Thursday, February 28, 2013

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Nittany Lions

Unfortunately league rules say that the Gophers can't just end the season now and head to the NCAA Tournament and have to finish out their schedule, and as such they will welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions to Williams on Saturday, a game that just got much more interesting with Penn State's home win over Michigan last night.  The Nittany Lions show signs of a team coming together with several close calls leading up to this one (a 2-pt loss to Iowa, 8-pt loss at Michigan, and a 5-pt loss at Illinois) so the Gophers can't overlook this one - not that they could anyway.

The Nittany Lions beat Michigan mainly on the strength of great 3-point shooting (10-20), Michigan's poor 3-point shooting (5-20), and forcing a lot of turnovers (15).  These are not things Penn State usually does well, ranking 321st in the country in 3-pt shooting (29.1%), 217th in opponent's 3-point shooting (34.5%), and 286th in forcing turnovers (18% of opp. possessions).  It sounds like a big fluke, but looking at their three games prior they've made major strides in all three of these categories, and considering the Gophers struggle defending the three and turn the ball over as if they hate it, I feel a bit concerned.

Penn State plays just seven guys, and they mainly rely on two guards - D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall to supply most of the scoring with both averaging north of 15 points per game and accounting for almost exactly 50% of the team's scoring this year (50.4% to be exact).  Both guys fit the chucker mold - high shot attempts, low percentages.  Newbill is fourth in the league in FGA despite hitting just 41%, while Marshall is 7th and knocks down 39%.  Three-pointers don't get much better, with Marshall again 7th in attempts despite just a 33% success rate.  Newbill, to his credit, can't hit the three (29%) but also has about a third as many attempts as Marshall.  Newbill also has the ability to pass the ball, ranking fourth in the conference with 4.1 assists per game, and rather than settling for jumpers like Marshall mainly does, Newbill attacks the rim and can draw fouls.  Although neither is especially terrifying, either one can get hot (Marshall was 6-10 on threes vs. Michigan) and carry a team. 

The complementary players all fill a specific role.  Ross Travis, who the Gophers didn't need, is a horrific shooter who shoots way too many jump shots, but is a terrific rebounder who will probably annoy you at least once in the game.  Sasa Borovnjak is your dopey foreign guy who hangs out in the lane all day but still only gets three rebounds per game.  Brandon Taylor is the designated shooter (as much as their can be one with Newbill and Marshall involved) who sits outside and shoots threes all day (second on the team in 3PA) despite only hitting 31% and being 6-7, and Nick Colella is your annoying little walk-on guard dude.  Travis, Borovnjak, and Taylor have all had semi-big games (although Taylor hasn't hit double figures since early January) but none of them should be able to do much against the Gophers.

Penn State has two ways to win this game:  get crazy hot from three, which would have seemed impossible if it hadn't just happened last night, or catch the Gophers coming out flat, resting on their laurels after the big win against Indiana.  I suspect the latter rather than the former to be the biggest danger, but there are a couple factors that I think mitigate that risk.  First, Penn State is just as likely to come out flat and content after winning their first game in Big Ten play against a terrific opponent and then having to go on the road.  Second, it's senior night day!  The one game in a season when you can count on your team coming out fired up and playing with total emotion.  No chance the Gophers come out flat.

I think the most likely scenario is the Gophers come out fired up and ready to play, get a bunch of easy buckets, and push Penn State around until they realize they're completely out of their element, leading to a pretty easy Gopher W.

Minnesota 77, Penn State 53

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wait, what? Gophers beat who?

Wow.  That was unexpected.  I'm pretty sure I can't write anything too intelligent or insightful right now since I was pretty much watching that game on pure emotion, but I can throw down a few thoughts because if you're like me you are just going to spend all day at work reading everything you can find about the game.  So I'll sit here with my celebratory cognac (fine, vodka and coke) and write a couple of thoughts.  Also, it's not coke, it's R.C.   *hangs head in shame

[NOTE:  This formatting is horrendous.  I'd fix it but I have no idea how.]
  • This was the Gopher team we saw in the early season.  If they can play like this to close out the year they're a sweet 16 contender again.
  • This wasn't a case of Indiana playing poorly, the Gophers simply outplayed them.
  • I thought Dre Hollins would be the one to step up and carry the team if anybody did, but no question it was Mbakwe setting the tone in the first half.  Remember last year at the beginning of the season when the Gophers would spend three quarters of the game struggling against crappy teams and then Mbakwe would be all like "ok, I'm getting every missed shot now" and carry them back to a win?  Yeah, that's what he was again tonight.  Was amazing.
  • Really, nobody played poorly though.  Even those who didn't play well overall made huge plays at some point.  Hollins, Hollins, and Rodney all shot poorly, but Dre hit some huge shots down the stretch (including that monster three down the stretch which, right before, I told the Bear (who came to the game with me) that if the Gophers hit a 3 on that possession I'd do something unspeakable to him so well, there's that), Austin had a couple of huge plays, and Rodney had that big Hakim Warrick style block on an Oladipo three as time was running out.  Everybody came up with a big play at some point.  Everybody.  Even the 5 second call on Indiana came when Mo Walker was in the game.  He had nothing to do with it, but he was there.
  • Some will say this is enough to guarantee the Gophers a tournament berth no matter what happens the rest of the way.  I'm not quite that certain, but at this point I'm confident if they can beat either Penn State at home OR Nebraska on the road that will do it.  Obviously the more wins they can get the better the seed, but as long as the Gophers don't go 0-4 to finish up (including the B10 tournament) it should be the easiest Selection Sunday in years.  Decades, really.
  • I've gone on record as saying I'm terrified of a Mo Walker/Elliott Elliason starting front court next season.  No longer.  I'm not exactly fired up about it, but Elliason has done enough go convince me at worst he can be a Trevor Winter type, and he has two years to get better.  Walker has shown enough flashes of potential to at least temper my scaredness.  With Hollins, Hollins, and Coleman still going to be around those two just have to be not terrible for the team to at least be in contention for an NCAA bid.  Still hoping and believing in a Chuck Buggs breakout.  Believe with me.
  • Speaking of believing, man did whoever is in charge of music botch the "Don't Stop Believing" music in the final minute or so of the game.  Started it too late and never even got to the chorus.  Horrible.
  • Cody Zeller is every bit as good as advertised.  He is smooth in the paint and has a bunch of really good moves he can go to on the block.  He's also a bit soft, however, and disappeared after Mbakwe, Elliason, and Williams reminded him that this is the Big Ten and pushing people and elbows and what not is the norm.  I heard someone mention that Indiana stopped looking for Zeller, but really Zeller stopped posting up hard in the second half.  Sorry, but it's true.
  • Also Victor Oladipo is ridiculous.  If I had any criticism of Indiana tonight it's that they didn't just iso Oladipo every single time they had the ball, because Joe Coleman was the primary defender on him tonight and I'm sorry I like Coleman but he is a horrendous defender.  Oladipo beat him to the paint every time he tried, and there were a couple of times I watched Coleman stand still as if rooted to the ground when he should have been providing some weak side help.  Again, I like the guy a lot, but he's a horrific defender.
  • That being said, overall the defense was outstanding tonight.  Holding both Watford and Zeller to single digit scoring was huge, especially because Watford picked up six of his eight on shitty late threes that were half luck.  Plus shutting down Hulls after his huge first half was big, and it happened because of more awareness of where he was and just a swarming defense that refused to give up good looks.  We saw that kind of defense earlier in the year but it has since bailed, good to see it again. 
  • I haven't seen video of the play but Will Sheehey should be ashamed of himself if he really flopped there in the last 30 seconds or so, looking for a cheap flagrant against Dre Hollins.  Crean should be even more ashamed if he encouraged him to do it.  It's a rule that makes sense if common sense was applied, but it's not and it's reared it's ugly head too much this year in stupid places.  To try to take advantage of it is embarrassing.  I'd like to say you're better than that Crean, but I know you're not.  ASS.
  • 10 turnovers.  That's it for the Gophers.  Despite everything else I've written, which as usual is way more than I intended, that was really the key.  Well that and the 17 offensive rebounds, but that's to be expected.  This team is good enough to beat anyone in the country if they don't turn it over and actually play defense.  This may be hyperbole but this R.C. is going to my head.
  • I'm willfully ignoring the stretch of possessions where the Gophers offense seemed clueless and got nothing but terrible shots as the shot clock expired as well as the fact that this sets up the Gophers perfectly to lose their last 3 games and make everybody nervous.  I will deal with all that later, for tonight, we party.
I'm an idiot with my phone, but you get the point.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Hoosiers

