Thursday, October 31, 2013

Big Ten Preview

Here we are on the eve of the Gophers kicking off their exhibition season.  Given that, here is a bunch of words that will serve as my official Big Ten preview.  I already talked about the Big Ten like a hundred years ago, and here's a post where I kind of talk about NCAA basketball this year in general, so this will be the capper on the trilogy of posts that form my NCAA preview this year.  Man, I feel like I'm writing an epic or something.  Everybody knows the best things come in trilogies.  I dare you to find something other than Twilight that proves this wrong.  Indiana Jones tried to make a fourth something and it bombed.  Trilogies are the best, ergo, I am the best.  Here are my thoughts, teams in order of my predicted finish.

Big fan of this behavior

1.  MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS.  It's almost unfair.  The Spartans return Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne this year.  That's at least three NBA players.  For me, Michigan State is the top team in the Big Ten by a pretty wide margin, and I think they're the second best team in the entire country (behind Louisville).

If you check out, you'll see the Spartans finished as the ninth best team last year according to his metrics.  Every team in front of them is experiencing some pretty major roster turnover from last season (with the exception of Louisville), while Sparty loses only Derrick Nix and conveniently still have Payne to just stick right in there.  Plus what was Nix's main contributions? Rebounding on both ends of the floor and making high percentage shots.  Well Michigan State as a team is great at rebounding and makes a high percentage of their shots, so it's not like they're losing somebody who single-handedly changed their team like DeShaun Thomas.  Plus with Izzo as their coach you know they'll just get better as the year goes on.  It's just not fair.  Of course, Keith Appling is the kind of player who can burn down a season pretty much by himself so I guess we have that going for us.  Which is nice.

2.  OHIO STATE BUCKEYES.  Even though the Buckeyes only lose one player from last season (unless you count Evan Ravenel as a person, which I don't) but at the same time you could argue that they lost more than any other team in the conference because DeShaun Thomas.  Not only did he take a ton of his team's shots  (30th most of any player in D-1 by percentage) but he was very efficient as well, leading the team in offensive rating by a pretty good amount.   Now he's gone, possibly in the NBA but I couldn't be bothered to look it up, but in any case he gone.

So now Ohio State is made up of a ton of formerly highly rated recruits who have been deferring to Thomas, two new freshman (both top 65 recruits by ESPN of course, this is Ohio State after all not some shit box program), and the Wes Ellsbury Eckstein Welker Punto of college basketball Aaron Craft.  Seriously, who is going to lead the team in scoring this year?  Any of Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, or Kameron Williams could end up leading the team and it wouldn't be a surprise.  Actually, watch Kameron Williams because he's basically the new DeShaun Thomas but shorter and skinnier.  He's definitely never seen a shot he didn't like.  Plus look at this guy, tell me he doesn't look like a chucker:

Doesn't he kind of look like Pauly D.?  Come on, you know you see it.  And Pauly D. would definitely be a chucker if he was a basketball player.  I'm also going to assume J-Woww is still hot even though I haven't watched that show in like 3 years.

I can't wait to watch this guy.  I love chuckers when they aren't on my team.

That's a beer bong coming in from the right side there.
3.  WISCONSIN BADGERS.  I've written too much about Wisconsin already, which you can see if you click on the two links above, but I can't help but be really high on them this year as much as it pains me.  I think their starting guards are absolutely perfect for Bo's system this year.  His boring, boring system of boring opponents to death by being so boring.  Then add in Sam Dekker, who brings a level of athleticism and ability the Badgers haven't had since, geez, maybe Devin Harris, and there's a whole new wrinkle to the offense.  The biggest knock on the Badger offense, besides being so boring, is they get over reliant on the 3-point shot and don't penetrate the lane at times.  Well Dekker can solve all that by being unguardable.

Yes, there are a million questions about the front court, but if Bo Ryan is good at anything, besides being boring and looking ugly and acting like a baby, it's getting seldom used, little regarded big white guys to suddenly be productive and efficient when needed.  Plus Nigel Hayes may be in position to contribute as a freshman, and he led the team in rebounding in their exhibition against UW-Platteville.  Yes, I hated writing every word of this.

This seems like a lot of teeth.
4.  MICHIGAN WOLVERINES.  People seem to think Michigan is going to be really, really good this year and I suppose that might end up being true, but I think they're more of a good not great team.  I mean, it's a pretty big deal to lose your two starting guards to the NBA, especially when they pretty much dominated the ball all the time.  Going from Tre Burke to one of Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, or a freshman is going to be a bit startling, even if Derrick Walton is one of the top PGs incoming this year.

I know there's some good talent back but is this really a top 10 team?  Nik Stauskas is just a shooter (a very good one) and Mitch McGary is a rebounder/dunker guy (a very good one).  Where's the playmaker who makes this an elite team gonna come from?  If Glenn Robinson makes that leap or freshman SF Zak Irvin is a game changer right away (and the PG situation works out) they could certainly end up meeting these preseason expectations, but that's too many unknown variables for me to be really confident in Michigan this year.  So yeah.  I'm also guessing that off all this predictions this is the one that's going to make me look really stupid at the end of the year.  Possibly Penn State too.  You'll see why.

I still hate Iowa, but this is a good argument it it's favor
5.  IOWA HAWKEYES.  The trendy pick for not just Big Ten sleeper but national sleeper, and why not seeing as how they basically have the same team from last year and they were very, very good the second half of the season making it all the way to the NIT Championship game.  Last year Iowa was pretty good at just about everything except shooting where they were just dreadful, ranking 308th in the NCAA in 3-point percentage.  That's pretty much going to decide just how good they can be, and with the same team back things don't look great, but they do everything else well enough that I think 5th is just about right.

One major problem from last year, and the reason they didn't make the NCAA tournament most likely, is their non-conference schedule was shit.  It left their RPI somewhere in the 70s and it's awfully damn hard to get an at-large bid with an RPI up there (and a SoS somewhere in the mid-100s).  Well, they went ahead and made the exact same screw-up.  They have their typical game against Iowa State, play Notre Dame in the B10/ACC Challenge, and they play in the Battle 4 Atlantis where they could pick up some good games, so none of that sounds too bad.  Their mistake lies in scheduling way too many schools that could be in the 300s for RPI and zero other teams that have even an outside shot to crack the top 100.  And yes, if this sounds familiar it should because the Gophers did the same damn exact thing and I don't want to talk about it.

One semi-helpful thing with looking at the Hawkeyes is they've already played six exhibition games this season thanks to their August trip to Europe (they went 5-1 with a loss to the great Hyeres-Toulon Basket team.  I found box scores for five of the games, and they shot 32% for the trip from three, which is a slight uptick from last year but at the same time they were playing exhibition games against Europeans who were probably plucked from the local YMCA if they have those in Europe.  Also this Peter Jok guy?  The one newcomer this year for Iowa?  Holy cow what a gunner.  He took 31 threes in the five games to lead the team, and was either hot (4-8 and 4-7) or really not (1-4, 1-5, 1-7).  Pretty ballsy for a freshman, but he and Josh Oglesby might be the keys for Iowa as the guys most likely to provide the outside shooting they need.  Either way one thing is for certain: Iowa smells like shit.

Indiana was surprisingly lacking in pictures.
6.  INDIANA HOOSIERS.  Indiana, like Michigan, is another team I feel is getting a little bit too much national love based on how gutted they are to last season.  They do bring in a hell of a recruiting class (four ESPN Top 100 guys) and they actually complement what they bring back, but I guess, again like Michigan, I'm just hesitant to throw my opinion behind a team with so many questions.  Besides the four new guys you've got Yogi Ferrell who can't shoot, Will Sheehey who is kind of a spaz, and a bunch of guys who played very limited minutes last year. 

