 by the time Love returns and the smashing begins.

So the real point of this blog is what do we do with Derrick Williams.  Williams was a much-hyped #2 overall pick that is now entering his second year after a lackluster rookie season.  As I speculated in my old blog he doesn't have the quickness/athleticism/whatever to play a lot of minutes at the 3.  (I wanted Enes Kanter, the jury is still out there as well)  He's more suited to be a bit of a stretch four that is scrappy under the basket.  Andrei Kirilenko was clearly brought in because Williams didn't cut it in his first season and now he has an uphill battle for big minutes.  The Kevin Love rawr knuckle-pushups! injury has opened about a month of games where he can get minutes and show that he deserves some serious rotation time with this team.  So far what has happened is he's had one good game (his last one) and a bunch of duds.  In fact, toolsy everyman Dante Cunningham has played more down the stretch and has looked the smarter (for sure) and better player.

Williams is clearly pressing and forcing the issue now, which is bad.  He knows he has to make an impression and he has the pee pants because of it.  As I've mentioned before, Kahn seems unafraid to have a quick hook for player that don't contribute even if they were a Kahn draft pick.  Is there a team that would want Williams for much at this point?  He's still just 21 years old.  Or is it better, to sit on him and wait.  The unthinkable could happen and Love could bolt...and Kirilenko has just a two year deal and is no spring chicken.  And I don't expect Dante Cunningham to continue to be Scottie Pippen. 

Poor Chekov
Let's say he's meh for the month Love is out.  Then Adelman is likely to go with "the hot hand" between D-Will and Dante Pippen for spare forward minutes.  I also think it's likely Kahn starts working the phone and putting alien insects in Chekov's ear canal.  In my opinion, the best they could do at this point is maybe a borderline lottery pick and maybe a solid veteran to a rebuilding squad.  You might be yelling at me that he was the #2 pick and that he's worth more, but so far he hasn't shown it.  And it's certainly possible to play the wait and see game with D-Will, but the longer we wait the bigger chance that were stuck with him/nothing. 

Teams/Deals that might be of interest:

Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith could be out the door after this season, so the Hawks might look to add someone to fill that gap.  The Wolves likely wouldn't get Smith in a deal as he'll be a max guy and is unlikely to sign with MN.  However, they could be a partner in a 3 team deal and possibly get back a protected first round pick and one of Atlanta's 3 point chuckers:  Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow or John Jenkins.  I like Jenkins a lot, but he was their #23 pick, so it may be a tough row to hoe...unless perhaps a guy like Barea or Ridnour goes to ATL as well.  Hey, they have some value, right?  Maybe?

Indiana Pacers - Similarly, the Pacers are on the last year of a deal with David West, who is making $10MM.  Although he's pretty good, he's older and not worth a huge new contract, imo.  They do have Hansbrough and rookie Miles Plumlee though, so perhaps they wouldn't be interested.  Lance Stephenson is a physical 2 that I I'd try for him and a first round pick.

Oklahoma City Thunder - Just kidding, there's no room there.  How crazy is it that they have Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III waiting in the wings?  I still don't like losing Harden, but they sure can reload.

Orlando Magic - The Magic have a ton of picks following the D12 deal.  How about one of the picks and JJ Redick who expires after this year.  Keep the white-out going?  Glen Davis looks solid there, but D-Will would definitely get a chance at serious minutes.

Philly 76ers - Are they ready to give up on Evan Turner?  Do we even want Evan Turner?  I like Thad Young too, but not for 9MM over the next 4 years.  I'd take Dorell Wright and a pick too I think.

That's about all I got.  It's not pretty.  I don't see a lot of teams with room to take the gamble on giving Williams a lot of minutes, including the Wolves.  We may be stuck with him, so let's hope he has a huge month!  *sealbarks*

Your reward for making it to the end.

Mini-Preview of Gophers/Illininininini

Illinois is terrible.  Like a diaper dumpster fire terrible.  They have no wins in conference play, but the Gophers have just the lone Purdue ass-stomping.  All of our white speed receivers are out for the game it sounds like. (Engel, Barker)  Gray is still gimpy too.  So it might be B-Green, Rabe, Lncln Plsk and who knows who else? 

