Thursday, May 31, 2007

Disgusted With Gopher Hoops Coverage

There were two reports today in Minnesota's perodicals indicating that former Dan Monson recruit Andrew Brommer has decided to re-open his recruitment. Brommer, a junior from Rosemount, Minn., had committed to Monson but now, according to a bare-bones report from Jeff Shelman of the Star Tribune, Brommer is reconsidering. More on Shelman's weak reporting in a second, but here is a pullout from the article, including a quote from Brommer's father.

Much has changed since Brommer gave the Gophers a commitment last fall. Dan Monson was still the Gophers coach and the idea that Smith would trade Kentucky for Minnesota seemed far-fetched. "It's important for both Andrew and the University of Minnesota to look at the situation and see if it works for both sides," Rob Brommer said.

A few things about the article by Shelman bothered me, but by comparison, all the PiPress gave Gopher fans was a blurb in Shooter Walters' column.

Shelman fails to tell us, for instance, how tall Brommer is or what position he plays. For the record, Brommer is a 6-9, 215 pound center. I don't consider myself a casual Gopher fan, but little information like that, and a description of what kind of player Brommer is, would help the general public understand what is going on. Is Brommer a can't-miss prospect? What are his strengths and weaknesses? You wouldn't find that in Shelman and Walters' offerings today.

Shelman and Walters also fail to shed any light on whether the new Gophers coaching staff is upset about this. It's true, Tubby and the coaching staff aren't allowed to comment on recruits until they sign a letter of intent. But, Shelman and Walters have other sources--like high school and AAU coaches, recruiting analysts, among others--who could help Gopher fans understand why Brommer is taking a step away from the University. Tubby has four scholarships available, now that Nate Garth has declared his intent to enroll in Minnesota, so it's plausible that Tubby is shooting for higher-rated players than Brommer.

It may very well be that Tubby doesn't want/need Brommer. Or, Brommer might have wanted to play for Monson. With the reporting Minnesota Gopher fans received, we're left only to wonder and draw our own conclusions. It would seem there is a difference between 'We report, You decide,' and the clearly poor effort demonstrated by our local sports reporters.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joel

Just when you think Tim Brewster might right the Gophers' ship, Joel Maturi pulls you back down.

I read with great pleasure an item in the Fargo-Moorhead Forum earlier this month that suggested Brewster had no intention of scheduling North Dakota State in the future. The Gophers will face the North Dakota State for a second straight season when the Bison head to the Dome later this year, in a game that the national television networks are fighting for the rights to televise. You see, Brewster would like to schedule a big-time opponent for the maroon and gold. Texas, perhaps--a team he has some history with. Once upon a time, the Gophers and Notre Dame were no strangers.

Now, Glen "Mediocre" Mason made a living by schedling cream puffs for the Gophers to beat. In order to be bowl eligible, a team must win 6 games. Last year, Mason's squad finished 6-6 during the regular season, with the help of a 10-9 win over NDSU. Without that win, the Gophers wouldn't have had a chance to blow a 98 point lead to Texas Tech in a December bowl game.


“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Does NDSU really help us?’ ” Brewster said. “I want to make sure our nonconference games benefit the University of Minnesota more than the team the Gophers are playing.”

This is not a new issue here at PJS. In our short existence, we've harped on the Gophers' football schedule here and here. So, it was with great satisfaction to see Brewster showing he has a sense of what Gopher Nation really wants. From the same article, Brewster continues to sum up the thoughts of pretty much every Gopher fan I know.

“When we’re recruiting nationally, and a young man says, ‘Who are your nonconference games this year?’ and we say ‘Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, Florida Atlantic and North Dakota State,’ what do you think the reaction is?” Brewster asked, rattling off Minnesota’s nonconference schedule this fall. He answered his own rhetoric by slumping his shoulders and letting out a disappointed groan, mimicking how a blue-chipper might react.


As much as NDSU fans, coaches and administrators might not like what Brewster is saying ... he's exactly right.

But Maturi essentially bitch-slapped Brewster for working to give Gopher fans what they want. In a differnt article in the Forum, Maturi puts Brewster in his place.


"In the end, it’s my decision,” Maturi said. “Much of this is financial and doing what’s the best thing for your program in looking at the big picture.” Maturi said he and Brewster have a great relationship, but they have yet to sit down and talk about scheduling philosophies. The Bison and Gophers play next fall, but have nothing set after that.

So, Maturi just undermined Brewster and admitted to not having discussed scheduling with his new coach. Certailny, there are financial realities not available to PJS, and Maturi certainly received calls from NDSU's administration. If nothing else, it'd be nice, if Maturi and Brewster were on the same page.

And in a perfect world, it'd be nice to have another reason to tune into a Gophers nonconference football game. Perhaps to tune in and see the type of program Brewster is talking about turning Minnesota into.

An Unofficial Visit

DeLaSalle sophomore standout Royce White made an unofficial visit to the University of Minnesota last week, according to Charley Walters, though a hat-tip is in order for a blog I just stumbled onto.

First, this is good news for Tubby and company. White could be part of Minnesota's 2009 class.

It's a good idea, I think, to explain the differences between an official and unofficial visit. After a little research, I found the following explanation. Suffice to say, an "unofficial" visit from a student from Virginia or California would be a bigger indication of the students' interest, as much of the cost of the trip is passed onto the student. Here's the best explanation I found of the differences between an official and unoficial visit.

In general, an unofficial visit is one that is financed by the prospective student while an official visit is one that is financed either entirely or partially by the institution. There are a number of expenses/benefits that if provided by an institution classifies the visit as an official visit. Official visits may not occur until the opening day of classes of the prospect’s senior year and may not exceed 48 hours. An institution may provide only one official visit to its campus for a prospect.