Obviously Tom Crean's hair is recruiting it's ass off so it's probably stupid to dismiss this team with that many ESPN Top 100 guys still hanging around.  Along with those new 4 and Ferrell there are two others from last year, so yeah this team is talented I guess.  The good news though is they seem to be losing out on recruits all of a sudden.  Top 100 guy James Blackmon Jr. had committed but backed out, and they've lost out at the last minute on Top 100s Theo Pinson, Goodluck Okonoboh, and Devin Robinson.  Hopefully this means that recruits are figuring out what a huge piece of crap Tom Crean is.  Because it's true.  [After I wrote this part Blackmon re-committed to Indiana.  I stand by my theory that Tom Crean sucks as a human.]

I like her she seems smart.
7.  PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS.  This is the team, outside the Gophers, I'm having the hardest time ranking, and I think, like the Gophers, it's because my emotions keep getting in the way.  See, I love guys like Tim Frazier and want them to do well.  When Talor Battle was at Penn State (and no, this is not some kind of Penn State phenomenon) I desperately wanted him to do well and carry his team to the NCAA tournament - which he did only to be beaten by some Temple jerks.  Obviously putting them 7th, and I think this is pretty much their ceiling, means I don't think Frazier is going to make it, but if he's 100% back and everything gels perfectly they could do it.

It would have helped if that jerk Jermaine Marshall wouldn't have transferred and deserted Frazier, but with him (Frazier) out all of last season with that knee injury at least that meant everybody else who is back got to gain some valuable experience scoring the ball, mostly D.J. Newbill, but overall there just isn't enough here outside of Frazier to really have faith in this team.  Ross Travis is a heck of a rebounder and the Gophers could definitely use him, but hopefully they'll end up with a different Travis instead (Reid Travis announces Nov 8 with a final three of Duke, Stanford, and Minnesota - have faith).

8.  MINNESOTA GOPHERS.  I'm honestly a little concerned I have them too high - yes, too high - but what can I say optimism is flowing through my veins right now (and it's a really weird feeling, like that one time I woke up not hungover).  But of course that optimism is tinged by reality and pessimism that I cannot escape, and I just don't think there's enough in the front court here to really be even a middle-tier Big Ten team this year.

You've got three guys who are more perimeter guys, a high jumper who is probably way too small to pull it off, and a guy who yes, lost a bunch of weight, but has dealt with knee issues so who knows what you're going to get?  Eliason is the only known commodity, and I think he's just fine as a Big Ten center, but if he's in foul trouble who knows what you're going to get?  Not to mention you still need to find a starting 4 man out of this group of unknowns, and I don't have a particularly good feeling about any of them.  The guard play should be top notch and that alone will keep them in a lot of games, and you just know there's a night here where all the 3-pointers are dropping and they shoot like 14-24 and knock off one of the top teams, but that's not going to be reliable enough to count on night after night.  I hope I'm wrong, but I see the upside here as a bubble team.  Here's hoping they make it.

The pillow says Illinois. Nice microwave.
9.  ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI.  Hey you know what's cool about Illinois?  Besides nothing?  They're another team who has already played an exhibition game this season, and since there are tons of questions about how the team's going to shake out maybe we can learn a little something from that box score.  Such as how Tracy Abrams, the point guard, led the team in shot attempts.  Oh what an Illinois thing.  Seriously, Chester Frazier must be rolling in his grave looking at the line of shoot first point guards who have populated that back court since he graduated.  Well the line is just two, but they've both been extra annoying so it seems longer.

This was going to be a rough year in Illinois either way, but losing out on Ahmad Starks (transfer from Oregon State, going for the ole "closer to home" waiver - denied) is going to hurt since he averaged 10 pts per game last season.  It's always tough to figure out how a team will shake out with so many newcomers (I count 2 transfers (+Starks) and five freshmen) but I'm pretty sure most of these guys suck.  Could they make some noise later in the season after they've had time to play together for a while?  No.

The website said these were Northwestern girls.  Good enough for me.
10.  NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS.  This is a team that for some reason, probably because I like the dudes at Sippin' on Purple, I kept wanting to rank higher but then I slapped myself in the face and looked closer and was like gross.  After being right on the verge of that elusive first ever NCAA bid for a couple years, they took a step back last season (a Drew Crawford injury will do that) and finished 13-19 (4-14 in conference) and finally fired their coach.  Oh, what's that?  You didn't know Northwestern has a new basketball coach well you should since he's a former Dukie which means it's all anybody can talk about.

But I don't want to talk about that even though it's kind of interesting that we should see Northwestern playing in a whole new way.  I'm more interested in wondering how good their back court might be if Crawford is fully healed and all good again and stuff.  The one good thing about his injury last year was it allowed Reggie Hearn to step forward and thrive, and he actually put up nearly identical numbers to what Crawford did before he got hurt.  Should be a pretty dynamic back court, plus they have that little lesbian still running around running point. 

11.  PURDUE BOILERMAKERS.  Well, Purdue has A.J. Hammons, a guy named Basil Smotherman, and a guy (Travis Carroll) whose nickname is "Tacos" because of an auto-correct mistake on a scoreboard.  That's pretty much all the positives.  Maybe this freshman Kendall Stephens could end up being pretty good.  And I suppose they do have two guys with the last name Johnson which means they could nickname themselves Johnson & Johnson, which is catchy.  Not Tacos catchy, but still catchy.

I'm not really sure what's going on here with Purdue lately.  If this season goes the way I'm expecting that'll make a second straight sub-par season and a second straight year missing the NCAA Tournament after making it six straight years (2 Sweet Sixteens).  Looking at this year's freshman class and who is on the hook for 2014 there isn't really much of an impact here.  In fact, Painter hasn't brought in anything resembling an impact class since that crazy Moore/Johnson/Hummel/Martin quartet, and that was back in 2007.  Does this mean we're witnessing the slow death of Purdue basketball?  Yes.

12.  NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS.   I wrote about 11 teams, took my kids trick-r-treating, and boy am I tired.  Yet here is Nebraska staring me right in my stupid face.  I think we all believe that at some point Tim Miles will get Nebraska turned around and at least making them competitive.  This is not that year.

After finishing 5-13 last season they return just two starters and I wouldn't exactly say the "Nebraska recruiting hot bed thing" hasn't started yet so ouch.  Top returner is mad bomber Ray Gallegos (no relation to Mike Gallego) who led the Big Ten with 271 three-point attempts, but made just 30.6% of them.  Remember how Gallegos went 6-9 from three against the Gophers at the Barn?  Yeah, that didn't happen all that often.  This Shavon Shields guy might be ok and they have a bunch of transfers coming in, most notably Terran Petteway from Texas Tech (that's the opposite of exciting), Florida transfer Walter Pitchford (whose name reminds me of Kevin Pickford who was that cool guy who was gonna throw the party in Dazed and Confused so I already like him) and guard Tai Webster out of New Zealand.  According to some Webster would have been a top 50 type recruit if he came up through the AAU system and is an absolute steal for Miles.  So maybe Nebraska will provide some excitement this year.  Beyond just when we kicked their football asses!!!! SKI U MAH!!!!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bye Week Sweep!

Sorry for the rediculiously short post this week Gopher Hockey fans, as Job A is getting majorly in the way this week, and then a trip down to Bloomington for the Gopher/Hoosier football game is fast approaching, so this blog will be woefully lacking in content.