You guys remember way back when we thought the Gophers were a top 10 team with Final Four aspirations and they were going into Bloomington to play a monster game against the #5 Hoosiers?  And then Indiana played a perfect first half to jump out to a 23 point halftime lead and we like oh man?  And then the Gophers showed a tremendous amount of heart, hustle, and all out warrior mentality and came storming back and came within a botched rebound off a missed Indiana free throw of having a chance to improbably send the game to OT?  Well I have bad news and bad news:  Indiana is playing those perfect halves (sometimes two in one game) more and more often, while the Gophers have stopped showing any of those traits that helped get them back in the game at Assembly Hall.

Since that game, Indiana has gone 9-2 with blowout wins by 23 (Penn State), 37 (@ Purdue), 29 (Nebraska), and 28 (Purdue) to go along with marquee wins over #1 Michigan (by 8), @ #13 Michigan State (by 5), @ #10 Ohio State (by 13), and #4 Michigan State (by 4).  They started the season as a juggernaut and are finishing as a juggernaut.  They're blowing out bad teams and beating good teams, home and road.  Meanwhile the Gophers are limping into the end of the season with their only three victories since the game in Bloomington coming in a lucky OT win against #20 Wisconsin, a last second win over Iowa, and a blowout of terrible Nebraska.  Their last two games were a 19 point road loss at Iowa and a 26 point road loss at Ohio State.  To say these teams have gone in opposite directions is a bit of an understatement, like saying Jennifer Lawrence is decent looking.

Statistically it's tough to find anywhere the Gophers have an edge.  Minnesota should get some steals and block some shots and that's where the good news ends.  Indiana lights it up from three, the Gophers can't defend the three.  Minnesota turns it over like crazy, Indiana creates a good amount of turnovers.  The Hoosiers are a great free throw shooting team, the Gophers are slightly below average (and outside of Hollinses are terrible).  The Gophers biggest strength is getting offensive rebounds, and Indiana is adept at not allowing this to happen.  The closest thing to a weakness for the Hoosiers is that they do turn the ball over almost as much as an average team (19% of possessions vs. national average of 20.2%).  Can the Gophers play the kind of defense that forces Indiana into turning the ball over, all the while not getting too overextended with their aggression to allow open looks from both 3 and 2?  They'll have to.

Indiana is simply loaded.  They have two guys who are in the National Player of the Year discussion in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo who play different positions and impact the game in different ways and either or both can win a game basically on their own if they needed to.  They have the underpants gnome in Jordan Hulls whose range starts when he crosses half court and who hits 50% of his threes anyway.  All that without even mentioned Christian Watford yet, who might be the best inside/outside player in the conference.  Even their one-time offensive weakness, freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, has started to figure it out after realizing that nobody can keep him out of the lane.  He still can't really shoot, but he's morphed into a Lewis Jackson type player, only one who still thinks he can hit threes - hopefully he takes a ton of them on Tuesday.

I realize everything I've written makes it sound like I think the Gophers have no chance, and that's not true, but I've just been so demoralized by the last two ass whippings it's tough to get positive right now.  Normally I could point to the Gophers outscoring Indiana 52-36 in the second half in Bloomington and springboard that to the Gopher upset, but unfortunately the current Gopher squad so little resembles that team in its play that it may as well be a different season.

Even so, that second half and the first Illinois and Michigan State games say this team still has the talent to pull this one out, even if their recent plays gives very little indication that it would be possible.  The players have to know just how big this game is, and if Tubby can find a little magic and rally the troops I still think the home court advantage in Williams could be enough to put the Gophers over the top, they just need a little bit to break right.

On the other hand, after looking lost for the better part of a month to the point where the players look to be close to quitting and Tubby can't blame the players for screw-ups fast enough the team almost looks like it's heading for a full breakdown.  If Indiana jumps out to, say, a 15-5 lead that might be enough for everyone to go into their shell, pack up their things, and call it a day.  That's why the first 8 minutes on Tuesday are going to be the most important.  If Minnesota stays close, even if they lose but show that same ability and mental toughness from earlier this season, it will make me feel much better about the final stretch.  If the Hoosiers win easily, however, it might be time to start making NIT plans.

Indiana 80, Minnesota 68.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Where do the Gophers stand?

As of Sunday morning, the Gophers RPI is a robust 15 with the number 1 strength of schedule.  I know what you're thinking, "Number 1 SoS? Get out of here", but it's the truth.  Whether by design, luck, or something in between the Gophers managed to face very few true cupcakes this year.  Going by RPI, only American (#286) and North Florida (#224) rank outside the top 200, which is cupcake territory.  Every other opponent was at least decent, and having faced Duke (#1), Indiana (#6), Michigan State x 2 (#7), Michigan (#9), Memphis (#18), Ohio State (#23), Wisconsin x 2 (#24), Illinois x 2 (#33), Stanford (#67), Florida State (#68), Richmond (#80), South Dakota State (#84), North Dakota State (#86), Iowa x 2 (#90), Nebraska (#97), and USC (#100) you can see how they have the #1 SoS - I mean that is a pretty brutal slate.  That's 20 games against the RPI top 100, and for comparison sake the #2 (Duke) and #3 (Miami) team's in SoS have played 18 and 16 games against that kind of competition.

Make no mistake, the Gophers computer numbers are extraordinarily strong.  The only team to ever miss the tournament with anything resembling the Gophers' RPI was Missouri State in 2006 with an RPI of 21, but that was the year the Missouri Valley had 4 other teams get in and I'm guessing the committee wasn't about to put five teams in from a mid-major.  Plus with 6 conference losses, no impressive out of conference wins, and a first round loss in the MVC Tournament they weren't really that strong of a team anyway - the situation is in no way comparable to the Gophers. 

Breaking down the Gophers' results further, they've gone 3-6 against the RPI Top 25, 4-7 against the Top 50, and 12-8 against the top 100 - these are all really, really strong results.  Add in road/neutral wins against Memphis, Illinois, Stanford, and FSU (all top 100 teams) and everything about their resume on paper says this is absolutely a tournament team.  On paper. 

As you know since you are reading this and I assume you're a Gopher fan, the Gophers haven't done anything worth noting in over a month outside of an extremely lucky OT win versus Wisconsin.  They're currently in a 3-8 skid, and the last two losses have been really, really ugly  - that matters.  Right now the Gophers are on the bubble, but they're on the right side of the bubble.  Joe Lunardi at ESPN has them as a 10 seed right now, but I'm guessing even a guy who somehow makes a living projecting the tournament field has no idea what to do with such a bizarre profile where the on court results and computer numbers don't match up. 