Unofficial Visits
A prospective student may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
Meal: A prospect may receive a single meal provided by the institution in their on-campus student dining facility (the meal may not be provided at a local restaurant if the dining facility is closed unless it is the institution’s policy to do so for all visiting prospective students generally). Meals may not be provided for parents or other family members.
Lodging: Lodging may not be provided to a prospect unless it is the institution’s policy to provide such lodging to all visiting prospective students generally. Note: If an institution's policy is to provide lodging only for visiting high school seniors, then the institution's athletic department may arrange/provide lodging for a senior without considering the visit an official visit (as long as all other guidelines for unofficial visits are met). If the institution does not provide lodging for visiting students, the athletic department may still arrange/provide lodging for a senior, but the visit will then be classified as an official visit. Lodging may only be provided for non-seniors if it is the institution's policy to provide such lodging for all visiting non-seniors in general.
Transportation: Transportation (including to/from the local bus/train station and/or local airport) may not be provided.


Official Visits
A prospect may not make an official visit until the opening day of classes of the prospect’s senior year. An institution may provide only one official visit to its campus for a prospective student. An official visit may not exceed 48 hours.
Meals: An institution may provide meals (not to exceed three per day) to a prospect in the institution’s on-campus student dining facility. If a prospect visits campus during a vacation period and the dining facility is closed, a meal may be provided to a prospect (and the prospect’s parents/legal guardians) in a local restaurant. The meal must be comparable to the type of meal provided in the on-campus dining facility.
Lodging: Lodging may be provided for a prospect. If provided it shall be in a manner similar or comparable to that of student housing (e.g., dorm room).
Transportation: Transportation to/from the local bus/train station and/or local airport is permissible.


Suffice to say, news that an outstate recruit makes an 'unofficial' visit is more telling than a local kid driving to campus. Nonetheless, it's good news that Royce White is intersted in the U

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gopher Baseball Tournament Bound

The University of Minnesota baseball team is off to the 64-team NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. The Gophers earned the #3 seed in the four-team San Diego regional. They will face Cal State Fulerton at 7 p.m. (eastern time) Friday. Fresno State and San Diego round out the bracket.

It's difficult to follow non big-time Gopher sports living across the country. The Star Tribune has a small amout of information here. A complete bracket is available here.

The Gophers join Big Ten Tournament champion Ohio State and regular season champion Michigan as the Big Ten's lone representatives. According to Gophersports.com, the Gophers have played Cal State Fullerton seven times since 2003. The Gophers took two out of three at the Dome in 2003, but dropped two out of three against the Titans the following year. The teams also met in the NCAA Tournament in '04. The Gophers lost that game, to the eventual national champions, 7-1.

Ron Jirsa: A Closer Look

Tubby Smith's top assistant, Ron Jirsa, may have considerable responsibility, but given his track record, let's hope Tubby is making most of the decisions.

To be fair, Ron Jirsa has had some success--just not much without Tubby Smith leading the way. In this column from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which suggests Tubby should have stayed at UGA, where Jirsa succeeded him in the late '90s, Terrence Moore seems to want to forget the Jirsa era.

If Smith stays at Georgia, he saves the Bulldogs from the sorry years of his successor, Ron Jirsa...

Now, the Jirsa era in Georgia really wasn't all that bad. Jirsa racked up two top-five national recruiting classes and, while he lasted just three seasons (1997-99), managed to bring UGA a 20-win season, just the seventh in school history. He went 35-30 at UGA. But Jirsa wasn't able to successfully build on the success of Tubby, who in 1996 took the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 13 years.

After three relatively mundane seasons in Georgia, Jirsa went back to the assistant coaching ranks, helping out now-Clemson heaed coach Oliver Purnell at Dayton. Jirsa has considerable experience on a college bench, with stints as an assistant at Delaware, Virginia Commonwealth, Tulsa, Georgia, Dayton and Gardner-Webb, among other schools. Jirsa got to know Tubby at VCU, and worked under Tubby at Tulsa and Georgia.

After a successful run at Dayton, Marshall came calling for Jirsa. But his time in West Virginia was even less inspiring then his time as the head man in Georgia. In four years, Jirsa compiled a 43-74 record. The few fans the Thundering Herd still had filling its arena were calling for Jirsa's head. Jirsa's Herd racked up 13 wins last year--the most during the Jirsa era. The Register-Herald in West Virginia suggests that Jirsa's teams had myriad issues.
They also had trouble maintaining leads. In a foreshadowing of what was in store the remainder of the year, Marshall’s first loss, 73-69 to Robert Morris, came after the Herd let a 15-point second-half lead get away. A 42-23 halftime edge over GW quickly evaporated in the last 20 minutes.A 40.1 shooting percentage — 29.3 on three-pointers — didn’t help matters.
Jirsa, it seems, has also become known for a style that is the opposite of fan-friendly. He preaches tough-guy basketball, taking charges, diving on the floor. Those are all great traits in a basketball player. But Jirsa, it seems, preached a defensive style of play, perhaps made for the Big Ten, but not for Conference USA or the SEC, where the John Calipari's of the world push up-tempo basketball.

A C-USA conference preview from last year, summed up why Jirsa was let go after another slow-paced year.

Reasons to be excited: Fourth-year coach Ron Jirsa has pledged to play faster this season. That's good, I think, because -- and this is a pretty solid rule for all coaches at all levels -- if you're going to lose it's always better to lose while being entertaining, and playing fast is more entertaining than playing slow.
Reasons to be depressed: The Thundering Herd only averaged 63.9 points in C-USA games last season, and now the top two scorers are gone. In Mark Patton, Marshallalso lost its top rebounder.
How it'll all shake out: In fairness, the upgrade in leagues didn't help. But the truth is that Marshall has won just 30 games in three years under Jirsa. That's an average of 10 per season, and, sadly, there's no guarantee the Thundering Herd will better than that number this season.

The style of play Jirsa was criticized at in West Virginia is the same style Tubby has been criticized for at Kentucky. Now, Tubby has a considerable track record winning games, and is coming to a conference where hard-nosed basketball is a fact-of-life.