In case you were in a coma this past week, the Gopher Hockey Team was ranked # 1 in the Country, and took on # 5 Boston College in a two game series Friday night and Sunday afternoon.  The Gophers and Eagles both played one of the more entertaining hockey games you will ever see on Friday night, as Minnesota went up 1-0 thirty seconds into the game as Hudson Fasching put away a pretty pass from Kyle Rau.  Later in the first  Travis Boyd got his second of the year on the power play and the Gophers were cruising 2-0.  Alas, all would come crashing down in seventy-one seconds.  BC stud Johnny Gaudreau scored to cut the lead to 2-1, and then eleven seconds apart, Alex Wilcox let in two weak goals scored by Edina native Micheal Sit, and BC was suddenly up 3-2.  Taylor Cammarata would tie the game at three midway throgh the second period, and after a scoreless third, the teams went to overtime knotted at 3.  In the OT the Gophers had several great chances, but were hampered in the referees swallowing thier whistles and letting Boston College get away with just about anything.  The game officially ended in a tie 3-3, and just for fun went to a shootout.  BC won the shootout 2 goals to the Gophers 1, but noone cared.

Sunday, the Gophers again wasted no time jumping on BC and goalie Brian Billett.  Nate Condon and Seth Ambroz scored goals 56 second apart to stake the Gophers to a 2-0 lead.  Before the first period was over, Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei has added tallies and Minnesota led 4-0.  BC got a quick goal to start the second, but once again it was all Minnesota in the third as Micheal Brodzinski and Jake Bischoff capped the outstanding display making it a 6-1 final.

While Sam Warning did not score this weekend for the Gophers, he did tally three assists giving him 12 points on the season to lead all scorers in the NCAA.  He was named the second star of the week by the Big Ten, making it all three weeks where he has been recognized. 

The Easiest Sweep all Season!

The Gophers will get to rest this weekend as they are off.  They were a unanimous selection for the #1 team in the country in both polls this week, and should keep that ranking into the toughest road season the Gopher will face all season.  Next week Minnesota will play a series at current # 2 in the country, Notre Dame. 

We will preview that series next week, as for this blogger, he is off to see if the football team can continue their impressive ways and history editing ways with a win in Bloomington. 

As not to leave you girlless this week, lets see what the University of Indiana can send us...

Indiana Ladies

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welcome Aboard, Carlos Morris

When it rains it pours or some other stupid cliche, because fresh off the signing of Nate Mason the Gophers picked up another commitment, this time from JuCo swingman Carlos Morris out of Florida.  Morris was basically down to the Gophers and UAB, so this isn't really a surprise since Minnesota is like, way better than Alabama.  The only minor question was if the Gophers would fill up scholarship 3 of 4 for next season given that they're still waiting on Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis (who is announcing November 8th), but that's not really a concern because if those two dudes both want to come to the U they're going to find room one way or another.

Morris was originally ranked the #147 player in the country in the class of 2012 and other services had him even higher, so this is definitely a quality signing.  He had originally signed with South Carolina (over Arkansas, Cincy, West Virginia, and a few others) but decommitted and ended up at Chipola Junior College instead for whatever reasons I don't feel like digging through google to figure out right now.  I can't seem to find his stats at Chipola because apparently Junior Colleges hate sports, but according to Late Night Hoops he averaged over 13 points per game and hit over 50% from the floor (36% from three). 

Morris is what sportswriters would call a "long, range-y player" and at 6-6 with elite level athletic ability he certainly has the ability to make a big impact next season.  He should come in and be a big-time defender immediately (which is good since he's basically replacing Austin Hollins) and his offensive game sounds like it will fit what Pitino wants to do very well.  He's a good scorer and complements that by being exactly with the basketball - according to ESPN he's a good ballhandler but not truly a point guard, more like your secondary ballhandler.  If Pitino can make his system work, guys like Morris are exactly what he should be looking at.

This brings the Gopher commitment total up to 3, and although it's not the kind of group that will leave you gasping or even the level of talent Pitino was shooting for originally, I'm still pretty happy with it.  247sports has the Gophers' class ranked at #50 in the country, and with one more player to add that's pretty solid.  Plus, all three players fit the profile you'd want - fast, athletic, attack the rim types who should be pretty good defensively, at least on paper.  As far as his first class goes, after getting a late start due to, you know, being a new coach and all, I think he's done pretty well for himself.

As far as Reid Travis goes, well, pretty clearly that would be absolutely huge.  As I mentioned he announces November 8th and I probably won't be able to sleep until that day.  Pay special attention on Thursday, as Kevon Looney, the #13 overall recruit in 2014, is announcing his decision on where to attend next season.  This is big, because Looney is a PF and he's got it narrowed down to Wisconsin, Duke, Florida, Tennessee, UCLA, and Michigan State, which sounds like a lot of schools but in reality it's sounding like he's pretty close to a lock for Duke.  Seeing as how Travis is down to Minnesota, Duke, Stanford, and Gonzaga - also with most predicting Duke - Looney going there can only help the Gophers because, with them playing the same position, I find it unlikely Travis would end up at Duke along with Looney.

Needless to say, I really hope Mr. Looney decides to be a Blue Devil. 

Oh, and Carlos Morris's nickname is Squirrel, so that's kind of cool.  Welcome aboard.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Welcome Aboard, Nate Mason


 And Boom.  Nate Mason Jr., a point guard out from Georgia and Maryland, committed to the Gophers Friday night, and it's a huge get for Pitino considering his burning need to secure a point guard of the future.  After many painful near misses, he still ended up getting a good one.

Mason ranks as the #126 recruit according to 247sports and the #26 point guard and should be the guy to run the offense for four years.  Mason chose the Gophers over Kansas State and Virginia and he also held offers from Marquette and Clemson among many others. 

By all accounts Mason is lightning quick and although he plays more of a combo guard now everyone seems to believe he has the ball skills to transition to more of a pure point without a problem in college.  Plus with that combo guard experience he's already learned to score and is a good jump shooter so that's always a plus.  If you watch the highlight video below you'll see a kid who can already score in a whole bunch of ways and reminds me of Dre Hollins in a lot of ways.  I think I'm going to like this guy a lot.  Plus his nickname is "The Assassin" which is pretty sweet.

This gives the Gophers and Pitino two members of the 2014 class with Mason joining Josh Martin.  The class now has a big, which was sorely needed, and a point guard, which was badly coveted, and both are highly athletic, something that's clearly a priority for Pitino.  With two scholarships left to play out it will be interesting to see how the recruitment of Carlos Morris, visiting UAB this weekend, plays out.  The Gophers still have a shot at both Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis (visiting this weekend by the way), or at least so it seems, so ideally they'd fill out the final two scholarships.  They're both taking their time, however, with Vaughn not planning on making a decision until Spring, so you wonder if they'd be ballsy enough to hold out that long, especially if Travis does the same.

Morris, the Juco swingman from Florida ranked as the #5 JuCo player in the country, would be a quality edition to the Gophers for 2014 and given that his twitter profile pic at one point showed him wearing a Gopher hat and that 247sports predictions have him at 100% Minnesota you have to think the Gophers have a pretty good shot at him.  Would they hold him off until the figure out what's happening with Travis and especially Vaughn and risk losing him to UAB?  Go ahead and sign Morris now and figure they'll deal with whatever happens down the line?  Either way I'm pretty sure if Morris, Vaughn, and Travis all end up wanting to go to the U they'll find a way to fit them all in.

Right now the Gopher class is ranked 68th in the country by 247sports.  It's tough to know what to make of that since it's still early enough that classes are still coming together, but since the Gophers have two more spots anyway they'll definitely rise by the time everything shakes out.  And I know this - 68th may not sound that great, but it's a whole lot better than it was before tonight.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beaver Recap and a Chance to Shut Boston Up

Kyle Rau scores against BC last season at Mariucci
Welcome back to week three of your recap on everything Gopher Hockey, and a look ahead to this weekend.  The Gophers did not find much resistance in sliding past the Beavers of Bemidji State last weekend.  This weekend the Gopher will have their toughest test of the season as they will host the fifth ranked Eagles of Boston College.

The Gophers continued their successful start to their season with a series sweep of the Beavers in Bemidji.  The Gophers had to deal with a physical Beaver squad to pull away late in the third period to win 6-3 Friday night, and then had a bit easier of a time in winning 5-1 Saturday.

