Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Look Around the Big Ten

I already previewed tomorrow's insanely important game against Michigan State here, so I figured with conference play kicking off it would be worthwhile to take a quick look at each Big 10 team, so we know how they've fared this season thus far.  One thing's for certain - the league is no joke.  It's going to be a dogfight.  In alphabetical order:

RECORD:  13-1
RANKINGS:  #12 AP, #15 ESPN, #43 kenpom, #8 RPI, #24 SOS
BEST WIN:  85-74 @ Gonzaga
WORST LOSS:  73-82 vs. Missouri
SUMMARY:  It's a heck of a resume right now as their one win is nothing to be ashamed of and if this was anybody but this version of Illinois I'd likely give them more credit.  The problem is they are so reliant on the three-point shot and it's tough to see them continuing to shoot like this against the better defenses in the Big 10.  With that and all the near losses to inferior competition (narrow wins over Auburn, Gardner-Webb, and Western Illinois) it's hard to take Illinois too seriously.  Despite the gaudy record and rankings this is a fringe NCAA team by year's end.

RECORD:  11-1
RANKINGS:  #5 AP, #5 ESPN, #1 kenpom, #23 RPI, #76 SOS
BEST WIN:  83-59 vs. North Carolina
WORST LOSS:  86-88 vs. Butler
SUMMARY:  The Hoosiers have pretty much played as well as you'd expect this year and there's nothing that's happened so far to knock them out of their slot as favorite to win the NCAA Championship (although my pick is still Louisville), but, through no fault of their own, they don't have much in the way of signature victories.  The win over UNC was more impressive for margin of victory than for beating what's proving to be a mediocre Tar Heel club, and the only other victory of note is an overtime win over Georgetown, who has beaten nobody of note.  They've beaten everybody they've played (other than Butler), but I'm interested to see how they hold up once conference play starts.

RECORD:  11-2
RANKINGS:  unranked,  #45 kenpom, #80 RPI, #227 SOS
BEST WIN:  80-71 vs. Iowa State
WORST LOSS:  79-95 @ Virginia Tech
SUMMARY:  The strength of schedule so far is terrible which accounts for the flashy record, but sweeping the other Iowa schools (State and Northern) is a nice accomplishment which signals that Iowa isn't going to be a punching bag this year.  McCaffrey has them playing rock solid defense, Melsahn Basabe is back to being a force, and they're getting good contributions from the freshmen.  I'm a tiny bit scared of Iowa, and they could end up being a factor in some way as the season winds down.

RECORD:  12-0
RANKINGS:  #2 AP, #2 ESPN, #9 kenpom, #3 RPI, #13 SOS
BEST WIN:  67-62 vs. Pitt
SUMMARY:  This is the best team I've seen out of the Big 10 this year, and I put them with Louisville and Duke as the three teams that are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else this year.  They have the best backcourt in the country and only a handful of teams are even close (L'Ville, Gonzaga, Cincy, who else?) and that's going to be a major strength in March, as is the fact that they're this good right now with three freshmen as main contributors who will likely only get better.  They certainly aren't infallible, and an injury would hurt big-time because depth is a bit of an issue, but they've passed every test and looked great doing it.  This is a legit national title contender, make no mistake.

RECORD:  11-2
RANKINGS:  #19 AP, #19 ESPN, #18 kenpom, #35 RPI, #115 SOS
BEST WIN:  67-64 vs. Kansas
WORST LOSS:  62-66 vs. UCONN
SUMMARY:  The link above will give you more info on Michigan State than I'd give here so I'm not going to re-hash it, but this team could finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the conference, and given Izzo's track record I'd lean towards the upper end.  They own the best win of any Big Ten team so far this year, and their two losses were in Germany and against a team just getting its best player back and hitting their stride - both good teams (UCONN and Miami).   Scary team.

RECORD:  12-1
RANKINGS:  #11 AP, #14 ESPN, #10 kenpom, #12 RPI, #31 SOS
BEST WIN:  66-63 vs. Stanford
WORST LOSS:  71-89 vs. Duke
SUMMARY:  Well they certainly have the best "worst loss" of anyone (along with OSU), I can tell you that much.  The RPI, kenpom ranking, and SOS certainly have this team positioned as one of the best in the conference and even the country.  Can't wait to see if they're right.

RECORD:   9-4
RANKINGS:  unranked, #198 kenpom, #59 RPI, #32 SOS
BEST WIN:  50-48 vs. Valparaiso
WORST LOSS:  60-74 vs. Kent State
SUMMARY:  The disparity here between kenpom's ranking and their RPI is puzzling, but you can see where it comes from.  They've beaten a bunch of bad teams by slim margins, which kenpom hates, but their losses are all fairly undamaging (Kent State the only non-top 100 RPI team and Creighton is top 20) which RPI loves.  That win over Valpo might end up as a top 100 win (they just beat Murray State, too).  In any case, Nebraska needs to do some major damage to garner any kind of at-large consideration, and they're likely one (or more like 2-3) years away.

RECORD:  9-4
RANKINGS:  unranked, #86 kenpom, #104 RPI, #86 SOS
BEST WIN:  74-70 vs. Baylor
WORST LOSS:  44-50 vs. Illinois-Chicago
SUMMARY:  This team is absolutely fascinating, and I'm extra bummed Drew Crawford got hurt for the year.  First they get rolled by Maryland and UIC and everyone's like, "dude these guys blow."  Then they beat Baylor and it's like "all is forgiven."  Then Drew Crawford goes down for the year and suddenly they seem irrelevant, but they still manage to nearly knock off Stanford - losing Reggie Hearn (leading scorer) to an ankle injury in the process.  The Crawford injury and computer numbers say that this isn't the year they finally make the tournament, but this team is absolutely going to knock off one (at least one) of the conference's top tier squads this year.  I just hope the Gophers can avoid it.

RECORD:  10-2
RANKINGS:  #10 AP, #10 ESPN, #7 kenpom, #34 RPI, #67 SOS
BEST WIN:  77-66 vs. Washington
WORST LOSS:  66-74 vs. Kansas
SUMMARY:  Another fascinating squad, because they've beaten exactly nobody.  Washington ranks #107 in kenpom's ratings, and for reference the Gophers have beaten five teams who rank better than the Huskies (Richmond, NDSU, Stanford, Memphis, and Florida State) and two more who are very close (USC and SDSU).   There's no shame in losing to Duke or Kansas, obviously, and they were able to hang with them for most of the game so this is clearly a good team, I'm just wondering why exactly they're ranked 10th (and yes, I'm aware the polls mean dick).  They've looked really good beating up on bad teams by huge win margins, but their best win is by 11 over a team who lost to Albany and got crushed (CRUSHED) by Colorado State.  I would be more surprised by a 2 seed out of Ohio State than an 8.  Not a believer.  You can write that down. (NOTE:  still better than Illinois). 

RANKINGS:  unranked,#163 kenpom, #131 RPI, #131 SOS
BEST WIN:  60-57 vs. Bucknell
WORST LOSS:  61-73 vs. Boston College
SUMMARY:  They weren't likely to be a factor at all this year, and with Tim Frazier out for the year it's even less likely.  Without him they're basically a team that can neither shoot nor defend, and I don't know if you're ready for this kind of analysis but when you can't score and can't stop your opponent from scoring it's going to be a rough year.  D.J. Newbill can try and carry the team, but he's no Talor Battle or Tim Frazier.  They're pretty much screwed, but at least they'll get a high draft pick next year.

RANKINGS:  unranked, #72 kenpom, #193 RPI, #101 SOS
BEST WIN:  73-61 @ Clemson
WORST LOSS:   44-47 @ Eastern Michigan
SUMMARY:  That loss to Eastern Michigan is about as embarrassing as it comes, and frankly I'm struggling to think of a worse loss from any Big Ten team in the last few years.  Purdue basically looked like garbage at the beginning of the year, somehow rose up to smoke Clemson at Clemson to give hope to any Boiler fans, and then just went back to sucking.  This is a bad, bad, bad team.  They're right in the mix with Penn State and Nebraska for the bottom of the conference.

RANKINGS:  unranked, #16 kenpom, #138 RPI, #195 SOS
BEST WIN:  81-56 vs. Cal
WORST LOSS:  54-60 vs. Virginia
SUMMARY:  They never die, right?  Like some kind of group of zombie assholes.  They have four losses already, but none of the four are particularly egregious, even if Virginia has a terrible RPI right now.  The win over Cal and Arkansas are the only good ones they have, and the computer numbers say Wisconsin is definitely on the outside looking in at this point - by a lot.  But they're assholes, and Bo Ryan can mind-bend the universe, and somehow they're going to claw their way on to the bubble and probably screw the Gophers in the process.  God I hate these guys so much.  It's not healthy, and I'm kind of embarrassed about it, but here we are.

