Sunday, April 28, 2013

Let's Talk About Hicks, Man

The most exciting thing about sports is potential.  Actually, the most exciting part is having the chance to see what that potential escape the realm of the imaginary and turn into something real - whether good or bad.  There's a reason people are generally excited about a new Star Wars Trilogy and it's the same concept.  The interest in getting in early on something that has the potential to be great sucks people in whether despite being burned countless times before (think Phantom Menace, Rico Tucker, or Francisco Liriano).  This, of course, brings us to Aaron Hicks.  There's little more exciting than the team's most MLB ready top prospect tearing shit up in Spring and getting the nod to jump from AA ball right to the bigs and bat leadoff.  All that, of course, is why his debut has been mostly a bummer, bro.

Things have been looking brighter lately with Hicks in the midst of a 5-game hit streak, but that still raises his batting average to just .118, which ranks dead last among those with enough PAs to qualify for the batting title.  This obviously is less than ideal.  There are lots of people who seem quite riled up by Hicks' slow start, including one guy I talked to at a bachelor party (for Grand Slam, for those of you who follow along with the cast of characters in my life) who couldn't have spent more time telling me how Hicks sucked and should be sent to AAA to get his swing straightened out.  To this I say, "dude shut up."

First of all, his BABIP is .167, well below league average and far below where he's been at every minor league stop (usually a decent amount north of .300) and is fourth worst in the majors.  Granted he hasn't hit a ton of line drives (only 3 so far this year in 44 balls put in play) but it would essentially be impossible to play an entire season with a BABIP below .200 (worst in the majors last year was Justin Smoak at .242).  That alone basically guarantees his average will get up to a minimum of .200 or so, and I'd be stunned if it ended up anywhere near that low.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, Hicks hasn't changed his approach from his minor league days, despite the rough start.  He was billed as a patient hitter and that hasn't changed and that's why he's on pace for 85-100 walks despite barely hitting .100.  His walk rate of 14.3% is actually fantastic, and ranks 15th in the majors, better than guys like Albert Pujols and your precious Joe Mauer.   On the flip side yes he's struck out a ton (29.9%, 17th in the majors) but he's only whiffed four times in the last 10 games after racking up 20 in the previous 10 so I'd say that, along with the big five game winning streak, tell me he's figuring this thing out.  It's worth noting that Hicks current .238 OBP is nearly as good as Ben Revere who is at .242 despite Revere's average (.207) being nearly 100 points higher.  Actually that's something worth looking at further, so I will.

Hicks' OBP is .238 and his average is .118 - a difference of .120.  That is a substantial difference so I investigated further.  That ties him with Giancarlo Stanton and A.J. Ellis for the 11th biggest difference in the league, with such stars as Joey Votto, Billy Butler, David Wright, and Ryan Braun in his neighborhood.   What does that mean?  It means the guy knows how to hit, and a combination of bad luck and his own slump have combined to make the numbers look like he can't.  Watching the guy and diving deeper into the numbers tell me the guy is still going to be a stud.

Not to mention he's a dynamic player who makes things happen.  Despite just 8 hits he has seven RBI and has scored 10 runs.  He and Colorado's Josh Rutledge are the only players to have more runs scored than hits this year, and only five players have more RBI per hit than Hicks does.  He makes things happen.  Add in his excellent defense and great base running and you still have a future star on your hands here, despite the slow start and weird Kevin Smith looking guys at bachelor parties opinions.

You hear me?  I will say again:


And you can take that to the bank.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What should the Vikings Do in the NFL Draft?

The NFL draft begins Thursday night with the first round starting at 7pm on ESPN.  If you're an idiot like me, you still tune in to KFAN from time to time and you're hearing the bottom of the barrel when it comes to baseless speculation regarding who the Vikings may take in the first round.  Let's look at what local knobs are saying and maybe a couple of mock drafts and then talk about what the Vikings should do in the first.

Heard on KFAN and on USA Today Mock draft:  The Vikings should trade up for Tavon Austin

What is it with everyone's desire to immediately replace a piece they just lost?  We went through this before when the Vikings traded away Randy Moss to the Raiders and then drafted Troy Williamson because he was fast.  Even the wikipedia language indicates they needed to do this: "The Vikings needed a receiver with deep speed after trading Randy Moss to Oakland, drafting Williamson with the 7th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft."  Speaking of which, Troy is a free agent!

So, now since we traded away a shifty slot guy that can return kicks well so now we need to trade up and immediately fill that hole with Tavon Austin.  The USA Today mock has the Vikings jumping all of the way up to 6 noting that "the buzz has been growing for months" and that he's "not as thick as Harvin but offers a similar skill set".  Mel Kiper has Austin going #16 to the Rams and says he's "versatile" and can replace the loss of Danny Amendola.  The thing is, not every small guy that's a great returner turns into MVP-type-when-he-tries Percy Harvin.  Austin could end up being much more Dexter McCluster than Harvin.  In fact, that's what people should probably expect.  Not that McCluster is bad, he's a useful player that can do a lot of things and was taken #36 overall by the Chiefs.  I just don't think you should sell out your draft/future drafts by making a huge leap to get this guy.  The Vikings just have too many holes to fill to give up multiple picks to get Austin.  There are also a number of WR prospects that will be there that could be a fit anyway.  If he falls to the late teens and the price is right; sure, try and move up.  I mean, he did run a 4.34 and played every game at West Virginia despite his size.  Here's Todd McShay fawning over him (has him going #13):

Heard on KFAN, USA Today, Kiper and from everyone you talk to:  The Vikings should draft Manti Te'o

Everyone knows the Vikings need a MLB and despite it not being a super strong class for MLBs, many insist the Vikings will take Te'o in the first round with their #25 pick.  Manti would be most notable for being a Heisman trophy finalist if it wasn't for getting catfished by some dude.  Instead he's known for falling in love with a guy on the interwebs. 

In some ways this is understandable as MLB is a need and the Vikings have had some success with drafting Irish in Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph.  However, I'm unconvinced this is the right choice for a couple of reasons that go beyond him getting punked on the internet by some dude.  By most accounts Te'o is a run stopper in the middle and will rack up tackles, but isn't much of a playmaker.  He did make plays at Notre Dame including a whopping 7 INTs, but also has looked poor in big moments including the nationla championship and spraining his knee in the Sun Bowl in 2010.  As mentioned before, the Vikings have a ton of needs and in my opinion MLB is much easier to fill later or outside of the draft.  Players like Rey Malauga (Cincy), Michael Boley (Giants) and Nick Barnett (Bills) are free agency candidates.