Bemidji jumped out in front less than four minutes into the game Friday night as Danny Mattson scored on the power play. However, the Gophers did not waste any time as Travis Boyd scored 61 seconds later to knot the game at 1.  Ben Marshall added a power play goal for the Gophers later in the first and they took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.  The two teams traded goals in the second period with Sam Warning tallying for the Gophers as they took a 3-2 lead into the third period.  After freshman Hudson Fasching banged home a rebound for his second goal of the season to put Minnesota up 4-2 less than a minute into the third, it appeared like the Gophers were going to ease into a victory.  However, Bemidji had other thoughts, as all-name team member Radoslav Illo ripped a power play shot from the point to once again bring the Beavers within one goal.  Once again, the Gophers immediately responded, as Senior captain Nate Condon scored his first goal of the season 52 seconds later to put Minnesota up 5-3.  Connor Reilly would add an empty netter late and Minnesota took a hard fought 6-3 victory.

In Saturday night's rematch once again the Beavers struck first.  Jeff Jubinville struck just 2:37 into the game staking Bemidji to a 1-0 lead.  The Gophers took almost a period to respond to a much more physical Beaver squad in the second game of the weekend.  Warning scored his second of the weekend late in the first to send the game to the first intermission knotted at 1.  The Gophers would add two more in the second period as Taylor Cammarata scored his first collegiate goal on a rebound of a wide shot off the back boards and right onto his stick midway through the period.  Three minutes later Warning added his third of the weekend to make the score 3-1.  Mike Reilly and Justin Kloos would add goals in the third, and the Gophers cruised to a 5-1 victory and the sweep.

Sam Warning whose three goals and two assists on the weekend led the way was named the Big Ten's #1 Star of the Week.  He is tied for the NCAA lead in points so far this season with 9.  In two career games against Boston College Warning is tied for the team lead with Kyle Rau with 3 points each, and both will have to play very well this weekend in what will be by far the toughest task for the Gophers so far this season. Kloos was also rewarded by the Big Ten for his five point weekend with the #3 Star of the Week.  

In non game related news this week, Christian Horn, a Junior forward from Benilde St Margaret's,  who had yet to play for the Gophers in his first two seasons left the program to go play in the USHL.  There is a possibility Horn could rejoin the team next year, but it is more likely he will go to a different team similar to what Max Gardner did when he left the Gopher program four years ago to go back to the USHL for the season.  Gardner will see his former teammates later this season as he is now the Senior captain for Penn State.

On to this weeks series: Take Boston Down a Peg!

The national poll voters once again were impressed with the Gophers performance (and coupled with previous #1 Miami of Ohio splitting with the evil Whioux, and #2 Wisconsin getting absolutely slaughtered in Boston by BC Friday night 9-2 and BU Saturday night 7-3)  Minnesota moved from #3 to #1 in both national polls this week.  They welcome in the #5 ranked Boston College Eagles to Mariucci Arena for a two game series this weekend Friday night, and Sunday afternoon after taking Saturday off for the MN/Nebraska football game.

The Gophers played Boston College once last season in the Championship Game of the Mariucci Classic.  The Gophers came into that game ranked #4 in the nation and BC was #1.  The Gophers jumped all over the Eagles scoring three goals in the first period and cruising to a 8-1 victory.  Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad both had two goals for the Gophers. The Gophers were enacting a bit of revenge on BC who ended Minnesota's season in 2012 with a 6-1 thrashing of the Gophers in the NCAA Frozen Four Semifinals.  BC would go on to win the National Championship that season. 

Boston College last weekend only played one game, hosting Wisconsin Friday night.  The Eagles absolutely destroyed the Badgers.  BC scored four goals in the first period in a span of four an a half minutes enroute to a 9-2 victory.  Junior Johnny Gaudreau added three points to go over the 100 career point milestone.  He is the biggest threat for the Eagles.  Fast, small, and able to score at will Gaudreau will be a tough task for a Gopher defense that has looked penetrable at times to keep contained this weekend.  Boston College will play two goalies this weekend, as it appears Freshman Thatcher Demko will play Friday night, and Junior Brian Billett will play on Sunday.  Demko is 1-0 after getting the win over RPI during the first weekend of the season. Billett is 1-1 after the victory over Wisconsin and was in goal for BC's lone loss of the season in their season opener at Michigan.  The Wolverines won 3-1 beginning a string of games in the Inaugural Big Ten/ Hockey East Challenge.  Eleven different teams are playing in thirteen games to determine the conference winner.  Unfortunately for the Big Ten with only the MN/BC series remaining, Hockey East is winning 9-4. 

The Gophers will look to build off of last season's thrashing of the Eagles this weekend.  While Minnesota leads the all-time series 15-12-2, Boston College is 6-1 in their last seven games against the Gophers. However, the Gophers have an all-time record of 9-1 against BC in Mariucci Arena, so something will have to give this weekend.  It is going to be a true test for a young Gopher squad.  Adam Wilcox will have to have a great weekend for the Gophers in goal to get a sweep.  Unfortunately, I don't see it all coming together ads BC is a very good team, and the Gophers are due for a not so good performance. I see the Gophers winning 5-4 Friday night and losing 5-2 on Sunday. Friday night's game will begin at 7:00 and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.  Sunday afternoon's game will start at 1:10 and be on FSN.

Boston College Notable Names:

#9 Brendon Silk (Son of 1980 Olympian Dave Silk) So-F
#14 Adam Gilmour (Son of NHL player Doug Gilmour) FR-F
#17 Destry Straight Jr-F
#30 Thatcher Demko FR-G

Here's What They Are Saying on Twitter:

Pretty slow week with everyone in Boston watching the Red Sox and not the Eagles...
Yes...why didn't you think of that??


Something tells me these rodents will put up more of a fight...


  The Girls of BC:


Gophers vs. Huskers and some World Series stuff.

I know what you're thinking - DWG doesn't cover football after TRE quit like a little girl.  And you're right, we generally don't and that's only because I don't know what I'm talking about - not really.  The only football preview I think I've ever written here was this year's Iowa game and that's because I was feeling all #HATEWEEK-y and then I didn't even watch the game because I was at a Meat Raffle in Aitkin.  But this week I stumbled into some tickets and will be taking my son to his first Gopher Football game (he's 3 so he won't remember it anyway) but since I'm going I'm also going to write some kind of a short preview because then I will at least know more players on Nebraska than just Taylor Martinez who is actually hurt according to the internet so that sucks I guess.

Despite the Martinez injury which sounds made up, the Huskers are still an eleven point favorite even on the road against your favorite team.  That's because even without Martinez they've been killing teams - really bad teams (So Dak State, Illinois, and Purdue) - but even so killing is killing as Jason Voorhees always says.  Mainly they've been able to kill teams because they have an awesome rushing attack and they have two back-up QBs who can both play.  Looks like the Huskers generally just play both until they figure out which one sucks and then they let the other one finish out the game.  And again, it doesn't really matter who is at QB because they're just going to give the ball to one of their three awesome RBs over and over again.  The Huskers are like the Gophers in that they want to run the ball like, all the time, and only pass when absolutely necessary, except the Huskers are the varsity version of that while the Gophers are the junior high squad.

And.......I'm already bored with this.  I hope the Gophers win but they probably won't because Nebraska is a lot better even without their QB.   I think I heard Leidner has a tummy ache so that means Philip Nelson will start which is probably good because even though Leidner is like giving the ball to an alligator Nelson is better thrower guy which the Gophers will need against Nebraska.  Probably.  I don't know.  I'm more of a David Cobb guy.  Starting to look awfully shifty out there.  Is he the next Gary Russell?  Yes, clearly.

