Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve Thoughts

I started this blog in May as a hobby and one of my closest friends scoffed, suggesting I'd maintain the blog for a couple months before boredom set in. Well, I'm still here and am happy to say that the month of December has seen the highest amount of traffic yet (probably has something to do with Tubby Smith's 10-2 start).

So, as I sit here waiting for the alcohol to start flowing on New Year's Eve, I want to thank those of you who have made this little Internet outpost a fun--if small--community. It's been a fun year, from picking on Tim Brewster to getting overly excited about Tubby Smith's Gophers. We've had arguments--about Saul Smith and Brewster to the future of Williams Arena. And we've had laughs as well. But when we've disagreed, most of the time it's been productive and constructive. I want to thank all of you for these conversations.

Moving forward, I'm pleased that Joe Gigliotti has decided to contribute hockey coverage to PJS. Many of you requested some Gopher puck coverage in e-mails and I'm pleased Joe is stepping up to the plate. And I'm in the process of adding other features to the site. For now, those are long-term projects and the challenge of keeping this site fresh and updated is enough for now. But if there is something you'd like to see, don't hesitate to send me an email.

As 2008 begins, I want to thank ya'll for reading, commenting and e-mailing. And I hope that everyone has a healthy and happy 2008. Most of all, I hope Tim Brewster grabs his first Big Ten win in the year to come.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tubby's Gophers Brought Down To Size

For the second time this season, the University of Minnesota men's basketball team faced an athletically-superior opponent. For the second time this season, the Gophers were virtually run out of that team's gym.

The first measuring-stick game came against the Seminoles of Florida State and ended with a 75-61 loss. Sunday night in the finale of the Duel in the Desert Classic, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels ran the Gophers out of the Thomas and Mack Center from the opening tip. The Rebels grabbed a quick 9-0 lead and never looked back en route to an 81-64 win.

The Seminoles and Rebels have one thing in common: athletic guards who can beat Minnesota's pressure defense, fill the basket from beyond the arc and take our less athletic defenders off the dribble. In both games the Gophers tried for a period to run with the opposition, only to find that the other team had better athletes to run-and-gun. When the Gophers (10-2) tried to slow things down against the Rebels and Seminoles, our guards were unable to effectively get the team into its offensive sets.

When the Gophers have dominated cupcakes this season, they've done so by forcing a large number of turnovers and scoring easy transition baskets. Against FSU, the Gophers lost the turnover battle 18-16. Those numbers weren't lopsided Sunday night, but UNLV had a 14-11 advantage. In both of these games, offense didn't come easy for the Gophers.

This is partially because the talent level on the Gophers is simply less than UNLV or Florida State. UNLV (10-3) was a Sweet 16 team last season and is led by outstanding junior guard Wink Adams. He was the aggressor Sunday night, leading the rebels with 20 points, including 8-of-9 from the charity stripe, and racked up 7 assists to zero turnovers. Adams' back court mate Curtis Terry did quite a bit of damage on his own, going 4-for-6 from three for 14 points. Make no mistake, UNLV is a good team and they came to play Sunday night.

This loss shouldn't cause anyone to be any less excited about the Big Ten season. The conference, for the most part, is weak. Illinois lost Sunday to Tennessee Tech. After Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and maybe Ohio State, there isn't a team in the conference I don't think the Gophers can beat. The Gophers can be an upper-half Big Ten team. No one should have been having delusions of Final Four appearances before Sunday night and likewise we shouldn't take the throttling from UNLV and be any less inclined to sell out Williams Arena as the Big Ten season gets ready to begin in earnest.

Some other general thoughts from the loss at UNLV:

** As much as I preach that starting lineups aren't really that important, the Gophers would have benefited tonight had Blake Hoffarber been in the starting lineup as opposed to Jamal Abu-Shamala. Against teams like UNLV the Gophers need as many people on the floor who can A) score and B) handle the basketball. Hoffarber can do both better than Abu-Shamala. The freshman did see five more minutes on the floor against UNLV than Abu-Shamala. Additionally, the Gophers can apply pressure more effectively and handle opponents' pressure more easily when Hoffarber is on the floor instead of Abu-Shamala.

** Sticking with the lineups ... I know Tubby Smith is trying to get Lawrence McKenzie accustomed to the point guard spot. But I still feel our best lineup would be with Al Nolen at point, McKenzie at off-guard, Blake Hoffarber at the three spot and Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson underneath. McKenzie is one of two multi-threat scoring options on the team (the other being Coleman). Making McKenzie a distributor first would seem to be wasting what he does best: Score. I understand why Tubby is playing him at point, and it's hard to argue with it. The Gophers have one true point guard on the roster in Nolen, a freshman. McKenzie needs to take up minutes at the point, but in doing so the Gophers sacrifice his much-needed offense.

** The Gophers have two players who can handle the ball in pressure: Lawrence McKenzie and Al Nolen. This is going to hurt the Gophers all season against teams with quick guards. It'd be nice to see Lawrence Westbrook progress in this department.

** Dan Coleman led the Gophers again offensively, but he still has a bad tendency of fading away on most any interior shot. While leading the Gophers with 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting, Coleman didn't go to the line once. Instead of taking repeated fade away jumpers, it would be nice to see Coleman take a nice power dribble once in awhile and take the ball to the basket. He's taken small steps in this department, but can still be much more aggressive.

** Spencer Tollackson shot 2-for-7 from the free throw line. Yuck. Tollackson only recorded 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing just one rebound. In comparison, Jon Williams recorded 17 minutes and pulled down 4 rebounds.

The full boxscore for the game is here.

Up Next: The Gophers have five days to prepare for what will be one of their tougher road tests all season when they head to East Lansing for a meeting with Tom Izzo and the Spartans. If the Gophers are competitive next Saturday, that will show signs of progress against quality opponents.

It Wasn't You, Tubby, It Was Me

Third Saturday In Blogtober brings us a good laugh this Sunday morning. ...

“You’ve reached the voicemail of Tubby Smith. Please leave a message.”

Hey, Tubby…it’s a Kentucky. I just wanted to…you know, see how you’ve been. So how’s it going? Minnesota treating you well? I hear things are good for you now and I just wanted you to know I’m happy for you. I really am. Ten and one? That’s just…well, that’s just great. Good for you.

...

Anyway, I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call. And don’t worry about Billy. That was never that serious. Not like we were. Oh…gotta go. Billy’s home and he’s not too happy. Must have lost to San Diego.


Read the rest here.

I didn't catch much of the Gophers 10th win of the year last night against Kennesaw State. Marcus Fuller has you covered here with a good recap. The Gophers much-anticipated tilt with UNLV begins tonight at 7 p.m. eastern time. There is a decent preview of the UNLV contest here. If you missed it, I previewed the Duel in the Desert tournament here, with a look at UNLV.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Intro, A Not So "Classic" Performance

Greetings, readers!

My name is Joe Gigliotti. I have been given the oppurtunity to write about the Minnesota Golden Gophers Men's Hockey Team on this blog. I hope everyone finds my posts both insightful and entertaining! I'm happy to be a part of PJS!

Well, on Saturday evening, the Golden Gopher male hockey squad began their participation in the annual Dodge Holiday Classic at Mariucci Arena. The opponent for the Maroon and Gold for the night was the RIT Tigers, a school that's not exactly famous for their hockey. In turn, the Gophers hold one of the richest histories when it comes to college hockey. It was a battle of a school known for its hockey, against a school that's known for its technological abilities.