Also, there are a bunch of decent, but not elite MLB options and Te'o is just one of them.  Kevin Minter (LSU), Alec Ogletree (GA) and Nico Johnson (Bama) are all possibilities.  Why not wait on MLB and get a lineman or secondary player as that seems to be the deeper?  Then there's the dreaded "Manti is only a two down player" argument.  I don't care about that as much if he's elite for those two downs, but with his speed and other problems, he doesn't seem to project to elite status.  Go to the 2:20 mark on this vid for Manti talk:

So what should they do?

First, I like grabbing a WR at either 23 or 25 assuming you're getting one of the top guys.  Landing Jennings was expensive, but somewhat necessary to stay competitive in the division.  Adding to Jennings with a quality prospect would be great.  Jarius Wright showed some flashes of being useful last year as well and could be a slot-type if necessary so you don't have to pigeon-hole yourself into getting the new slot guy.

Kiper has the Vikings taking Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee.  He was another multi-tool type of player as he had 300 yards rushing, nearly 800 receiving and was a return guy.  He has more size than Austin (nearly 6'2"), but is not as fast (4.48 vs 4.34).  However, he's quick and strong and seems to have some big upside. 

Cal Junior Keenan Allen is also 6'2" and runs in the 4.5 range.  He can get up and battle for balls downfield, but doesn't blow you away with raw speed. 

Justin Hunter is another Tennessee WR.  He's big (6'4") and he's a leaper. 

Roberts Woods of USC and Deandre Hopkins of Clemson are also considerations.

There are several options and hopefully the Vikings have a couple of these guys that they like.  I'd go Cordarrelle if I could though.  Check out this kick-ass sports science on all of the cool stuff he can do:

For the other pick I'd like to see them take the best available player...especially if it's a defensive lineman or someone in the secondary.  Generally, I have some faith in the current regime based on some of their recent selections.  Maybe they think taking a MLB in the first is a bad idea too.  Some players I'm interested in that may be there in the mid-20s are:

Sylvester Williams, DT UNC - Sly is going to be 25 during the season, which kind of sucks but he looks like a beast inside and has shown good ability to get into the backfield.  He's a guy that I've seen kind of all over from the teens to the end of the first round in mocks and I think that's at least partially due to the depth at the position.  Plus he has big thighs:

Geno Smith, QB WVU - JUST HEAR ME OUT!  It's a LOT cheaper these days to sign a QB in the first round thanks to the new salary slotting, so it's less of a blown gambit than say drafting Christian Ponder looks like it may have been.  The Vikings have Cassell in the fold now, so I doubt they go here, but if Geno is available at 23, they have to take a hard look at him.  Something called Anthony Sulla-Heffinger at the NYPost has the Vikings taking him at 23 and here's what he says in his blog-thing:

Smith has the tools to be successful in the NFL, but I think everyone is getting a little ahead of themselves on the West Virginia signal caller because of the success of Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton over the past two seasons. Smith has a tendency to shy away from the pocket when faced with pressure and while it is not as big of a deal as it once was, he played almost exclusively out of the shotgun while with the Mountaineers. Minnesota, which drafted Christian Ponder in the first round two years ago, certainly do not seem married to the idea of Ponder as their franchise QB, so if Smith is here, Minnesota will give him a long look. -Anthony Sulla-Heffinger

Bjoern Werner, DE FSU - 6'3", 266lb speed/power rusher that runs a 40 at the same speed as Manti Te'o.  A boatload of defensive lineman are free agents at the end of the year and could be out the door.

 Desmond Trufant, DB Washington - Trufant has two brothers in the NFL and he'll be the third.  At just hair under 6', he's got good size and great speed with a 4.38 40 time.  He'd be a great fit in the secondary.

Good luck to our Vikings tomorrow!

Minnesota Twins for the Win, perhaps?

The American League Central is one of six divisions in Major League baseball. It was formed in the realignment in 1994, and all five of its member teams are located in the Midwestern United States. It is also the only division in Major League baseball in which all of its members have won the World Series at least once.
One of the star teams of the Central Division, having won the World Series a total of six times, is the Minnesota Twins. The Twins is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is named after the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The team was founded in Kansas City in 1894 as the Kansas City Blues of the Western League. The team moved to Washington, D.C. in 1901 as one of the eight original teams of the American League, named the Washington Senators or Washington Nationals.
The Twins have been doing pretty well in the American League season, placing at number 2 in the Central Division with an almost even win/loss ratio. 

And it seems that one of the Twins players to watch out for is Aaron Hicks. The switch hitter Major League rookie might only be 23 but has some serious accomplishments under his belt: from being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft straight out of high school, being tabbed a 2008 Baseball America Rookie All-Star in his first professional season, to batting .318 with four home runs, 27 runs batted in, twelve stolen bases and 28 walks for the Gulf Coast League Twins to earn a Gulf Coast League postseason All-Star nod shows that this young man is definitely a player to watch. Yet, one cannot look past his current standings after his first ten professional games – he has tied the all-time record for strikeouts in his first ten games – yet, the top five players on the list of all-time strikeouts have all gone on to have pretty good careers.

So whether you’re just a fan of the rookie or of the Minnesota twins, looking at their current standings, and their six World Series titles, you might want to place some money on how far they will be going in the Series. And if face to face betting isn’t for you, there are always sites like where you can enjoy some safe and fun online gambling.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest Post: Vikings NFL Draft Preview

Thanks to a pretty successful season in 2012, the Vikings will have to wait until the #23 pick in the draft to take someone. To get over the hump in the their tough division, building through the draft is essential. So who are the three most likely candidates for them to take in the first round?

Alex Ogletree

The inside linebacker from Georgia was spectacular in college, and if he is still around, this should be their pick. The Vikings could use his presence at the linebacker position, and since he is coming out of the SEC, he should be ready to handle the speed of the NFL right away. Their might be a chance that the Vikings take Manti Te’o as well at this spot, but if both are available they will lean towards Ogletree.