-  Real quick, the Cardinals are looking an awful lot like the 2006 Tigers tonight.  You remember 2006, a magical season when Justin Morneau won the AL MVP, and how the Tigers looked to have the World Series wrapped up before it even started.  St. Louis snuck into the playoffs with just 83 wins but then outlasted everybody else to make the World Series while the Tigers won 95 games and went 7-1 against two other 93+ win teams to make it and looked poised to stomp the Cards.  Then the games started (because they aren't played on paper you know, nerd) and then in the five games the Tigers made at least one error in every game and had two games with 2 or more errors, throwing the ball all over the place, giving easy runs to the Cards, and ended up losing to an inferior team by playing like idiots.

Now the Cards have already made two errors with plenty of other mistakes including a pop-up that didn't make the pitcher's mound that fell in for a "hit."  It's a total repeat of 2006 except instead of a somewhat likeable team being the beneficiary of the meltdown instead this time it's Satan's team.

Even better?  In 2006 I bet on Detroit.  In 2013?  I bet on St. Louis.  Gambling is so stupid and I hate it and you and your family.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Notes from #RaiseTheBarn Scrimmage

I attended the open scrimmage on Friday night, sort of, and these are some impressions I came away with.  Keeping in mind it's an officiated scrimmage so it's kind of tough to get a true read on everything, I had to leave at halftime because WonderbabyTM (who is now 5 if you can believe that) hates fun, and I had to manage potty breaks, popcorn, and Mello Yello so take these for what it's worth.

-  The seniors look extremely confident, as seniors tend to before a breakout year.  As such I feel confident predicting a true breakout year for Austin Hollins.  He's never been a shrinking violet or anything (that's a thing, right?) but he was carrying himself with a little bit of swagger out there, and I love it.  Going to be a big year.  As for Maverick, he is carrying himself with a lot more confidence as well.  I have no idea what that might mean, but I'm guessing it's either going to be real good, a total disaster, or mean very little change at all.  I'm out on a limb here.

-  Mo Walker looks like a completely different person.  I'm serious, he looks completely different.  He looks like a normal human being instead of a fat one, like when Jack Black lost all that weight for a little while and still wasn't funny.  I tried to watch him to see if there was a difference in his agility or athletic ability, and although I was pretty distracted I didn't notice anything different at all which sucks.  I always thought Mo had a good amount of potential, mainly because he was a very good passing big man as a freshman which generally bodes well for overall skills, but whether it was the knee injury or just how he always was the lack of athletic ability is a major anchor, as it were.  Hopefully something changes, because otherwise gross.

-  On that note, power forward is going to be a serious, serious problem.  I can already tell Joey King is going to drive me absolutely crazy.  He rarely steps inside the three point line on offense, doesn't appear to have either the strength, instincts, or drive to be a great rebounder, and I don't think he's big or strong enough to play defense in the Big Ten.  Maybe worse, against the press tonight twice he helped break it and then committed the major fundamental mistake of picking up his dribble right after he crossed half court, leading to a another trapping situation, and a turnover one of the times.  That kind of shit isn't going to fly.  I'm very nervous for the Joey King era.

-  Believe it or not, the PF who looked the best tonight was Oto-matic.  I won't say he seemed confident because he didn't, but he didn't look like a shell of a person like he did most of last season.  I actually saw him make a 3-pointer which I think is more than he made all last season, and I saw him get an offensive rebound which may have been the only one a Gopher got tonight (seriously rebounding and inside play is going to be a major, major deal).  I'm not saying he looked great, just that he looked the best of all the PF candidates.  So scary.

-  The other PF candidates, Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs were less than inspiring.  Ellenson is crazy athletic and not remotely shy about trying to score or flying around, all of which are promising, while Buggs, well, Buggs isn't what I hoped Buggs would be.  I thought he could be the long, range-y, semi-athletic big guy with a good perimeter shot in the mold of KG, Hakim Warrick, and JaJuan Johnson.  Yeah my bad.  He still has plenty of time to turn into something like that, but he's not there yet.  No, he is not.

-  Dre Hollins was pretty much in coast mode, which I'm cool with considering he's the best player on the team (OR IS HE?!?!?!?!).  Nothing wrong with letting everyone else get involved in a thing like this where it doesn't count.  When he did decide to take over a couple of times, he scored.  So we cool.

-  It was sweet to see a little bit of offensive innovation, if by innovation you mean things pretty much every other team was doing besides the Gophers.  If you think back to the Tubby Smith era, you'll remember that the Gophers ran 3 plays:  Flex, 3-man weave 30 feet from the hoop, and pass the ball sluggishly around the perimeter until the shot clock runs out.  I was a fan of none of these plays, for the record.  Anyway, I noticed three things:  they actually ran a pick-and-roll, while running said pick-and-roll there was another screen to free a shooter at the same time (2 plays in one!!), and the 3-man weave happened but it was far closer in and looked more like the dribble drive thing Calipari loves so much.  If nothing else, seeing these plays made me weep with joy until WonderbabyTM asked me if I was crying and I was like "no it's really dusty in here" and then she was like "no it's not" and then I was like "shut up, you can't even spell."

-  Those who are aware of my crippling obsession over Rico Tucker have pointed out to me that Dre Mathieu sounds an awful lot like him and fully expect me to fall in love all over again like it's just that easy to go from guy to guy.  Well I did so shut up, no slut shaming allowed on this blog.  He's just like Rico Tucker if Rico was slightly less athletic but had played two years of Juco with a coach who knew how to reign him in and teach him to play in control instead of playing for a coach who had no idea what to do with an all-world talent who needed to be harnessed.

Mathieu is super fast, but he uses it as a weapon rather than looking like my kid trying to play Mario Kart on 150cc.  He kind of reminded me of Phil Pressey, formerly of Missouri, but where Pressey was always looking to use his penetration skills (like me with your mom) to set up somebody else (which is good) Mathieu is generally looking to score (also good).  He strikes me as a nearly perfect 6th man to help jump start the offense.  Of course if he keeps scoring a billion points all the time it's going to be tough to keep him out of the starting lineup.  Or my dreams.

-  The other newcomers probably deserve to be talked about just so I can give my spot on impressions.  Malik Smith shot about a million three pointers and missed all of them, but that's ok I guess because he's a shooter or something.  Obviously I'm not dumb enough to judge a shooter on one scrimmage so we'll just see what we see I guess.  I noticed nothing else about him.  Daquein still doesn't have a second A in his name and I saw him hit a three-pointer and that was pretty much it.  In retrospect this note is pretty much worthless, but seeing as I don't believe in retrospect it's staying.

-  The press was interesting to me.  It kind of looked like a good ole fashioned diamond press, but the off guy of the three at the front never left his man to guard the most obvious pass recipient - the guy who passed it in from out of bounds.  I watch a ton of college hoops, obvs, but have never really paid a ton of attention to the Xs and Os of the press so I don't know if this is a thing now or what, but I'm not familiar with it.  And like an old man with a Tivo I'm uncomfortable with things I don't understand.  Now, in a way it's kind of genius because in theory most teams make their shitty ball handling power forward throw it in, so if you just trap the PG and make that dude bring it up and trap him when he picks up his dribble right after crossing half court (Joey King -> hi) it could work out well.  I'm very interested to see how this goes.

-   Overall the team seemed much more uptempo, did a lot more trapping of many varieties on defense, and was more varied on offense.  Again, I know it's a stupid scrimmage but they looked pretty good.  I would say that they're going to get killed on the boards and by teams who are talented in the front court because they quite literally only have one guy who can play post defense or rebound, but because of the way the team is constructed they'll probably pull off at least one upset because they have so many guys who can score on the perimeter and shoot the 3.  Some game they'll go like 14-24 from three and knock off Michigan or something.  It should be fun.  And horribly maddening.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Welcome Aboard, Joey King (this year!)