Despite grabbing a first period lead, the Minnesota Golden Gophers found themselves having to constantly make comeback after comeback in this Saturday evening affair against RIT. After going into the third period tied at 3, the unknown RIT Tigers grabbed a 4-3 lead exactly nine minutes into the final period, putting the Gophers away for good.

Breck High School product and Phoenix Coyote draft pick Blake Wheeler got the Maroon and Gold off on the right foot with a tally with just under eight minutes to go in the first period of play.

However, RIT came out roaring in the second period, beating Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee twice before the five minute mark of the middle period of play.

After the quick pair of Tiger goals, Minnesota defenseman R.J. Anderson fired back with a marker of his own, just a little over two minutes after the RIT goals. The R.J. score was his third of the season.

In the later portion of the hockey game, the teams continued their "anything you can do I can do better" theme as the two schools traded off in scoring goals once again. RIT's Matt Smith shot and scored for his ninth goal of the year, followed by Jay Barriball scoring for Minnesota 16:27 into the second.

Finally, as the mid-way point of the thid period neared, RIT's Matt Smith struck once again, beating Jeff Frazee to give his squad a 4-3 lead, a lead that they would hang onto for the rest of the Satuday night clash.

With the loss, the Gophers have to now settle for participation in the third place game of the Dodge Holiday Classic. The struggling squad will battle it out with the Air Force Falcons, a team that nearly tripped up Minnesota in the NCAA's last season. The victorious Tigers will go head-to-head with the 7-4-5 Boston College Eagles for the Dodge Holiday Classic title. The Eagles advanced to the championship match with a convincing 8-2 win over the previously mentioned Falcons earlier Satuday.

The Gophers now stand at a 9-9-1 record for the year. While this team wasn't expected to dominate this season, one didn't think that they would be sitting at a mediocre .500 record at the mid-way point of the season.

Sure, Erik Johnson and Alex Goligoski went on to bigger (and arguably better) things, but a solid group of players were still present; a group that included Blake Wheeler, Ben Gordon, Jay Barriball, and a goaltender who certainly got his feet wet before this year, Jeff Frazee. Aside from Wheeler having a "pretty good" season, the rest of these guys, along with the rest of the team, haven't produced enough to call themselves contenders in the WCHA. Jeff Frazee can't be sitting at a dismal 6-7-0 record while he only has a freshman netminder in Alex Kangas behind him. Granted, Kangas has had his amazing moments and games, but he is still only 3-2-1 on the season as well. He's been good, but not out-of-this-world, and no one expected him to be, either. Frazee has to step up and find some consistency in his game. Jeff has to let his experience be shown in the crease so Kangas doesn't end up on the big stage so early in his collegiate career.

Despite all of this, though, the Gophs certainly weren't handed the greatest deck of cards through the first half of the season either. As mentioned above, Goligoski and Johnson left (along with Jimmy O'Brien), Vannelli and Briggs graduated, Stoa gets knocked out in the second game of the season against Michigan, Okposo bails out of nowhere, and Mikey Carman couldn't play for the first half the '07-'08 campaign. It should also be noted that Minnesota was without a few of its key components tonight (and will be without them tomorrow as well) due to their World Junior Championships participation).

So, while the Minny-Soda Gophs certainly have had a lot of punches to the gut this year, they've still had the tools to make some noise in the first half of this college hockey season. Unfortuately, that hasn't happened quite yet.

The Maroon and Gold will try to right the ship on Sunday evening against Air Force at Mariucci. It seems too early to call this contest a must win, but a win tomorrow night would be a tremendous stepping stone for Minnesota. After this weekend, the Gophs will play a pair against the Wayne State Warriors next Friday and Saturday, another opponent that Minnesota is fully capable of beating. A win against Air Force would put the confidence back in the Gophers and the faith back in the theory that they can easily beat Wayne State if they play like they're capable of playing.

The tests get bigger in less that two weeks as Minnesota begins a series with the dangerous St. Cloud State Huskies, a series that will see each team have a home game as the clash of these two Minnesota universities will be a home-and-home set.

That's all I wrote,

Joe Gigliotti

Saturday Links: Wisconsin, Kentucky, RSIII

Wisconsin good. Kentucky really bad.

** If you missed it, Kentucky lost Saturday to the University of San Diego. Not San Diego State. No, the Toreros of USD. The loss drops Billy Gillispie's squad to 5-6. The Wildcats lost two starters from a season ago when Tubby Smith led the Wildcats to a 22-11 record (9-7 in SEC play). As we all know, that wasn't good enough and some Wildcats fans labeled our basketball savior "ten-loss Tubby." John Clay reports that UK was booed as the final horn sounded.

** Meanwhile, our annoying friends to the east, Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers, demonstrated with a thrilling victory at Texas Saturday that they will be a factor in the Big Ten this season. Michael Flowers came up very large with a game-changing three and then a game-stealing steal. The Wisconsin Sports Bar says YESSSSSSSSSSSS. The win at Texas should indicate the Badgers are ready for Big Ten play. The Badgers finish the non-conference schedule with a 10-2 mark, with blemishes coming at Duke and at home against in-state rival Marquette.

** One more item to pass along to you. After a brief hiatus from action--the boy was sick--Ralph Sampson III led his Northview team to a win Friday in the Arby's Classic in Bristol, Tenn. Sampson shot 7-9 from the floor for 19 points (This is good, considering the final score was 42-29). Sampson also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked seven shots. And today, Sampson continued his strong play with 21 points, 11 boards and eight blocks in a losing effort.

As an aside, I nearly drove 5 hours to Bristol to catch this tournament. For various reasons, I decided against it but was pleased I did when I learned that Sampson missed the first game of the tournament Wednesday with bronchitis.

More Barn Talk

Taking some air out of Tubby Smith's honeymoon in Minnesota is his still mostly unexplained comment in the New York Times suggesting the Gophers should eventually abandon Williams Arena.

On his show on the Big Ten Network--which I watched last night, not sure when it first aired--Tubby took another shot at The Barn. He was asked a simple question: Compare Kentucky's Rupp Arena to Minnesota's beloved Williams Arena. This question came after the program did a all-access look at the arena from the posh lounges to the roof. Tubby's answer?


He smiled for a second and then said the main difference is that of capacity. Rupp Arena can hold about 23,500 crazed basketball fans. The University of Minnesota spent $2.3 million to add "barn lofts" in 1997 which brought the capacity of The Barn to 14,625. What I didn't konw until recently is that from 1950 to 1971, Williams Arena had the largest capacity of any collegiate basketball arena in the country. The current capacity puts the Gophers in the ballpark of our Big Ten foes, though in the bottom third. Ohio State's Value City Arena has the largest capacity in the conference, according to Wiki, at 19,500. Indiana's Assembly Hall and Wisconsin's Kohl Center have the second and third largest capacities in the conference.

The only three Big Ten schools with smarller capacities than Minnesota's are Northwestern (8,117), Purdue (14,123) and Michigan (13,751).