That being said, they still should win.  Illinois can't stop anyone and Phil-dawg is damn near a veteran footballer at this point.  He'll probably run it 150 times and the Gophers will win 12-7. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Game 1: Gophers vs. American Preview

The Gophers get started here by taking on the American Eagles (fitting, right?) and although they sound like a complete cupcake they've actually been a pretty decent team for a low-major for years.  They've finished fourth or better in the Patriot League every year since they joined in 2001.   Their RPI last year was a not-horrendous 142.  The year before they were 127.  I mean, yeah, they were always an automatic win for a high major, but they weren't an RPI killer.  At least in the past.  This year may be different, because American will be looking to replace three starters (including their two top scorers).

That's not to say it isn't an interesting team at least.  Unlike most mid-majors they have the size to hang with bigger programs.  They have two centers over 6-10 and 230 lbs., one of whom (Tony Wroblicky) is the team's leading returning rebounder.  They also have PF Stephen Lumpkins back and he should be their best player despite not playing last season.  Yeah, see, in both 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 Lumpkins averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds for the Eagles, but after being drafted as a pitcher by the Royals decided to try his luck at baseball.  Given that the Royals can't develop pitching to save their lives, it did not go well (baseball reference page here) and Lumpkins is back to do what he's better at.

Along with that size, American also returns Daniel Munoz, the Patriot League leader in assists last season.  Although he hasn't been much of a scorer or shooter in his career, he did drastically improve his three point shooting to 44% last season after hitting just 35% the year prior (and 28% before that).   He may have to take on more of a scoring role with those two dudes who scored almost half American's points last year gone, but I don't really know because who the hell knows jack about American, really?

Here's what we do know:  they're going to work their asses off on defense, play slow, and take care of the basketball.  That combination can always make a team dangerous, particularly against a better team that is sluggish and/or not playing in rhythm - you know, like a team trying to work their best player back in after a major injury.  They also have enough size that they won't be overwhelmed in the paint and a very good lead guard who can handle pressure.  That being said, the Gophers are overwhelmingly more talented.  There is no real reason for this to be a game.  I expect American to jump out ahead early like 12-4 or so before the Gophers put the pedal down and lead 30-22 at half before exploding in the second and coming out with a 20+ point victory.

Minnesota 74, American 50.

Close enough, right?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

DWG College Hoops Preview: Teams #6-1

Well here we are kids.  The last six teams.  I'm kind of impressed with myself that I actually wrote up all 68 teams.  You're impressed too, right?  Yeah, you are.  I can tell.

Anyway, Jay Bilas published his top 68 teams as well, and as you'd guess we have some differences.  We both have the same top 2, but only Michigan also makes both our top 5s.  Eight of my top 10 are also in his top 10, but the two teams he has that high that I don't ranked as #s 17 and 22 for me.  There were 15 teams Bilas ranked that I didn't, with his best two that didn't make my cut being West Virginia (34) and Butler (44).  Of the 15 teams I had that Bilas didn't rank, the best were St. Mary's (34) and Valpo (36).   Some of the biggest difference in teams we have ranked are Drexel (me 29, him 66), BYU (me 30, him 50), Iowa State (me 63, him 39), Alabama (me 60, him 32), Pitt (me 56, him 23), Tennessee (me 45, him 22), and Michigan State (me 22, him 7). 

Wasn't that an interesting paragraph?  Whatever.  I hate you.  Just read these and be done with it already.