By kenpom:

1.  Indiana
7.  Ohio State
9.  Michigan
10. Minnesota
16. Wisconsin
18. Michigan State
43. Illinois
45. Iowa
72. Purdue
86. Northwestern
163. Penn State
198. Nebraska


3.  Michigan
8.  Illinois
12. Minnesota
23. Indiana
34. Ohio State
35. Michigan State
59. Nebraska
80. Iowa
104. Northwestern
131. Penn State
138. Wisconsin
193. Purdue

And finally my DWG conference predictions:

1.  Michigan
2.  Indiana
3.  Minnesota
4.  Michigan State
5.  Ohio State
6.  Illinois
7.  Iowa
8.  Wisconsin
9.  Northwestern
10.  Nebraska
11.  Purdue
12.  Penn State

Please let the Gophers win.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Michigan State

Well, this is it.  Michigan State at home is the absolute perfect test to let us know just how good this Gopher team is this year.  A good, but not great, team at home.  The kind of game that a Sweet 16 (or better) contender should be able to handle without much of an issue.  Not that the game shouldn't be close or anything like that, just that you should always have the impression that the Gophers are the ones controlling the game and they should come out on top, and not in last second fashion.  Am I crazy?  Well, kenpom has the Gophers as a 6-point winner.  That's about what I'd hope for/expect.  But it's not going to be easy.

Mainly because these teams are almost completely mirror images of each other.  Both are very good defensive teams (Minnesota 17th, Michigan State 12th in D Efficiency), with their main strength keeping teams from getting easy buckets and forcing long jump shots which translates to very good metrics against 2-point shots (Minn's opponents shoot 41% from 2, 23rd best in the country, MSU's shoot 38%, 7th best in the country).  Both teams also block a lot of shots (MN ranks 7th, MSU 44th) and get a lot of steals (MN 6th, MSU 30th) and are good but not great defending the 3 (MN 77th, MSU 87th).  Offensively both teams get the vast majority of their points from 2-pointers and shoot well from inside the line (MN 56th, MSU 23rd) but struggle from deep (MN 207th, MSU 223rd), crash the offensive glass big time (MN 1st, MSU 43rd) and turn the ball over way too much (MN 204th, MSU 275th).  These are two incredibly similar teams.  There are, however, a couple of key differences.

First, although the Gophers pound the glass on the offensive end they are weak on the defensive end, while Michigan State is outstanding on both ends of the court.  The Gophers allow their opponents to grab offensive rebounds on 35.5% of their misses, a number so poor it ranks 272nd in the country.  Meanwhile Sparty, led by Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix, is one of the better teams in the nation at grabbing their misses.  This is where the Gophers are most vulnerable.  The last time Michigan State played a team with a similar talent level who also sucked on the defensive glass they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds against UCONN.  If the Gophers allow double digit offensive rebounds to the Spartans it's going to make it tough to win - tough but not impossible, because while Sparty has one clear advantage the Gophers have two.

First - free throws.  While neither team commits an atrocious amount of fouls, the Gophers excel at getting to the line while the Spartans don't.  The Gophers struggle at times to make their foul shots, but they should have plenty of opportunities given their skills and Big 10 refs notorious for home cooking.  They should end up getting to the line for probably double the attempts Michigan State gets - if they can make them it's going to be a significant advantage.

Second - turnovers.  Both teams suck at taking care of the basketball (likely related to both teams using a scorer as their primary ball-handler and lack of a quality back-up) but while Michigan State doesn't create turnovers (143rd in the NCAA), the Gophers certainly do (29th).  The Gophers cause a turnover on nearly 25% of their opponents possessions, and with nearly everybody on the Spartans outside of Gary Harris quite turnover prone the Gophers will have a heavy advantage in the extremely important turnover battle.  For example, Joe Coleman is the worst Gopher on a TO per possession basis, turning the ball over 26% of the time - Michigan State has four guys worse than that.  This is where the Gophers can do a lot of damage and really control the game.


PG - Keith Appling.  Despite being a pretty horrendous outside shooter Appling has really stepped up and given Michigan State the scoring they needed with Draymond Green and Brandon Wood gone.  He does it by being lightning quick and getting into the lane.  Despite that skill set he's not much of a play maker, averaging just north of 4 assists per game but mostly by default.  He's going to be quite a test for Dre Hollins to handle, and will be a good litmus test to see just how good Hollins has become.

SG - Gary Harris.  Although he's second on the team in scoring (12.4 per to Appling's 14.9), Harris is the guy who really scares me.  Ultra athletic but in control at all times (as evidenced by his team best turnover rate, awfully impressive for a freshman), Harris can beat you from the perimeter, in the mid-range, or getting to the rim, although his 0.9 assists per game this year tell you once he puts the ball on the floor he's likely getting his shot.  As good as Austin Hollins has become as a defender it's impossible to keep a guy like Harris from getting his shots off.  All you can do is force him to take bad shots, so if Harris is settling for deep jumpers early you might as well pencil this in as a Gopher W.

SF - Denzel Valentine.  Another freshman like Harris, but without nearly as much polish, Valentine has been a turnover machine this year.  He doesn't do anything particularly well, but he's not awful at most things either (other than you know, the turnover thing).  He actually had a game where he registered 10 pts, 10 rebs, and 6 assists against a not-horrible Oakland team, but as of now he's mostly just biding his time until Harris bolts to the NBA after this year.

PF - Branden Dawson.  Like Mbakwe for the Gophers, Dawson is returning just a year after destroying his knee, which Dawson did in March.  Also like Mbakwe, at this point in the return you can't really tell he's recently had a major knee surgery, at least not by looking at the numbers.  That being said, the plan was always for this to be Dawson's team this season after Green left.  He had the pedigree, the ability, and the talent and that hasn't happened this season (averaging 9.8 pts and 6.2 rebs) so maybe it is still the knee thing.  I really wish I'd paid closer attention to him the couple of times I've watched Michigan State this year.

C - Derrick Nix.  If you remember Nix you remember him as a big giant fat person.  He's not exactly svelte now at 6-9, 270 lbs. but compared to where he used to be it's a big improvement and his game shows the changes.  He's still not a scoring machine, but he's upped his rebounding average from 3.8 per game last season to 7.8 this year and can show a scoring burst when necessary (put up 25 against Texas).   He's a huge load and an excellent rebounder, and if you still have any questions about Mbakwe's knee and how "back" he is, watch him go against Nix.  A healthy Mbakwe will own him.

BENCH - Two players worth mentioning: PG Travis Trice and C Adreian Payne.  Trice actually gives the Spartans a quality back-up pass first point guard, but he's only played in 8 games this year since he suffered a concussion in their opener vs. UCONN.  He seems to be back at this point, playing 25 minutes in Sparty's last game vs. Texas, so we can expect to see a lot of him.  He's an absolutely terrible defender, and if he ends up in the game guarding Dre Hollins at any point Dre should be fined and suspended if he doesn't immediately drive to the rack.  Payne is a defensive and rebounding stud who's offensive game still hasn't come together in Year 3.  He shoots an incredibly high percentage because he pretty much does nothing but attempt lay-ups and dunks, but he's a great defender.

Overall, this should be a pretty good game.  These teams are so similar it's going to come down to who can exploit their advantages.  The Gophers are at home, I believe they're the better team, and the Fargo-Moorehead Acro Team is in town....what could possibly go wrong?

Gophers 65, Michigan State 62.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Xmas

Merry Christmas, nerds.  Two things:

1.  Kobe Bryant now has 8 of the top 16 games in NBA history in terms of Field Goals Attempted.  He also has just 7 of the top 100 games in NBA history in terms of field goals made.

2.  This:

IPB Image

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Lafayette (and some general college hoops stuff)

Let's get this out of the way:  Lafayette is bad.  Like, really, really bad.  All five wins this year (vs. 8 losses) have come at home vs. terrible teams, including a non-D1 school.  The only decent teams they've played this year are Kentucky (lost by 52 yes 52), Maryland (lost by 9), Princeton (lost by 19), and Long Island twice (they split somehow).  Kentucky shot 65% against them.  They've given up 80+ points five times this year despite not being an uptempo squad.  Of the 347 Division I teams, they rank 313th in 2-pt field goal defense, 323rd in 3-pt defense, and 311th in total defensive efficiency.  They're a little better with the ball thanks to good three-point shooting (hit 36%) and great free-throw shooting (76.4% - 21st in the country) but they better take advantage of any shots they can get off because they don't take care of the basketball (227th in turnovers) or rebound their misses (316th in OReb %).  They don't have a single player averaging more than 4.3 rebounds per game, and it's not like they make it into a group effort because they're 324th in the country in rebounds per game.  They're horrible.  Kenpom predicts the Gophers to win this one 85-55.  That might end up being generous.