I'm sure these numbers will do little to calm some who are up in arms about Tubby's suggestion that The Barn might not have long-term staying power. Jon Marthaler at The National Anthem Before A Cubs Game picked up on the stadium issue in a post yesterday. Here's part of what he wrote: "I love Tubby, but I would support the firing of any and all Gopher coaches, administrators, or faculty members if they want to get rid of the Barn"

I couldn't disagree more with Jon. First, I'm glad Tubby is speaking his mind. Joel Maturi and Robert Bruininks didn't make him the highest paid University of Minnesota employee to simply nurture young kids on the basketball court. No, hiring Tubby Smith was a money-making proposition. If he can turn the men's basketball program into a perennial power, the University coffers will grow. And that will benefit the basketball program an other non-revenue generating sports.

What Tubby said in the New York Times was "sooner or later" the Gophers will have to move out of Williams Arena. Once the powerhouses in the Big Ten start building 25,000-seat, Rupp-like arenas, our Barn will be outmatched and put the Gophers at a financial disadvantage, no matter how much everyone likes to wax nostalgic about the place. Replacing Williams Arena shouldn't be a top priority for whatever facilities commision makes these decisions, other projects are more dire. But talk of upgrading our basketball facility shouldn't be brushed under the rug as heresy either.

Sooner or later, Tubby is right. We can whine about it and tell him to stop speaking his mind or we'll fire him .... or we can listen to what he has to say. Perhaps at the end of the day a compromise will be found. But make no mistake, Tubby didn't bring this up on accident.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Meaningful Win, If Not A Resume Booster

You can't tell me the victory over Nicholls State doesn't mean something.

Last season--an awful, forgettable one in the history of Minnesota basketball--ended with nine straight losses. Last season began with an exhibition loss to Winona State and losses to other basketball stalwarts like Marist, Montana and Arkansas-Little Rock. The 2006-07 Gophers finished with a 9-22 mark, a blemish on Minnesota basketball almost as embarrassing as the academic fraud scandal that brought us the era of head-scratching basketball that is now hopefully over.

The 2007-08 Gophers handled the Nicholls State Colonels Friday night from the opening tip, and won the first game of the Duel in the Desert 77-31 . The win improves the Gophers' mark to 9-1, matching the win total of a season ago. Sure, the Gophers haven't beaten anyone worth talking about. But last year the Gophers lost to low-majors in embarrassing numbers. These Gophers are at least taking baby steps.

In throttling Nicholls State, the Gophers shot an impressive 60 percent in the first half and held the Colonels to 20 percent from the field to go into the locker room with a 41-15 lead. The domination continued in the second half, during which even Travis Busch got into the action. For the game, the Gophers held the Colonels to 22 percent from the field. On it's face, we might look at these numbers and say, 'well, it's Nicholls State after all.' But consider that just a week or so ago, the Colonels gave the #1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels all they could handle in a 88-78 loss in Chapel Hill. Nicholls State shot 47 percent against the Tar Heels.

Clearly, the Gophers did not look past Nicholls State.

The video was so bad that I'm not going to go into terrible detail in analyzing this win. But there were a handful of things to note.

*** Dan Coleman continued to be Minnesota's best offensive player. He scored inside and out en route to a team-leading 14 points on 7-f0r-11 shooting. Coleman also led the team with six rebounds. Lawrence McKenzie, in his role as point guard, added 13 points on 4-for-5 from the floor, incluing 3-for-4 from three point land. Blake Hoffarber got back on track offensively after struggling in the win against Santa Clara. Al Nolen was rejected by the rim during a second-half dunk attempt. Spencer Tollackson seemed somewhat out of sorts. During the second half, when the second team was garnering significant minutes, Tollackson remained on the floor. He finished with just six points and five reboudns. Kevin Payton was OK, but he apparently doesn't know what a jump stop is and was beaten horribly on a back door play. I'm in such a good mood after the Gophers grabbed their 9th win of the year I'm not going to pick on Payton further. Of some concern still is team rebounding. I didn't see much of this, but Damian Johnson finished the night with fivc turnovers. That might be the first time all season he's stood out on the boxscore in a negative way. As a team, the Gophers had 15 assists to 20 turnovers. That's not good. Thankfully, the Gophers forced 30 turnovers to dampen the impact of our sloppy ball handling.

The Gophers won the rebounding war Friday night 39-26. This has been a weakness for the Gophers, but I'm not going to put too much stock into these numbers. On numerous occasions it appeared that Coleman and others simply reached over the Colonels for rebounds. On Sunday, UNLV, a good rebounding team, will provide a nice test in this department.

UP Next: The Gophers Kennesaw State Saturday night at 7 p.m. central time in the second game of the Duel in the Desert.

Updated 12:30 a.m. central time Saturday with more statistics.

Duel In The Desert Begins Tonight

*** Thanks to Gopher Nation for the tip I've just spent $18 to watch every scintilating moment of the Duel in the Desert. You can watch too here. But you should be aware that the production value is awful and there is no audio. Though I suppose no audio is better than a Dick Bremer broadcast.

Our Golden Gophers men's basketball team wind down the non-conference portion of the schedule this weekend with three games in Sin City. The games really are taking place, I promise, even if they aren't on television anywhere, not on Fox Sports Sin City or anything else. It's not really a tournament, per se, but a round robin that features stalwarts like Nicholls State and the feared Owls of Kennesaw State. And in a must-read preview by Down With Goldy, we learn that calling the round robin a "duel" isn't exactly accurate either.

The saving grace of this trip to Vegas is the potential resume booster a win against UNLV, on their home court, could provide the Gophers. That game will take place Sunday. Until then, the Gophers really ought to take care of business against Nicholls State and Kennesaw State.

Opening with the Colonels of Nicholls State tonight at 8 p.m. eastern time, the Gophers will face a team from the Southland Conference that has put up a 4-8 record. The Colonels are led by 6'2 junior guard Michael Czepil, who honeslty I know nothing about other than he's from Australia. After starting the season 2-7, the Colonels have played slightly better basketball, beating UL Monroe and Lipscomb before losing admirably at North Carolina nine days ago by just 10 points. I imagine the Tar Heels looked past the lowly Colonels, but the final score (88-78) should tell us that if the Gophers don't take Nicholls State seriously, they have an outside chance of biting us. That said, I'll pick the Gophers by 25.

On Saturday, again at 8 p.m. eastern time, the Gophers will face a Kennesaw State Owls team out of the Atlantic Sun Conference (home of Gardner-Webb) that has put together a 2-8 mark to begin the season. The Owls' two wins have come against Jacksonville State and something called the Clark Atlanta Panthers. For what it's worth, the Owls are led by a one-two punch in senior guard Ronell Wooten and senior forward Shaun Stegall. Kennesaw State might be the worst team the Gophers have faced all season, so I expect the Gophers to jump out big early and perhaps try out some new tricks, or iron out any kinks in our presses and traps before the round-robin winds down.

At 7 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, the Gophers get a much needed primer for Big Ten season, which begins early in 2008 when the Gophers head to East Lansing for a very tough test against Tom Izzo and company. But for now, the Gophers will have enough on their hands against the Runnin' Rebels. The Rebels are coached by former Illinois head man Lon Kruger, who has done a very good job in Las Vegas. He led the Runnin' Rebels to an impressive 30-7 record last year and a trip to the Sweet 16.