Sylvester Williams

 If the team isn’t able to land the linebacker they are looking for, Sylvester Williams is a defensive tackle that could help Minnesota’s shaky defensive line right away. He would fit in great with the 4-3 formation the team uses. Some have him linked to Dallas at #18 overall, but if he slips the former Tar Heel will be strongly considered.

Cordarrelle Patterson

 Finally, everyone knows that the running game is in good shape, but the Vikings could use help at wide receiver. With no Percy Harvin in town, the Vikings really lack a true playmaker at wide receiver. He is much better after the catch right now, but if he can figure out how to improve his route running, he should be a solid pro and one to watch for your fantasy football leagues.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Welcome aboard, Daquein McNeil!

Rich Pitino is on the board! Daquein McNeil, former FIU commit, is following him here to the Gophers, and I am trying to decide how exciting this is.  Plenty of background reading on McNeil here from the always excellent Late Night Hoops, so I won't rehash everything, or at least not intentionally, and will try to look at this, like Darth Vader after his helmet was off, with my own eyes.

His ESPN scouting report is positively glowing, describing him as "capable of creating offense off the dribble any time", "capable of getting hot with his jumper", and "a potentially lethal defender" with "good court vision" and "a quick first step."  The only real negatives they point out is that he isn't a true point guard, which is fine because everyone else describes him as either a shooting guard or a combo guard, and that he has an inconsistent jumper which pretty much describes most freshman perimeter players.

Their bottom line on him reads as follows, "McNeil has great size, length, quickness, and playmaking ability and consequently the potential to be a very effective lead guard at the next level but must continue to polish his skills and develop his basketball I.Q."  Uh, yeah.  Sign me up.

Then again, despite being listed as having offers from Louisville and Washington, yet Rivals doesn't have them suggesting that the info from Late Night Hoops about how he had offers fall off might be true.  I don't see anything suggesting if it's academic or performance related (although he has said he transferred out of Baltimore to Vermont for academic reasons) so I can't really comment for sure, but it's not all that uncommon for one time highly sought recruit to have his star lose some of it's shine as the years/months go by (see Alex Foster).   ESPN rates him as a two star recruit and the 93rd best point guard in the class, while Rivals gives him 3-stars.

So that's what I mean about not sure how excited to be.  His style of play sounds like he'll fit right in with what Pitino wants to do, especially the parts about being a potentially lethal defender and being the kind of player who attacks the rim, either to score or to pass.  Then again, you have a situation where Pitino needs bodies to fill out the roster, which can lead to sub-par recruits (Maverick -> Hi) and the fact that McNeil may not have had a better offer than Richmond make you wonder if he's basically roster filler who won't ever develop beyond a back-up.

Like everything else this season we are at a point where you just shrug and say who knows.  Much as your trust level in Teague reflects how optimistic you were about the Pitino hiring, your trust in Pitino likely affects your optimism on the McNeil signing.  One thing is for certain, the Pitino era has now begun.

Also I have a new least favorite kind of driver: the On Ramp Racer.  You know this guy.  It's rush hour, you're getting on to a freeway and everyone has to stop and form two lines at those lights they have on each side.  Generally pretty simple and shockingly organized.  Then you get this fucking guy who picks a side, then suddenly realizes if he's in the other lane he'll get to get on the freeway one car early and save himself 15 seconds so he suddenly swerves from one to the other and screws everybody up behind him.  And who be mercy unto you if you get two or more of these guys in the same group.  It ends up looking like the end of Vegas Vacation but with shitty cars.  So hey Mr. On Ramp Racer, next time do everyone a favor and just drive into the ditch which is hopefully filled with alligators and land mines.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is Kevin Correia like, Good?

When the Twins signed free agent starter Kevin Correia to a 2 year, $10 million contract this year there were two distinct reactions from fans - you either got "who?" or "oh please god no tell me you're kidding what why?"  I was in the second group.  Correia had been a distinctly pedestrian pitcher for the Pirates and Padres, rolling up a grand total of 0.3 wins above a replacement level player in the last three years.  After kicking around three organizations going back to 2003 and only once having what might be called a "quality" year, the $10 million seemed to be a bit of a ridiculous outlay for another Nick Blackburn.

That's basically what Correia was, an NL version of Correia.  He doesn't strike people out (less than 5 K/9 each of the last two years), doesn't walk anybody (less than 2.5 BB/9 last two years), throws his fastball right around 90mph, and relies on groundballs to get outs.  Basically your best case scenario was probably 180 innings with an ERA around the mid 4s - certainly not worth $10 million.  However Correia has pitched very well this year, going 7+ innings while giving up 3 or fewer runs in all three of his starts, giving him 3 quality starts and a very nice 2.95 ERA.  So that begs the question, is this luck (same old guy just a hot streak) or is this a brand new Correia?  By the way I honestly don't know, but I suspect it's luck.  Let's find out.

First, let's check out the quickest way to see if he's getting lucky:  BABIP (and I will include links to all the nerd stats, although you should at least be somewhat familiar with most of them by now it's the 21st century grandpa).  This year Correia is at .292 vs. his career number of .294.  This is good news for Correia.  Perhaps he is a better pitcher this year.  Next up, Fielding Independent Pitching (both versions).  This is not as good news.  Correia's ERA (2.95) is significantly better than his FIP (3.92) and xFIP (4.20), which are both more in line with his career numbers.  This suggests that so far this year Correia is pitching very similarly to how he always has, but something is affecting how many runs have actually crossed the plate.

Looking a little deeper two things immediately stand out:  his LOB% and his HR/FB.   LOB% simply means how many runners reach base against him and then fail to score.  Generally this number will be higher for strikeout pitchers which Correia most assuredly is not, yet so far this year 81.9% of his baserunners have failed to score, which rates as excellent and would have been the second best of any starter last season.  Comparing that to his career mark of 71%, which is slightly below average, and clearly something is happening here.

Similarly, his HR/FB (simply what % of fly balls he allows end up as home runs) is a very solid 8.7% this year, which is above average.  Once again, when we compare that to his career mark of 10.7% we see a pretty drastic difference.  One point you'd like to make here if you were defending Correia would be that Target Field is a tough park to hit home runs at so it wouldn't be out of line to see a low number here and you're right - From 2010-2012 Target Field saw 86 home runs hit the same number of at-bats it would take an average park to see 100.  However in that same time frame Correia pitched at two extreme pitchers parks - PNC in Pittsburgh (74 HR) and Petco in San Diego (78 HR) - so, much like the Karate Kid in My Cousin Vinny, your case doesn't hold water.