They've got a handful of semi-interesting players, I guess.  Seth Hinrichs is a 6-7 guard who averages 14 per game, and Dan Trist is a highly efficient (55% FG) power forward who also averages 14 per.  Tony Johnson is the point guard who averages a respectable five assists per game and was the only Leopard to hit double digits in scoring against Kentucky, and Joey Ptasinsky is a three-point chucker who hit seven against Morehead State.  But in reality it's an undersized, undermanned, and under-talented team going against one of the ten best teams in the country (yeah, I said it).  Lafayette could keep it interesting because they move the ball well (assists on 60% on their FGs, 54th in the country), shoot well, and hit all their free throws and in previous years that's the kind of thing that would worry me.  Not this year, however.  Lafayette's inability to rebound and the Gophers dominating defense will collide to make this an absolute ass-kicking of the highest order.  Get ready to see a whole lot of Kendal Shell.  More college basketball thoughts after the girls.

Gophers 90, Lafayette 52.

You're not going to believe this, but there aren't a lot of Lafayette chicks pictures out there.

-  I wish you could bet on things like "Jabari Parker is going to dominate next year."  He just announced he's going to attend Duke (over Michigan State, BYU, Stanford, and Florida) and he's going to thrive their.  Guy is like a more athletic version of Carmelo Anthony.  Granted I'm only basing this on some highlights I've seen because I've haven't watched a game of his because only weirdos watch high school basketball, but that was enough to convince me that Duke will win the National Championship next season.  Look man, I'm not happy about it either but I'm just reporting the facts.  Maybe we'll get lucky and somebody will pull a miracle upset in the tournament.  Seems likely, actually.

-  I'm so disappointed in the Ohio Bobcats.  I thought they'd be good enough this year to get an NCAA at-large bid (if they didn't win the MAC) and even ranked them as the 26th best team in the country this year before the season started.   After starting the season 6-0 (with decent wins over Richmond and St. Bonnie mixed in) things have fallen apart with the Bobcats going 1-4.  They missed out on a chance to add another top 100 type win by losing to UMass, missed their shot at a big-time marquee win by getting killed against Memphis, and threw two very ugly wins on the ledger dropping games to Winthrop (RPI 211) and Robert Morris.  With a weak conference again this year (Akron is the only other decent team) Ohio absolutely has to beat Oklahoma  next week in their last non-conference shot at a Top 100 win and then will have to roll through the MAC at pretty close to undefeated to get a bid if they don't win the conference tournament.  Although, really, that Winthrop loss and the rest of this stretch say it might be too late.

-  After a little bit of a dick tease that the Pac-10 was going to be back to being relevant this year after what feels like 10 years of shittiness they're clearly going for the shittiness thing again.  UCLA was supposed to be a top 10 team but is in shambles (with a loss to Cal Poly) and will likely get their coach fired soon.  Colorado and Cal got off to great starts, but Colorado needed double overtime to beat Texas Southern, lost to Wyoming, and got crushed by Kansas and Cal lost three straight against legit competition including getting absolutely destroyed by a terrible Wisconsin squad.  USC had their sites on a NCAA Tournament bid but has been a total train wreck, Stanford hasn't won a single meaningful game and lost to Belmont, and Washington has lost to Albany and Nevada.  Other than Arizona (fool's gold, trust me) and Oregon (their win over UNLV was more impressive than the loss at UTEP was harmful) I don't know that there's a team in this conference who can win an NCAA Tournament game, assuming anybody else can even get there.  But I suppose we should be used to this.  The Pac-12 is just awful at hoops now. 

-  Obviously it will all come down to match-ups so this isn't a prediction per se, but these are the teams I think are most likely to make the Sweet 16 this year:  Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Syracuse, Minnesota, Louisville, Florida, Kansas, Gonzaga, VCU, New Mexico, and Creighton.  No that's not 16 but I can't find 16.  These 12 I would be willing to bet will make up at least half the Sweet 16.  I'm too tired and drunk to figure out how big a limb that is to go out on, but I'm out on it any way and I'm loving every minute of it.

-  The NCAA is suspending Texas guard Myck Kabongo for the entire season.  Why, you might ask?  Sounds like he might have had some dealings with an agent and/or had a workout paid for by someone when he was flirting with entering the NBA Draft last season.  But wait, you'd say, I thought you only got like a 10 game suspension for that kind of stuff, and you'd be right.  The NCAA, however, has brought the hammer down on Kabongo because he wasn't immediately forthcoming with all the information, similar to when they clamped down on my main man Dez Bryant.  You know, people always talk about how guys like Bud Selig and Roger Goodell are too heavy handed, but the NCAA is a total joke.  They make billions of dollars off student athletes and then rule them with an iron fist.  I was going to write more but I can feel my train of thought going right off the rails as I'm trying to watch The League right now as well.  Effin' Rafi. 

 Yeah that's about it.  Should be plenty.   For those who don't believe in Twitter you'll notice that on the right hand column my tweets are showing up over there so you can read them.  Much thanks to Stroms for the help.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Musings

 Are you in the mood to read 1,537 words?  Actually more now since I'm writing this introduction?  You are?  Oh good.  Because here they come. 

-  We've written about the Span trade, the Revere trade, and the Correia signing here already so I suppose I should put something to figurative paper about the Mike Pelfrey signing but I am struggling so hard to care. 
This adequately expresses my feelings.
I guess I'm in favor simply because it's mirroring what my strategy would be with this team: trade everyone with value, get as many prospects as you can, fill holes for this year with short, cheap contracts, and plan for 2014.  Signing Correia and Pelfrey does that, although giving Correia a second year is pretty mind-boggling.  Pelfrey should be a better pitcher than Correia (not saying much), but he's coming off Tommy John surgery so your mileage may vary.

Pelfrey is a former first round pick who has been thoroughly mediocre in his career (similarity scores at his age - 29 - put him like a Carl Pavano or Jake Westbrook at that age: ok, but not necessarily good.  A one year, $4 million dollar contract is a pretty good deal for him, especially because he's coming off Tommy John surgery which these days seems to make players better.  If he can get back to his mediocre ways or even slightly better - put up like a high 3s/low 4s ERA - he could end up being a good piece to trade at the deadline.  I'm realizing now I'm pretty obsessed with trading anything and everything of value and throwing in the towel this year.  And it's December.  Gonna be a fun season.  I do like the Rule 5 Ryan Pressly pick-up though.  Probably I could write about that and actually sound positive, but I'm not going to.  Although I will mention that I saw on where they list each team's top 20 prospects that Pressly slots in at #17, so that's probably good, right?

-  What in the world is going on with the value of top prospects these days?  The Phillies send their #1 prospect to the Twins for Ben Revere.  The Royals send their top prospect (and #3 in all of baseball) away for James Shields, while the D-Backs ship out their #1 (and #5 overall) for good fielding no hitting shortstop prospect and a middle reliever.  Now the Jays are trading their #1 (#11 overall) and #3 (#83) for R.A. Dickey who, rumor has it, is 38.  It's starting to look like teams are looking more or more for when they have their "window" and just going for it, and since it's not just one team but multiple this may be the new trend.  The Phillies will have Revere for a while and the D-Backs got back a guy they hope is their SS for many years, but both the Royals and Jays are clearly going for it now, acquiring players who won't be on the team in 3 years.

The famous Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade worked out well for both team's and I'm guessing both organizations would do it again if they traveled back in time, but generally there's a pretty clear winner and loser in these types of deals.  If the Jays and Royals can get back to the playoffs for the first time in 20+ years even once you can probably say they made the right move, if not they payed an awfully steep price for the same results they'd have gotten anyway, but with a dash of disappointment mixed in.  That is, of course, assuming the prospects work out which is pretty much a given since they always do.

- Speaking of baseball transactions the one time that isn't doing anything that baffles me is the Baltimore Orioles.  Yeah, there was an awfully lot of luck on their side to make the playoffs, but they made them and clearly needed to make some upgrades if they want to get back, but they aren't doing much of anything.  So far their biggest moves are claiming Alexei Casilla, trading Robert Andino to Seattle for Trayvon Robinson (note:  I have no idea who this is), and re-signing Lew Ford to a minor league deal.  They need a corner OFer, a 1B after letting Mark Reynolds walk, a second baseman since Brian Roberts is always hurt and I'm pretty sure Casilla isn't the answer, and starting pitching help because Chen/Hammel/Gonzalez/Tillman/Britton is not going to get you into the playoffs again.  Also I just noticed that their designated hitter right now is Wilson Betemit - I mean these guys need some help.