I think for the Gophers to make it in the tournament it's pretty simple - they just need to finish strong.  Whether it's beating Indiana, as unlikely as that feels right now, or by winning their final three games (Penn State, @Nebraska, @Purdue), a strong finish likely puts them in regardless of the results in the B10 Tournament.  But fail to beat Indiana and drop one of those three games (I'm not even going to speculate on what would happen if they lost more than one, because that's pretty much season's over)?  Suddenly the B10 Tournament becomes very important.

Let's assume they end up finishing 7th.  The first round match-up would be against probably either Nebraska or Northwestern (Nebraska would be better since they're a top 100 RPI team right now).  After that if they won the Gophers would play somebody like Michigan State who would probably just crush them.  So, basically, the Gophers really need to take care of business to finish up the season.

There are plenty of other teams out there who are on the bubble and in similar shape to the Gophers, but it's not really worth worrying about them just yet because Minnesota's path is clear - finish strong.  Beat Indiana and they're probably in even if they lose on of the last three.  Lose to Indiana but finish out with three wins and they're in.  Get to 9-9 in conference play one way or another and not only will we not have to sweat selection sunday, but the B10 Tournament becomes pretty meaningless as well.  At 8-10 though?  Well, then things get awfully tight. 

I'd prefer to tackle the "fire Tubby or not" question in the offseason.  For now, I'd just like to see the Gophers back in the tournament.  Maybe even get a win. A boy can dream, can't he?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is this Rock Bottom?

45 total points?

21 turnovers?

29% shooting?

The two bright spots were Mo Walker and Oto Osenieks?

Some italian nerd who looks like a clumsier Screech knocking down threes?

This team has gone from sleeper Final Four contender to conference punchline.  I hope to god nobody on the selection committee watched this game because the Gophers look nothing at all like an NCAA tournament caliber team.  I just don't understand how it's so impossible to get the ball to Mbakwe on the block, especially because as soon as Walker came in they were able to get him the ball on every possession.  Maybe Walker is just much better at getting position than Mbakwe.  Maybe nobody can handle his fat ass when he wants to get somewhere.  I don't know.

It's getting tough to write about this team, because what is left to write?  Even if they don't manage to steal a win against Indiana next week as long as they can win their three games against bottom feeders they'll sneak into the tournament with like a 8-10 seed and get blown out in the first game.  If they manage to beat Indiana they can probably survive a loss to one of the shitty teams.  But if they lose to Indiana and drop a game against somebody crappy, very possible since two of the games are on the road, it's going to be another ugly, uncomfortable selection sunday.  No matter what happens, the second half of this season has certainly sucked.

Maybe I'll write more about this game in a day or two.  Or maybe I'll watch another shark movie.  I don't know.  All I know is the most wonderful time of the year has become a nightmare.

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Buckeyes

Well that Iowa game was certainly demoralizing.  I think anybody who was holding out hope, like I have to admit I was, that that rough stretch was simply that - a rough stretch - can now stop holding out hope, whatever that means.  After looking like world beaters to begin the year, the Gophers are now 3-7 in their last ten with those three wins all coming at home versus a terrible Nebraska team, a last second miracle win over Iowa, and a lucky OT win versus Wisconsin.  Gross.  The weaknesses (turnovers, outside shooting) have continued to be weaknesses while one of the team's biggest strengths (defense) has disappeared.  Combine that with the team's continued inability to generate offense versus a zone (seriously, have you ever seen anything worse than that last Iowa game) and the Gophers have turned from a sleeper Final Four candidate to a team that will crawl into the NCAA Tournament based on strong computer numbers and a hot start.  I cannot wait to bet against them in the first round.  BOATLOADS.  And it's too bad too, because Ohio State is a vulnerable team.

There's nothing bad here in Ohio State's record.  Their only home losses have been to Indiana and Kansas and they do have a nice home win over Michigan that they almost blew, but over their last 8 games they only thing resembling a good win is at home over Wisconsin, and they're coming off an absolutely embarrassing blowout loss in Madison.  If they were facing a good team that played good defense, this could be a good spot for an upset.  Alas.

The reason I think the Buckeyes are a vulnerable team is that their offense is basically DeShaun Thomas.  They play great defense (believe it or not Aaron Craft is actually not overrated) but if a team could find a way to limit Thomas (and good luck because the only times he's scored less than 16 in a game this year were blowout wins for OSU) they'd have a shot because nobody else is a reliable scorer.  Ohio State has a ton of great athletes, but none are very effective scorers and there is nobody who can score on the block as  Evan Ravenel, Trey McDonald, and Amir Williams are more defense and rebounding at this point (well, Ravenel is a senior so I guess this is as good as it gets for him) so neither would require any doubling.  LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are big and athletic but are pretty raw wing players, while Aaron Craft can't shoot, Sam Thompson is an athlete more than a scorer (think Rodney), and Shannon Scott is a very good guard but not a scorer.

The way to beat OSU is actually pretty simple - have a dominant inside presence with good wing defense and you'll be in the game (at least on the defensive side of the ball).  The Gophers should have that.  Mbakwe, Williams, and Elliason shouldn't require any help when the Buckeye big guys get the ball down low, so the perimeter defense shouldn't have to scramble to cover open shooters (and Thomas, Scott, Ross, and Smith can all hit the three).  There should be zero doubling at all, and at absolutely no time should Austin Hollins (or Williams) leave Thomas - EVER.  Unfortunately we've seen this play out too many times, and somehow the Gophers will still manage to leave shooters open time after time.

And, as much as there is a good blueprint on taking down Ohio State, there's an even easier one for beating Minnesota - play zone, which the Buckeyes will early and often.

Ohio State 70, Minnesota 51

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gary Sinise is a terrible father (Live Movie Blog)

'Sup nerds?  It's been a while since I've done on of these, and the people seem to be clamoring for one, so it's time to fire up the Movie Live Blog-inator and watch some crap.  I think most of the recent ones I've done have either been about a giant something, a mix of two things, or a vs. type movie, so this time I'm going to go back to my cruel mistress - the shark.  That's right, we're going to watch Swamp Shark, which I assume is about a shark in the swamp and not about some kind of mutant monster something.  Which is good. Plus, Kristy Swanson.  Not when she was fat.  Or at least I assume not because who would put her in a movie?  Even a SyFy movie?  Nobody, that's who, so I'm betting she's hot again.  Let's find out!  The tension is so thick you could cut it with a Justin Morneau flail at a ball down and away in the dirt for strike three swing.

-  Whoa, D.B. Sweeney too?  This is like a murderous row of awesome people.  Naturally, I will be referring to him as Shoeless Joe throughout this movie.  And of course Swanson will be Buffy.

-  So we have water, alligators, black people, and harmonica music.  I'm going to guess the Bayou because of course.  All we need is a crawfish boil.  Or broil.  I'm not sure, what am I, cajun?

-  Speaking of cajun, you know what I hate?   When you look up a recipe to make cajun something or other and one of the main ingredients is "cajun spice".  WTF is that shit?  Anybody can dump "cajun seasoning" on something and call it cajun, I want to make it with real spices like paprika and cumin and coriander and stuff like it.  Bunch of lazy bastards.

-  The sign on the sheriff who just broke up the "Back to the Bayou" party's car says he is from Cypress Lake Parish and I'm pretty sure Louisiana is the only state that uses that weird parish thing so I'm sticking with Louisiana.  Also this sheriff seems shady and like he's up to no good, and not just because he's a minority.