Just read on the Twitter machine that Joey King, the 6-9 sophomore power (?) forward transfer from Drake, has been granted a waiver making him eligible  for this season.  King, originally from Eagan, transferred home to be closer to a sick family member who I can't recall, and the NCAA actually gave the Gophers some good news, giving a badly needed boost to the Gopher front court.

King, one of those fancy pants stretch fours everybody's talking about these days, averaged 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 19 minutes per game last season for the Bulldogs, which somehow was good enough to make the All Missouri Valley Freshman team.  Since he's a stretch 4 he better be able to shoot is what you're saying, and he hit 35% of his three-pointers with an average of 3 attempts per game, both of which are pretty good numbers for an unheralded freshman.  If Richard Pitino can implement the system he wants a big man who can hit the three, and King should fit the bill.

Perhaps more importantly, however, given the Gophers current front court questions, is can he rebound?  The 2.9 per game doesn't sound all that impressive, but it was good enough for fourth on the team and came about in just 19 minutes per so that's not so bad.  His offensive and defensive rebounding percentages (5.5% and 13.5%) came in third and fourth on the team, respectively.  That may sound good, but Drake was a horrendous rebounding team.  If King put up those numbers on last year's Gopher team he would have been 9th in offensive rebounding % but fifth in defensive rebounding %.

In any case, getting an eligible Joey King certain helps this team by giving them another viable option in the paint.  Assuming, that is, that King doesn't go all Rick Rickert on it and do nothing but flit about the three-point line all day (a concern considering he took 7 threes in the intrasquad scrimmage vs. 0 two-pointers while grabbing only one rebound).  If he treats the 3-pointer as a weapon instead of a crutch, and works to bolster the team's rebounding which is going to a problem either way, this move could go from good to essential.  If he doesn't, we could be looking at a less-skilled version of Rickert, in which case I'm going to be yelling at him all year.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Icebreaker recap + We're about to go on a Beaver Hunt!

Welcome back to your weekly recap on everything Gopher Hockey.  Hopefully some of you are return customers and not random people trolling for shaved ladybits.

The Gophers began their season last weekend on a high note by winning the Icebreaker Classic at Mariucci Arena.  The Gophers kicked off their season with a 6-0 plastering of Mercyhurst on Friday, and followed that up with a 3-2 come from behind win over New Hampshire on Saturday night.

The Gophers got on the board first Friday night as junior captain Kyle Rau put away a rebound on the power play.  They added three additional tallies in the second as Seth Ambroz scored what may go down as the goal of the season in the first game of the year.  Ambroz ripped a shot off the right goalpost, and caught the carom in midair, dropped the puck and swatted it between his legs in midair off the back of the Mercyhurst goalie and into the net.  Trust me, it looked a hell of a lot cooler then I described fact take a look:
With thanks from @GoAUpher on twitter

Junior wing Sam Warning added his first of the weekend as did freshman Justin Kloos to make it 4-0 after two periods.  In the third, Mike Reilly and Micheal Brodzinski added goals to round out the 6-0 final.  Adam Wilcox picked up the fourth shutout of his career.

In Saturday night's game against #12 New Hampshire, the Gophers fell behind for the first time on the season when the Wildcat's Eric Knodel scored on the power play less than 30 seconds into the second period.  The Gophers responded back quickly as Hudson Fasching, a freshman from Apple Valley scored his first goal in the maroon and gold.  New Hampshire responded, scoring their second goal with about 9 minutes left in the second period, and once again the Gophers had to strike from behind.   Warning scored his second goal on the weekend after a Gopher flurry of activity in front of the Wildcat net a minute later to tie the game at two.    With just over two minutes left in the second, the Gophers got another freshman, Vinni Letttieri on the score sheet as he came from behind the net to the left faceoff circle, spun around and pushed his shot past New Hampshire goalie Casey DeSmith.  Wilcox and the Gopher defense held, and the Gophers collected the hardware with a 3-2 victory.  Warning was named the MVP of the tournament, and was joined on the all tournament team by Rau, Fasching, and Wilcox. The Big Ten also named Warning their second star of the week, and Rau their third star.
Of some concern is the Gopher power play which after going 2-6 in the Friday night game went 0-6 against the Wildcats.  This is something that will need to change as the Gopher's opponents continue to improve.   Both of New Hampshire's goals also came on the power play Saturday night, so Minnesota cannot be happy with its non 5 on 5 play Saturday.

On to this weeks series: Shave the Beavers!

The national poll voters were impressed with the Gophers performance (and aghast at preseason #1 UMass-Lowell losing to the worst team in the NCAA in 2012-13, Sacred Heart) as Minnesota moved from #5 to #3 in both national polls this week.  They will make their first road trip of the season this week as they hop onto the busses for a ride up to the Sanford Center and a series with the Bemidji State Beavers.

The Gophers played the Beavers four times last season.  The first two games ended the WCHA regular season in Bemidji as Minnesota swept the series by 4-3 and 5-1 scores.  The Gopher win on Saturday, coupled with St Cloud State's 3-2 loss to Wisconsin clinched the Gophers tie of the top spot in the WCHA.   The teams met the next weekend in Minneapolis in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs as once again the Gophers swept the Beavers by scores of 2-1 and 4-3.

Bemidji State and St Cloud State played a series in St Cloud last weekend, with the Huskies winning 3-2 on Friday and the teams skating to a 2-2 tie on Saturday.  The Beavers are still in what is left of the WCHA this season, and the coaches in the league predicted them to finish in seventh place.  Junior goalie Andrew Walsh played both games last weekend, and is expected to play both games in goal this weekend as well. Bemidji does not have any notable offensive players to watch out for, however they are a well coached team with Tom Serratore, the uncle of Gopher forward (and also named) Tom Serratore behind the bench.

The Gopher's young roster will be tested on their first games away from Mariucci.  However, one would expect a good contingent of Gopher fans to make the trip up north as it is one of the favorite road trips of the season, and outside of Wisconsin is the only true drivable road trip this season with the switch to the Big Ten. The Gophers have won eight of the last ten against the Beavers, and are 14-1-1 all-time.  Their only loss to Bemidji took place in November of 2009. I see it being close, but I predict that the Gophers will sweep with scores of 4-2 Friday night and 5-1 Saturday night. Friday night's game will begin at 7:30 and will be broadcast on FSN.  Saturday night will start at 7:00 and be on FSN+.

Bemidji Notable Names:

#5 Carter Struthers Fr-D
#7 Matt Prapavessis Jr-D
#18 Radoslav Illo Sr-F
#25 Ruslan Pedan  Fr-D
#33 Reid Mimmack Fr-G

Here's What They Are Saying on Twitter:

I'm sure its perfectly pretty....
 Beaver bandit eh......I bet you're a real pelt stealer


 And On to The Lovely Beavers of BSU:


Monday, October 14, 2013

Words on the NCAA Basketball Season

With little to no action on the recruiting front (although our new best friend Nate Mason was on campus this weekend) and nothing worth talking Twins about, I haven't posted in a while.  But here I am, watching both baseball and football, and I was missing you guys so I should write some words.

-  Ok so spoiler alert, I'm pretty lazy busy now a days and don't get to post as much.  Therefore, I likely won't be doing that thing where I preview a whole bunch of college basketball teams this year because that takes a shit ton of time and I don't think anybody reads them anyway.  But I feel I must call your attention to a team that is not getting the respect they deserve, a team I have ranked as the 3rd best in the country behind Michigan State and Louisville - The Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Most prediction things I've looked at have them somewhere in the 20s, and that is just way way way wrong.   Did we all forget just how far one great player can take a team in college basketball?  Carmelo Anthony?  Danny Manning?  Hell, Kemba Walker?  Marcus Smart is one that level.  But lest you think this is a one person team, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash are here too.  The only thing missing is a good big man, but they have a ton of options so if they can cobble together forty minutes of competent big man play each game (they only need one "big guy" because Nash is big enough to play the 4 unless they need to go big) this team is going to be a serious, serious contender.  Currently 25-1 or 40-1 to win the whole thing at some books.  Get in there now.