There are clear negatives about Jirsa. He's seemingly struggled when outside the watchful eye of Smith and Purnell. But at Georgia he was able to build off Tubby's success on the recruiting front, if not on the court. And as a former head man, the hiring of Jirsa brings more experience to the Gophers bench. Tubby will have a sounding board with big-time college coaching experience. Dick Vitale, loud-mouth basketball guru that he is, makes a good point in pointing out that Jirsa and other former head coaches have signed up to assist this year.
It is a good hire when a smart man brings in a former head coach to be a second lieutenant. These guys are competitive, goal-oriented winners. They will work 24-7 to get the job done.
Had Joel Maturi brought Jirsa in as the Gophers' new head man, Gopher Nation would still be sleeping. As a #2, Jirsa should be serviceable if not solid. While his track record as a head man has been less than impressive, Jirsa has proved that along with Smith, he can win. For Gopher fans hoping for a more up-tempo game, Jirsa won't help that cause. He's a coach in the mold of Tubby. And in the Big 10, a conference I believe is suited for Tubby's style of play, Jirsa may fit in just fine.

This is part two in a series on new Golden Gopher asistant coaches. Last week we looked at Mike Dunbar. Over the next few weeks, we'll look into the backgrounds of Vince Taylor, Saul Smith and Everett Winters.

Happy Memorial Day

PJS has been a little dark the last few days, namely because of a long strange trip through the outskirts of Ohio to attend a wedding. After some mid-day grilling, I'll post the second profile of new Golden Gopher coaches.

Until then, Happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Festus For The Rest Of Us

Festus Ezeli, according to Charley Walters, with a hat-tip to Hoopmasters.com, is interested in coming to play for the Golden Gophers and Tubby Smith. As we're partial to interesting names here at PJS, that was enough to get us excited. But, upon further inspection, Festus could be more than a name.

According to a sports blog for The Record of Stockton, Calif., Festus is raw, but may be the real deal.

Festus Ezeli is a 6-11 freshman who did not play last season. According to JucoJunction.com, Ezeli came to the U.S. from Nigeria a few years ago and graduated from Jesuit High School at age 15. “His upside is off the charts,” Yuba College coach Doug Cornelius told JucoJunction. “He’s very raw still, but is very athletic. He’s the best 17-year-old I’ve ever seen play.”

Um, I like the sound of that, though I'm not going to say Yuba's coach has John Wooden's eye for talent.

There seems to be some discrepency in the reporting on Festus. According to Rivals, Festus is 6-8, which is obviously different than 6-11 as Walters and The Record reported. From Rivals:


The 6-foot-8 high-energy guy has yet to play any ball in college. A potential trip to prep school could be in the works. According to his NorCal Pharaohs coach Jason Barton, Ezeli has heard from Virginia, Oregon State, Northern Arizona, St. Mary's and Fresno State.

I'm unclear on how much eligibility Festus would have. If he's enrolled in junior college, but has not played, does he have four years of eligibility? I would imagine four years, if he is being recruited by ACC and Pac 10 schools. If he's 'raw,' I would imagine schools from the major conferences wouldn't invest if they only ahd two years to bring the talent out.

More on Festus as it comes.

Sigh...

As PJS sees Big Ten football previews focused on Brew's Crew, we plan to bring them to you. The Final Score, a Big Ten blog, predicts a 1-7 Big Ten Finish and an a rebuilding year for the maroon and gold.

Here's a quick take from the season preview, which is thorough and well-done.


At first glance, it looks like Minnesota is going back to the cupcake route that Glen Mason instituted and enjoyed success off of the last few years. However, two of the OOC foes are MAC squads fully capable of beating a rebuilding Big Ten team and North Dakota State was a blocked field goal away from pulling an epic upset in the Homer Dome last fall. I do expect the Gophers to get the Brewster era off on a nice foot, but Big Ten wins are going to be hard to come by. It will be a step back to step forward and Minnesota will be competitive, despite the predicted lapse. The bowl streak ends at five, but teams will know they’ve played Minnesota this year.

I like the last line in the pullquote, 'teams will know they've played Minnesota this year.' It seems Brewster's tenacity is being noticed outside of Minneapolis. That can't hurt. At this point, without having looked in depth at the rest of the Big Ten, I'm not willing to predict the Gophers do as horribly as this perdiction suggests. If they can go 4-0 in the nonconference season, I see no reason why they can't win at least two Big Ten games to go bowling. PJS will preview the Big Ten as we get closer to the season and after the new recruits come to town.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why Is The Big Ten Network A Good Thing Again?

If you haven't read, the Big Ten Network is the best thing to happen to the Big Ten since Jim Wacker was forced out of Minnesota.

No, really, it's going to be great. Ask Marcus Fuller at the Pioneer Press. You'll realize once you read Fuller's article that very little time is actually spent spelling out what the Big Ten Network will be, and considerable time is spent perfecting the art of stenography.

Oh, the Big Ten Network will be good for recruiting you say Mr. Tubby Smith. Well, then, why not report that.


The Big Ten Network, scheduled to launch in August, plans to give more national television exposure to Big Ten Conference teams as well as expand regional coverage for regular-season and conference games. Smith talked at a news conference Tuesday about what kind of impact the new network would have on his program.

"I feel it gives us a lot to sell in the recruiting area when we go into homes and legitimately say that this is something no other conference has," he said. "Say there's a kid in Atlanta now or in California or wherever in the States. Families can see him play. Fans and relatives can see him play. That's going to be a critical piece when we go out there and sell Minnesota basketball."


That would all be great if it was 100 percent accurate. As it is now, Big Ten fans across the country, whether they are in SEC territory or out west, can see every game of every Big Ten team. Fuller doesn't explain this, but all games, it doesn't apppear, will not be available for every fan. Fuller does note, albeit briefly, that the Big Ten Network right now is only affiliated with DirecTV. Those of you on Comcast or some other cable provider--and this goes for Tubby's recruits in Atlanta and California as well--there's no guarantee you are going to get the Big Ten Network.