Basically Correia is getting zero swings and misses which is resulting in the fewest strikeouts in his career (a laughable 3.4 per 9 right now) and more base runners.  So far he's done a great job "scattering" his hits and avoiding the long ball and that's accounting for the low ERA and quality outings thus far.  It's up to you if you believe that is something he can sustain despite being so much better than his career numbers, particularly when there's nothing here to suggest he's pitching any better than usual and might even be pitching a little bit worse.  Personally?  I'm thinking we're going to see some hard regression to the mean, and it's going to be ugly.

Get used to this, bromigos

Adding this because I find it fascinating, but Starlin Castro has yet to walk this year in 54 at-bats (prior to tonight where he still didn't walk).  Turns out he's tied with Torii Hunter with those 54 ABs for most at-bats this year without a walk.  In fourth place with 42 ABs is your guy Carlos Gomez.  The most interesting thing looking at this list of guys without a walk is that they all suck. Seriously other than Castro and Hunter it's a bunch of crap like Daniel Descalso, Chris Getz, and Brent Lillibridge.  I don't know if you can see this without a subscription but just look at - seriously look, it's terrible.  Know the worst part?  Ron Gardenhire would KILL to have most of these guys on his team.  Don't deny it.

RealTree Camo Energy Drink is a RealThing

I recently made a trip into Wisconsin for some gambling at St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin.  I have a pai gow addiction and can sit there and drink and play cards for hours on end.  I recently discovered the waitress will bring you two drinks at once, which is incredible.

On my way there I stopped at a gas station for a little pick me up.  Maybe a nice energy beverage and some preserved meat to get me through the drive.  When I get to the cooler I see a series of REALTREE energy drinks, complete with camoflage exteriors.  I figure this is too amazing/hilarious not to get so I pick up the LOW CARB one because I'm watching my figure. 

First, upon cracking it open I get a whiff of ozone and something that stings the nostrils.  There is also a strong effervescence like I've just dropped two tabs of alka-seltzer.  After tasting I realize it's not as bad as the smell, it's much, much worse.  It's like a mix of doe estrus, battery acid and sadness.  Truly awful tasting stuff.  I thought I was going to go blind or have a seizure or something.  I don't though; and in the hopes that it would give me max energy (what else could be it's purpose besides torture?) I downed most of it.  All it gave me was gut rot.  I didn't "wake the buck up"!

According to their website, the full line of RealTree flavors are:

Blaze Outdoor Energy Drink

Max-1 Low Carb Energy Drink

AP Outdoor Energy Drink

AP Snow Outdoor Energy Drink

AP Pink Outdoor Energy Drink

I haven't tried any of the others, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Maybe I didn't like it because I'm a "city boy"?

Further research shows that RealTree energy drinks have a facebook page!  Here's what people are saying:

Y'all should make a max 4 duck blind can? That would be awesome
October 8, 2012 at 1:28pm near Palmyra, TN
Nice use of the question mark there, Noah.

Think u for getting your drinks out here in omaha nebraska now we can get down to some hunting
August 24, 2012 at 12:03pm near Bellevue, NE

The low carb energy drink by realtree is by far the best energy drink i've tasted yet! I'm hooked

Jimmie, you poor SOB, you must have had your entire mouth and sinuses burned out in some kind of explosion to think this shit tastes good.

Here's my review in numbers:

Look/Feel:  10/10  -  It's camo and that's just hilarious.
Taste:           0/10 - Oof.
Effect:          2/10 - Maybe nothing happened because I was concentrating so hard on something maybe happening death-                              related or otherwise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Musings

-  Even though the Twins are terrible this year this still could end up being a pretty fun season.  If nothing else, they're at least finally agreeing with everyone else and realizing they're terrible so they're going to see what they have for the future.  So we're going to get full seasons of Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier to see what they can offer in the future.  We're going to see extended tryouts for Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia (who got his first career hit tonight in his first career at-bat which is probably like, the first time that's ever happened in MLB history) and get a chance to find out if Darin Mastroianni or Joe Benson can be a fourth outfielder someday.

It sucks that the pitching rotation is basically made up of crappy guys who are crappy, but you're going to watch 30 starts out of Vance Worley and Scott Diamond so we can see where they could slot in the future rotation.  Liam Hendriks and Cole Devries should get 20+ starts each so we can figure out if they have a future.  Sam Deduno should get a decent shot to see if he can carry over any of his WBC success.  Kyle Gibson should hit the bigs at some point this year, and with a little luck maybe we'll see at least one of Alex Meyer and Trevor May as well.

Yes they'll be terrible, but at least they'll be terrible with young guys who are fun.  Even Pedro Florimon is a little bit fun, what with all the bunting for hits.

- That Masters was pretty effing awesome, no? I won't rehash everything since you've either watched it, read about it, or don't care but I love it when somebody like Adam Scott, who is dealing with that "great player who hasn't won a major" pressure wins one, especially Augusta, because their reactions are like watching the One Shining Moment of golf.  I have no problem with Tiger, I don't hate him or anything but I don't really want to make love to him either, but watching him win is fun too because of the "greatest of all-time" thing, but I'd much rather somebody like Scott win.

That majors pressure just fascinates me with how it affects everyone a little differently.  It was really weighing down on Phil but he managed to get passed it, but Sergio Garcia has let it beat him so far down he's reached the point where he says himself that he doesn't think he's good enough to win a major, while despite 10 career top 10s in majors Steve Stricker doesn't seem to be bothered at all.  Similarly, the two younger guys you heard this about - Luke Donald and Adam Scott - seemed to be on opposite ends of the spectrum as well with Donald seeming to be more relaxed about it and Scott feeling some pressure, and if you want to throw Ian Poulter in that mix I can almost feel the steam coming off of him when it comes to majors.  For some reason I dig Poulter so I hope he's next, but Lee Westwood better hurry up to before his window closes.  Actually I'm calling my shot right now - it's between Westwood and Poulter for the British Open.  Book it.