And while the Rebels lost four of their five starters from that team, perhaps their most dynamic starter is still around to cause havoc. That would be 6'0 junior guard Wink Adams, who ESPN's Blue Ribbon Insider Season Preview called "one of the [Mountain West Conference's] most dynamic stars." Adams is known for his defensive quickness, a trait which has frustrated the perimiter offense of opponents. Adams has led the Runnin' Rebels with 14.5 points per game. Adams has the potential to give all of the Gophers' guards fits. If Lawrence McKenzie is our starting point guard this season, the matchup against Adams will be as good a test as any. Helping out Adams on the glass is 6'7 junior forward Joe Darger, who has seen his minutes more than double since last season. He's produced offensively (12.8 per game) and on the glass (leading UNLV in rebounding with 6 per game). And in the backcourt, Adams is accompanied by senior guard/forward Curtis Terry.

The Rebels enter the weekend with an 8-3 mark, but each loss seems to be excusable. The Rebels have lost at home to Louisville and Arizona, and in a hard-fought road contest at UC Santa Barbara, possibly the favorite in the Big West Conference. On the other hand, UNLV's wins haven't been impressive either. So, a win for either the Gophers or Rebels on Sunday would be the best win to date for either squad.

The Gophers will have to make a decision about whether they want to press a guard like Adams or not. Whether they press him or not, they'll want to do whatever they can to get the rock out of his hands. In 2 of the 3 UNLV losses, Adams put up 9 and 11 points. McKenzie, Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook will have their hands full Sunday. Other keys to the game include: Dan Coleman being an aggressor offensively, Damian Johnson being a factor on the defensive end and perimiter shooting is a big area against UNLV considering their very good perimiter defense.

Prediction: I'm a homer, and think the Gophers can use their size inside with Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman to impose their will against UNLV. Gophers win a squeaker none of us can watch by 3.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Year In Review: Cole Konrad Kicks Ass

I don't cover a lot here outside the world of revenue-generating college sports, but I would be remiss as a Gophers blogger if I didn't shed some light on the accomplishments of Cole Konrad.

Konrad completed his junior and season seasons on the Minnesota wrestling team undefeated, claiming two individual national championships in the 285 pound weight class, leading to a team title in March and Big Ten titles in 2006 and 2007. According to Wikipedia, Konrad finished his career with a 154-13 record, with 10 of those losses coming as a freshman.

As the Minnesota Daily wrote earlier this month, Konrad's successor in the heavyweight class will have quite the legacy to live up to. I think this is one of those instances where you don't want to succeed the legend, you want to succeed the guy who succeeded the legend.

Kudos to Konrad for his success in 2007 and in year's prior. We all might not follow college wrestling, but we can certainly applaud the efforts of this great Gopher even if we don't understand why these guys have to wear outfits designed specifically for leggy, female volleyball players.

Previously in the Year in Review, I've looked at the dismissal of Glen Mason and the coaching search that led to Tim Brewster being hired. I had intended to get a handful more posts out on this before the New Year, but now I'm thinking this series might extend into January. Still to come are reflective thoughts on the hiring of Tubby Smith, a look back at the forgettable one-win football season and my favorite posts in the storied history of PJS!!! ... and the Gopher and Vermin of the Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Replace The Barn?

That's what Tubby Smith suggests the University of Minnesota needs to do sooner or later in this feature article in the New York Times.

"How much longer can you play in the Barn?” he said. “I know it’s sacrilegious to mention that, but it’s going to be 80 years old next year. How many 80-year-old buildings are still being played in? I’m sure it’s a long-term project, but what do you do in the meantime? We can’t play here forever.

“For now, we can make this a great environment, which it has been in the past.”


I'm on the fence about this. I always loved going to Williams Arena. I love the raised floor. I love the atmosphere when the team is playing well. But is our beloved Barn a recruiting detriment? I tend to see it as an advantage--history, uniqueness. But do recruits see a historic building or a relic of days gone by?

In the article, Tubby is paraphrased as saying he's happy to wait until the football and baseball stadiums are completed. But Tubby also knew this mere mention of this could strike a nerve--note "sacrilegious." Rightly or wrongly, I envision a big effort to keep The Barn as the home for our basketball program.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Good For Patrick Reusse

As I reported the other day, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse was the subject of some criticism from our passionate basketball friends in Kentucky for incorrectly reporting that Jai Lucas and Patrick Patterson had given "verbal commitments" to Tubby Smith while he was in charge of the commonwealth's beloved Wildcats.

But in a article titled "Merry Christmas, Big Blue Nation," Reusse admitted that he made an error in the article and spelled out for us how he came to make said error. Kudos to Reusse for settling this for the record. In the article linked above, Reusse states that he was told by the University of Minnesota SID that Tubby was never given a commitment but felt "very confident" Lucas and Patterson would be coming to UK.

Here's Reusse:

So, I stuck with "verbal commitment,'' figuring that "very confident'' was simply another version of "VC'' in recruit-speak.

Several hundred e-mails later, and a short item in a Kentucky newspaper with Patterson denying a "verbal commitment'' to Tubby, this goes down as an error.


While I commend the correction, I got more enjoyment out of what came next. Reusse pointed to the top-10 recruiting class Tubby has inked to come to Williams Arena, and ... well, I'll let Reusse speak for himself.

Meantime, we would like to let Big Blue Nation know that up here in the Frozen North we're just as happy as pigs in slop with what we're seeing from Tubby as a coach -- and as a recruiter, with his five-player group of early signees.

In fact, Billy G. should bring his anticipated endless supply of four-star recruits up here to see us in our old Barn one of these next Decembers. Tubby will show his successor the proper etiquette for stool-sitting on our historic elevated floor, and we'll all have a good old time.

A correction, a challenge and the use of "pigs in slop" in the same article! God bless Patrick Reusse! That brightened my Christmas before it began. I think UK fans and Minnesota fans could agree on this fact: A home and home between the Tubby-led Gophers and Gillispie-led Wildcats make for some good viewing.

UPDATE 12/26, 2:30 p.m.: Tru at A Sea of Blue didn't enjoy Reusse's correction quite as mich as I did. It's worth a read.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Minnesota 68, Santa Clara 50

The Gophers men's basketball team moved to 8-1 Saturday night with a rather ho-hum victory over the Santa Clara Broncos. The Gophers weren't crisp on the offensive end--shooting just 40 percent--but stymied the Broncos' offense by forcing 26 turnovers. The Gophers turned that defense into easy offense to take a 68-50 win at Williams Arena.

The win wraps up the Gophers' home non-conference schedule.

As has been the case all season, there were plusses and minuses to the Gophers' performance. Here's my take. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

** Yo, Spencer! Let's not go getting technicals. Tubby Smith was clearly not too happy with this development. Keep your cool, Spencer. There is no reason to get into a physical confrontation with an opponent, who in this case was a former AAU teammae of yours in Mitch Henke.

** Sticking with our big man from Chaska. ... Spencer Tollackson was 3-for-10 from the field, with most of those attempts coming from under the basket. In his defense, Tollackson did have Santa Clara big man John Bryant making his life somewhat difficult. But as someone pointed out in the comments below, Bryant proved to be rather oaf-like. While Spencer isn't quick either, he surely has a step on Bryant. It looked like Spencer was forcing his offense, perhaps with thinking he would get Bryant in foul trouble. Spencer has to be a reliable finisher in the post for the Gophers to have success during the conference season. That means scoring against oaf-like big men and skinny, athletic types.