-   This is a weird scene to describe, but some dude just showed up with a big tanker truck and told the sheriff "damn thing killed half my crew before I got it in the tank" and then "you pay me to find exotic animals so pay me" and then he did and then the thing in the tanker somehow made it fall off the truck where it rolled into the lake/sea/ocean/river and sank about five feet off shore into what must have been the world's steepest drop-off.  Then we saw a shark's dorsal fin swimming away.  Not an ideal start.

-  In a new wrinkle, Kristy Swanson, clearly the heroine, is the owner of a restaurant rather than a sheriff or game warden or anything along those lines.  This might be the first time that's happened in one of these.

-  The restaurant is gator themed.  I know this because they've said the word "gator" at least 30 times in the last 3 minutes.  And also they fed the gators some chicken.

-  They just arrested the gatorstraunt's bouncer for punching a belligerent drunk who swung first.  That can't be right.  Ah I see.  Sheriff guy is trying to get in Buffy's pants so he's putting the squeeze on her because the bouncer is her brother.  She agrees to a date (even though she has a boyfriend duh duh duh) and he lets the brother go.  I like the way this guy operates.  Pity usually works too, but black mail is pretty solid.

-  Went out for Snacks birthday dinner tonight.  Had a nice little filet mignon with roasted potatoes and a greek salad that had not nearly enough kalamata olives.  Went with the calamari and garlic bread for appetizers and I almost got my daughter to try calamari by telling her it was a mini onion ring but she didn't buy it probably because she watched the Octonauts all the time.  Pretty cool show.

-  Nighttime.  That same drunk from earlier, still drinking, is stumbling around on the docks.  Wonder what's going to happen.  Also I still don't know if this water is a lake or the ocean or something else.  THANKS FOR ALL THE INFO.

-  Oh and what appears to be a shark killed him by ramming the dock he was standing on because of course that's something sharks do.  Buffy heard the noise and went running out with a gun to protect I don't know something and for some reason she apparently sleeps in some kind of weird house dress or something a grandma from the 40s would wear.  Perfect opportunity to show off her sexiness and they blow it.  Thanks again, movie.  I mean yeah, she's a little bit older and a little bit heavier than her glory days of maxim and playboy, but she's still got it - or at least some of it.

These glory days.

-  So the shark ate Buffy's show gators.  And apparently this is a fresh water swamp because her boyfriend is making fun of her and telling her she's crazy and stupid and stuff like that.  Nice guy.  I have a crazy feeling she'll end up with Shoeless Joe.

-  The sheriff is laughing at her now too.  Nobody believes poor Buffy and her tales of the swamp shark.  Except for this one nerd who keeps saying "Bull Sharks can live in fresh water for up to 3 weeks" which is actually true and is really quite shocking because these movies never, ever get the science right.  Hopefully this actually turns out to be a bull shark (a bull shark that rams docks for no reason, but still a bull shark) rather than some kind of mutant or monster or something.

-  So, and this seems totally plausible, apparently her gators all had microchips implanted so she could know where they were at all times.  You know where you'd go to find out where the gators are?  Gator Locator Online, duh.

-  The chick playing Swanson's little sister looks exactly like what Kristy Swanson's little sister should look like.  Perfect casting.

-  Buffy, her a-hole boyfriend, and her gigantic brother are going shark hunting but then Shoeless Joe shows up with like a crossbow gun or something and says "I'm coming with you" and Buffy's like "no you aren't" so then Shoeless takes out his crossbow gun (like Chewbecca's thing but real) and turns and shoots a tree and everybody is impressed but there are like, a shit load of trees where they are and he never said which one he was shooting at so he could have just shot at random and hit a tree and they're like whoa.  Pretty smart on his part though.

This is absolutely awesome and hilarious and makes complete sense, all at the same time!  A triple threat.  Just like Elliott Elliason.

-  They found the transmitters but they aren't in the sharks belly anymore because apparently sharks crap which I suppose they must but man, I have to admit I've never really thought about it.  Then shoeless, Buffy, and the giant all take a shot at the shark while it's charging the boat because this shark is super rammy and stuff.  They all miss, to which Buffy says, "It didn't even flinch" which makes sense since it's a shark and thus doesn't have the brain capacity to understand the concept of guns so when you miss it's probably not really going to notice.  Then they left.  Yeah I don't know.

-  Uh oh, it's a party boat and everybody is drunk and making out.  You know what that means.

-  So this couple on the party boat "wanted more privacy" to go do it and their answer is to leave the huge party boat, which looks like it probably has tons of bedrooms, and steal somebody's row boat and do it in a super uncomfortable shitty boat.  Even though the chick is pretty hot I hope they get eaten out of stupidity.  Plus the black dude's name is Marcus.  Talk about stereotyping.

-  The shark rammed their boat.  This shark likes ramming things like a fat kid loves cake.

-  Shoeless fixed their boat which apparently got injured, while Buffy's boyfriend is some kind of pretty boy nancy pants with nice nails and good hair and side burns who probably has never fixed anything ever.  You see where this is going.  While Buffy just laid one on Shoeless that was like whoa so I guess we're all done with that subplot.  Except obviously the bitchy boyfriend is going to end up like, I don't know, telling the shark where Shoeless lives or something.

-  Sweet, there are sunflower seeds here and they're in the drawer right next to me, I don't have to get up or nothin'.  Feels like I won the lottery.  Speaking of the lottery, remember last season when I won 50 Gopher 5 tickets at the Northwestern game?  Well, you couldn't get more than 1 per visit to a place per day (I got 50 coupons for free tickets, not actually tickets) so I had to just keep getting them every time I stopped somewhere and I just kept them together and never checked them.  Then I lost them all not long after I cashed in the final coupon.  Found them today and checked them all on the website.  Total winnings?  Four dollars.  Thanks a lot, Obama.

-  Buffy's little sister has kind of a sweet ass.

-  And she's Gary Sinise's daughter.  Wow.  This is awkward.

-  The shark has "an armor-like exoskeleton" which means it's not a bull shark and once again we're looking at something stupid and fake and/or extinct.  Awesome.  Christ, I almost respect the movie that went with the goblin shark even though they got basically every single scientific fact wrong.  At least it was real.

-  Shoeless went for a drive and not only did he see the sheriff taking money from some shady guy (and have a sweet ass camera to take pictures of it) but he found half that row boat with half a dead body in it too.  That alone should get him in the Hall of Fame.

-  Back from commercial and we see a sign for "Gator Fest" being erected, which clearly sets this up for the good guys trying to get the festival canceled "because there's a shark out there" while the mayor and/or sheriff "can't possibly cancel do you have any idea how much money this means to the community."  Every time.

-  And, well, that'll do it right there.  The shark just jumped out of the water and bit the head off some deputy guy who was using his binoculars to spy on this couple having sex (no nudity because it's SyFy, of course).  Not that this movie was good, but it wasn't horrible.  This, however, is a bit much.

-  Oh no, Gary Sinise's daughter came to the party boat.  She is good, and they are bad.  This is terrible.  Does Gary know about this?  Does anybody know his phone number?  Is he on twitter?  Someone has to do something.

-  Buffy and Shoeless are now viewing the remains of Marcus who got killed in the sexy row boat.  But they're viewing them in a hospital or morgue or somewhere official.  So how did a restaurant owner and former baseball player get access to these remains?  I know, it's stupid to pay any attention to logic or facts.  Also stupid?  Watching theses movies, period.

-  Apparently Shoeless is a "Fish and Game Official."  Well alright.

-  Holy fuck.  Holy shit you guys.  OMG.  This deputy is Wade Boggs.  THIS DEPUTY IS WADE MOTHER EFFING BOGGS.  I'm not kidding.  This is so awesome.

You think I'm kidding?