-  Have you seen what's going down with Purdue's hoops team right now?  Guard Anthony Johnson announced he's transferring, making the third player (Sandi Marcius and Jacob Lawson were the other two) who has bounced from the Boilers this offseason.  Losing these three isn't a killer or anything as all averaged less than 20 minutes and 5 points per game and Purdue has three Rivals Top 150 guys coming in next season, but losing three of your rotation guys is still a bit alarming.  Also keep in mind that Johnson already redshirted, which means that if he transfers to a D-I school he loses an entire year of eligibility when he sits out so you know he really, really wanted out.

I'm sure Painter has everything under control (like I mentioned, great class coming in) it's just odd to see this kind of mass exodus when a coach is already entrenched for eight years and when added to the Kelsey Barlow thing last year it kind of makes you scratch your head.  It's probably nothing, but if it's something, remember how smart I am.  Otherwise forget it.

- The Seahawks signed Antoine Winfield?  Sweet jesus do they just follow the Vikings around waiting to see what they've dropped?  In the last three years 46% of Viking players they got rid off ended up on Seattle according to these numbers I just made up.  How's Sidney Rice, who I believe is behind Doug Baldwin on the depth chart these days, working out?  Maybe the Vikings can use this infatuation to their advantage.  You know, they could be all like, "Hey, if Russell Wilson gets hurt you guys really need somebody with a similar skill set.  How about Joe Webb" and then they'd trade a 5th round pick for him.  I'm a genius.

-  Lastly, Ramon Ortiz is back in the majors.  Yes, that one.  This disturbs me greatly.  Although I did learn his middle name is Diogenes, which I kind of like, so I guess I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Player Shuffle

So much going on in Gopher Basketballvilletown.  Both of Tubby's recruits for next year (Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster) are now gone.  I mentioned it on here before, but Ellis decommitted from the program in the limbo time period between coaches, and news broke last night that Foster had decommitted as well after one of Pitino's assistants pretty much told him he wasn't really in the new regime's plans.  Neither player is a massive loss, although Ellis would likely have been a pretty major contributor from the get go, and both are understandable.  Both players made the decision to play for Tubby Smith, and with him gone it makes sense that they'd want to back off of their commitment and at least reevaluate their plans.

On Pitino's side it makes sense as well because he's planning on going with a philosophy and game plan very different than what Tubby was running and would like to get his own players installed as soon as possible.  Not to mention that he probably never spoke nor watched film on Alex Foster in his life. Nobody should vilify Ellis for leaving nor Pitino for pushing Foster out the door - these things happen when there is a change at the top - just as Teague got rid of Tubby despite his most successful season as Gophers' coach.  It is what it is, let's just hope Mr. Pitino has a plan (that works) to fill up the now four scholarships available for this season.  It's possible at this late date he may simply bank one or two of them for next year when he has a full recruiting period to work with, but the team will need at least 1 or 2 guys in order to field a full roster, and that's before any transfers by current players (if any).  The main candidates, in order of their likelihood of wearing maroon and gold:

1.  Rakeem Buckles.  Buckles, a 6-7, 215 lb. power forward, was a top 50 recruit way back in 2009, but two knee injuries limited him to 27 games played the last three seasons, including zero games last year as he sat out per transfer rules (transferred from Louisville to Florida International) and in order to finish rehabbing his knee.  There was an announcement that Buckles was transferring here, but I haven't seen anything official so I think it may not quite be 100% just yet, although it is quite likely since Buckles followed Pitino from Louisville to FIU so it makes sense he'd try to come here as well.  Buckles would need a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible next year (due to transferring) but I think due to his injury history and following Pitino he'd likely get it.

The Gophers have a clear need at PF next year so Buckles would definitely be welcome even if you're not 100% sure what you're going to get after two major knee surgeries.  It sounds like his legs aren't Maurice Creek dead yet and in his second year at Louisville, prior to the injury, he was averaging 7 pts and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.  At a minimum he should be able to fill the "bench big" role and with the way the Gophers' roster is now constructed that is a big need, and he has considerable upside as well.

2.  Malik Smith.  Smith is another of Pitino's guys from FIU, a 6-2 combo guard who was the second leading scorer for the Panthers last year at 14.1 ppg.  Although he would be a transfer (and he has already announced his intention to do so) due to the NCAA rule that allows a player to transfer without having to sit a year if he's already graduated and looking to pursue a graduate degree not offered at his current school (and guess how often that's probably used as a loophole) he would be eligible right away.

Smith is a volume shooter, but more importantly is an excellent three point shooter, hitting a so-so 36% but doing so on 8 attempts per game.  Given the Gophers lack of outside shooting options Smith would be a very welcome addition, and a transition game with Smith running one wing and Austin Hollins the other sounds pretty damn good.  In the last day or so someone tweeted something to the effect of "Malik Smith would be an excellent fit in Minnesota next to Austin and Andre Hollins" which Smith himself retweeted, so I would guess he's just waiting for the call and offer from Pitino.

3. Cameron Forte. An athletic power forward coming out of Howard Junior College, Forte averaged 23 points and 8 rebounds per game this past season and would likely be a starter at Minnesota right off the bat, which is why I'd imagine the Gophers would appeal to him this late in the recruiting process.  His finalists were recently announced as Pitt, Long Beach, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Colorado State, but with Pitino carrying over his scholarship offer from FIU to Minnesota things may have just gotten more interesting for Forte.  It sounds like he's just starting to take his official visits now, so it may not be too late, particularly if he and Pitino had a good relationship and it was the FIU/Sun Belt factor that turned him off.  We can hope.

4.  Tarik Black.  Of all the players I'm listing Black would be my number 1 choice to join the Gophers.  Black is that monster (6-9, 262 lbs.) who played for Memphis the last three years, averaging right around 9ppg and 5rpg all three seasons, and who recently announced plans to transfer from the Tigers.  Black, like Malik Smith, also has graduated already and so will not need to sit out a year and will be eligible immediately.

His range is basically zero and he's a horrible free throw shooter but he gives his team an excellent rebounder who can score in close and, once again, the Gophers desperately need some big guys for next season.  Many, many schools are trying to Black to come to their program including some big-time ones (I read Duke was interested) but the Gophers do have a possible edge in that Black and Dre Hollins basically grew up playing against each other in Memphis at rival schools and know each other quite well.  Hopefully Dre has enough pull with Black to at least get him interested and then Pitino can take it home.  There was mutual interest between Black and Florida (when Pitino was there) when Black was coming out of high school, so perhaps a relationship already exists?