** For the second straight game, the Gophers were outrebounded. This time, Santa Clara won the battle on the boards 34-27. These numbers are somewhat misleading because the Gophers shot the ball 59 times compared to the Broncos who shot the ball 38 times. That said, the Gophers still allowed eight offensive rebounds and didn't exert themselves on the glass. There is no reason, for instance, that the Gophers' two leading rebounders should be Jamal Abu-Shamala and Lawrence Westbrook (both had four).

** Not only did Santa Clara turn the ball over a considerable amount, but the Gophers racked up 18 steals, with six belonging to Dan Coleman. While the Gophers struggled somewhat on the boards and on offense, the defense was bothering the Broncos. The full-court pressure paid dividends and by and large the Gophers were active on defense, getting their hands in passing lanes and playing aggressive help-side defense.

** On a night when offense wasn't coming easy, Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie led the way with 20 and 11 points respectively. For all of the criticism Coleman took early in the season, he has emerged the last few games as the best all-around player on the team.

** Don't worry about your offense, Blake Hoffarber. Shooters have off nights all the time. Keep shooting. Hoffarber had zero points Saturday.

** Work on your defense, Blake Hoffarber. At least twice Saturday night you were caught out of position when you were screened on the perimiter. You have to fight your way through those screens.

** Tubby Smith used his 10 man rotation again. Kevin Payton played the least amount of minutes (11). Of the second five, Al Nolen and Damian Johnson played the most minutes (19). I envision Tubby sticking with this starting five: McKenzie, Westbrook, Abu-Shamala, Coleman and Tollackson. I would love to see Johnson replace Abu-Shamala in this lineup, but I don't see it happening. I actually think it's wise to have Johnson and Hoffarber come off the bench. Johnson provides defensive intensity and Hoffarber provides an offensive spark. The starting five isn't necessarilly our best five, but I think it's the best option for a starting group.

** I felt Damian Johnson was more content than he had previously been in settling for the jump shot. Through the first eight games, Johnson had excelled at taking the ball to the basket. Keep being aggressive, Damian.

Up Next: The Gophers travel to Las Vegas on Friday for a three-day round robin tournament. They begin with a game against Nicholls State. On Saturday, the Gophers will face Kennesaw State, before winding down the non-conference slate with an interesting matchup against UNLV.

Reusse Has Egg On His Face For Holidays

I'm going to review the Gophers' eighth win of the year later today, but first I'd like to pass along a little tidbit that surely has made Patrick Reusse's holiday season a little less cheery.

Earlier this week Reusse reported that Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas had given Tubby Smith a verbal committment, but reneged when Tubby left to coach the Gophers. Eventually, Patterson signed with Billy Gillispie at Kentucky and Lucas signed with Billy Donovan at Florida. Reusse's article was the subject of criticism from various UK blogs, who were rightly upset with Reusse because he A) called UK fans "wackos" and B) was apparently dead wrong when he suggested Lucas and Patterson had given verbals to UK.

Criticism from the blogs is nothing new for sports writers. Hell, I have first hand experience with this. As a former political reporter, the agenda-driven blogs on the left and right enjoy nothing more than taking a reporter to task. But getting smacked down by your own crowd stings. And that's now what has happened as the Louisville Courier-Journal, in their Sunday College Basketball Notebook, bitch slaps Reusse for flat-out being wrong.

In criticizing UK fans for blaming the current team's woes on former coach Tubby Smith, Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse pointed to what he saw as an inconsistency regarding freshman forward Patrick Patterson.

"What's interesting with these Wildcats wackos is that, in their world, Gillispie gets the credit for recruiting Patterson, even though he had made a verbal commitment to Kentucky and started to vacillate only after Smith found a new home in Minneapolis," Reusse wrote last week. "Smith also had a verbal commitment from Jai Lucas, who reneged after Tubby's departure and is now a freshman starter at point guard for Florida."

Told about that passage, Patterson was surprised. "I just started laughing when I heard it," he said.

For the record, Patterson said, he never gave UK a commitment when Smith was the coach.
It's certainly true that Tubby Smith was recruiting both Lucas and Patterson when he was at Kentucky. It was even reported that Tubby reached out to both talented players after he arrived in MInnesota to see if they'd come north. No such look. And we will never know if Tubby would have landed one or both of those players had he stayed at Kentucky.

All we really know here is Patrick Reusse, who I usually defend here, has egg on his face for the Holidays.

If the Star Tribune hasn't run one already, a correction is in order.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Last Minute Holiday Gift Idea

Still shopping for the Holidays? Hate Wisconsin? Me too.

I haven't advertised these shirts because I'm in the process of creating others. But a couple people have ordered the shirt below in the PJS shop linked to in the bottom of the right sidebar. I thought others might be intersted as well to prepare for when Bo Ryan's douchebags come to town.

I also thought that frequent commenter lonebadger might be intersted in purchasing this shirt, seeing as he's become a staunch defender of all things Minnesota and espeically his manlove Joel Maturi. I digress.

I'd love to see the students clad in these beauties when the Badgers come to town. I can even envision a chant.


Friday, December 21, 2007

"Profiles In Douchebaggery"

As you all know, I know next to nothing about hockey. But I can say that I agree with Melt Your Face Off as they take a look at the douchebaggeryiness (sp??) of New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow.

If you haven't seen this already, Snow is bashing Don Lucia, he of two national titles in recenet memory, for being a bad coach. This verbal battle began after he Snow lured sophomore standout Kyle Okposo to leave the Gophers midseason and join the Islanders. Okposo had to head to the NHL now, according to Snow, because Lucia isn't a good coach. What a bitchy thing to say!

So, yes, Garth Snow is clearly a great candidate for any series chronicling douchebags.

** This rare hockey post gives me an opportunity to announce again that I'm desperately seeking a hockey contributor. I've received emails from some of you requesting hockey coverage. And while I watch Lucia's squad when I can, I don't think I can speak anything close to intelligently about the game. So, if you have an interest in being part of this blog and the Big Ten Bloggers Group, drop me an email. I'd love to discuss the possibility.

Preview: Santa Clara at Minnesota

When the Santa Clara Broncos come to Williams Arena Saturday night, I'll be watching one specific matchup.

The Broncos, off to a non-descript 7-4 start, are led by John Bryant, a rather thick 6'10, 305 pound junior center. Bryant is averaging nearly a double-double with 19.7 points per game and almost 9 reboudns per game. I would suspect Bryant will be a handful for Spencer Tollackson, our version of the immobile, lumbering center.

Tollackson has been up-and-down this season. His hustle has been admirable, but many have noticed he looks almost pained when he jumps and he hasn't been quite the force on the glass most of us would like.

The Broncos also have a capable senior point guard in Brody Angley, who has given the Broncos a nice blend of offensive (10+ per) and floor leadership (52 assists, 33 turnovers). These aren't jaw dropping numbers, but the Gophers struggled against South Dakota State, in part, because the Jackrabbit guards were able to effectively handle the press. If Angley and his backcourt mates can do the same the Broncos can certainly make it a ballgame. Angley also has the potential to frustrate Al Nolen, Kevin Payton or Lawrence McKenzie. Angley leads SCU in steals.