I have no idea why they aren't after Swisher or LaRoche, not to mention Edwin Jackson or trying to at least work a trade with somebody like the Dodgers who have too many pitchers or figuring out something at 2b, even if it's just signing someone shitty like Kelly Johnson (he's better than Casilla).  Then again who knows, maybe they're smarter than me and waiting for the market to settle a bit and going after bargains.  They have plenty of young arms that could get decent pieces back to plug into the roster, but they've barely even been mentioned in rumors as far as doing anything that a whole bunch of waiver claims and minor league deals and getting rebuffed by Nate freaking Schierholz.  I don't get it.  If Baltimore's front office thinks they're in a place to compete again this year they're in for a big ole face slap.  Prime candidate to take the UNDER on wins once those wagers are released.

-  You know how two of our reader's (Loretta08 from Sippin' on Purple and Bear) hate hate hate Kevin O'Neill and consider him bar none the worst coach in NCAAB?  I agree he's pretty awful, but without question Bruce Weber is the worst.  The dude did nothing but underachieve at Illinois (after finishing national runner-up with Bill Self's players), including famously refusing to recruit a point guard instead content to force shooting guards to play out of position (first Demetri McCamey, then Brandon Paul) with mostly disastrous results and now he's screwing up Kansas State as well.  The Wildcats made the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year under Frank Martin and have basically the same team back.  They were ranked 37th in the AP Preseason Poll and 30th in the ESPN poll, while the Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 5th in the conference and I ranked them as the 33rd best team in the country.   So decent.

Now I readily admit there's nothing particularly damning here at 7-2.  Their only two losses are to Michigan and Gonzaga (and Gonzaga just killed them), but looking deeper it's just empty.  They barely beat a bad Delaware team and a horrible George Washington team, and two of their wins are over a non-D1 team and USC Upstate who is basically a non-D1 team.  They still might end up in the race for an NCAA bid because don't forget these are Frank Martin's players, but the end for this program is on the horizon.  Mark my words, in 2-3 years this program will be back in the depths of anonymity because BRUCE WEBER IS AWFUL.  Truth.
She hates Bruce Weber too I would assume.
-  It feels a bit weird writing all these words and not talking about the Gophers since I'm supposed to be a Gopher blog, but I live-blogged the last game so every thought I had that night (and many I didn't) has already been written.  Instead, real quick, I wanted to take a look and compare this year's Gopher team to the one from 1996-1997 which made the Final Four (yes, they did).

Both teams were coming off NIT seasons with minimal personnel losses from the prior year (1996 team lost only David Grim) and nothing in the way of impact freshmen coming in (that was the Loge/Sanden/Archambeau class - thanks dick).  Both had success in an early season tournament.  Both came into Big Ten play with just 1 loss (1996 loss was at Alabama, a team that would fail to make either the NIT or NCAA Tournament).  That team was ranked in the top 10 for the first time following the January 11th game against Michigan.  That year's Big Ten was much weaker than this year's version, with only Indiana (x2), Michigan (x2), and Illinois ranked at the time the Gophers played them and none ranked higher than 15th.  The Gophers were clearly the class of the league in 1996 as shown by winning the conference with a 16-2 record.  This year's team is going to be in a much tougher conference.  I remember thinking that team was special after the win @ Indiana, and I'm already thinking this year's team is special.  Seriously, I can barely handle waiting for that New Year's Eve day game.  We're going to learn so much.

-  Since I know you're dying for an update I made the semi-finals in both my important Pretend Football leagues and lost both, despite having the highest scoring team in both leagues this year, by scoring the fewest points either team put up all year thanks to having Ray Rice, Demaryious Thomas, and Hakeem Nicks in both leagues.  I hate that stupid fake sport.  I quit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

North Correia: A Free Agency Story

The MLB Winter Meetings have ended.  There were a lot of moves made and our Twins were in thick of it by making trades and offers to free agent pitchers for them to turn down.  Then, the totally thinkable happened: an average to below average starting pitcher that literally never misses bats (well, 5.7% of the time he does) signed a two year deal.  Welcome to the North, Correia!

DWG already covered Corriea briefly in his live blog of last night's Gophers/Bison tilt, but it probably should be mentioned again that this wasn't what we were looking for as a first splash in free agency.  Jon Marthaler of Twinkietown is apoplectic about the signing and rightfully so.  The worst part about this is that it's $5MM per year that can't be given to someone else.  As the Twins repeat their mantra of being small budget and having limited money to spend over and over, you'd think they'd be a little more wise and a lot more patient with it.  If someone scoops you at this point in the off-season on Correia, you wish the poor bastards luck and trot out Sammy Deduno instead.  Another thing about Correia is he's not exactly some big-time workhorse.  He's never logged 200 innings, coming closest in 2009 at 198.  He's averaged 157 innings pitched over the past 3 seasons.  Correia throws a 4-seamer 25% of the time at 90 mph, a 2 seamer 21% at 90.6 mph, a slider 24% at 87 mph, a curve 12% at 77 mph and a change 13% at 86mph. You can see that his mix doesn't vary speeds much, so he has to rely on location and movement to be effective.  According to his only pitch that was plus from an average runs allowed perspective was the changeup.

Pass the tobacky.

The best part about watching the winter meetings is watching the interviews.  Seeing Charlie Manuel in a suit trying to act like a regular human that doesn't wear leggings and a windbreaker to work was great.  The interview I saw was a day or two before the Revere trade and you could tell he knew it was happening.  They asked him about their hole in center field and he said they were focusing on getting a defensive presence out there.  Manuel was curmudgeonly and loveable.  You know he threw some Red Man in after the interview to take the edge off.

The Terry Ryan interview on MLB network that occurred just after the two trades was also great.  Terry Ryan looks like a turtle.  An angry, angry turtle.  I should have recorded it because I can't find it online.  Essentially, he said what we've all been thinking and saying for the last year or two.  The Twins have some depth in the outfield and are sorely in need of pitching.  He went on to mention that they've had a number of offers out to pitchers but they couldn't give away the money. Sadly, now we know he did give some cash away to Correia.  After seeing this interview it makes me lean even more towards thinking this was a panic move.

Also of note was that he listed Hicks, Benson and Mastroianni in that order when asked how they'll fill centerfield.  Spring training will be interesting from this standpoint as a stand out performance could land any of the three the job.  I suspect we'll see Mastroianni there to start and as DWG pointed out, he was at least somewhat useful in under 200 ABs last season.  Hicks, 23, had a lot of success last season in AA.  He's a good defender in centerfield with a big arm.  He has power and speed on the basepaths.  His strikeouts are a tad high, but he also walks at a good rate, so he projects to a top of the order type.  Benson was injured much of last year with the dreaded hamate bone injury (that's the tiny bone at the base of the ring finger in the palm of your hand where hitters often hold the knob of the bat).  He also had a knee cleanup in August.  He hit like crap, but I'm willing to give him a pass due to injury issues.  He's 25 in March, so it's possible he makes the team as a reserve outfielder with Mastroianni starting and Hicks in AAA at the beginning at least.  Then when they suck and Hicks is tearing up AAA, they can make a move.

Ryan also indicated that they are probably done subtracting for the time being and would prefer to add via free agency rather than trade.  He indicated that he thought the team could compete as-is and when asked about starting pitching he mentioned Worley, Diamond and Liam Hendriks.  He also said they have guys like Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing as depth.  At which point I yelled "Oh, come on!" at the tv. This was of course before we got the Correian Barbeque.  Your Twins rotation right now looks something like this:


#4a Scott Diamond
#4b Vance Worley
#5a Liam Hendriks
#5b Kevin Correia
And then the clusterflap for the last spot: Kyle Gibson, Cole DeVries, Nick freaking Blackburn and Sammy Deduno.

If Gibson starts in AAA there's a legit chance that with Gibson, Meyer and May the Rochester Redwings will have a better staff than the Twins.  The hope is of course that there's one more signing coming in for the Twins.  They still have some money under their self-imposed cap, so they just need to get some sucker to agree to sign on the dotted line.

Starters that are still out there:

Shaun Marcum is still kicking around.  He doesn't throw hard and is kind of old (31 in two days), so maybe the Twins have interest.  He's a better pitcher than Correia, but that likely means he'd cost more too.  He's the chick at the bar that used to be pretty hot, and is probably still worth a roll.

Ryan Dempster is also out there and rumors indicate the Twins made an offer.  He's already declined a two year/$25 million offer from the Red Sox because his old ass wants a three year deal.  He's 36 in March and definitely on the decline, so if he's asking that much it's a definite no-go.  Similar to Marcum, he's an older chick at the dive bar that really isn't all that hot but has big boobs at least.

Edwin Jackson is still out there!  He still wants a multi-year deal and I'd still give it to him.  (just like last year)  He had probably his best year yet last season for the Nats when they gave him a one year, $12MM deal.  He is reported to want a 4 or 5 year deal, probably in the 50-60MM range.  Big bucks and we hate that.  The dream scenario here is that Edwin hangs around until the zero hour and is forced to make bad decisions like he's at the bar until close and all of the cool franchises have already left with their pitchers and the Twins have been bellied up to the bar all night making kissy faces at him and he just goes for it. 