5.  Shane Rector.  The first of two freshmen I'll mention, Rector was a Rutgers commit before asking (and getting) his release after Mike Rice was fired and is a guy Ryan James tweeted that the Gophers would likely be looking at.  Rector is a 3-star point guard who had offers from Providence, Dayton, Hofstra, and UMass before signing with Rutgers, and the reason the Gophers could be in the mix is new assistant coach Kimani Young and his deep ties in NYC since Rector is from the Bronx.

Rector sounds like your typical NYC point guard:  fast, great in transition, pass first, with a bad jumper, and the speed and transition thing certainly make you think he'd be a nice fit in Pitino's system.  I'm in favor of anything that helps to get Dre Hollins more time playing off the ball (not all the time, just some of the time) especially if it doesn't involve Maverick Ahanmisi.  Can the NYC pipeline pay off this quickly?  Guess we'll see.  And do you know how fun it would be to make "Rector? I don't even know 'er" jokes for four years?

6.  Jaren Sina.  This is a pretty much monster long shot, but I'm including it here well because I can.  Sina is one of four Rivals Top 150 players who is not currently signed (he was with Northwestern but bailed when they fired Carmody) and the only one who you could say the Gophers have even a 1% chance of getting late.  Given that he had offers from about 20 schools prior to choosing Northwestern and now Indiana is sniffing around that 1% might be generous, but you know if you don't aim for the sky you can't see the clouds or something like that.

Will the Gophers end up with any of these dudes?  Almost certainly.  I'd say Buckles is a done deal and Smith is damn near.  The last two are probably long shots with Black and Forte falling somewhere in the middle.  If they end up with Smith, Buckles, and Black I'd be ecstatic.  Sub Forte in for Black and I'd still be pretty happy.  I don't know.  At least shit's interesting.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Some Monday Things

Just some things while I watch the National Championship game, in which I have a 14-to-1 betting slip on Louisville to win the title I bought back in December when I became convinced the Cardinals were the team to beat.  It is the largest futures bet I have ever made, and that is by quite a lot.  Needless to say, I'm a pretty big Louisville fan tonight . That being said, I also have some on Michigan +4 because that's what I actually think will happen, so let's hope for a Louisville win by 1-3 points please thank you drive through.

- First off, this Aaron Hicks thing is really a bummer so far.  I know it's not like his career is over or anything and technically he's off to a better start than Willie Mays and everything, but I was hoping this whole Hicksy thing would be exciting and sexy, not stressful and a little bit depressing.  The good news is that he doesn't seem like it's bothering him as much as it's bothering me.  He's still got his little bit of swagger out in center and his approach at the plate hasn't changed so it doesn't seem like he's pressing or anything.  Today actually was the first time he's looked frustrated at all after his strikeout in the 8th.  No doubt the numbers are ugly, particularly the strikeout numbers, but lots of crazy things happen with small sample sizes early in the season - you only have to look at the Twins' pitching thus far to see that.

By the way, I'm pretty sure Vance Worley is horrendous, we already know Kevin Correia is horrendous, and Liam Hendriks aspires to be horrendous.  That means the only starters in the rotation right now who might not be horrendous are Mike Pelfrey (who is probably horrendous) and Pedro Hernandez (I'm not even sure who this is).  Yet they're 6th in the American League in ERA.  Man that regression to the mean is going to be swift and painiful.

-   This Spike Albrecht shit is crazy.

- As far as Gopher hoops recruiting goes there are two interesting names to pay attention to - Alvin Ellis and Shavar Newkirk. 

Ellis is the dude who had already committed to the Gophers but asked for, and was granted, his release from his Letter of Intent after Tubby was fired and apparently nobody in the athletic department got around to even making a phone call (according to some reports).  I definitely think the Gophers are better off with Ellis than without, but it's not like losing a Royce White type of loss at all.  Ellis will probably end up being a pretty quality four-year player but he's not a program changer, and although his game sounds like it fits what Pitino wants to do if he bails and it just gives Pitino another scholarship to get one of his own guys well, we might as well let the kid do his thing.

Newkirk is a guy I'm really excited about, simply because he's a NYC point guard and I've always loved NYC point guards (I miss you Eric Harris!).  He's a 2014 recruit (obviously I'd rather have Tyus but Newkirk is a solid fall back) who ranks at #125 on the Rivals Top 150, and the reason he's popped up as a possible future Gopher is that our new coach already offered him a scholarship to FIU.  He also carries offers from Iona, Hofstra, Manhattan, Seton Hall, UMass, Providence, and Iowa State.  Really the only competition prestige-wise here is the Cyclones, and the Gophers should have an inside edge since Kimani Young is now on board Pitino's staff and he has deep roots into NYC and is a big reason FIU was on Newkirk in the first place.  As with many NYC point guards he's a great ball-handler and exceptional passer with a terrible jump shot, but I will gladly sacrifice that for a true distributor type and hope he can learn to shoot with time - it worked for Harris.  Let's do this.

-  I watched Weird Science today, and I think it's the first time I've watched the entire thing from start to finish since like, the 90s and you know what?  That is one weird as hell movie.  I'm not even sure if I think it was good or bad.  Somehow I think I blocked out the weird futuristic biker gang scene from my memory.  And all the magic and stuff at the end.  So bizarre.  I'd rather watch License to Drive.  That movie rocked your face off.

-   Half-time and after a huge comeback by Luke Hancock the Spike Albrechts lead 38-37.  Great game.  Especially if you have the Over 138.

-  I haven't really given much thought to the Masters yet (I should probably get Grand Slam in here to write up a Masters preview) but rest assured I'll have a little coin on a couple of players.  Just glancing at the list and without doing any research some of the guys who look interesting are Poulter at 50/1, Mahan at 50/1, Stricker at 66/1, and Immelman 500/1 (those odds are crazy).  Snedeker at 44/1 is another one I need to look at, along with Keegan Bradley (23/1) and Kuchar (40/1).  I don't really like any of the big favorites just because their odds suck.  Tiger is 4/1, Rory is 8/1, Phil is 11/1 and Justin Rose is 17/1.  I don't know.  I'll be back to let you know because I know you want to know.