This isn't to say the Big Ten Network is going to be a Jim Wacker-like failure. The point is, with just a few months until the network launches, many questions are unanswered. It's up to reporters like Fuller to ask the important questions. Thankfully, the Big Ten Network, in it's trip around the conference, stopped in Detroit this week. Detroit Free Press blogger Mark Snyder picks up the slack.


His primary explanation -- that the giant cable companies have bigger issues than simply adding another sports channel -- makes sense. And his plan to place the BTN on a variety of platforms, including video on demand, broadband content as well as the standard television network, is a response to a changing digital world, which complicates the larger negotiations.

But there are other questions. When BTN President Mark Silverman did a Q&A with Hawkeyenation.com, he made a long-winded statement that leads me, and a Michigan University blogger wondering if people living outside of the Big Ten's markets will be able to see our teams--as we can now. It's long. Apologies.


Silverman: The Gameplan package as you mentioned will no longer have the Iowa games. The important thing to understand is that every Iowa home game, and we have no control over away games, the deal the Big Ten Network has incorporates only home games. The second key piece is that games will either be part of the ESPN/ABC family of networks or the BTN. The first three weeks are selected during the summer, then they are done in a six to twelve day advance window. As we go forward, every game played in Iowa City will be owned if you will by ESPN/ABC or the BTN. If that game is aired as a part of the BTN, what I am pledging we will do, is that we will have one BTN game of the week. In addition to those games, we will have a regionalization. Where we can put the Iowa game on in Iowa. If you are not in Iowa, and the game of the week is say, Ohio State-Northwestern, and that is on the BTN, what we are offering to Direct TV, Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom and everyone, are all of these games. So the BTN primary feed will be the game of the week, but in addition to that, we are making these games available as a part of carrying the network. So the cable provider or satellite operator will have the chance to air all of the games. So there will be a crawl on the main saying if you want to view another game, go to this channel.

So, just for kicks, let's pretend that Minnesota and Illinois are kicking off at Noon on a Saturday at the same time that Wisconsin and Michigan are in the BTN Game of the Week. While BTN says it will have a crawl on the screen to alert viewers where to go, what is the liklihood that a cable provider in Oklahoma, Los Angeles or Virginia is going to carry all of these games? Those of us outside Big Ten Country would like to know: Will we be able to see our team every week?

And about those recruits Tubby speaks of. Are they going to be able to watch Minnesota v. Wisconsin hoops on a Saturday at The Barn if Michigan State v. Illinois is the game of the week?

My take on this may be off, and if so, someone give me a heads up. But with the reporting done on the network so far, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mike Dunbar: A Closer Look

Say this about Mike Dunbar: He thought the spread offense was cool before all of the kids wanted a ride. No, Dunbar isn't Bill Walsh reincarnate, but his teams score a lot and college football coaches have taken note.

Dunbar came to Northwestern in 2001, a year after the 'Cats tied for a share of the Big Ten Title. In 2002, Dunbar took control of the offense. The 'Cats weren't able to go bowling, but it wasn't for a lack of moving the football. By 2004, Dunbar had the Big Ten's perennial bottom-feeder ranked 29th nationally in total offense (409.5 yards per game). Last year, after being lured out of Northwestern by Cal coach Jeff Tedford, Dunbar put together the Pac 10's top-ranked scoring offense at 32.8 points per game, while putting up more than 400 yards per game again.

Need more proof Dunbar knows offense? After serving as offensive coordinator at Toledo, Dunbar was promoted to assistant head coach in 1995. The MAC squad ended the season ranked nationally and set 21 offensive school records, according to Northwestern University.

You can argue, though I think Urban Meyer and exceptional talent had something to do with it, that Northwestern's spread offense laid the blueprint for the defending national champs.


"When we started in 2000, there were three or four teams using it," NU offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar said. "Now everybody's got some element of it." ...

There are innovators in football, but plagiarists work just as well.

When coaches see something they want to apply to their offense, they go straight to the source to see how it works. ... Florida coach Urban Meyer and Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon both attended NU's spring practices to learn its offense. The pair coached Bowling Green at the time with Meyer as head coach
and Brandon as one of his assistants.


"They came, spent two or three days and they got everything we have," [Northwestern's head coach said at the time]. "We gave them our offense.


But Dunbar's resume is not without a blemish. His stint in Cali was too brief not to over look. Tedford and Dunbar said all of the right things when Brewster brought the spread guru to Minnesota, but the numbers and press clipings suggest Tedford and Dunbar couldn't make their philosophies mesh. While the Golden Bears had the top offense in the Pac 10, the offense sputtered down the stretch, according to the Oakland Tribune.

The Bears bogged down offensively down the stretch. In the final three regular-season games against Arizona, USC and Stanford, the Bears scored a combined three offensive touchdowns.

The sluggish offense seemed to be a byproduct of two diverging styles. While it was widely reported that Tedford brought in Dunbar to add another element to his more traditional offense, in the end, the two coaches couldn't see completely eye-to-eye. "Our goal was to meld the two concepts and not to be solely a spread team," Tedford told the Oakland Tribune. "I think he is of the mind to be 100 percent in the spread. He has had a lot of success doing that." Tedford liked the spread, but wasn't in love with it like Dunbar. Tedford continued:

"We're always going to have some aspect of two backs, with tight ends involved," he said. "I liked what we were doing with the spread, and we're going to continue to do some. But we're never going to do it every down."

This should tell Golden Gopher fans a couple things. First, should Brewster do as he has suggested, and relinquish all play calling to Dunbar, the Gophers should eventually be a high-powered offense. But it won't be anything like your Glen Mason, run it down your throat offenses. The tight end productivity that has helped the Gophers should fall by the wayside. Dunbar won't abandon the run, not even close, but he'll accomplish running yards by spreading the defense across the 53-yard-wide field. The Gophers won't play smash mouth, they'll explot mismatches with slower linebackers.