6.  UCLA Bruins.  This lofty ranking assumes things get figured out with super star freshman Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility, but even without him they'd have a shot at being a top 10 team.  They're loaded with talent all over the place, partially thanks to the #1 recruiting class this year according to ESPN including Tony Parker, the #7 rated center and #26 overall who should either push Josh Smith to be what he was touted to be or just straight up replace him.  Other than Muhammad's eligibility the biggest question facing UCLA this year is if a team with National Championship aspirations can really count on Larry Drew as their only real point guard.  You may remember Drew as the guy who quit in the middle of the season at UNC after Kendall Marshall won the starting PG job and whose mom went nuts on Tar Heel message boards.  The fact is that Drew was a terrible shooter and not much of a play-maker for being such a horrendous shooter (like the shooting of Ed Cota with the playmaking ability of Kris Humphries).  If he's improved (and Muhammad is eligible) these guys are absolutely a Final Four team.  Otherwise, they're probably just very good.  It's probably nice to have a "downside" to your season that would likely still be a top 4 seed in March.  Stupid power program jerks.

5.  Syracuse Orange. Scoop Jardine is gone, but that's ok because it's time for Michael Carter-Williams to become a star PG.  Fab Melo is gone, but that's ok because Rakeem Christmas might end up being better than than him anyway.  And Dion Waiters is gone but that's also ok because C.J. Fair is about to explode.  An excellent mix of returning talent (Brandon Triche is back as well for I think his 8th year) and newcomers (DaJuan Coleman is the 14th overall player and 6th best incoming center according to ESPN) should have the Orange back in Final Four contention.  There are questions, mainly because Carter-Williams is going from 10 minutes per game to running the show and he didn't exactly look great last season, but he should be game for the job considering he was a top 27 recruit last year and is an awesome 6-6 which is always awesome in a PG.  And if he's not the man, they have Triche who can slide in and take over.  Syracuse should contend for the Big East title, and it sucks that this will be the last time since they're going to the ACC.  That's just wrong.  Syracuse in the ACC?  That'd be like finding Super Sioux Fan in the library.

4.  Michigan Wolverines.  If Michigan's freshmen are as good as advertised this ranking is right.  Obviously they're loaded at guard with Trey Burke being one of the top point guards in the country and Tim Hardaway a scoring machine when he's on, but the front court is weak if you're only counting returning players (foul machine Jordan Morgan and coming back from a foot injury Jon Horford and that's it).  Both SF Glenn Robinson and PF Mitch McGary are top 30 guys according to ESPN, and if all goes according to plan both will end up starting.  Speaking of top recruits, in case you're wondering Michigan already has three top 100 guys (#s 24, 35, and 99) on board for season after this one and ESPN rates them as having the 7th best class in the country.  Indiana is #12.  Illinois #24 and Purdue #25.  Michigan State and Iowa (along with Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue) were in the top 25 for this about to begin season.  The last time the Gophers made the list was 2009 and two of the three guys who signed ended up transferring out.  I'm not exactly inspired here.

3.  NC State Wolfpack.  Talk about a quick turnaround.  Just two years ago NC State went 15-16 and won just 5 ACC games.  Then they fired Sid Lowe and hired Mark Gottfried, went to the Sweet 16, and are ranked 6th in both polls to start this season.  This season they have three new recruits coming in ranked in ESPN's Top 100 and already have two more on the line for 2013.  They're also among the final few teams still in the running for the #1 PF and #3 Center for next year.  As for this year's team it's basically the same team that made the Sweet 16 last year, but with three McDonald's All-Americans added to it, one of whom (Rodney Purvis) is either the best or second best freshman coming into the ACC this year.  They've also got two guys (Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie) who could win ACC Player of the Year and could be first round draft picks next year.  Now THIS is what you hope happens when you hire a new coach with a good pedigree, even though Gottfried's pedigree prior to NC State wasn't nearly as impressive as Tubby Smith's before coming to Minnesota.  What?  I'm just sayin'. 

2.  Indiana Hoosiers.  When I first heard the Hoosiers were considered the favorite to win the National Title I was all like, "Dude, what?  Get out of here, nerd" but then you start reading about all the other teams out there and you realize yeah, it's pretty legit.  If you had to pick one player to build a team around Cody Zeller would likely be your top pick as a legitimately skilled and polished center who can play on both ends, and with Christian Watford next to him that's probably the best 1-2 forward punch in the Big 10 if not the country.  And holy cow on Victor Oladipo the dude went from a raw athlete to a polished offensive player in one off season.  Pretty much the only weakness you can find with Indiana is at point guard if you don't like Jordan Hulls - which I do not - but they remedied that by signing Yogi Ferrell, who ESPN ranks as the third best PG in the class.  Crazy how quickly Tom Crean turned this program back around, which is great because I've always said the Big Ten needs even more perennial powerhouse programs to make sure the Gophers don't ever rise too high.