-  Speaking of, here are your contenders this year:  Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, VCU and Wisconsin (gross, but true.  I'm high on Dekker).  That's it.  I think UCONN could be a bit of a sleeper too, seems like everybody has forgotten about them but they have a pretty nice squad coming back.  On the opposite end, I think Indiana falls off a cliff.  I know Noah Vonleh is supposed to be a stud, but when the rest of your offense is going to reliant on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey you're in trouble.  The only exception is if Evan Gordon (transfer from Arizona State) ends up being a stud, but he's on his third team of his career for a reason.  Then again, he's already 22 (and a half) so maybe he'll have some of that Mbakwe stuff going on, although I don't know how much that'll help a guard.  Plus, I hate Indiana a lot, so there's that too.

-  If you want another team that could surprise, but in more of a rising from projected bubble team to a top 5 seed, you should consider Stanford.  Nobody really is predicting them to do much, but it's basically the third year with the same core group but they added Chasson Randle last year.  Two years ago they won the NIT, then had a really disappointing season landing back in the NIT last year.  They just couldn't get over the hump, losing something like six games by five points or fewer, and I think with another year, particularly for Randle, they'll win more of those games and contend for the Pac-12 title.  And then probably make Reid Travis fall more in love with them.  Great.  We're doomed.

-  Speaking of doomed, I just want to mention the loony bin that is the Gopher Hole, where apparently if Rashad Vaughn ends up at either Iowa State or UNLV those programs are clearly crooked.  Honest to god, the prestige rankings over there are something like:
1. Michigan State
2.  Ohio State
3. Indiana
4. Michigan
5.  Duke
6.  North Carolina
7.  Louisville (shot up the rankings this year)
8.  Kansas
9.  Minnesota

Seriously.  Then there's a huge gap and everyone else is in the 100s with Iowa State at the very bottom.  That place has gotten damn near unreadable due to all the Minnesota high school talent for 2014.  Did you know that any Minnesota kid, or any kid considering Minnesota, who ends up going to a different school was clearly enticed by some sort of illegal or shady benefit?  It's true.

-  Should I elaborate on my Wisconsin thoughts a bit?  Yeah, probably since I'm saying they're going to be really good but I hate them.  Assuming Josh Gasser is fully back, he and Ben Brust give the Badgers one of the best back courts in the country.  Wait let me clarify.  I don't mean one of the best back courts in the country in terms of talent or ability or anything like that, I mean best back courts as in best fits for their team's system.  Their boring, boring system.  I don't remember the last time they had two guards who fit this well, but this is like if Jordan Taylor and Trevon Hughes played together and were white.

Then you bring in Sam Dekker, who I think is going to be an absolute monster, and this is a crazy, crazy talented team for a Wisconsin club.  The only real concern is in the front court, except that's never a concern for Wisconsin because there's always some giant hulking shlub who can go from nothing to 10 & 8 in no time flat because Bo Ryan has some sort of grinchy magical powers when it comes to 6-8 frumps.  I don't know if it'll be an old guy (Frank Kaminsky/Zach Bohanon/Evan Anderson) or a new guy (Nigel Hayes) but the last thing you ever need to worry about when it comes to Wisconsin is them getting front court production.  Add in their best 3-man back court I can remember and their boring, boring system of boring their opponent to death and the Badgers are sneaky dangerous this year.  And that sucks.

-  Overall the Big 10 is going to be tough this year, but I see four pretty distinct tiers:
TIER 1:  Michigan State
TIER 2:  Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa
TIER 3:  Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota
TIER 4:  Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State

There's some chance for movement between these of course - Michigan State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin could end up as good as Michigan State.  Iowa or Illinois could drop.  Northwestern could jump up, but pretty much this is how I see it so I guess I'm saying the Gophers could finish anywhere from 6th to 10th, and because their schedule is so weak this year it's going to be an uphill battle to get to the NCAA Tournament again.  Obviously not impossible or anything, but keep an eye on the Maui tournament - the results there could end up being huge for the Gophers' RPI.

-  Your most likely high profile coach to get canned this year is Rick Barnes at Texas which makes sense because he's a terrible game coach.  He was always a hell of a recruiter and rode those abilities to a stretch of five Sweet 16s in eight years, but the Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament last year (for the first time since 1998, but still it was pretty bad) with a losing season and they're poised to have an even worse year this season.  Myck Kabongo left for the NBA (or wherever, considering he didn't get drafted) and Julien Lewis and Shelden McClellan transferred, Ioannis Papapetrou signed to play pro ball overseas, and Javan Felix is injured and out for an indefinite amount of time.  With a not very strong recruiting class coming in this is going to be an ugly year.  Maybe his past success combined with the current rough circumstances will buy him some more time, but Texas is not a very patient school and also Rick Barnes is almost worse than Bruce Weber.

-  As far as Kentucky goes this year, I know a lot of people are ready to hand them the title since they have the best recruiting class of all-time coming in and some established talent already in place and frankly it's not a bad call.  It really is the greatest collection of talent I can remember in college basketball in the early entry era, at least on paper.  Calipari showed how this kind of plan can work two years ago when he won the national title, but he's had the same basic play every since he came to Kentucky and still only has the one title in four years, while missing the tournament altogether last season.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be the favorite, but there is some truth to the old saying, "not enough basketballs to go around."  That Kentucky team that won the National Championship was supremely talented, but that talent came mainly in the form of players who could impact the game without needing the ball.  Anthony Davis was a defensive force, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an all-around stud, Marquis Teague was happy to let others take the shots, and even Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones had no problem taking a back seat when necessary for the good of the team.  That was the problem with the John Wall team (a team that, granted, made the Elite 8) - Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins were all ball dominating players.  I'm interested to see where this new group falls, because the talent level really is insane, and like nothing we've ever seen before.

-   One of the unintended consequences of all this conference realignment stuff going on is the complete weakening of the mid-majors as the bigger conference get stronger by pilfering the top programs from all over the country.  The only mid-majors worth a damn (WCC, A-10, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West if you consider them a mid-major) were either strengthened or completely untouched by realignment.  Look at once strong conferences like Conference USA, the Colonial, and the Horizon have been gutted. 

C-USA has become 16 crappy teams, everyone has fled the Colonial to the point where the team that just joined up, College of Charleston, is probably the most historically successful program in the conference, and the Horizon is now looking at Wright State and Cleveland State as it's shining stars.  Perhaps the worst is the WAC, which was never you know, awesome or anything, but it has been completely gutted.  The #1 team is now New Mexico State, but even worse the #2 squad is Idaho or Cal State Bakersfield.  Bakersfield!  I'm not even sure if any of these teams here outside of NMSU have ever been to the NCAA Tournament.  I mean they probably have or something, but I'll be damned if I remember.  Sure, this all makes for better games in the major conferences, but I'm a little sad about how crappy all the mid-majors are now.  Well, I'm over it now.

-   There is now a team in D-I basketball called the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals (of course they're the Cardinals).  They're ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year as they make the transition to D-I, but they're joining the Southland along with Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist.  Soon it seems the Southland will be called the Holy Conference.  Or something more clever than that.  Shut up I'm tired.