-  Man this is awesome.  They also just had the fight about wanting to cancel Gator Fest and NO YOU CAN'T cancel Gator Fest but I don't care Wade mother effing Boggs is in this movie.

-  Sinise's daughter tried to call Buffy for help because she wants off the party boat which is now drifting aimlessly around the swamp but the drunk dudes didn't much care for that because they threw her cell phone in the swamp which seems like a bit of an overreaction.  I'm glad she's trying to get someone to help though, because god knows that fucking bum Sinise isn't coming to her rescue.  Guy still hasn't responded to my tweet.  Nice father.

-  I got distracted a little bit but the guy who threw the cell phone in the water died.  And then Gary Sinise's daughter shot off her flair gun, which is probably just a desperate attempt to get her father to notice her.  I think it's the pole, next.

-  Oh my god Wade Boggs is speaking with a semi-cajun accent.  It's actually pretty terrible, but I don't care.  This is greatest thing ever.  This might be the greatest movie ever and they've only shown the shark once.  Maybe those things are correlated.

-  This ginger, who was the other dude on the party boat, reaches down to try to untangle the weeds that have entangled the teeny tiny motor that propels this giant boat and, because sharks hate that, the shark ate him.  Now there are only two people left on that boat and they're all women so you know they aren't getting out of there without some serious help.

-  And on cue, here are our heroes to rescue the girls without incident.  Or, it would have been without incident but, and you're never going to believe this, the shark rammed the boat and then ate the asshole boyfriend.  No one is sad, but Kristy Swanson has really busted out the cleavage here.  Wade Boggs approves.

-  Oh my god, Boggs and Shoeless just got in an argument about Lord Palmerstone and Pitt the Elder!!  No I'm just kidding, but that'd be pretty sweet.  Also I think they established that this is some kind of shark that came up from "the deepest part of the ocean."  No notice of the facts that if that was true it likely couldn't survive in shallow water, couldn't survive in fresh water, and no such shark has ever existed.  Normally that would piss me off pretty good, but you got Kristy Swanson and Wade Boggs here, so I'm cool with whatever, man.

-  For some reason Kristy Swanson's boobs have like, this giant M-16 looking thing.

-  The shark ate the corrupt sheriff because of course corrupt sheriff's can't live in these movies.  And it ate him by jumping onto land and eating his face off, so now it's like, wriggling around on shore for some reason.  This is really god damn stupid.

-  Somehow it's back in the water now.  I think we might be almost done.

-  Shoeless stands in the shallows with his fancy Chewbacca gun and cuts his own hand in order to get blood in the water to attract the shark.  Could have just stood on a dock or in a boat, shark'd come to you to get it's ramming fix.

-  So shoeless shoots the shark in the face, then while the shark just floats there and does nothing, he runs like 100 yards and throws his gun in the back of one of them cajun'y fan boat hover craft things and as the fan spins it pulls winds the rope and pulls the shark into the fan where it cuts it to pieces.  Like I said, pretty god damn stupid.

-  In short, that movie was completely terrible.  From a science perspective, an entertainment perspective, and a shark perspective it was an utter and colossal failure.  But it had Kristy Swanson, who I've always loved, the Shoeless Joe Guy, and Wade Boggs, plus I laughed for like 20 minutes at myself for tweeting Gary Sinise so I give it a solid B+.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Twins Off-Season, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

This has been a pretty wild and exciting off-season for baseball nerds.  A lot of big names have changed teams.  Some of the biggest moves include:
  • Both Uptons are in Atlanta now.  Along with Jason Heyward they have a pretty sweet Soul Patrol™ going.
  • The Blue Jays have all of the Marlins' players except Stanton now as well as batting champ steroid monster Melky Cabrera. 
  • The Royals gave the top prospect in baseball (Wil Myers) to the Rays for Big Game James. 
  • The Red Sox sign Mike Napoli's zombie knees and Stephen Drew's zombie everything.
  • Josh Hamilton went to the division rival Angels who now have Trout, Hammy and Pujols. 
  • The Dodgers payroll is like $900MM and they've added Zack Grumpy.
  • The Indians are active getting Michael Bourn as well as a multi team trade where they got Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer.
  • On a related note, the Diamondbacks are completely dismantling because they're jealous of the Marlins.  The Twins should call about Ian Kennedy while the getting is good.
The D-Backs even got rid of drunky Mark Grace

The Twins did some stuff too, although none of it was on the level of the above.  GM Terry Ryan acknowledged they had money to spend and offers out there.  However, what we ended up with and, more importantly, when we ended up with these players seems like a failure from what we know (nothing).  One has to believe that some of the available players told the Twins to suck rocks when they received offers.  I'm looking at you Joe Saunders and Brandon McCarthy.  A quote via Darren Wolfson at AM1500:
Twins GM Terry Ryan acknowledged that he’s waiting to hear from some free agent starters, saying it's "just a matter of their interest in us." Ryan elaborated, saying "I don't know why somebody wouldn't want to come here who's a legitimate starter." Owner Jim Pohlad told Wolfson "there's definitely payroll flexibility" should Ryan find the right player.
So, there's this overall impression that no one wants to come to Minnesota and pitch for a shitty, 60 win team.  The Twins therefore are left with a couple of options, try and get undervalued players at an affordable price or go KC Royals and overspend big time on free agents. (Jeremy Guthrie 3/$25)

"Any of you bros wanna sign me, bro?"

Now that pitchers and catchers are starting to report and most of the free agents have found home except for Kyle Lohse and his pie-in-the-sky asking price, we can take a look at the moves as a whole and see where we pissed the bed.

The Good

The Twins needed more pitching.  Their depth was in the outfield.  They made moves to add pitching both for now and for the future and gave up some of the outfield depth.  As I stated before, I thought they should have landed one extra mid-level prospect in the Meyer for Span deal, but the desired effect was met here.  Span is also a bit overrated in my opinion.  His cheap contract and 3 WAR are often mentioned.  That cheap contract however is $5MM this year, $6.5MM next year and a $9MM option in 2015.  And a big part of WAR is baserunning and positional scarcity.  The average centerfielder for example hits 14 homers and has a 261/326/410 line and 25 steals.  Sounds almost exactly what a Mastroianni/Hicks split would be.  Span had a better average and much better OBP than those numbers, but stole less bases and hit less homers.

Revere is another guy along these lines and while I was surprised to see him get moved right after Span, I liked what they got in return though.  For all of Revere's incredible speed and range in the outfield, I believe he needs to hit .300 to be valuable at the plate since he walks just over 5% of the time.  Unlike Span though, Revere would have been a free agent in 2018, so he was under control for several more years.  The return for Revere though was Vance Worley and Trevor May.  Worley is a middle of the rotation starter that will be thrust in as a top end guy for the Twins and May has solid upside and is not far from the majors himself.   Both are under control for some time; VANIMAL is also a free agent in 2018.  Also, I'm a huge Trevor May fan now since responded to my twitter question about Taco Bell:

The Bad

Fangraphs disagrees with the Span trade as being a good deal.  They list that and the signing of Kevin Correia among the 10 worst transactions this off-season.  And the more that one is looked at; especially compared to other signings, the crappier it looks.  This is a guy that got $10 million over two years while a guy like Jair Jurrjens, who has injury issues, but is a former all-star and just 27 got just $1.5MM guaranteed with incentives that could get him to $4MM.  Former all-star and 17 game winner Joe Saunders got $6.5MM.  An actual proven vet that has busted 200 innings a few times for just $1.5MM more.  For just a tad more, Brandon McCarthy was signed (2yr/$15.5MM).  Soft tosser (but proven vet) Shaun Marcum only got $4MM.  One has to wonder if Ryan overplayed his hand early by jumping on Correia (bad) and Pelfrey (potentially not so bad) and scared off some of the better options with his poo poo of middling arms.