1.  Louisville Cardinals.  I may be biased because I love Rick Pitino even more than that chick he did on the table does, but there are a lot of reasons to love this team this year.  First, you know they're going to have a dominating defense.  They have that monster (Gorgui Dieng) in the paint erasing shots all over the place and plenty of athletes to run Pitino's press and he's always had great defensive half-court teams.  The only real question is if they'll be able to score enough, especially with Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are gone and those were the only two reliable outside shooters on the team.  I'm betting they can, which pretty much means I'm betting on Peyton Siva to finally "get it."  I actually have no idea why, because looking at his stats he's basically been a horrific shooter and turnover machine from day 1, and even after he supposedly "got it" at the end of last season his numbers didn't really change much.  Maybe you had to see it to believe it, but I'm buying in.  There's an incredible amount of talent assembled at Louisville this year and Siva is basically going to be the difference between another Final Four and possible Championship and a lackluster season.  Come on dude, don't make me look stupid.  I do that enough on my own (see:  my football predictions). 

Teams #68-60
Teams #59-53
Teams #52-47 
Teams #46-39 
Teams #38-34 
Teams #33-26 
Teams #25-20 
Team #19 (GOPHERS) 
Teams #18-12 
Teams #11-7

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

DWG College Basketball Preview: Teams #11-7

Apparently the lastest news, apart from some kind of election or something that is going on, is that the Twins are apparently interested in trading for James Shields of the Rays.  I'm not sure I'm buying that this team would do such a drastic move but that would be pretty sweet.  If they trade for Shields and sign someone like Brandon McCarthy or Edwin Jackson suddenly everything looks a whole lot better.  Then your rotation is Shields/McCarthy or Jackson/Diamond/Baker and then that whole mess of young dorks.  I feel pretty good about throwing all those guys into a competition for the fifth starter, especially as compared to needed three of them to be in the rotation as we stand now.

And what would it take to get Shields?  Denard Span at a minimum, but with the Rays needed to shed Shields salary and Span's contract is so team friendly through 2015 they might be willing to do it for just him, especially since they're expecting B.J. Upton to sign elsewhere so they'll need a CF.  I'm willing to give up Span as much as I like him just because Ben Revere's skill set is so close to his so losing Span doesn't really hurt that much.  The other rumor is they might want either Parmelee or Morneau as well to fill that black hole at first that is Carlos Pena, and I'd be fine giving up either to get Shields.  I'd be a little bit surprised if they want Morneau because of his salary, but if they can talk the Twins into picking up a chunk of his money then it could happen.  Either way making that trade significantly upgrades the rotation without hurting the lineup too much, so it's got to happen.  Which means it won't. 

On to the stuff:

11.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  I don't really get the high ranking for Ohio State in all the polls.  To be honest, I think 11 is a little bit high but I don't want to look like too big of an idiot and have them at 20 or something.  I know DeShaun Thomas is a scoring machine and I know Aaron Craft is a very, very good on ball defender, but beyond that everything is a mystery.  Can Craft excel when he has to be more the focal point of the offense?  Will that make his defense suffer?  Can Lenzelle Smith stop shooting bricks and become the scorer and shooter the Buckeyes need?  Sam Thompson and Amir Williams certainly have the pedigree to become stars or at least quality starters, but will they?  They're about to go from benchwarmer minutes to starters.  There's a shit load of other guys here too who have really impressive high school stats and good rankings when they came out, but they haven't proven anything.  Maybe Ohio State will be really good and be a Final Four contender yet again, but there are just way too many questions for me to have them in my top 10, let alone top 5.  Ask Jonathan Bender, Charles Rogers, and Brien Taylor about potential. 