Jair Jurrjens is available and has a fun name.  The Twins reportedly are after him as well.  He's just 26, but is coming off a brutal, Blackburnesque season.  He is a former all-star though and could be a cheap, short term signing.  He's the newly single chick at the bar that kind of let herself go because she was depressed and stuff, but now she's got a gym member ship and stuff and who knows what could happen?

Brett Myers is crazy and seems to just be drawing interest from the Orioles and Twins for the most part.  He's the crazy chick that bites and scratches but mostly in a fun way.

Joe Saunders...made an offer already, meh.  Lefty and still better than Corriea.  He's the chick with the lazy eye.

Frankie Liriano also already offered.  WTF?  I think any other team in the league would be a better fit.  I mean, how many chances does he need to prove he can't turn it aroun in Minnesota?  He's the on again, off again girlfriend that cheats on you all of the time.

LOL Brett Myers

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gophers vs. NDSU Live Blog

I couldn't make it to the game tonight, but will be watching live, so why not live blog for the first time this year?  I used to do this to some critical acclaim, so might as well fire it up.

20:00 - Announcer guys point out Tubby has 113 career wins with Minnesota.  Pretty sure nearly 4 of those are against good Big 10 teams.  Need to double that up this year.

20:00 - How bad is that Kevin Correia signing by the way?  And 2 years!??!??  He's a right-handed, National Leagued Nick Blackburn and they already tried that last year with Jason Marquis.  I guess somebody has to mop up the fifth spot, but why not let's the kids throw rather than burning it on a younger Marquis?  Or, they think he can be the #3 guy, which is the worst thing I've ever heard.

20:00 - ZOMBIE NATION!! Oh oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh, oh oh, oh oh

19:47 - Elliott Elliason draws a quick foul.  Unguardable.

19:43 - Rodney with a long 2.  Terrible shot, but it went down.  Gonna be an easy game if that's happening.

18:38 - NDSU plan seems to be get the ball to Bjorklund on the block against Elliason, and Gophers are content to not help, which is a good call since NDSU shoots the three so well.  They've gone to him on all three possessions so far and gotten a block shot by Elliason, a hoop, and a 3-second call.  And, not for nothing, but Elliason needs to be able to handle Summit League big men before he can get a lot of conference minutes.

17:21 - Joe Coleman gets lost on defense again (although to be fair he's been MUCH better this year) which leads to a wide open monster dunk by NDSU white guy, which is actually the kind of play you can't let the Bison get off because pretty soon they're going to "start to believe they can win" which is a total cliche but cliches are true for a reason and I really don't want these farmer dorks hanging around.

16:55 - Coleman gets burned by the guy with the ball after not switching quickly enough off a pick.  He is a truly horrendous defender.

16:04 - Both Hollins's have missed open threes.  Don't like how this game is going.  Not just the score (9-4 NDSU) but everything about it.  This game is french fried taters and I'm the opposite of the sling blade guy.

15:30 - Rodney dunk.  He has all six for the Gophers.  At least he looks good.

15:03 - Going to TV timeout at 9-6 NDSU with Dre going to the line.  Gophers really upped the intensity all of a sudden.   Hopefully that translates into you know, winning, and stuff.

15:03 - Weird D-Backs and Indians trade just went down.  Looks like a 6-player swap of prospects and middle relievers.  The bad news?  Trevor Bauer to the Indians.  Would really prefer to NOT have him in the AL Central.  Felt the same way about Chris Sale, and see?  I'm always right.

14:57 - Andre missed both.  Sweet heavens of jesus wept.

13:41 - All they do is run Felt (big-time 3-point guy) around screens the whole time he's in there.  Good test for Austin since you know he's going to be getting all the toughest defensive assignments.  Well him or Joe Coleman.

12:51 - Maverick throws the ball directly to a NDSU player.  He was trying to hit Oto on the wing though, so it's probably a wash.

12:25 - I'm going to pretend Welch tried to bank that one.

11:59 - Felt drives into the lane and manages to get called for a charge and airball a floater at the same time.  I'm guessing that's why they tell you to hang out on the perimeter, wiener.

11:34 - Has Oto gone retarded?

11:28 - I think there may have been more to that trade.  I'm only getting partial info from Twitter and it's too hard to search for it while trying to count how many passes Osenieks can drop on one possession.  Also, Mbakwe grabbing every board in sight right now.  13-12 Gophers.

10:48 - Ahanmisi hits the 3-ball off a Mbakwe kick out (3 fantasy points for me!).  I hate to say it - like really really hate it - but he's not been completely horrendous this year.

9:39 - Welch/Ahanmisi/Osenieks/Ingram/Mbakwe is not a good look.  There's nobody in that group who can create offense.  Mbakwe is the closest thing but I don't know if it's the knee or what but he doesn't seem to have much of a post game this year.

8:16 - This appears to be one of those games where Coleman plays with his head in his rectum.

7:58 - Did you ever stop and think that the classic Christmas song "Baby It's Cold Outside" is about date rape?  Think about it.

7:11 - I don't take back what I said about Coleman, but my goodness is he clever when he has the ball in the lane.  Probably from playing in the driveway with the taller Dan growing up.  Then again, he probably could just bump Dan once and he'd quit and go inside to play Bubble Bobble.

5:36 - Rodney Williams with a 360 that somehow managed to also be an absolute hammer dunk.  Got to be #1 on SportsCenter.  They like dunks and stuff.  Gophers 26, NDSU 20.

4:41 - I cannot decide if Mo Walker looks good or horrible.  It's the same every game.  He's a two-face.

4:14 - Wait, a two face either looks good or bad.  Mo is a decision I just can't make.  Rather than a two face he's more like Michelle Williams or Robin Tunney.

2:40 - Back to back 5 second calls.  You don't see that every day.  Or ever.

0:53 - Tip-jam for Mbakwe.  Does my heart good to see it.  Like a bunny holding a kitten.

0:00 - Hollins' three as the half ends and the Gophers close on an 8-0 to go into the half up 11.  They should (SHOULD) just need to just keep putting the hammer down to win this one easily.  We shall see.

0:00 - Rodney dunk already on youtube thanks to zipsofakron who writes either for the Gopher Hole, From the Barn, or both:

0:00 - So this has nothing to do with the Gophers, but I can't stop laughing at this Jay Cutler story since I read about it about a week ago.  I mean, it could be a completely random time of the day with nothing going on and I'll think about it and just laugh.
Friend is in a bar in Chicago during the off-season. He goes to the bathroom and sees Jay Cutler, hat on backwards, taking a piss at the urinal. So the guy starts going to the bathroom and says, “Hey, I’m a huge fan, also went to Vanderbilt… ”
Jay throws his head back, still pissing, eyes half-closed because he’s drunk, interrupts him with, “DOOOONNNNTTTTTT CAAAAAARRRREEEEEE.”
 Cannot stop giggling.  Like a little girl.

20:00 - Choo to Cincy is the main piece of the trade, with the Indians getting Bauer and Drew Stubbs.  I can't wait to watch Stubbs face Correia.  The stoppable force vs. the movable object when it comes to strikeouts.  Gonna be sweet.

17:23 - 37-29 Gophers.  I missed the start of the half because I was melting american cheese on saltines which is delicious and Mbakwe is already in.  Maybe he started the second half which maybe we are done with this nonsense.

16:44 - Mbakwe with 10 boards already.  Looking pretty good.  Twitter nerds attacking that dude who wrote how he "had no explosiveness" anymore.  Relax, nerds.  So Trevor dunked.  He didn't even do a 360 or anything.  I'm going to go make this same joke on twitter now, as I watch Mbakwe make another lay-up against some hapless fool.

15:43 - Dre Hollins takes it to the rack 1-on-4 in transition, has it knocked away out of bounds.  I don't care what fundamental dorks say, I like a little reckless in my PG.

15:26 - Gophers realizing NDSU can't deal with either Rodney Williams or Mbakwe down low and just feeding the post.  Nice to see them appear as if they are coached.  For the last several years, whether Tubby was coaching or not, it sure didn't look like it.

14:29 - Mbakwe air-balls a free throw.  That's his second one this year (at least).  Between that and Andre Hollins actually missing free throws something weird is going on.  Even more weird?  Coleman, Elliason, and Williams all hitting 70%.  It's kind of like when you're playing Contra and you lose all your lives but player 2 has some left so you just steal one.

 13:30 - 49-32 Gophers and looking like they've taken control.  Best news of this game is that Mbakwe is looking a lot like his old self tonight, absolutely crashing the boards with reckless abandon with 13 boards and 6 on the offensive end.  Remember last year when he'd all of a sudden just decide, "yeah, I'm going to get every missed shot now"?  It's like that.  In sad news, do you realize when Williams and Mbakwe graduate next year's big man duo will be Elliason and Walker.  Oof.