There is a Minnesota connection with the Broncos. Senior forward Mitch Henke is from Minnetonka. Henke starts for the Broncos and is averaging 10.5 per game.

The Broncos are led by first-year coach Keary Keating. This will be the Gophers and Santa Clara's third meeting. The Gophers won the previous two matchups, the last coming in 1992.

Prediction: Gophers should move to 8-1, but the SDSU game (feels like that game was months ago) should have taught us that nothing is a gimme. And if we needed another reminder, all we had to do was watch Purdue lost the other night to Wofford.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

JUCO In Mix At QB Next Year, Maybe, And Other Stuff

By all accounts Tim Brewster is putting together one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory. He took the first step this week in finalizing that recruiting class by getting five junior college players to sign on the dotted line.

Two of them deserve some immediate attention. Rivals has the scoop on 4-star cornerback Traye Simmons. He should start immediately for the Gophers' secondary. The second, more interesting signing is Pasadena City College athlete/quarterback David Pittman.

I wrote "athlete/quarterback" for a reason. It appears, according to this article by Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press, that Pittman believes he was told he'd get a shot at playing quarterback. Meanwhile, Brewster believes he told Pittman he was an "athlete."

Here's Brewster to Fuller:

"He's not coming in here as a quarterback. He knows that," Brewster said while talking about his midseason football signings Wednesday. "He's coming in here as an athlete. He's coming in here as a slash. He knows that. That's been thoroughly discussed."
And for good measure, here is Pittman's comment on the subject (thanks to Fuller for good reporting here):
"They said they want me to come in and compete for the starting job," said Pittman, who plans to enroll at Minnesota in January. "The reason I went to junior college was to prove I could play quarterback. (Having a starter returning at Minnesota) wasn't going to deter me from going there. Competition brings out the best in people."

When asked if Brewster talked specifically to him about moving to another position, Pittman said he was told, "only if I want to."
While Pittman is considered an "athlete" by recruiting services like Rivals, his numbers as a quarterback at Pasadena City College are impressive. I'll admit I find it troublesome that a freshly signed recruit and his new coach are having a back-and-forth difference of opinion just days after they signed on the dotted line. But the "quarterback/athlete" conversation will be completely pointless, so long as the kid can have an impact and Brewster and Mike Dunbar can find a way to use him. If we are going to run the spread offense, this is exactly the type of player who can make it work. I'm not convinced Adam Weber is a 4-year starter. So, hopefully Pittman gets that chance to compete.

Here is a Rivals story on the five new Gophers. And for the record, Brewster attended the same Pasadena City College.

Now on to a couple other items that might interest you.

** I've taken some heat in the past for agreeing with Patrick Reusse. That's fine. Different strokes for different folks. But for those of you who don't like Reusse, I thought I'd point out to you that our friends at A Sea of Blue (Kentucky blog) are taking Reusse to task for his column comparing how Kentucky fans treated Tubby Smith to how Minnesota fans treated Glen Mason. Reusee certainly didn't have to call UK fans "wackos," but there is a similarity between UK fans' expectations after driving out Tubby and our expectations after driving out Glen Mason. Both fanbases felt the jettisoned coach was accepting medicority. And both fanbases have been disappointed at the immediate results.

** ESPN's college hoops insider section had an item today titled "Grading the sleepers." Minnesota received an A - grade. Here is what they wrote:
Tubby Smith arrived in Minneapolis with 14 straight 20-win seasons to go along with a 1998 national championship at Kentucky. With their Gophers' only loss coming to Florida State, the nonconference schedule lacks marquee names other than UNLV in the Duel in the Desert before opening Big Ten play on the road at favorite Michigan State on Jan. 5.

After eight games, U of M is averaging 77.8 points and four players are averaging double figures, led by 6-foot-9 senior
Dan Coleman's 13.6 points. What makes Smith's teams so special are their tough man-to-man defense. The Gophers are holding opponents to 60.5 points. Referred to as the ball-line defense, it includes great ball pressure, entry pass denial and sprint to help a teammate. And with Smith's intensity, the Gophers will improve as the season progresses. All that is left to add is a couple recruiting classes.
The attention is nice and everything, don't get me wrong. But the author of this blurb, Reggie Rankin, clearly has not seen any Minnesota game this season. Everything he said in these two paragraphs is true, but this reads to like a blurb written off of a stat sheet and with some knowledge of Tubby Smith. I expect more from the 4-letter.

** Meanwhile, Bracketology Professor Joe Lunardi has committed a travesty: Leaving the Gophers out of his current bracket. To Lunardi's credit, he has the Gophers in his "also considered" section (Insider). That's right, everyone, We Comin!

Year In Review: Maturi Hires Some Guy He's Never Heard Of

A little more than two weeks after Glen Mason was shown the door, Athletic Director Joel Maturi and University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks found the man they wanted to bring a new vision to Gophers football. The new coach was a new name to the vast majority of Gophers fans.

On a blustery Minnesota morning in mid-January, we learned Tim Brewster would be having a press conference to announce he had agreed to terms with the University. In unison, much of Gopher Nation scratched their heads. Who is Tim Brewster? Why did we hire someone with no head coaching, or coordinator experience? If Brewster has never been anything more than a tight ends coach, why is he the best coach to take a high-major, middle-of-the-pack football program and oversee its ascension to the top of the Big Ten?

In short, Gophers fans were stumped. Maturi finally stepped up and pulled the plug on the Glen Mason era. But with the AD's first big hire at the University, he goes for a no-name coach, one we later learn our AD had never even heard of himself. A startling decision to say the least.

There were some positives. Brewster was pegged as a top-notch recruiter. He had landed Vince Young while on staff for Mack Brown at Texas. And under Brown at North Carolina, Brewster took some credit for landing Julius Peppers. There were others too: Brewster was tight ends coach for the NFL's Chargers during Antonio Gates' rise to stardom. He had most recently worked under one of the NFL's most respected gurus in Mike Shanahan. While his resume lacked in some areas, it looked good in others.

So, the decision makers told us that Brewster would work to build a fence around the state of Minnesota. We would no longer lose homegrown products to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. Here is Maturi, via Chip Scoggins at the Star Tribune, introducing Brewster to his new fanbase:

"Coach Brewster has a great reputation as a man of integrity, vision and energy," Maturi wrote in an e-mail. "He is known as a tireless recruiter and he wanted to be a Gopher. From the dozens of people we talked to around the nation, Coach Brewster stood out as a person that could take us to the next level."
Later on January 16th, Brewster took to a podium in Minneapolis, Maturi cheerleading at his side, and professed that this was the beginning of a new era in Minnesota football. He talked of the storied history of the program only our grandfathers can recall. He talked about how this current team can win now, and he talked about taking "Gopher Nation To Pasadena."

Brewster immediately set the bar very high:
"My expectations from Day One is that we are going to win the Big Ten championship," he said. "We're going to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena (the site of the Rose Bowl)." He was asked if he had concerns about his lack of head coaching experience. "I don't have fear. I don't have anxiety. I have total exhilaration," he said in a mild Texas accent despite having been born in New Jersey. "If you aren't prepared, then you have anxiety. ... For 19 years I've been an assistant coach [and] I've always made great decision on who I worked for. ... What I chased was knowledge [rather than] what my title was."
The man entered the Minnesota sporting world with bravado.