-   I really expected to write more but this game is way too entertaining.  Bye.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pat Reusse is an Asshole

Seriously.  Look at this "article" Reusse wrote about the Gophers hiring of Rich Pitino to take over the Gopher hoops program.  It's full of misinformation, gross hyperbole, and just smacks of a cranky old man who is pissed off that either Tubby got fired, Flip didn't get hired, or both.  Let's look, FJM style.

Billy Heywood finally has made it to Minnesota. He’s traded in his manager’s uniform for a basketball coach’s whistle, but there isn’t much difference between the fictional Billy and the real-life version brought to town under the name Richie Pitino.

There isn't?  Tell me more.  Also, going with "Richie" over "Richard" or "Rich" is probably the biggest dickhead move you could make.  Good work, "professional writer."

Billy was the 12-year-old hero of “Little Big League.’’ He inherits the Twins from his grandfather, fires a manager deemed too hard on the players, takes over and leads the team to a Game 163 showdown.

Oh, ok.  So other than the sport, their ages, Pro vs. Amateur, Pitino not firing anybody, and essentially everything else about the two they're the same?  I suppose they both are set in Minnesota so I guess there's that.  Also, using this absolutely tortured analogy sets up Reusse to refer to Pitino as "Richie" through the article, which is a classy move.

Richie is the 30-year-old hero of “Norwood’s Amusing Quest.’’ He inherits a basketball reputation from his father, beats Louisiana-Monroe twice, waits for a half-dozen people to turn down a chance to coach at Minnesota, and gets Gopher Nation dreaming of future showdowns with Northwestern.

He's been an assistant at two of the most successful programs in the country and took a crappy program to within one basket of the NCAA Tournament last season, but yes, they did beat Louisiana-Monroe twice.  Why you'd point that out rather than how, at the end of the year in the Sun Belt Tournament when you're supposed to have your team peaking (Tubby hi!) they beat Middle Tennessee, a juggernaut who had run through the Sun Belt all season, is beyond me.  Also why would anybody dream of a showdown with Northwestern when the Gophers are already guaranteed to play them 1-3 times per year?  There's no way Reusse didn't slap this together in under 12 minutes.

I don’t want to be too negative on this. 

No, clearly not.

Clearly, once the search gets to a point where the replacement for Tubby Smith comes down to Richie Pitino or Pam Borton, it’s easy to embrace athletic director Norwood Teague’s decision.

It's actually now getting physically difficult to comment on this.  What an asshole thing to say.  I can't even decide who this is most insulting to, but I'll go with the literate.

We all have been assured that Teague and associate AD Mike Ellis are as well connected as any people in college basketball through the Villa 7 weekend seminars for assistant coaches that were conducted at Virginia Commonwealth.

And, after this whiz-bang search by Teague and Ellis, it’s obvious that the name Villa 7 carries at least as much magic in college basketball as does a Tom Petters hedge fund in the financial world.

This may very well be the stupidest thing in this article and trust me, it's pretty difficult to narrow it down.  Because Teague and Ellis hired someone who Reusse doesn't like invalidates all the success of Villa 7 over the years?  The guy Reusse would be slobbering over (Smart) was a Villa 7 guy and I'm guessing if the Gophers had hired Buzz Williams (another one) Reusse would have been slobbering over him too.  You know who recommended Pitino to Teague?  Billy Donovan.  You know who recommended Shaka Smart to Teague at VCU?  Billy Donovan.  You think you're going to find that factoid in here?  Nope, too busy shaking his fist at the kids on his lawn and lamenting about how things used to be, when you just hired retread coach after retread coach because "they were good ole boys" and "we dinn't need no 'lectric typewriters."  I'm actually somewhat shocked this wasn't written by Sid.

The Teague-Ellis tandem was so proud to be the first basketball brainiacs to fire Tubby Smith that it appears the information was leaked to buddies in the national media before it was leaked to the guy being fired.

This sentence doesn't really fit the flow (as it is) of this article but it isn't hard to figure out it was put in here as another shot at Teague-Ellis for not coming to Reusse and company first with their "leaks" about the news.  Also Tubby Smith was fired by Kentucky too, so they aren't the first.  Really, this article reads like a letter written by a scorned lover.  We could get Alanis Morissette to set it to music and have a top 40 hit on our hands.

There were two reasons for the local sporting public and media to embrace Smith’s departure: One, Tubby’s mediocre performance over six seasons at Minnesota; and two, the belief that Teague’s background at VCU and Ellis’ with Villa 7 would put them in position to make a blockbuster hire.

I can't argue with this.  I would, however, argue that a blockbuster hire doesn't necessarily mean it's someone who knocks you on your ass when you hear the name.  The Gophers already tried that with Tubby Smith and, well, here we are.  Is there some law against giving someone time to prove themselves?  Oh wait, yeah.  The law of time since Reusse's fat ass will probably choke to death on a cheeseburger in a year or two.

“You always have a short list,’’ Teague said on the day he fired Smith. “You always have people that you have in mind. Some are realistic, some are unrealistic, but I have a list in mind. We’ll work that and we’ll get a terrific coach.’’

It was easy to accept VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens, the two hottest young coaches in the country, as unrealistic for the Gophers. That was especially true when they turned out to be unrealistic for UCLA.

And, any interest expressed by Fred Hoiberg’s agent was easy to detect as a play for a new deal at Iowa State. “The Mayor’’ of Ames wound up getting 10 years out that rumor being floated, so hooray for him.

Wow that's like, two paragraphs in a row I kind of agree with.  But wait, what's all this talk about a big-time hire then if Reusse can agree that Smart, Stevens, and Hoiberg were pretty much unrealistic?

Later, we started hearing Mick Cronin at Cincinnati, which would have allowed him to get out of the mess that remains of the former Big East … soon to be a league with the Bearcats, UConn and Memphis as the only schools of basketball prestige.

Teague-Ellis couldn’t even a land a guy whose conference is leaving him to take this job in what today stands as the best basketball league in the country.