-  Lastly, here's my shot at your projected NCAA Tournament teams by conference.  We'll see how I do:
ACC (5):  Duke, Syracuse, UNC, Virginia, Notre Dame
AAC (4):  Louisville, Memphis, UCONN, Cincinnati
A-10 (3):  VCU, LaSalle, St. Louis
America East (1):  Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun (1):  Florida Gulf Coast
Big East (5):  Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Creighton
Big 10 (5):  Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana
Big 12 (5):  Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State
Big Sky (1):  Weber State
Big South (1):  High Point
Big West (1):  Long Beach
C-USA (1):  Louisiana Tech
Colonial (1):  Drexel
Horizon (1):  Wright State
Ivy (1):  Harvard
Mountain West (4):  New Mexico, UNLV, Utah State, Boise State
Missouri Valley (2):  Wichita State, Indiana State
MAC (1):  Akron
MAAC (1):  Manhattan
MEAC (1):  Morgan State
NEC (1):  Bryant
Ohio Valley (1):  Belmont
Pac-12 (5):  Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Colorado, Stanford
Patriot (1):  Lafayette
SEC (6):  Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Missouri
SoCon (1):  Elon
Southland (1):  Houston State
Summit (1):  Denver
Sun Belt (1):  Western Kentucky
SWAC (1):  Texas Southern
WAC (1):  New Mexico State
WCC (2):  Gonzaga, BYU
You know what's crazy?  When I did this without worrying about counting how many bids I was giving out on my first pass I came out with 67 teams.  Just had to add one to round it out.   I ended up making it Indiana which was perfect because I didn't feel good about just five teams coming out of the Big 10, but I have no idea who the sixth one will be.  Indiana, like I said, has a million question marks, I hate Illinois, and I don't think Purdue or Minnesota have the pieces.  Whatever.  I'm pretty dumb anyway so say la vee.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013-14 Big Ten Hockey + Icebreaker Classic Preview

Howdy folks!  If you are reading this you are probably confused for two reasons.  First you are wondering who the hell this guy writing this is.  Secondly, you are probably wondering what the hell Big Ten Hockey is.  As to the first question, I'm Andy a new writer here and I will be covering Gopher Hockey this season here on the blog.  As for the second...well that's a bit of a longer story involving Jim Delaney, Terry Pegula, Barry Alvarez, Joel Maturi, and probably should not be discussed around children...but I digress.

Yes the Gophers along with the evil red menace to the east, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State have all become inaugural members of the Big Ten Hockey Conference.  The WCHA still exists, but won't have most of its past notable members as not only has Minnesota and Wisconsin headed to the Big Ten, but North Dakota, St Cloud State, UMD and others decided that they wanted to run to another conference as well, so they are now in the NCHC, otherwise known as the Nacho conference.  Mmmmmm Nachos.

So the Gophers will not be playing some of the usual teams you would have recognized in the past.  No Denver, Colorado College, or either most annoyingly or happily, North Dakota will not be seen on the schedule until at least 2015-16.  Instead Minnesota will be playing 20 games (2 each home and away) against its Big Ten Conference foes.  For those who worry about the future of Minnesota hockey, no worries as the Gophers will play each of the other four Division I schools in Minnesota for at least one game, and most for two.  The Gophers will host UMD and Minnesota State for 2 games each in November, and will play 2 games up in Bemidji next weekend.  The last game comes against St. Cloud in the Friday night game of the inaugural North Star College Cup to be played in January at the Xcel Energy Center.  The Gophers/Huskies winner will play the winner of UMD and MSU on Saturday night, and the losers will play Saturday afternoon.
The other big game on the Gophers schedule is the Hockey City Classic which will take place on January 17th against Ohio State outdoors at a rink constructed on TCF Bank Stadium's field. 

The Gophers will round out their schedule with four additional non-conference series, @Notre Dame, at home against Boston College, the Mariucci Classic and this weekend's Icebreaker Classic at Mariucci Arena.

There are plenty of additional Gopher previews that go in depth on the players who have left the program to head to the pro ranks or have graduated, and the freshmen who have come in to replace them, so I encourage you to check them out if you are so inclined.  We shall cover several of the players over the course of the season here, but there is not enough time to do it all today.  I will however quickly attempt to handicap the Big Ten Conference race:

Projected Big Ten Conference Finish

1. Minnesota

The Gophers did lose several notable players to the pros including Nick Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt, and Zach Budish, however they return arguably the best goalie in the Big Ten in Adam Wilcox, the biggest big game player in Kyle Rau, and between Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Hudson Fasching, and Lou Nanne's grandson Vinni Lettieri should have the best freshman class in the Big Ten.  All this comes together in time for the Gophers to take the inaugural crown.

2. Wisconsin

The Badgers were predicted to finish first by the coaches and many in the media this season, and they return a ton of firepower, so that was to be expected.  However, I don't think Joel Rumpel is quite as good a goalie as many think he is, and Wisconsin's slow methodical playing style will be tested by several uptempo teams like Minnesota and Michigan in the Big Ten. They also got the whole losing to bad teams thing going on as well losing at home to Penn State last February.  They still get the first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament come March.

3. Michigan

The Wolverines missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 22 years last season, but Red Berenson will have them rearing to go to get back this season.  Michigan will miss Jacob Truba who has moved on the the NHL after one season in Ann Arbor, but they bring in three freshmen who just need to move across the town from the US Under 18 Program.  Michigan will be back to the top soon, but not quite yet.

4. Michigan State

The Spartans did not have a very good year last year.  There is no way to put it.  Their two best players are also out for the first month of the season this year after off-season surgeries.  However, MSU coach Tom Anastos has the team bought into his program in his third year and the injuries early may be a blessing in disguise when the backloaded Big Ten schedule comes around after the end of the year.

5. Ohio State

The Buckeyes had a bit of a rough offseason as their former coach Mark Osiecki was fired to the surprise of many in the college hockey world.  His departure made waves as several of his high profile recruits he had coming to Columbus decided to find other schools.  His former assistant, Steve Rohlik has taken over and will have a hard time trying to keep up in a tough conference with a new goalie after Brady Hjelle graduated.

6. Penn State

And now we come to the kids who forced this whole thing in the first place.  Penn State gets a huge donation from alum Terry Pegula, and a few years later a decent club team is playing in a brand new arena at a Division I level.  The Nittany Lions did beat three Big Ten teams last season (Wisconsin Michigan State, Ohio State) so they could be better then many expect in their first year.  They will be led by Gopher transfer Max Gardiner

Icebreaker Classic Preview

Enough of this everyone else crap, lets talk about the Gophers and what they will be dealing with this weekend.  The fifth ranked Minnesota team is hosting the annual college hockey kickoff tournament this season named the Icebreaker Classic.  The Gophers are coming off of a 5-1 exhibition win last weekend over Lethbridge, a Canadian college. The game ended up being more of a wresting match then a hockey game as Kyle Rau played the AJ Pierzynski character to the Lethbridge squad drawing several penalties and causing at least two melees.  Rau will be centering the first line for the Gophers this season, most likely this weekend with Lettieri and Junior Sam Warning who did not play against Lethbridge.  The Gophers will open Friday night at 7:00 against Mercyhurst.  The Lakers are predicted to win the Atlantic Hockey Conference this season, so they most likely will not be a complete pushover, but the Gophers are definitely the better team.  The Gophers and Lakers have meet once in the past, in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament when the Gophers cruised to a 9-2 win at Mariucci en route to their second consecutive NCAA title. 

Mercyhurst Lakers All Namers:

#7 Randy Cure Sr-D
#8 John Mousso  Sr-F
#10 Nardo Nagtzaam Jr-F
#29 Spencer Bacon Fr-G

And of course the girls:
Mercyhurst Dance Team

Mercyhurst Cheerleaders

The other two teams in the Icebreaker Classic, Clarkson and New Hampshire will face off at 4:00 in Friday with the losers playing at 4:00 on Saturday and the winners playing at 7:00 Saturday night.

Since we obviously don't know who Minnesota will play on Saturday, here's some girls for both teams to tide you over under next week:

Clarkson Volleyball