That all sounds splendid, if Dunbar's Golden Gophers had the personnel to make it happen. Leaving out the troublesome quarterback position, which will be addressed in depth, probably ad nauseum in the future, the Gophers have shockingly poor depth at wide receiver, perhaps the position most important to make Dunbar's spread offense thrive. USA Today's 2007 Gopher preview noticed the same thing.

Perhaps the greater challenge for new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, whose 2005 Northwestern offense averaged 500.3 yards per game, is rounding up enough receivers to run the spread. There are plenty of question marks after Ernie Wheelwright and Eric Decker.

Question marks is being kind. While Decker reportedly impressed during the team's spring game, both he and Wheelwright caught just 26 balls last season. Logan Payne and Matt Spaeth led the team in receptions with 59 and 47 respectivley. The rest of the receiving corps, include JUCO transfer Marc Cheatham, Lakeville sophmore Andy Metz, Plainview Junior Michael Kasten, sophomore Ben Kuznia, sophomore Mike Chambers and Rochester native Marcus Sherels. Incoming freshman Tray Herndon and Shane Potter don't project as immediate impact players.

Aside from Wheelright and Decker, Gopher receivers caught 19 balls last season--all of them landing in the hands of Chambers.

Gopher fans may come to appreciate Mike Dunbar's spread offense, but these Gophers are built for Glen Mason-style stuff-it-down-your-throat football.

All of this will be a moot point, however, when some kid named Michael Floyd decides to don maroon and gold.

This was the first in five--maybe six depending on if Tubby ever hires a recruiting coordinator/dir. of basketball operations--profiles of new Gopher assistant coaches. Coming soon: Defensive Coordinator Everett Winters and hoops assistants Ron Jirsa, Vince Taylor and some guy named Saul Smith.

No To Nepotism, Saving Saul For Last

Perhaps the best part of a coaching change is the infusion of new blood. Much was written about how Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster should consider keeping (insert coach's name here who some reporter believed had good relations with the locals, despite not being able to get the top talent to stay here), but they wisely decided to start fresh

Along with our two new fearless leaders, Gopher fans have spread offense architect Mike Dunbar, a respected defensive coordinator in Everett Winters, a former 20-game winner at a mid-major in Ron Jirsa, Rick Pitno's former recruiting guru and, um, Saul Smith.

I'm not really a fan of that whole nepotism thing, so I'll save a write-up on Saul for last.

Later tonight/tomorrow we'll look at the track record of Mike Dunbar and ask whether the Gophers have the personnel for the spread offense and why it was one season and done at Cal.

Until then, check out Gopher Nation, for a thorough run down of Tubby's recruiting targets. Or, for baseball fans, check out some of the comments on this Star Tribune blog. Crazy how Ron Gardenhire can win 4 division titles in 5 years but still fans are calling for his head.

Ski-U-Mah

It's going to be great when maroon and gold followers can say that the coach for the Super Bowl and NBA champions are from our alma mater--though LeBron and the Cavs might have something to say about that.

I've been looking and can't seem to find if that has ever happened before.

Ski-U-Mah!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tubby On The Trail

Tubby Smith may not get all of the recruits he is targeting, but thank goodness he is aiming high.

We've already learned he is pursuing a basketball legend's son in Ralph Sampson III. We know he's after Draymond Green, even though the rumors that Tubby would offer his high school coach a job haven't materialized. Both are class of 2008 prospects. Sampson is ranked as just a 3-star forward/center by Rivals, though having a Ralph Sampson on your side can't really hurt. Green is a 4-star power forward, who had previously committed to Tubby at Kentucky.

And it's been widely reported that Tubby is getting to know the two best--unsigned--local recruits for the class of 2009. One of them, Royce White, a small forward, is a five-star, top-40 player in the class of 2009, according to Rivals. The other, Rodney Williams, is a 6-5, 4-star standout.

Now, according to Gopher Illustrated (subscription), Tubby is on the trail of Stan Simpson (pictured above), a 4-star, top 100 power forward prospect being recruited by Georgia Tech, Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisville and others. Simpson is a 6-8, 220 pound big man from Chicago.

I had concerns that Tubby wouldn't have the drive to recruit as hard as he'll need to in order to right the Gophers' ship. But it seems he is proving me wrong. Now the test will be if he can convince stars like Green, Simpson and a player with a pedigree like Sampson to come to the Twin Cities.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's Nice To Dream About

Updating a previous item, Tim Brewster agrees his team's nonconference schedule doesn't do much for the program Glen Mason rose to mediocrity. Senile Sid has the confirmation.

"I think it's very, very important for us in recruiting, to get to where we want to get, that we play a marquee opponent in a nonconference game, a nationally televised game," he said. "I'd like to play a Texas, I'd like to play UCLA, I'd like to play a big-time opponent in a nonconference game. I don't want to play three or four big-time opponents, but I think that young kids -- and coach Bobby Bowden from Florida State told me this awhile ago -- when they really turned the corner at Florida State was when they really upgraded their nonconference schedule. ... So that's certainly something that we are in the process of addressing and I am looking forward to playing a very, very outstanding nonconference schedule."

A good follow-up question for Sidney could have been: Did you ask Coach Bowden about an autumn trip to Tallahassee?

Orlando, You're Not In Kentucky Anymore Vol. 1, P.1

Would-be Gophers basketball savior Orlando "Tubby" Smith has received a hero's welcome in the Twin Cities. Deservedly so. To all Gopher fans assuming Tubby's ring and big-name value will bring the top recruits to the Land of Lakes: It's just not that simple.

Perhaps this is an extreme analogy, but it proves a point. Tubby, like every other big-time college coach, was in hot pursuit of West Virginia's Patrick Patterson, a mega recruit that could be a one-and-done athlete like Greg Oden. Patterson had all but signed with Tubby at Kentucky before the rabid fanbase in the bluegrass state ran our savior off.