Prove me wrong, Kevin.  Please?

The Ugly

The Twins added a ton of arms and some youth, but none of them are close to a guaranteed thing.  They're either cripples (Harden/Pelfrey), mediocre (Correia) or unproven (Diamond and just about every dude that pitched last year and even Worley to a degree).  Guess what else isn't a guarantee?  Just about all of the position players.  Other than Willingham and Mauer and possibly a Morneau/Doumit frankenstein situation, they're all either bad or unproven.  Middle infield sounds like Florimon and Dozier with Jamey Carroll's elfen magic mixed in.  Plouffe is far from a sure thing at 3B and Parmelee, Mastoianni, Hicks, Benson etc. all have a lot to prove before they can be considered major league players.

A Few Other Twins Spring Training Faces to Watch

Rafael Perez RP- Hot off the presses!  The Twins just signed former Indians lefty reliever Perez.  He had a bum shoulder and we love that shit, so they signed him to a minor league deal.  Prior to last year Perez was solid, posting a career 3.64 era.  He doesn't throw hard, but it doesn't matter because he generally only faces lefties and throws a slider a whopping 60+% of the time.

Josh Roenicke RP- Roenicke is a reliever that has spent most of his career in the minors but at age 30 is coming off of a solid season for the Rockies as a middle reliever.  He features a 92-93mph fastball and an 84mph cutter as his main pitches.

Deolis Guerra RP - Guerra is the last remnant of the Johan Santana trade that neither the Twins nor the Mets are likely very happy about.   He spent the majority of 2012 in AAA and had his ups and downs.  He'll be 24 in April and needs a huge spring training to make the club. 

Oswaldo Celestino Arcia OF - I'm an Arcia fan.  He may not make the team out of spring training but a good showing here and a solid start in AAA would make him a top choice for a call-up.  Also, don't be surprised if he's slotted to RF and Parmelee moves to 1B if  the Twins move Morneau this year.  John Sickels called him the "Venezuelan Jason Kubel."

Jeff Clement, C/1B - Here's a nice article by Tommy Birch of the Shreveport Times on Clement.  Clement was once a big time prospect and is now grasping at straws for a chance in the majors.  He was selected 3rd overall in 2005 in a class that had Justin Upton and Alex Gordon ahead of him and Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman behind him.  As the article states, the Mariners were going to take Tulowitzki at 3, but they changed their minds;  Andrew McCutchen was also a first rounder in this draft.  The 29 year old is now on a minor league deal hoping to catch on with the Twins.  I'm pulling for him and anything that gets us less Drew Butera, who by the way is making $700,000 this year.  Dads, get your behind the plate early!  Clement can certainly hit better than Butera...he posted a 276/340/486 in AAA for the Pirates last year and had 16 homers. 

Mark Sobolewski, 3B - Sobolewski could be a dark horse to press Plouffe for time at 3B.  He's a plus defender and has some pop, hitting 18 homers in AA last year.  However, his move to AAA wasn't so sweet... he hit .188 there in 86 PAs.  He's a rule 5 pick which means the Twins would have to give something to the Jays or return him if he doesn't stay on the MLB roster.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gophers vs. Badgers Preview

Where do we go from here?

I suppose if I'm not completely shutting this blog down (and I don't think I am but I'm not 100% on that) I should write something after the Gophers lost yet again, but I'm struggling to come up with anything to write.  Partially it's because I intentionally avoided paying too much attention to the game, listening to the first half in the car on the radio and half watching the second one at a restaurant with my entire loud distracting family, and partially because I mean what can you even say?  I just don't know where to go from here.

I realize as a lifelong Gopher fan that expected a perennial power is pretty silly, but I had always figured the Gophers for the Clem model.  Every 3-4 years a good team with the capability to make the Sweet 16, and if everything breaks right even a little further.  With Monson on board the failings of the program weren't that surprising given his main goal was to "clean up the program" (whatever that means) but when he finally left and the surprising hire of Tubby Smith was announced I assumed at worst the Gophers would go back to the Clem model of success but, well, here we are.

This was supposed to be the big break-out year.  The talent was there at at least four positions, five depending on your opinion of Joe Coleman.  Comparisons were tossed out to the 1997 Final Four team, and I was as guilty as anyone.  The Gophers basically started the year as a lock for the NCAA Tournament.  Now, however, they're under .500 in the Big 10.  Although they don't have a disastrous loss (Northwestern on the road is probably the worst) they now have far too many, and needed a miracle to beat a so-so Iowa team at home.  The wins over FSU and Stanford have not really held up, and luckily Memphis has come around a bit so the Gophers still hold at least one good non-conference win, but they're currently on a 2-6 slide and haven't beaten anybody of substance in over a month.

It's pretty clear to me that Tubby Smith wasn't the answer.  For whatever reason, whether you think he's mailing it in because he's old and doesn't have that fire in the belly anymore, is just trying to keep the seat warm for Saul, or just has never been that great a coach I fear this program has gone as far as it can go with him.  The players are in place, and I'm not one to criticize Tubby's recruiting, but his in-game coaching has been terrible since he got here and seems to have hit another low this year.  Between his lack of preparation (I've never seen so many guys look confused), his inability to adapt in game, his puzzling substitution patterns, and lack of any offensive coaching chops I just don't know what he's doing.  Now their early season strength - defense - has seemingly abandoned them as well.  About the only thing that's gone well all season is offensive rebounding, and that's basically all about player ability and motivation.

I couldn't begin to tell you the answer.  Gregg Marshall, Shaka Smart, Larry Eustachy?  They have to want to come here first.  I'd still go after Marshall if I'm in charge, but I really don't know if it matters.  Tubby was supposed to matter, and he hasn't.  All I really know is the Gophers continue to underachieve while teams like Wisconsin continue to overachieve - at some point that's on the coach.  I think that point has arrived.

I've tried to step back and see if I'm being a crazy, pessimistic, sky is falling fan.  I mean, given their RPI and SoS and a relatively easy schedule they're still likely to make the NCAA Tournament and that's good, right?  I guess it just doesn't feel good given that they were in the "lock" category and have since fallen into "work left to do" or "should be in."  The season has been a failure to this point,and it's not the results it's how the results come about.  I'm not down on the team because they barely beat Iowa or lost at home to Illinois - I'm down on the team because the coaching has failed.  The team is confused, I am confused, and it appears the coaching staff is confused.  I'm not saying I could do it better than Tubby, but I am saying there are plenty of people out there who could.

But hey, pitchers and catchers reported today.  At least I know this Twins' season won't break my heart.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Yeah we're all done here.  Go home.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Illinois

I had this preview mostly already written.  I knew Illinois played Indiana tonight and that could change things, but every time I checked the score Indiana seemed to have the game in hand, so I felt comfortable assuming that was a loss for the Illini.  Then, all of a sudden I'm seeing highlights and, spoiler alert, it turns out Illinois wins on a defensive breakdown by Indiana at the buzzer.  So damn.  I'm going to keep the final paragraph because it is still relevant, but the rest is going in the virtual trash.  Mostly because I'm pretty lazy and don't want to re-write something.