Cronin couldn't possibly be a considered a big-time hire, could he?  Plus, I never heard of him being a serious candidate, just that his name had hit the rumor mill.  Although I should probably trust that Reusse knows what he's talking about, considering he has inside sour.......wait, no.  That's right, he doesn't and that's half of the reason he wrote this column because he's pissed off he couldn't get any inside info from Teague's office.  So basically he's just throwing shit against the wall in order to try to get another slam in at Teague and co.  What a grown up he is. I wonder what his motivation could be to act like a spoiled child who wants another cookie?

All this while, Flip Saunders — maroon-and-gold through and through, a longtime NBA coach, immensely popular with boosters — was available to be hired.

And there it is.

We loved to bad-mouth Joel Maturi, Teague’s predecessor, for his coaching searches. And it’s doubtful that Maturi would have mustered the audacity to fire Smith, the big-name coach who had landed in his lap in April 2007.

But we know this for sure:

Maturi wouldn’t have messed around with Saunders. The man we loved to ridicule would’ve had Flip hired within 48 hours of a Smith departure.

You know, I was in favor of Flip.  I was.  I thought he was the biggest home run they could have hit, but I was also aware of all the possible things that could have gone wrong, particularly considering he's never run a college program before.  If Teague wanted more control over his assistants and Flip didn't want to budge, well, agree to disagree and move on.  I fail to see how this is some colossal mistake on Teague's part.  And do we really want to insult him by saying he's not enough like Joel Maturi?  Really?  Is this fucking bizarro-world?

Tell me a week ago that the choice was Flip Saunders, a passionate ex-Gopher with an outstanding résumé, or a 30-year-old former student manager with little more than a famous surname to validate his candidacy, and I would have been standing in front of Williams Arena, acting as goofy as Larry Spooner at a Vikings stadium hearing, holding a sign and shouting, “Flip, Flip, Flip.’’

I don't know who Larry Spooner is because I'm not some stupid provincial idiot, but I can only assume he's someone well grounded who cares about sports not too much at all.  And seriously, referring to Pitino as a "former student manager"?  Yeah, it's true but guess what?  GOD DAMNED NEAR EVERY SINGLE COACH SPENDS TIME AS A STUDENT MANAGER.  You know who was never a student manager?  Flip Saunders.  Because he's NEVER BEEN A GOD DAMN COLLEGE COACH (at least not at anywhere that counted).  You know who has more experience as a D-I college coach?  Pitino.  You know who has run a program at the collegiate level?  Pitino.  You know who's a "name" who "old people" in this "town" love because he's "connected" to the "program" and is a good ole boy?  Flip.  I like Flip, but writing this entire meandering article (which both bashes and praises Villa 7 at times) to bash a new coach, who you don't know dick about, because the new guys in town didn't hire your friend?  Seriously it baffles me that people actually pay Reusse to write this crap.

Teague and Ellis started this search as the two smartest guys in any basketball room. They return with a coach much more suspect than what poor old Northwestern managed in Chris Collins, an assistant but fully trained,

Can anyone tell me what the hell "fully trained" means?  Collins was an assistant coach for 15 years at Seton Hall and Duke.  Pitino was an assistant for seven years, then an associate head coach, and then, oh yeah, AN ACTUAL FUCKING HEAD COACH.  I can see arguing the merits of the two with someone because I can actually see either side of the debate on who is more qualified to run a Big 10 program, but to call Pitino "much more suspect" than Collins is clearly yet another reach in order to throw another shot at Teague and Ellis simply because your buddy didn't get the job.  Not to mention there isn't a chance in hell Reusse knows what the duties of either were as an assistant because that could make a world of difference.  I don't either, but at least I'll admit it.  By the way, you know how many years Rick Pitino was an assistant before he got a head job?  Four.  He seems to be doing ok.  

rather than the nonfiction version of Billy Heywood.

Jesus, what a twat.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Welcome Aboard, Rick Pitino's Kid

The Gophers have hired a replacement for Tubby Smith, rarely quickly actually despite the perception that the search was dragging, and they've gone with Rich Pitino, Rick Pitino's son and most recently the head coach of the Florida International Panthers out of the Sun Belt Conference.  And, frankly, this is the kind of hire where if anybody tries to definitively tell you it's either a great or a horrible hire you should really punch them in the face because we simply won't know until a few years down the road. 

Either way, this is a ballsy hire.  Going for a 30-year old with exactly one year of head coaching experience under his belt - well, ask Todd Lickliter how touch it can be to move up from a mid-major (although the Sun Belt may have trended towards the low majors at this point) and Lickliter had six years at Butler before getting demolished in the Big 10.  The main thing we know about our new Pitino is that he took FIU from 8-21 to 18-14 and came within two points of making the NCAA Tournament - so that's good.  What else do we know?

Well, since 2007 he's either been an assistant at Louisville or Florida or an associate head coach at Louisville - these two programs excite me greatly.  Both the Cardinals and Gators are known for extreme pressure defense, particularly on the perimeter, and outstanding guard play.  I like all of those words.  It looks like he tried to do the same thing last year at FIU with mixed success.  The Panthers were fifth in the entire country in forcing turnovers and eleventh in creating steals while defending the three point line well but they got shredded on 2-pointers.  They were also a big-time uptempo team (48th fastest) but turned it over too much themselves to be remotely efficient (272nd in turnovers).  It's also worth noting that although he turned the team around compared to the prior season record-wise, he also had five starters departing and nine new players, so it's not like he was taking over a preexisting squad - he created that semi-succesful FIU team.

Recruiting-wise, who knows?  Louisville and Florida perennially had great classes, but they both kind of sell themselves and I'm guessing neither the elder Pitino nor Billy Donovan need a whole lot of help selling their programs.  I tried to track down some info on how involved but it's tough.  I found a few references about him "helping Louisville build back-to-back top 15 classes" and he was able to bring in 8 new recruits very quickly after being hired at FIU, but running your own program and doing it at this level is a whole new experience so who knows.

For now?  I'm on board.  I love Rick Pitino and I love Billy Donovan and both have had Richard as a key part of their staff and both Louisville and Florida play a style I'd like to see the Gophers adopt and it looks like Pitino tried to install that at FIU last year (and mostly succeeded, given what he had to work with).  Pitino is one of the few hires left who can give you the combination of a "name" as well as being a young, up and coming coach. 

I trust Teague, and I love Pitino.  What could possibly go wrong?