Patterson and Houston point guard Jai Lucas were expected to sign with Tubby in Kentucky. A couple months later, both have signed--neither with Tubby. Lucas went to Florida, where playing time will be availalble. Patterson ended up signing with Kentucky and Billy Gillespie, a man with no national championship on his resume and a track record only of rebuilding programs, not winning big. Tubby tried, according to the Lexington Herald Leader, to lure Patterson to Minny.

As for Patterson's recruitment, it had plenty of downs and ups and dizzying spins. A big dip came when former UK Coach Tubby Smith came to feel unwanted and left for Minnesota. "I was a little upset with what happened to Tubby," Tywanna Patterson, the player's mother, said.

Then Smith called the Pattersons aweek ago.

"Just to say hello, how are you doing" said Tywanna, who added a topic Smith brought up. "You know, it's warm here in Minnesota, and I could sure use Patrick. From his voice, you could tell that he missed us."

The December wind-chill in Kentucky compared to Minnesota aside, Tubby is going to need more than his name to turn around the sunken Gophers ship.

Reason #54 Why The Thuggish NBA Is Dead To Me


Robert Horry attacks Steve Nash. The Spurs are rewarded and win a series against an otherwise exciting Suns squad.


Reasons #1-10 dealt with other thuggery, namely court side brawls and prima donnas.


Reasons #11-53 deal with Kevin McHale's incompetence.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gossip Maven


My daily tour through the 'Internets' has pit stops for sports--real or fantasy--politics, news and mostly-naked young celebrities.

From time to time, in my daily stop at the Star Tribune, I'll see that their columnist dubbed the 'Gossip Maven' has written somethign that might make for a decent time killer at work. Usually I regret clicking on CJ. But in two stops at Minnesota's version of Wonkette this week I had completely different reactions.

The first was priceless.

Titled Mellencamp hurts McHale so good with smokin' comment, CJ picks up on a throw-away comment by performer John Mellencamp in a Blender.com interview that leaves a reader to believe he used to hit the bong with Wolves GM Keving McHale. CJ quotes Mellencamp from Blender:
I've known Larry Bird since we were kids. When he was on the Celtics and I was playing in Boston he and Kevin McHale would come to my dressing room after the show and smoke me under the table.
Now, that comment alone is completely priceless. So, being the pesky gossip maven she likely is, CJ sought out McHale for a clarification. She got a public relations lackey, who said McHale smoked cigars and Larry Legend smoked cigarettes. That certainly explains Mellencamp's 'smoke me under the table comment.' Um, no.

The last thing McHale needs is for his detractors in the Twin Cities to get wind of the possibility he was-and then presumably maybe currently is-a stoner. Too late. KFAN radio's Dan Barreiro is on the prowl. More from CJ:

KFAN's Dan Barreiro told me he devoted about three minutes of his Thursday show to "the Mellencamp throw-away quote. I wasn't using it to take any kind of moral stance on McHale. For me it was [an opportunity to take this] shot: 'If this is true, this might explain a series of spectacularly bad management decision years later.' "

Ndudi Ebi comes to mind. So does cheating and Joe Smith.

Thursday evening, after Barreiro had signed off his radio show, a reportedly screaming McHale "called me on my cell. First time we've had any kind of conversation in years," said Dan. And by years, Barreiro said, near as he can recall the last time McHale tracked down Dan at home was during the J.R. Rider era. "I've been hard on him, for some time so I don't expect him to be warm and bubbly to me," said Barriero.


According to Barreiro, McHale "called and said You can't go on the air and say I'm breaking the law and he's just screaming. Eventually I got him to calm down enough to [explain what was said on the radio]. I did offer, 'You're upset. Come on the show, I'll let you talk about it as long as you want. Or I'll bring up your concerns, shall we say.' "

I think we can all agree that is priceless.

Then, today we have another CJ effort, this time one that swings and misses. Titled U athletic department staffer seems mighty inept handling good PR, CJ takes out her wrath, in a completely unamusing way, on some random University of Minnesota athletic department public relations flak. CJ writes that she was slated to write a story that was "sure to make you say Awwww."

CJ reports she asked this PR guy for verification that Tubby Smith was on a plane last Sunday. She was trying to verify a story some unnamed source gave her that the old ball coach helped out a woman and her child. It was going to be positive pub. The public relations flaks should jump when a gossip maven calls. In this case, communications guy Kyle Couglin did not.

"Here's the thing," Coughlin said. "I've already talked to him a couple different times today. I'm going to stop bothering him now. This is something that isn't really pressing. If I call him with this he's going to look at me and go Why are you calling me with this?"


Since Coughlin didn't seem to know his job, I reminded him that he was calling Smith because a media member had made a request for information. When media are wrong, I'm guessing Coughlin is one of those guys who stands around talking about how irresponsible we are.


"I'm trying to do the best I can for you. We are talking about probably the busiest
man in Minnesota," said Coughlin, whose title should be senior associate athletic communications obstructionist. Stonewaller for short. I asked Coughlin to call the next day. He didn't
.

Strike one, Mr. Coughlin. But there's more. During a previous event, CJ , doing that hard-hitting journalism she is known for, wanted to write about the suit Tubby was wearing. Again, Coughlin wasn't helpful.

What kind of suit was Smith wearing for his Williams Arena debut, I asked Coughlin that day.

"Pinstripes," said Coughlin, sounding uncertain. "Gray pinstripe."

Very good. But that question is usually an inquiry into the label.

"I have no idea," Coughlin replied.

A few minutes later, I asked Coughlin, who was mainly escorting Smith from one corner of Williams Arena to another for sit-downs with local TV stations, if he had found out what kind of suit Smith was wearing.

"No, I have not asked," Coughlin said. "I don't think I should open up Tubby's suit and look on the inside."

When Smith came near me I asked him to open up his suit.

"Oxxford," Smith said off the top of his head, as Coughlin ventured a guess that it was an Armani.