Later in the Year In Review, we'll look at how Brewster performed during his first season on the sidelines. But for now, I want to concentrate on the coaching search. As I suggested in the previous post about the dismissal of Glen Mason, the coaching search was made to be hurried by the poor timing of Mason's dismissal. Had Mason been fired at the end of the regular season--before the Insight Bowl debacle--the Gophers would have had a month or more to find a coach instead of two weeks. But a quick decision had to be made because the early signing period was imminent.

As in any coaching search there was rampant speculation about who would be the next coach. The names varied from the never-going-to-happen (think Tony Dungy) to the PLEASE! department (Think the degree-less Mike Tice and Eden Prairie High School coach Mike Grant). But other names were out there: former USC coordinator now Oakland Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin, UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker (former Gopher), Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst and North Dakota State Head Coach Craig Bohl. Each of those five names appealed to me for different reasons.

Each of those names had something Brewster doesn't: big-time coaching experience. Bohl has built a program. Kiffin has been part of greatness at USC. Chryst has run a Big Ten offense (for our arch rival, another plus). Walker brings a BCS track record and a Minnesota tradition. Brewster, well, Brewster had coached tight ends and been a recruiting coordinator. Suffice to say, the name Tim Brewster came out of left field.

I might be overly skeptical, but I fail to see why Maturi and Bruininks couldn't have sought a coach with both a coaching and recruiting track record. But I already know the answer to that. They weren't so much looking for a coach. They were looking for a salesman. They were looking for someone who could boost ticket sales and interest as the University pushed to raise millions of dollars for its new outdoor, on-campus, football stadium.

The Star Tribune's excellent columnist Jim Souhan made this point the day after Brewster was hired:
As the search began, the U braintrust had a rare epiphany. What this program needed was not a play diagrammer or a retread. What this program needed was a credible and persuasive salesman. Someone who could sell tickets and raise stadium funds, who could promote the program 12 months a year and attract recruits from Hibbing to Houston. The anti-Mason.
Let me suggest that the "U braintrust" was at least partially wrong. What the U needed was a salesman who could light a fire under a disinterested fan base AND diagram plays. So, Maturi and Bruninks went with a coach who they knew could do the one thing they felt they needed most: influence public relations in the short term, nevermind the longterm consequences. So, they hired a man who they had never heard of.

Maturi admitted that during the press conference introducing Brewster. Maturi said:

"Quite frankly, I'd never heard of Tim Brewster," he said. But as he checked around "everybody had great things to say about Tim Brewster. Kids love to play for him."
Never heard of your new coach!?!!??!!

To me that is astonishing. The University of Minnesota is in a big-time athletic conference. Yet when the search began for a new football coach, our athletic director hadn't even heard of the man now leading our progarm! Time may vindicate Joel Maturi but with a year behind us to look at this, the decision to hire Brewster clearly appears to be one that was A) rushed and B) made with one overriding priority in mind: finding the anti-Mason. It appears that Brewster was sold to Maturi, by a search committee, by high profile coaches and by Brewster himself.

It's too early to know if Brewster will be a failure as head coach at Minnesota. But with 20-20 hindsight, I think we can agree that Joel Maturi--by all accoutns a good man--put himself in position to take some criticism for this hire whether it works out or not.

This was Joel Maturi's first big coaching search as AD. And I sumbit he failed the test.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BTN To Go Behind The Scenes With Tubby

"Minnesota Basketball: The Journey." That's the title of an upcoming 8-episode series on the Big Ten Network that will aim to take us behind the scenes as Tubby Smith attempts to turn around the University of Minnesota men's basketball program.

According to a release put out today by the Big Ten Conference, "The Journey"will first air on Friday, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. CT with an hour long episode. Subsequent episodes will be 30 minutes long.

Via the release:

MINNESOTA BASKETBALL: THE JOURNEY will follow the Gophers' entire season, including activities on the basketball court and beyond. The show will take viewers on campus and deep inside the Minnesota basketball program with the players, coaches and support staff. Big Ten Network cameras will travel with the Gophers on the team plane, capture practices, pre-game shoot-arounds and time-out huddles, as well as many of Smith's pre-game, halftime and post-game speeches in the locker room.

"As Tubby Smith brings his history of success north, the transformation of Minnesota basketball will undoubtedly be an interesting story to tell," said Big Ten Network Executive Producer Leon Schweir. "We plan to capture it all."

While the program will debut this Friday, subsequent episodes won't air until January.

If these are done well, it has the potential to be compelling television. However, it's not easy to do programs like these well--especially in a 30-minute format with commercial interruptions.

Nonetheless, I plan to tune in. The Big Ten Network desperately needed some original programming, and it pleases me that they are branching out and bringing attention to our men's basketball team.

It also might be another reason to say goodbye to Comcast and call DirecTV.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Measuring Damian Johnson's Impact

Through eight games, Damian Johnson has been the most valuable player for Tubby Smith's first team in Minnesota. While he hasn't gotten the headlines that come with a massive scoring output, Johnson has done the things that go mostly unnoticed by fans skimming through boxscores.

Johnson has received plaudits from those of us in the blogosphere and some passing praise in the mainstream media. But to really see Johnson's impact beyond the traditonal boxscore, we have to dig deeper, and that means looking at statistics in a more scientific manner, and going beyond the generic categories like blocks, rebounds and steals.

Ken Pomeroy's recent article at Basketball Prospectus on identifying the college game's best defenders notes that blocking shots AND forcing steals "is a strong indicator that a player is doing disruptive things on those possessions where he doesn't get credit for doing either." Those of us who have watched every minute of the Gophers this season know that one player falls into that category: Damian Johnson. Pomeroy continues and explains what benchmarks to look for in the blocks and steals percentages statistics:


Specifically, the numbers I look for are a block rate of at least 6.0 with a steal rate of at least 2.5. In fact, these benchmarks are probably too lofty. I've been tracking these stats for the past three seasons, and only two players playing at least 24 minutes per game in power conferences getting have been able to reach these figures. Those players are Joakim Noah (who did it twice) and Shelden Williams, who were both among the best defenders in recent years. ... So far this season, there are just three players from power conferences meeting [this] threshold: Kansas sophomore Darrell Arthur, Nebraska senior Aleks Maric and LSU freshman Anthony Randolph.
The only thing standing in Damian Johnson's way of joining that trio is a few minutes per game. During the 7-1 Minnesota start, Johnson has averaged 20 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Johnson has put up an impressive block rate of 10.4 (good for 39th in the country) and a steal rate of 4.0 (good for second on the team behind point guard Al Nolen.) This tells us that Johnson, as Pomeroy wrote, is doing "disruptive things," on possessions when he's not given credit for a block or a steal.

If you're not familiar with the block rate and steal rate staistics, they are relatively straightforward. A block rate is the percentage of two-point shots that are blocked by the player in question when he is on the court. The steal rate is the same. That means that on about 15 percent of opponents possessions, Damian Johnson has been racking up a block or a steal. But, again, as Pomeroy noted, the numbers tell us that Johnson is is being a large disruptive precense on countless more possessions.

Johnson has been the Gophers' best player defensive end of the floor. But his hustle and effectiveness can also bee seen on the offensive end of the floor.