It's simple:  the Gophers win this game unless Illinois gets hot from three, which is something they can do and have done this year.  The easiest way for them to get hot is to get a bunch of open looks, something the Gophers have struggled with in the past.  The easiest way for them to get a bunch of open looks is by getting the ball inside and then kicking it back out and moving it around the perimeter.  You know how to avoid that?  NO DOUBLE TEAMS.  Look at that team.  Not a single post-up threat unless they use Brandon Paul to post up a guard, and in that case I still say just let him shoot.  NO GOD DAMN DOUBLE TEAMS IN THE POST.  If I see one single guard double down on a post-up I'm going to storm the court and murder Goldy because why not?


Gophers 75, Illinois 64

Gophers lose to Spartans. Again.

There is no shame in losing in East Lansing, god knows Tubby and the Gophers are used to it.  The Spartans are coming together, are a legit top ten team, and have a well known home court advantage - anybody expecting the Gophers to actually win this game is a pretty big optimist.  Since Michigan State has been going more twin towers they've become very tough to deal with, and the Gophers three point defense, which was so good earlier in the year, has deteriorated too much to double the ball as much as they did last night, and they were unable to get out to the shooters leading to a good shooting team hitting 9-18 from 3.  When a team shoots that well and only turns the ball over 5 times, you've got a tough game in front of  you.  A few other quick points.

1.  Trevor Mbakwe simply needs to get more than 5 shots (especially when two of those five came off him getting offensive putbacks).  Nix is a big dude, but he can't handle Mbakwe's combination of speed, quickness, and strength.  In the beginning of both halves the Gophers seemed to be making a concerted effort to get him the ball, even using cross screens with him at the high post coming through the lane and posting up on the block, where Nix would have to go under the screen and was unable to beat Mbakwe to the position.  It worked and it got him the ball, and he was able to get good looks with Michigan State not doubling.  There were a few times he was too tentative, almost waiting for the double when he should have just gone to work, but that wasn't reason enough to go away from it.  Didn't make much sense.

2.  Austin Hollins simply cannot shoot away from Williams Arena.  I don't think anyone has ever considered him a great shooter, but watching all the games at home he kind of gives the impression that he's shooting the ball really well this year, but that's only the case in Minneapolis.  I looked at all the games vs. non-cupcakes, and at home he's shooting 49% from the floor at 45% from 3 at home - very good numbers.  But away from the Barn he's hitting just 28% overall and 26% from three - absolutely horrible.  On a team with no great shooters (depending on how you want to label Andre Hollins) it would be great if he could figure out how to hit a shot on the road.  With the post scoring they can get from Mbakwe and Rodney Williams and the ability Dre Hollins and Joe Coleman have to get into the lane it creates open perimeter shots, as we've seen.  He's open just as often, they just go down at Williams and clang off elsewhere.  I don't know if you guys know this, but the NCAA Tournament games are NOT played at Williams Arena.  NIT, yes, but I prefer to continue to assume that's not an option.

3.  Prior to this game, Tubby mentioned he needs to play his bench more because the starters are logging too many minutes.  Although I'm not entirely certain I agree, he's the coach and that's his thought process, so whatever, but he's really got to stop going with five subs all at once.  Some teams can probably pull that off in spurts, but for whatever reason the Gopher second five has zero ability to score or even get shots.  Elliason can rebound, Welch can score (a little), and Maverick can penetrate (a little), but as an overall group together there's nobody who can lead the offense.  Inevitably they end up with a bad shot as the shot clock winds down.  In games like this you just can't go for a 3-5 minute stretch with little to no hope of scoring.  You just can't.  It's not that hard to come up with a substitution pattern that makes sure you have at least two starters in at any time.  Or, apparently, it is.

4.   Really, there's no reason to get too concerned about losing this game - it was inevitable.  I see the Gophers finishing out at 5-3 (with a 3 game losing streak in there just to get everybody all riled up again), which puts them at 10-6 in the best conference with good computer numbers and a pretty good resume.  They'll probably end up with five or six seed and then we'll see what happens from there.  Which, to be honest, is a pretty far cry from where I thought they'd be. 

So it goes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Sparty

I wrote over 2,000 words on the Gophers yesterday and they've already played Michigan State (previewed here and recapped here) so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this post.  Or at least that's the plan.  I tend to over type sometimes so I'm not making any promises.

Since that game, Sparty has gone 7-1 with their lone loss on the road at Indiana (by 5).  Actually looking at the entire body of work it's very possible Michigan State is underrated right now.  Their four losses?  @ Indiana, @ Minnesota, @ Miami, and vs. UCONN in the season opener in Germany in a game that should probably barely count.  Add in that they're one of only two teams to beat Kansas and the Spartans are probably the third best team in the conference and one of the best in the country.

Good news for the Gophers is Travis Trice is out with an injury and he was a major pain in the Gophers side when they played in Minneapolis, and Gary Harris is questionable with a back issue and he's their second leading scorer.  If neither play it will make Izzo's life tougher with just Keith Appling as a proven ball handler, and force him to use Denzel Valentine (a turnover machine) and/or an unproven player to help out and would certainly be helpful for Minnesota.

Despite the Gophers earlier victory over the Spartans, Michigan State is probably the better team and while the Gophers are struggling a bit, Michigan State seems to be moving in the right direction as Tom Izzo teams usually do.  They also have the size and strength to negate the Gophers on the offensive boards, so for Minnesota to steal this one they'll have to take care of the ball and shoot well.  I can see them doing one of these things well, but not both.  That being said, I still believe the Gophers are one of the better teams in the country and their defense should keep this one close.

Michigan State 66, Minnesota 63.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What is up with Tubby Smith, man?

Over the last couple of years there seems to be a big undercurrent of talk about firing Tubby Smith.  Generally I just dismissed this as mostly lunatic ramblings, given that he had taken over a pretty moribund program and restored it to respectability with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.  Sure, there were plenty of frustrations - the Royce White situation, the myriad of transfers, some in-game things, players not developing, etc. - but you get those from time to time with pretty much any coach.  The team was relevant again and playing better basketball with better players, and frankly after the end of the Monson era pretty much anything would have felt pretty good.  But lately, man.  Lately I just don't know.  And this goes beyond back-to-back missed NCAA Tournaments, it's more of, I don't know, a little bit of everything.  I realize that to an outsider this might seem a little unnecessary given that the Gophers are ranked for the first time in what I assume is forever and seem like a lock to make the tournament this year, but if you're reading this you're probably not an outsider, and I feel like there's a very good chance you're nodding your head right now and not because you're listening to Busta Rhymes.

A college basketball head coach has 3 main jobs.  Ok really just one - to win - but it's broken into three parts:  recruiting, coaching to improve the players you already have, and game planning (both pre-game and in-game).  How would you rate Tubby on these right now?  I'm most interesting in talking game planning, but I'm going to hit the other two as well.

First, recruiting.  You remember his first two classes - blue chippers, name players, going after guys with offers from Kentucky (Sampson), Kansas (Joseph), Florida (Iverson), and Michigan State (White), top 100 guys, top 50 guys, and getting them.  The last few classes, however, he's seemed to be settling more.  Although both Hollinseses and Coleman look like nice finds and are certainly playing well, none of them were all that highly sought after and the best offer any of them had was probably Memphis's to Austin, although that could be mitigated a bit since he's from Tennessee.  This year's class and next year's are made up of four players, none of which make the national rankings list, and for all four you could make an argument for the Gophers being the best program offering them.  There are few other offers between them that could make that argument as well, but the Gophers no longer seem to be getting, or even offering, the players that are nationally well thought of.