12:55 - Andre Ingram would be a very promising sophomore.

12:08 - Osenieks really shoots like a shooter.  He doesn't make them like a shooter, but he shoots like one.

9:45 - The way Walker has played tonight, and he just missed a lay-up, I'm starting to think he's not a two face he's just ugly.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt since he's still dealing with coming back from an injury, but that feels like an excuse.  That's an excuse, isn't it?  It is.  I knew it.

7:28 - Gophers trying to let NDSU back in the game here up just 57-45 now.  Good thing NDSU is terrible.

6:43 - Wow.  Rodney Williams just blows right by his guy coming from the perimeter, then when dude overcommits to stop the drive he stops on a dime, pivots in the other direction, and hits the turnaround jumper.  NBA level move right there.

4:42 - Another rebound for Mbakwe.  That's like, 15 or something.  Austin hits a J on the break and Gophers up 66-50.  I'm getting tired.

3:37 - Wally Ellenson on the floor for the Gophers.  I guess we solved the question of the redshirt.  And he immediately turns it over.  Great.

2:55 - Ellenson nearly turns it over again but is bailed out with a foul call.  EVERYTHING IS GOING GREAT!

1:40 - Ellenson continues to play like a walk-on.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, obviously since it's his first game, but not exactly impressed.  Gophers up 70-57.  Line is 14.

0:00 - Gophers win 70-57.  Do not cover.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Game Preview: North Dakota State Bison

I am currently finding the NDSU Bison a very intriguing team.  Why, you would ask?  Who cares about yet another Dakota team from the Summit League, a League whose best team (So Dak State) just got pounded like Bree Olson by the Gophers (yes without their best player but still)?  Well, it's because the results this season say one thing, but kenpom's advanced statistical metrics say something else.  I am intrigued beyond intriguement.

Looking at the results NDSU hasn't done anything terrible, but they haven't done anything good either.  Their record is 8-2 with the losses coming at Indiana (by 16) and at Green Bay (by 15).  The loss to GB is a bit sketchy, but they aren't a horrible team this year and it was on the road so I'll give them a bit of a pass.  The 8 wins containing nothing at all special with two of them coming versus non Division 1 teams and the best of the lot probably being their win over Youngstown in overtime.  Basically the resume of your typical non-horrendous cupcake, the type of team the Gophers have been by 25 with ease this year.

Kenpom's results, however, are considerably different and rank NDSU as the 57th best team in the country, in the same general vicinity as St. Louis, Temple, St. Mary's, and Virginia Tech - quite a different animal.  What's the discrepancy?  In general, NDSU's statistical profile fits the cupcake type team you'd expect, except NDSU does three things exceptionally well - defend shooters, block shots, and knock down 3s.

I'll start with knocking down 3s because frankly it's what scares me the most.  The Bison have hit 41.3% of their 3-point attempts this year (8th in the country) and get 33% of their total points from behind the line - it's a major weapon, even if they aren't totally dependent on it, which makes it even scarier because their regular offense can help set up open looks for shooters.  As these teams usually go they have a do everything type of guy in 6-7 swingman Taylor Braun who leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg), assists (3.5 apg), and steals (1.6 spg) AND he's a major 3-point threat as well, hitting 43% this year and he hit 7 against Omaha.  Braun isn't even the main threat to go off from three.  That would be shooting guard Mike Felt who comes off the bench but is the team's designated shooter and has hit at 46% this year.  There are others who are decent shooters, but Braun and Felt are the main two the Gophers will need to limit to try to keep NDSU from making this a game.

Defensively, the Bison use a solid interior defense (25th in the country in block percentage) to limit opponents on 2-pointers (opponents shoot 41% on 2s - 35th in the country) without giving up much on the perimeter (opponents shoot 30% from 3 - 90th in the country) resulting in a very solid overall defensive footprint - overall 58th in the country in defensive efficiency.  It would be easy to say that this defense has benefited from a soft overall schedule (and they did get pretty well schooled by Indiana) but I'm inclined to think they play some pretty good defense.  Marshall Bjorklund is the team's second leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and third leading rebounder (5.3 rpg) and he's a big (6-8), strong (240 lbs.) kid who's going to make things tough down in the paint even though he doesn't really block shots (0.5 per game).  He leaves that to TrayVonn Wright (1.7 bpg + 5.9 rebs), a crazy athlete in the Rodney Williams mold, and Chris Kading (1.3 bpg).  NDSU has the size to make things difficult for a lot of teams, particularly mid-majors, but the Gophers aren't a mid-major - in case you hadn't noticed.

NDSU has been a solid team against poor competition this year, and look to be good enough to at least challenge SDSU in the Summit for the league's lone NCAA bid and it wouldn't surprise me to see them get it and maybe even put a scare into somebody.  Disciplined teams (check) with the size to not get run over by high major teams (check), play solid defense (check), and can knock down a whole bunch of 3-pointers in a hurry (check) can't be taken lightly, and when that team also has do everything type of player like NDSU has in Braun they become a legitimate threat to upset someone.  In year's past, this game would have terrified me.

But not this year.  Not this team.  They're just too good this year.  The Hollins-Hollins-Coleman backcourt is going to shred NDSU, and the Bison have size but not the kind that can stand up to Mbakwe, Elliason, Walker, and Ingram thrown at them constantly.  TrayVonn Wright might be the best athlete in the Summit, but Rodney Williams is one of the best athletes in the world.  I can see NDSU hanging around for a while, making a game of it in the first half for a bit, but this Gopher team is on a different plane, and teams like that don't let teams like this hang around forever.

Minnesota 77, NDSU 50

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fare thee Well, Ben Revere

The Twins, taking my advice and not standing pat, continued making moves at the Winter Meetings to improve pitching in the organization, a desperate and drastic need, this time shipping out Ben Revere to the Phillies for a couple of young arms, and in a Shyamalanian twist the return they got for him looks more impressive than what they got for his predecessor (mentor?  elder?) Denard Span.

I was a little bit surprised they would trade Revere since it seeded like such a natural thing to slide him into Span's spot, but it makes a lot of sense.  Revere is an elite fielder and has elite speed, but his lack of power, noodle arm, and questionable plate discipline were all major questions.  With his high rate of contact and slap hitting plus the speed and no power Revere's upside was pretty much Juan Pierre, which is fine, but when you have a chance to move a possible next Pierre for two good arms under 25 you pretty much have to do it.  When you also factor in that Aaron Hicks is a year away and considered a better prospect, not to mention eight billion other OFers who make up practically the Twins' entire top prospects list, it becomes a no brainer.

In getting Vance Worley from the Phillies the Twins' pick up a major league ready arm who still has upside, which is exactly what I'd hoped they'd end up getting by trading Span (although I am happy with the return they ended up getting for Denard).  Worley has been in the rotation for the Phils for the past two seasons (most of the time) and has put up an ERA of 3.60 with a WHIP of 1.37 those two years while striking out 7.7 batters per 9 innings, a stat I can only assume that confused the Twins since they hate striking guys out.  Worley isn't really a pure strikeout guy since his fastball maxes out in the low 90s (more like exactly 90, really) and he doesn't have a killer strikeout pitch (and actually his contact rate of 86.2% is about what Carl Pavano's was in his days as a Twin so it doesn't really make sense he strikes out nearly a batter an inning.  There are plenty of pitchers, however, who continue to defy what their peripheral stats say they should morph into at some point so it wouldn't be unprecedented for him to keep this up.  In any case it's not something to worry about.  Worley is a 25 year old middle-of-the-rotation starter who is now either the Twins' best or second best starter, depending on your feelings about Scott Diamond.  At that age there's still room for him to get better, and Worley would have been an acceptable return for Revere (or Span), but the Twins' got more.  Plus, dude rocks the Rec Specs.  Holla.


Perhaps because Worley is coming off elbow surgery (although should be just fine) the Twins were also able to finagle Trevor May in the deal, and this my friends is one intriguing prospect.  Both Baseball America and listed May as the Phillies #1 prospect coming into last year on the strength of a mid-90s fastball and some ridiculous strikeout rates (11 K/9 or better in every stop after rookie ball).  He hit Double-A this year and things were a little rougher, posting an ERA of 4.87 and a WHIP of 1.45, although he still struck out more than a batter per inning (9.1 per 9).   By all accounts May was struggling with location, which manifested itself both in more walks (4.7 per  nine) and hits allowed (8.4 per nine).  Interestingly, the 4.7 BB/9 was worse than the previous year, but was still better than 2008, 2009, and 2010 - the increased hits allowed is the real concern.  Given the Twins' relative success in developing pitchers with control - although generally that manifests more as few walks rather than pinpoint control - I'm cautiously optimistic.  In any case, dude has #1 stuff by all accounts and despite the issues with his command last year he's still considered the Twins #5 overall prospect by (Sano/Buxton/Meyer/Hicks/May).  Awesome.