Oxxford it was. "Oxxford is big time," said Smith, who seemed to like answering that question. "Huge. Probably the best suit ."
Now, sure, this Coughlin character sounds like a weenie. I'll give you that, CJ. But maybe, just maybe, Coughlin had more pressing things on his mind than what the label said under Tubby's coat. Surely a certain segment of the population would have an interest in the compelling 'Tubby helps lady in airplane' and 'Tubby wears expensive suit' stories. Smith is new in town. Perhaps Coughlin doesn't feel comfortable askign the multi-millon dollar savior of Minnesota basketball about his clothing. Perhaps, Coughlin's job tyipcally requires sports reltaed inquiries.

CJ? Love her? Hate her? I know the feeling.

PJS

This blog was created to cover and comment on Minnesota Golden Gopher athletics, but because the world doesn't center around college sports-seriously folks in Lexington, KY, it doesn't-items from other sports, news, politics and the media may also find their way onto the pages of PJS.

I am a political journalist by trade, living out on the East Coast. So, this adventure is an escape for me of sorts.

It will give me a chance to get my frustration about Gopher sports out without bombarding Joel Maturi with emails. Amazingly, he replies. Dan Monson did too, and frankly, I wasn't too nice to him.

Anyway, this is just fair warning that this site may stray from the maroon and gold should PJS or future contributors desire to stray from Gopher sports.

Florida Atlantic, Not International.....Sheesh

A quick glance at the 2007 Golden Gophers football schedule leaves much to be desired. To be fair to Brew's Crew, the former administration—known as the Mediocre Masons—are to blame.

The conference schedule is what it is. And while the Big Ten has went away from a balanced schedule, Gopher fans can't do much complaining about facing Ohio State, Penn State and traditional rivals Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.

What we can complain about is the nonconference schedule. The highlight, to this observer, is playing in Dolphins Stadium. Any chance to revel in Daunte Culpepper's failures is worthwhile. But it's not like the Gophers are facing Miami, Florida State or even Daunte's alma mater, Central Florida. Nope, our rodents are heading south to play Flordia Atlantic. This would steer some viewers away from an Ultimate Fighting Championship event had it been against Florida International of brawl with Miami U. fame.

Two weeks earlier, during the Gophers' home opener, as the perhaps excited fan base feeds off the momentum that Tim Brewster has brought to the team, our rodents face none other than perennial BCS contender Bowling Green. In week two at the dome, the maroon and gold face another team that is sure to get Gopher Nation off its collective rear ends: Miami ..... of Ohio.

Yawn.....

Look forward to 2008, you say?

A to be determined MAC opponent opens the season at the dome. A week later, the Brew Crew will renew our longstanding rivalary Bowling Green. But wait, Gopher fans, it gets better. To round out the 2008 nonconference grind, our lads will face always-tough Montana State before rounding out the home-and-home with Florida Atlantic.

In 2009, the first season at TCF Bank Stadium, and presumably the first season Brew's Crew can be credited or blamed for the nonconference schedule, our rodents will host California. Decent, I suppose. Then again, the Gophers have also scheduled a mid-November tilt with border rival .... North Dakota State. For a second I thought I had called up the men's hockey schedule. Alas, I was wrong.

As a die hard Gopher fan who admittedly has suffered from waning interest in Gopher football—based almost solely on lackluster performances and poor coaching (note: punting mishap against Wisconsin, Texas Tech embarrassment etc....)—it would be nice if Brewster would schedule some intriguing opponents. It's been reported he has tried to convince Notre Dame to open the season in TCF Stadium. That isn't happening. Keep trying, Tim.

The out years of the football schedule show some improvement. The lads will face Colorodo and Washington St and Oregon St. But those tilts are a half-decade or more down the road.

For Brewster to really turn a bored Gopher football fanbase into a rabid one headed for Pasadena, we need to see more BCS schools on the schedule, less second-tier Ohio teams and please, please, no teams from North Dakota or Montana. And if we're going to schedule an also-ran Florida school, can we at least make it the brawlers from International instead of the Owls of FAU?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Drive Through Kentucky


It's hard to really understand hot-bed basketball until you've seen it up close and personal. As a northerner who has moved east--not quite south enough to be amid the crazies in North Carolina--it's hard to fathom the tenacity that fans in certain areas aim toward their respective college sports teams.

In Minnesota, we live and die with the Vikings. We lament Joe Mauer's bum calf and Francisco Liriano's elbow. We're one of 3 states that still care about the National Hockey League.

Kentucky could care less. I've known many rabid sports fans, but nothing came close to what I witnessed, or heard rather, via talk radio on a recent drive through the bluegrass state. The commonwealth, to be nice, is insane.

It was local talk radio, much like the boys on KFAN radio, but in Kentucky, there was no smooth transition from boxscores to politics. It was all college basketball all the time. Never mind that the Lousiville Cardinals are fresh off their first Orange Bowl win in school history. Never mind that the state's incumbent governor is embroiled in controversy and being challenged by all sides by Republicans and Democrats for his seat (where an election is just months away).

Instead, the hosts, former Louisville coaching great Denny Crum, and former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall spent hours taking calls from fans. The topic? Basketball recruting.

Would UK get West Virginia prep standout Patrick Patterson? We now know that answer is yes. Why did Jai Lucas choose the Florida Gators over the Kentucky Wildcats? (Unfortunately there was no discussion of how he passed up a chance to come to Minny!). Some fans were irate. How could new UK coach Billy Gillespie let Jai Lucas escape the Wildcat death grip? Others took turns bashing two players who had already committed to UK. Callers took pot shots at other prep athletes who decided to go to other schools.

It's because of this, I suppose, that UK basketball is among the most coveted coaching jobs in the country. And as a rabid college basketball fan, and a sometimes cranky Gophers basketball fan, this drive through the commonwealth of basketball frenzies made me wonder: Do I really want Tubby Smith to turn the Gophers into a perennial national power? I can't answer that any other way but yes.

But what I don't want is a day where I'm so spoiled by Gopher success that I turn my basketball passion into rage aimed at prep athletes. And more than anything, I don't want sports talk radio in Minnesota (or out East here) to turn into an incessant gab-fest aimed at reading the minds of prep athletes.