10.  Missouri Tigers. I just read a thing on ESPN where they said the Tigers have the best back court in America and you know how much I love guards.  Mizzou would normally be in tough straights losing four starters off of last year's squad, but for whatever reason they've become a transfer haven lately and should be a getting a massive boost.   They will once again be mainly perimeter oriented, but Alex Oriakhi is in from UCONN and Laurence Bowers is back after an ACL injury that caused him to miss all of last season and those two alone are some considerable talent up front.  They have maybe the most fun PG to watch in the country (outside Andre Hollins of course) back in Phil Pressey as well as last year's sixth man Michael Dixon and add a whole mess of talented wing guys from Oregon, Auburn, and Pepperdine.  That, my friends, is a well built, well balanced team who is also going to run the hell out of you.  So much fun to watch.  There's a reason why I have a Missouri sweatshirt.  Mainly because it was $7 at Barry & Steve's.  RIP.

9.  Florida Gators.  The Gators are similar to Missouri in that they are perimeter oriented and I own or once owned a $7 sweatshirt from Barry & Steve's of them, but while Missouri probably has more questions the Gators might be looking at the biggest question:  who replaces Erving Walker?  Yeah, Bradley Beal is gone to the NBA and he was a bigger scorer than Walker, but Mike Rosario (former Rutgers dude and a big-time recruit) should be just fine stepping in, while Walker has been the team's starting PG for the last four years and there's no obvious replacement.  Kenny Boynton could slide over but he really, really loves to shoot (although in fairness so did Walker).  The other choices are a freshman (#7 PG frosh in the country by ESPN but still) or a junior who averaged just 15 minutes and 2.6 ppg last season.  As long as they figure that out they'll be a Final Four candidate because they're loaded with talent, and since Billy Donovan is a disciple of college basketball coaching jesus I'm sure the Gators will be just fine.  I really wish I knew what I did with that damn sweatshirt.  I want to wear it when they make the Final Four.

8.  Duke Blue Devils.  More like Puke, am I right?  I think I made that joke last year, but I, like the majority of America, just really dislike these guys.  Partially it's the overall douchbaggery, partially it's the entitlement, partially it's the reverence the national media bestows upon them, partially it's the constant whining of their rat-faced coach, and partially it's that they have a little floor-slapping weiner named Wojo as their big man coach.  Oh, you weren't aware?  Yes, Floppy McDiveonfloor himself is Duke's big man coach.  Suddenly it seems less of a wonder that they haven't had a good big man since Elton Brand when the guy who is supposed to be developing all this front line talent (and they still get the talent, it just never develops) is busy teaching them how to draw charges and miss three pointers.  Hopefully that never changes.  In conclusion, Duke will be pretty good all year and then lose in the first or second round of the tournament and America will once again rejoice amen.

7.  Kentucky Wildcats.  How exactly do you write about a team that has turned over it's entire roster?  Oh yeah, Kyle Wiltjer is back and is supposed to be pretty good and stuff.  Ryan Harrow will be the starting PG this year and I remember him from his NC State days, he was pretty good.  And the rest is transfers, guys who didn't play last year, and freshmen.  And yes, once again they're a really good group of recruits and next year is shaping up to be even stronger.  Say what you will about Calipari, like that if he and an orange were having a coaching battle I'd take Cal but I'd have to think about it, but he figured the game out before anyone else.  While most coaches were fighting the one-and-done culture and trying to figure out how to get kids to stay he embraced it and made it part of his team's model to the point where he can nearly pick and choose his recruits knowing that Calipari and Kentucky will embrace the fact that he'll only be there for a single season.  That, as well as Calipari's record with getting the most from his kids in that single year and getting them drafted, is awfully attractive for that very top tier talent.  He's made it work, he beat everyone else to it, and now he's got a dynasty on his hands and there's no reason to think it's going to stop any time soon.  You've got to give him credit for that.  I will now go wander into rush hour traffic.

Teams #68-60
Teams #59-53
Teams #52-47 
Teams #46-39 
Teams #38-34 
Teams #33-26 
Teams #25-20 
Team #19 (GOPHERS) 
Teams #18-12