Looking at the two trades, let's count the positives:

1.  Traded a good, not great, player, but at a position where a MLB ready back-up was available with a comparable skill set to upgrade a position of weakness

2.  Traded a low cost, quality but limited player for two badly needed assets with a replacement a year away.

3.  Acquired a low cost, team controlled middle-of-the rotation (2-3-4 depending on development) starter under the age of 25.

4.  Acquired 2 big-time prospects with the potential to develop #1 type stuff who aren't soft-tossing nancy boys and actually show an interest in making people swing and miss.

5.  Recognized the team's biggest weakness (pitching throughout the organization) and biggest area of depth (Young OFers) and moved one for the other.

6.  Recognized that occasionally it's good to have pitchers who throw the ball so hard that professional hitters can't catch up to hit and/or have so much movement they can't hit it. 

And the negatives:

1.  Denard Span was a true leadoff hitter with a lead-off hitter skill set who was very affordable.

2.  Ben Revere was really fun to watch and a good guy who was super duper affordable.

3.  Darin Mastroianni will probably have to play CF now and maybe even lead-off too which is kind of gross.

That's all I got.  There's really no way to hate these trades, especially the Revere one.  The team upgraded it's biggest weakness (organization wide) by using it's biggest strength without hurting the future, only the present where they weren't going to contend anyway, while acquiring the exact type of player they're shied away from which has proven to be the type that can make a major difference.  Freaking awesome.  Even that Mastroianni crack was a little overdone, because he's not that big a drop from Revere.  Using WAR (and I confess I don't know what this means other than it tries to measure total value and is impacted by plate appearances) Revere was a 3.4 in 553 PAs, Mastroianni was a 1.5 in just 186.  Game freaking on, brohan.  We goin' Sizzla.

As far as the Gophers won pretty easily in LA, beating USC 71-57 by doing what they've done all year:  tough perimeter defense (USC 1-9 on 3s, hitting the boards (out-rebounded the Trojans 36-29), turned over the opponent (17 TOs), and moved the ball (16 assists).  Since the game was on the Pac-10 Network which nobody in Minneapolis gets and I went to the bar with Bogart, Bear, Snake, Dawger, and Crazy Eddie instead of staying in and watching it on my computer I don't really have much else to say.  They're now poised to crusie to wins over NDSU and LaFayette and go into their December 31 game against Michigan State at 12-1 and likely ranked in or near the Top 10.  Michigan State at home is pretty much the perfect test for this team if you want to know where they stand.  If they're as good as I think they are they should handle Sparty at home.  If they don't, you know we're looking at fool's gold once again.  Pretty much the biggest game in Gopher history since the Final Four.  No biggie.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. USC Trojans

So much to write about.  Between the Twins' moves, the Gopher game on Saturday versus USC, and this amazing Middle Eastern lunch I had today there's a lot to talk about it.  I'll save the Twins for the weekend or Monday and go with the Gopher/Trojan preview for now.  When will I talk about the kabobs though, you ask?  WHO CAN SAY?

USC has certainly disappointed this year coming into their game against the Gophers, but despite a 3-5 record the Trojans haven't been as bad as that sounds (despite a coach in Kevin O'Neil once regular reader of this blog believes to be the worst in college basketball).  Their losses are to Illinois (#42 ranked team by Kenpom), Marquette (49), San Diego State (26), Nebraska (179), and New Mexico (35).  None of which on their own is particularly damning (Nebraska is bad, but it was at Lincoln at least) but taken together, when the team's only quality win is against Texas who is starting to look worse and worse, and this season has certainly been a disappointment.  They still aren't a terrible team, just a completely mediocre squad who is currently playing like hell.

Maybe the biggest reason (outside of O'Neil, of course, and having returning leading scorer Maurice Jones flunk off the team) the Trojans are struggling is the play of Jio Fontan.   Fontan lit up the A-10 in his first two seasons at Fordham in 2008-09 and 2009-10, averaging about 15 pts and 4.5 assists in each season before transferring to early in the 09/10 season to USC.   He slotted in to that team well once eligible in 2011, helping play some point and scoring as well on a balanced squad which made it to the NCAA Tournament (the First Four, but still).  Last year was supposed to be his time to shine on an undermanned team, and unfortunately Fontan blew out his knee in a game during the team's Brazil tour, and the year ended in a disastrous 6-26 record and a 1-17 conference slate.  Thanks to couple more transfers and a talented sophomore USC's talent level is better, but they aren't going anywhere in March if Fontan doesn't turn things around.

Fontan was basically a decent outside shooter who used his superior quickness to get to the lane and either convert or get to the free throw line where he was pretty good.  This year, however, he's absolutely been dreadful shooting the basketball, hitting just 27% from the field.  He can still hit his FTs (career high 74%) but is drawing them at an all-time low rate, which to go with his horrible free-throw percentage and career high turnover percentage has him rated as the worst player on the Trojans (from an offensive efficiency standpoint).  I can't claim to be an expert in his play either before or especially after his injury because watching USC would be super gross, but I'm going to go ahead and say his injury is still really affecting him.  Unless something drastically changes, the Trojans are nothing but an also ran this year - not terrible, but no shot at the tournament.

It's not like Jio is all alone on an island of inaccurate chuckery either, because his backcourt mate is former Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell, who has taken about 30% more shots this year than Fontan but has hit at only a slightly better rate of 33%.  What that means is you have these two chuckerheads taking nearly 40% of the Trojans field goal attempts so far this year at a combined hit rate of 30%.  Good way to get your team ranked as the 262nd overall best shooting team in the NCAA.  At least Fontan contributes in some way (5.3 assists per game).  Terrell may be completely worthless, he of the 2-to-1 TO/A ratio (yes that's 2-to-1 TOs to Assists).  Not Will Wilson of North Florida worthless (seriously how bad was that guy) because he can at least do something like score 21 against Marquette (which he did).  There's almost no way he can do that against the Gophers because they play really, really good defense, but I suppose you can't completely rule it out.  Except that you can.

As far as the rest of the squad it's a boatload of transfers:  Ari Stewart (WAKE), Aaron Fuller (IOWA), Renaldo Woolridge (TENN), Omar Oraby (RICE), Eric Wise (IRVINE), and James Blasczyk (TAMU) all started their careers elsewhere and all play roles for the Trojans this year in to varying degrees.  Wise is the team's second leading scorer (10.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.4 rpg) and starter at a wing while Oraby plays just 12 minutes per game but puts up 6 and 3 with almost 2 blocks per game thanks to him being 7-2.  Stewart and Fuller are standards while in the rotation while Woolridge and Blasczyk get a little bit of run, but basically the team is put together the way you'd think a team with 800 transfers that isn't a premium transfer destination (think UNLV or Fresno in the past, Iowa State now - which, incidentally, is where the aforementioned Jones has transferred to) would be put together - mish mash of parts that may or may not fit and don't know each other well.

The last guy I'll mention is Dewayne Dedmon who is worth discussing because he's a seven-footer with some size (255 lbs.), but may be the ultimate definition of project.  He made his high school basketball team every year but each time was forbade by his loony tunes Jehovah's Witness mom to actually play.  He ended up at a JuCo before finally signing with USC where he redshirted his first season and is now a 23-year old junior who has played basketball for like four years.  Pretty bizarre stuff.  He averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebs per game last year (not bad, really), but hasn't really progressed averaging 7 pts and 8 rebs this year while shooting a lower percentage.  He'll probably be pretty interesting to watch, especially if he goes up against Mbakwe just because it would be an interesting case to see Trevor go up against someone who might be more athletic than him (especially post injury) and just as strong, but ultimately it doesn't really matter because the Trojans aren't very good.

If this was a home game it would be Gophers by 20, easy.  Since it's on the road things are always a little bit dicier, but this year's Gopher squad is different and I'm barely even worried about this.

Gophers 71, USC 64.

Also I'm just kidding.  I'm not only worried I'm terrified.  This kind of thing never works out for Minnesota teams.  Totally panicking.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Minnesota 88, South Dakota State 64

Well that was a pretty thrilling Gopher win, huh?  Not because they beat a Nate Wolters-less Jackrabbits team, but because sportsbooks didn't factor in the fact that the team was going to be Wolters-less.