KU Fans started numerous blogs and Web sites made specifically to bash Tubby. A nice photoshop piece is pictured above. While I admire that enthusiasm, I promise to never run a coach out of town that wins my alma mater a national title.

A Recruiting Guru?

LIke most every other Minnesota sports fan, I take what Charley Walters writes with a grain of salt. I don't completely write it off like I would if Sid Hartman wrote it, but Charley is prone to, well, making shit up. Nonetheless, I found this blurb today in his column of blurbs to be interesting.

People in the know say Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith has hired a big-time recruiter who he'll announce Friday. Minnesota administrators have been doing background checks on the recruiter this week, and if all goes well, he'll be highly paid, too, with a deal expected to be worth at least $175,000 annually.

"He's one of the best in the business and gives Minnesota instant recruiting credibility," one insider said Wednesday. "Minnesota will not get out-recruited in the Midwest."


I'm assuming that the hiring of Vince Taylor, as reported today by the PiPress and STrib, which are linked to on the right sidebar, is not the position Walters is referring to. Walters is likely referring to the Director of Basketball Operations position that is still vacant.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. If Charley's birdie is correct, Tubby will have taken another step in demonstrating to Gopher Nation that he indeed has something to prove.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tubby's First Recruit


Nate Garth, a 6-foot-4 junior point guard from Dallas' Woodrow Wilson High School offered Gophers coach Tubby Smith an oral commitment Tuesday according to published reports.

According to the Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller, Garth was being recruited by California, Mississippi and Santa Clara, among others. Fuller also suggests that Florida and Texas A&M have shown interest. That might be a little stretch for what Rivals and Scout recruiting services suggest is a three-star point guard.

For a Gophers team that has struggled most mightily at the guard position in recent years, the oral commitment is good news. But with the news that Garth has decided to make Minnesota home, it shouldn't go without mention that Tubby couldn't convince McDonald's All-American Jai Lucas, son of former NBAer Jerry Lucas, to come north. Smith had recruited Lucas hard at Kentucky and was poised to bring the young five-star guard to the commonwealth of Kentucky before he left the university. Instead, Lucas will attend the two-time national champion Florida Gators.

While Garth won't put on a jersey until 2008, if at all--oral commitments are non-binding--the discussion shouldn't center around not getting Lucas. While local writers like Sid Hartman and Charley Walters liked to throw out that idea, it probably wasn't likely. What the Gophers are getting, though, is what many accounts suggest is a high-quality point guard.

Garth, who played in the Sacramento area before moving to Texas, was thought to be headed to the California Golden Bears. The Bears' Rivals.com service, Bear Territory, gushed over Garth before he made the annoucement Tuesday he would attend Minnesota.

Garth's game is extremely smooth. Though he's been a distributor while playing with the likes of Jennings, Simpkins (two potential 5-star big men in the 2008 class), plus 5-star small forward LSU signee Anthony Randolph at Wilson this past season, he has a solid three-point stroke that's picture perfect. He also has a knack for driving and dishing, plus an advanced feel for running in the open court.


Defensively, he's still improving on his overall aggressiveness. He acknowledges that he wants to rebound better, and put more pressure on his opponents.


"I know I've improved in a lot of areas, but I definitely want to get better at ball pressure," Garth said. "I'm quicker on my feet than I was before, and I still get some steals. But I know I can improve defensively."


According to the Minnesota perodicals, Smith seems unlikely to sign another player to help out this season. While that make for a long 2007-08 campaign, that will leave 5 scholarships available for the following season. If Garth does in fact come to town, he will join Rosemount, Minn. center Andrew Brommer, who offered an oral commitment to former Gophers coach Dan Monson. According to the Pioneer Press report, Smith is after another Texas guard, this time Willie Warren, a 4-star guard, and Ralph Sampson III, son of the former Virginia star.

The Pioneer Press article, which featured substantially more information than our friends at the Star Tribune, offered a positive review from hoopmasters.com.

"He's really a solid player. He can shoot the ball and set up people real well. In a class with not a lot of depth at point guard, it's a good get for Minnesota. He's a very good passer but just needs to get stronger, like most high school players."

Another item to point out here: Garth never even visited Minnesota. Simply, he wanted to play for Tubby. The Gophers coach became familiar with Garth while at Kentucky, but according to the PiPress, backed off a bit as the Wildcats made a hard run at Lucas.

"When [Tubby] went to Minnesota and saw the point guard situation there, he said he had to have me. He sounded just as excited as me," Garth said. "I know what Tubby is capable of and what he can do for a program. No knock on Dan Monson, but Tubby's going to get high major players. With the work ethic he has, he's going to turn things around quickly."


Time will only tell if Garth is right. But what I'd like to see is a Tubby version of a Fab-Five for 2008-09. We shall see.

Golden Gopher Nation: A New Beginning


As a University of Minnesota grad, it's been quite some time since it's been OK to get excited about Gopher football and basketball. Sure, the hockey team has been consistently excellent since Don Lucia took control. But for those of us who don't live and breathe hockey, and let's face it, it's hoops and football that bring in the revenue, the hiring of Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster have gone a long way toward breathing life into a hungry fan base.

Now, it's time to watch and monitor the progress. For now, it's time to sit back and trust Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster. But there are certainly questions. Can Brewster go from a position coach in the NFL to a head coach for a Big Ten school? While he certainly seems to be saying the right things, that doesn't mean he can deliver on the sidelines or in recruits' living rooms. For Tubby, his downfall in Lexington, according to the rabid locals, was recruiting. Can he do better in Minny than Dan Monson? I think some random English Lit professor at UofM could do better than Monson. But, in all seriousness, will he be able to get high-level recruits from out-of-state choose Minny and will he be able to keep the state's top talent home instead of heading east to Madison?

For now, we can only sit back and hope Joel Maturi made the right choice with a no-name, albeit high-energy coach in Brewster and a big-name coach, perhaps on the downside of his career, in Tubby.