Now, I will say this.  Seeing how the Hollins twins and Coleman have been working out keeps me in Tubby's corner here.  It could be that Tubby needed to go after bigger names and more well known players early in his tenure to establish a recruiting base and bring the team back to relevancy, and now can be more picky and choosy with the "type" of players he wants even if they aren't on the national map.  That strategy can work (see: Wisconsin) and this year's team is a good example of it.  Add in that the two 2013 recruits already signed (Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster) are guys Tubby's been after for a long time and I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.  The real test is in 2014 with three Minnesota kids in Rivals Top 41.  Tubby needs to get at least one of them to wear the maroon and gold.  I would be ecstatic with two, but there has got to be at least one.  The jury is still out on him here.

As far as coaching players up, that's another thing that has seemed to improve and helps strengthen any pro-Tubby argument that he needed the right kind of players.  Sampson was obviously a bust and I don't think Devoe Joseph was markedly better the day he bolted for Oregon than when he arrived on campus.  Colton Iverson and Justin Cobbs have both absolutely thrived after leaving Minnesota, and all four of those players' successes or lack there of are on Tubby's inability to get them to improve.  Once again, the Hollinses and Coleman are his saving grace, because Austin has gotten leaps and bounds better and both Andre and Coleman have improved (although Coleman's defense makes baby jesus cry).  Rodney Williams has regressed a bit this year, but there's no doubt that his improvement from sophomore to junior was a large one.  Whether you want to give the majority of the credit for that simply to Mbakwe being out for the year is up to you, but Tubby still had to coach him, put him in the right position, and get him to change his game.  The real test on this one will be next year.  With Mbakwe and Williams gone the front court is going to be Mo Walker and Elliott Elliason, and unless he makes some real progress with those two it could be pretty ugly.  Once again, the jury is out but I'm inclined to rule in Tubby's favor and call it "getting the right kind of players for Tubby."

Now, I wrote those first two paragraphs (3, actually) to illustrate that I'm in no way a rabid Tubby basher.  I'm in his corner in a lot of ways, and other than a tweet or a throwaway comment in a post I've rarely said anything negative about him.  That being said, what in the holy hell does this guy do at practice?  We saw the problem again against Iowa.  Any time the Hawkeyes would do their 3/4 court trap the Gopher guards would completely panic, even to the point where on one possession Rodney Williams still had the ball at the 3-point line in the back court with 7 seconds gone from the shot clock before the crowd helped him realize what was going on and he tried to fly over the timeline and do something with the ball and, naturally, oops turnover.  Things were just as bad when Iowa played zone in the half court, with the guards appearing to play a four corners stall ball style despite the fact that they were losing with under 3 minutes to play.

I mean, it's not like Iowa doesn't ever play zone and they pretty much break out the trap every game, so there's no way these guys should be so perplexed as to what to do, especially since by all accounts and all visual evidence both Hollins kids are pretty cerebral players.  If this was an isolated incident it would be one thing, but look at how the Gophers weren't only unable to score against Northwestern's 1-3-1 but immediately turned into a bunch of JV players, and this is the same zone Northwestern uses every single game.  They couldn't find a way to score or get good shots against Wisconsin when the Badgers play the same defensive scheme every single year, and they went through about a twelve minute period against Michigan State where they couldn't inbound the ball under their own basket.  There's just too much here, and this is just this season when we could find a whole bunch more examples if we looked back a few seasons.

Look I'm not some sort of basketball genius (actually I am, but for the sake of this post let's pretend I'm not) but while scoring and getting good shots against a good team playing a zone can be difficult (thus Syracuse's success), the basics of beating a zone don't change no matter the level of play and anyone should be able to grasp them.  It's pretty simple, start your offense where the defense isn't.  If they're playing 1-3-1, you should arrange your players in a 2-1-2.  If they're in a 2-3, go with a 3-2 (with one guy at the high post, one at the low).  You put your players in the natural gaps in the zone and then use quick passes and ball movement (and ball fakes where appropriate) to keep the defense moving and shifting which will inevitably create gaps that can be exploited with cuts, dribble penetration, and passes.  Honestly a good offense against a decent zone should be able to create shots in most cases without even running a single pattern or setting a single pick or screen.  It's quite simple.

So why, WHY, can't Tubby's teams seem to grasp this?  The key to beating a zone (after you actually, you know, line up properly) is the guy in the middle - whoever is at the free throw line/high post.  Get that guy the ball and the zone needs to dramatically shift to cover him, leaving open shooters and cutters.  That is the most important player in beating a zone, and both Mbakwe and Williams are athletic enough and good enough passers to handle it, and if the defense sags or doesn't react quickly enough I trust them both to either drive or hit the 15-foot jumper as the situation dictates.  Honestly the way the Gophers are constructed they should absolutely destroy zone defenses beyond more than getting a ton of offensive rebounds (which, admittedly, the do very well).  So why don't they?  BECAUSE THERE IS NEVER ANYBODY AT THE GOD DAMN HIGH POST.  The key guy to beating a zone (or a press but just shift everyone into the backcourt and make the free throw line the half court line) and somehow nobody is ever there?

Seriously, watch the Gophers the next time somebody drops into a zone against them (and I'm willing to bet Izzo will give it a shot even though they're mostly a man team) and you'll see how few possessions actually have somebody in that space and, worse, how few actually result in touches for whoever it is.  If you're moving the ball and getting open shots and they just aren't falling that's one thing, but not even running a proper offense against the defense being played against you?  There's no way to place the blame for that on anyone but the coach, and I'm talking 97% of the blame, not just 51%.  Inexcusable.  Tubby must spend 90% of practice on defense, and at least that part works, but not being prepared and not being able to adjust mid-game is just baffling.  Yeah, he drew up a couple of good plays to get Coleman a lay-up late and the big Hollins three-pointer against Iowa, but let's not do whatever the opposite of throw the baby out with the bathwater here - Tubby has been a terrible game coach since he got here.

I'm still not in the "fire tubby" camp simply because I'm not sure where to go from here.  Unless you're bringing in an elite level of talent like Kentucky and Calipari (who makes Tubby look like Bill Self) you can't be a great team without someone on the sidelines who can put the players in the best position to win and then adjust if they aren't there or something changes.  Obviously neither of those things are happening, but I'm not sure how to change that either - it's not like Tim Miles (a good game coach) has had any success at Nebraska in year one.  There's no doubt Tubby can coach and teach defense (I am still impressed by their rotations on defense in most games) and defense will at least keep them competitive so that's a positive.  Plus I remember clambering for a firing of Glen Mason for failing to rise above mediocrity and look how that turned out.  So I'm not calling for a firing of Tubby, despite the mediocre results in his five years or whatever it is, but I do think it's time to at least start considering some options.

Shaka Smart is the best hire by most accounts and given his prior relationship with Norwood Teague is probably at least somewhat realistic as well, and I would have liked Miles but it's hard to believe he's going to jump from Nebraska so quickly.  One guy I'd like the Gophers to take a long and hard look at hiring is Gregg Marshall.  He's had two jobs, Winthrop and Wichita, and has had nothing but success with a 320-146 career record and seven conference titles in 14 years.  He's only 50, too, so he won't be nodding off on the sidelines or just trying to go through the motions to get another paycheck.  He's a good game coach, a solid recruiter, and brings in at least some name recognition.  I don't think it's time for Tubby to go, but a first round exit, failure to bring in any of the three Minnesota kids, and another disappointing season?  Yeah, then it's time.  Hopefully we don't get to that point, but I'm really starting to think Tubby's lack of offensive acumen - and apparently nobody else on staff who can take that responsibility from him - is going to hold the Gophers back, and if it's hurting the most talented Gopher team since 1997, what's it going to do if the talent falls off?

Plus anything to guarantee Saul doesn't coach here is a net positive.

If you made it through this entire thing you deserve a reward, so here you go.  You're welcome.

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