See, the spread on the game opened with the Gophers as 14.5 point favorites.  Mid-day there were some tweets going around that Wolters sprained his ankle, didn't participate in the team's shoot-around that day, and was questionable to play.  The spread only moved to 15, so at that point I jumped on it figuring he'd be limited at best.  Then, about a half-hour before game time, more tweets came out that he wasn't looking good or very confident about playing on it.  The spread still only moved to 15.5, so I doubled up.  Then, maybe 10 minutes or so before the game, it because official he wasn't playing.  Spread stayed at 15.5, so I tripled up on my double up.  Easy win.  SDSU would have been a 25 point underdog at least if Wolters was known to not be playing, and the books clearly didn't pay much attention to this game, don't know who Wolters is, or simply didn't care.  In any case it was a nice payday and an easy one, and those are the best kind.  I feel pretty bad I didn't give Bogart or TRE the heads-up on this, but I was too wrapped up in it myself.  Oh well.

As for the game, the Gophers continue to do what they've done all year - play great defense and efficient offense.  I mean you can't get more efficient than Andre Hollins.  22 points on 8-9 shooting and 6-7 on threes?  And his only miss was an absolute ridiculous heat check that nobody could ever make ever?  You gotta be kidding me.  Add that performance to his 41 points on 16 shots versus Memphis and that has to be two of most efficient 20 points games this year.  I'm sure that info is out there somewhere (ranking these) but I don't know where to find it.

He was far from the only stud last night though, as Joe Coleman and Austin Hollins continue to develop into really, really good players.  One big thing I noticed last night about Austin is how much more assertive and confident he is with his jump shot.  Where the last two years he'd catch the ball on the wing and kind of size up if he was open enough to shoot and then maybe shoot, but this year he's already able to determine if he's going to be open enough to shoot before he gets the pass and just catches, rises, and fires.  And I'm not just talking short shots, he's doing it on three-pointers.  Take that with his always there but suddenly really emerging athleticism and he's a hell of a player.  As for Coleman he does incredible things considering he has a forward's game in a guard's body.  He's tough, strong, and determined and an amazing inside scorer for someone who is just 6-4.  He's just fearless - basically the complete opposite player of his brother.  I mean does anyone get more of his own misses in the paint than Joe?  He's like, a genius at it.  Dan and Joe must have switched bodies like Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in that movie with that chick from 40-year-old Virgin who pukes in the car at some point because each's abilities are the exact opposite of what you'd want from someone in their bodies.  Can you imagine Dan with Joe's game?  Whoa.

Maybe the craziest part of this team is I've now droned on for 500+ words about them and still haven't mentioned either of their two best players from last season.  Trevor Mbakwe, who nearly had a double double, who mainly seems to have settled into his sixth man/big-time rebounder.  The only problem with that is he still has NBA aspirations, and I don't think he's going to get there averaging 7 pts and 8 rebounds per game.  That would also be why he unveiled that absolutely god awful turnaround fade-away jumper last night that he should never, ever take again under any circumstances.  I still think he's easing his way into being a force, so I'll reserve more judgement on him until later in the year.  Then Rodney Williams, whose stats made it look like he was kind of invisible last night but he wasn't because he blocked two shots nearly back to half court, was trying to prove he can shoot from the perimeter (note:  he still can't) and then later when he decided "this shit sucks when I don't score" he dunked all over some poor ginger bastard.  Basically they didn't need him, and that was pretty awesome, actually.

Excellent, if easy, game, from a very good team.  The first five are outstanding if you sub Mbakwe in for Eliason (who isn't terrible anymore).  Welch, Osenieks, Ingram, Walker, and Ahanmisi are a good bench that isn't great but can fill in some gaps, and with a starting 6 this good they aren't needed in games that are going to be close for more than 3-8 minutes each, but they're also capable enough to fill in for 12-15 if that situation should arise at some point this year or at least that's what I keep telling myself.  Simply put, I believe in this year's squad and I'm in love with them and I don't care who knows it.  Also, how sweet would it be for Wolters to get back, the Jackrabbits to go on a huge run, and this ends up loooking like a super easy win over a top 100 team?  Pretty cool, right?  Right.

Back tomorrow with a preview of the USC game, the only losable game left.  As long as they win that one they should cruise to home wins against NDSU and Lafayette and most likely will be ranked in the top 10 going into the big Dec. 31 game versus Michigan State.  And that, my friends, is where we are going to learn an awfully, awfully thought about our favorite team.  In the immortal words of that one guy, "NO WHAMMIES NO WHAMMIES NO WHAMMIES!"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fare thee Well, Denard Span

As I'm certain everyone is aware by now the Twins traded Denard Span late last week to the Nationals for minor league pitching prospect Alex Meyer.  At first blush I was down on the trade, having hoped the Twins could turn the talented Span into a MLB ready mid-rotation starter type (like Jeremy Hellickson, for example) but the more I've read about it and spent time thinking about the move the more I like it.

Meyer (and you can read more about him here at Aaron Gleeman's blog or Keith Law at ESPN or really anywhere they talk Twins) is a former first round pick who lit up A and A+ ball in his first pro season last year.  He's already 22 so the good numbers are not surprising for an older player at that level, but that also means that he should progress through the system fairly rapidly, hopefully landing at AAA at some point this coming season and then ready for the rotation in 2014.  He throws in the mid-90s and can touch 100 at times (which means his downside is likely a pretty good reliever although hopefully it doesn't come to that) and has what one scout I read somewhere called "a truly filthy slider."  He's working on a change-up as a third pitch that apparently "could become average" which doesn't sound great but as a third pitch is just fine when he already has two plus pitches.  Even better, he struck out more than a batter an inning which means the Twins have recognized that having soft-tossing strike throwers is fine, but you can't have those exclusively and need some power arms.  With Meyer, Kyle Gibson, and a couple of the guys they drafted this year they seem to at least be recognizing that fact.  I also heard that Meyer is now the #1 pitching prospect in the system, ahead of Gibson.  He's a really, really good get for the team.

Losing Span certainly hurts (he was one of my favorites after Kubel left), but a move with him had to made.  He's one of the sickeningly few attractive trade pieces this team has with his elite leadoff skills, quality defense, and team friendly contract and the Twins need to rebuild the entire organization at this point.  With Revere ready to step in now and hopefully Aaron Hicks in two years the Twins already have guys who have the potential to replace Span's skillset.  Revere is a better outfielder already and has increased his OBP each of the last two seasons, reaching .333 in 2012 which was just shy of Span's number (.342) and actually better than Denard's OBP in 2011, and Hicks is supposed to be even better.  Add in the organizational depth of top prospects in the outfield (Buxton, Arcia, Rosario, even Joe Benson plus Hicks) and it was a no brainer to get the best they could for Span, and it looks like they got a pretty good return, even if it's a lottery ticket of sorts.

From here I can see two viable directions for the Twins to go in.  On one hand, you say, this team and organization is broken, time to rebuild.  Trade every asset for whatever you can get.  Willingham should certainly bring a decent package, and for the right team needing a first baseman Justin Morneau would be attractive - although in his case you're probably better off waiting for this year's trade deadline when other team's needs seem more urgent and hopefully he can show he's all the way (or nearly) back.  I don't know if they have anybody else they could possibly trade (Doumit?).  Maybe Glen Perkins if he gets a bunch of saves and somebody is desperate for a lefty reliever.  It's also possible they see Perkins as their closer of the future (hint:  he's not) and won't shop him, but they should if they go in this direction.

The other way to go is to try to sign the right mix of players to turn this into a competitive team, which basically means pitching.  With Span gone that gives them somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million in payroll to play with, based on their comment about a payroll target for this year.  You can do some good things and become a competitive team in this horrible division for that kind of money.  You could sign Brandon McCarthy ($5 mil), Edwin Jackson ($11 mil), Kevin Correia ($5 mil), and like, Marco Scutaro ($8 mil).  I don't know how long you'd want to/have to extend those guys, but then you're looking at this lineup:

CF Revere
2b Scutaro
C  Mauer
LF Willingham
1B Morneau
DH Doumit
3B Plouffe
RF Parmalee
SS Dozier

Not bad.  Don't forget the Twins had a solid offensive team last year, and this is a pretty similar look with Revere in for Span and Scutaro in for Casilla.  That's a net win.

And here's your rotation:

1.  Jackson
2.  McCarthy
3.  Diamond
4.  Correia
5.  Deduno/Devries/Hendriks, etc.

Certainly better than last year.

Can that team, assuming an adequate bullpen which admittedly is a pretty big assumption, compete in the AL Central?  Probably for second place, and they aren't going to be in the Wild Card race.

I can see, and make an argument for, either approach.  I would probably prefer to trade away everybody and try to remake the entire team, but I can also see something like the above to stay competitive to keep bringing the rubes to the park and pocketing that sweet cash to hopefully re-invest in the team.  Naturally, the Twins will probably do something like sign Freddy Garcia and Derek Lowe and Wilson Valdez and Austin Kearns and call it a day, not making any moves for the future nor significantly upgrading the team and ending up sucking again while not building for the future.

Then again, Terry Ryan is back instead of Bill Smith, so there's some reason for optimism.  Either way, it's going to be an interesting off-season.  Actually it already has been.  Do more, Terry.