Using offensive rating, Johnson is the 4th most effective player the Gophers have. More impressively to me is the offensive rebounding percentage, where, again, Johnson leads the Gophers. This statistic is found by dividing the number of offensive rebounds by the total number of missed shots when a certain player is on the floor. Essentially, it shows us how efficient someone is at claiming offensive rebounds. Johnson, again, leads the Gophers with a 13.9 (good for 82nd in the country). Johnson might not be putting up Blake Hoffarber-like offensive numbers, but creating second-chance opportunities is as valuable, if not more, than shooting a high percentage from beyond the arc.

By using this statistcal analysis, Johnson is clearly the most active Gopher on the defensive end, and he's done the most, while playing off the bench, to secure second-chance opportunites for the Gophers. It will be interesting to see how much these numbers fluxuate when the Big Ten season begins. But through the 7-1 start, Damian Johnson is your MVP.


(Note: All of the stats cited in this post can be found here.)

Year In Review: The Mason Firing

Even the most staunch Glen Mason haters were caught a little bit by surprise when on the eve of the new year Joel Maturi axed the coach who became to be known as "Mediocre Mason" during his decade long stint as Minnesota's football coach.

Here's what FireMason.com wrote on Dec. 31, 2006: The loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl in classic Mason fall-from-ahead fashion has apparently led to the coach's dismissal. The late-season three game rally that qualified the gophers for the bowl had admittedly and obviously left me lacking motivation, as I assumed that the coach's future was secure for another year. The firing is a welcome and surprising holiday gift. Kudos to everybody who took the time to write to Joel Maturi and the other big-shots. This could have and would have gone on longer if we had let it.

I was watching that game in the comfort of my living room last year, watching with joy as the Gophers piled up a tremendous lead. Eventually, the girlfriend said "Charlie, this game is over. Let's watch a movie." I agreed, and suffered through some painful romantic comedy. After it ended, I flipped on the 4-letter (ESPN) and saw coverage of the biggest collapse in college bowl history.

It was typical Glen Mason football: show some signs of life, before falling hard. And that epitomized the Gophers of 2006 (and the Mason era for that matter). The Insight Bowl debacle opened up old wounds: Think 4th quarter of Michigan 2003, for instance. But as we now look back almost one year later, we have to ask was it the right move?

I will say now that it looks in retrospect like a panic move. Had Maturi wanted to fire Mason all along, he should have done it prior to the bowl game. The dismissal after the Insight Bowl smacks of desperation--an AD who was getting hammered with e-mails suggesting he should have fired Mason earlier. An earlier dismissal would also have allowed a more thorough coaching search process. The late dismissal forced the Gophers athletic department into near panic mode to find a new coach, as national signing day was less than 40 days away at the time. We ended up with Tim Brewster, who has excelled in the recruiting department and sputtered on the sidelines. And Maturi had cause to fire Mason earlier. The Gophers started 3-6, and 0-5 in the Big Ten. What's more striking about Maturi's decision making is that he fired Mason almost exaclty one year from the day he signed the coach to a contract extension. That meant that Mason received a $3.6 million parting gift. There's something to be said about giving an embattled coach a vote of confidence, it's something far different to give him that type of security without earning it.

Overall, I think I can speak for the majority of Minnesota fans in saying that Glen Mason's firing was a welcome developement. Could it have been handled better? Yes. Earlier? Yes. Did Maturi make the right decision? Yes. Did it look like a decision made out of panic? Absolutely. Are we better off now? That jury is still out. But I'll say this. As a Gophers fan, I was tired of Mason's excuses and the fact that he was apparently OK with mediocrity. Maturi and University President Robert Bruininks said they felt the football program needed a "new voice."

As the year in review continues, I'll take a look at their replacement for Glen Mason and examine whether or not they hired the right "voice."

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Golden Gophers Retrospective: A Preview

The year that was for University of Minnesota athletics will be one we'll look back to years from now either with joy or a more angry expression. So, in the next two weeks, I'm going to rewind the clock and review the year gone by, noting highlights and low-lights, while still mixing in regularly scheduled coverage.

We'll review Joel Maturi's decision to fire Glen Mason after the Insight Bowl debacle. We'll look at the season that was for Tim Brewster and the beginning of the Tubby Smith era. And with that in mind, we'll look back at the Dan Monson/Jim Molinari era. We'll also wonder aloud why our women's hockey coach decided to resign? You get the idea.

In the end, I'll name a "Gopher of the Year," and "Vermin of the Year," the latter being a title many University of Minnesota public figures will seek to avoid in the year's to come. I'd call it the annual awards, but it would be gramatically incorrect to do so. Next year, when Tim Brewster wins his second "Vermin of the Year Award," we'll call it an annual extravaganza. Shit, I just gave away the award winner before the PJS selection committee has gathered. In all seriousness, there's still time to sway the committee's decision. So, if you have a nominee for either Gopher or Vermin of the year, do drop PJS an email at pagingjimshikenjanski@yahoo.com.

The first post in the year in review will turn the calendar back to the beginning of January, when Glen Mason was given his walking papers.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gophers Rise In Rankings

Win or lose, Tubby Smith will always be linked to Kentucky basketball. And whether Billy Gillispie wins or loses at Kentucky, Tubby Smith will always receive a sizeable dose of the blame, deserving or not.

With that in mind, I just want to make one small point. The new Sagarin Ratings came out Saturday, and in them the Gophers climbed up to 38th nationally.

Meanwhile, after losing to Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday (former Indiana coach Mike Davis is coaching there), the Wildcats dropped to 4-4. Two of Kentucky's losses have been excusable--North Carolina and Indiana. But losing to an average Alabama-Birmingham team and to Gardner-Webb earlier this season (G-W has now lost 6 of 9 games), is turning the Kentucky faithful blue. The result: A Sagarin Rating of 147, in between Indiana State and Oral Roberts.

Ouch.

The full Sagarin Rankings are here.

Don't think this fact will be lost on Kentucky faithful. In Saturday's Louisville Courier-Journal, columnist Rick Bozich noted that at the time the Gophers and Wildcats were one spot apart in the Sagarin Rankings.

It's a long season, and the only real win the Gophers have is at Iowa State (really not all that impressive.) Things could change by year's end, but at this point, Tubby Smith seems to have gotten the best of the coaching circus in the offseason.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Coach Contracts Need To Be Scaled Back

Show me the money! That's what Nick Saban said God knows how many times. And we have Les Miles, who didn't even need to change addresses to cash in on the insane world of college athletics.

It's hard to blame Miles, Saban or the assorted others who have cashed in on the big business that is college athletics (OK, I lied, ripping Saban is completely understandable). These coaches are just taking what the market will pay them. Well, I have a pipe dream I'd like to throw out in this forum. THE MARKET NEEDS AN ADJUSTMENT!

This week Tubby Smith, the hopeful savior of Minnesota basketball, finally inked his deal with the University which will earn him $1.75 million annually for seven years, not including incentives. That deal makes Tubby Smith the highest paid University employee. Tubby's contract, in the grander scheme of college sports, isn't outlandish, though it puts him in the highest echelon of Big Ten coaches.

Now back to college football, take a look at this USA Today piece that notes: This year, for the first time, the average earnings of the 120 major-college football coaches hit $1 million, a USA TODAY analysis finds. That's not counting the benefits, perks and myriad bonuses in their contracts.

Meanwhile, college professors earn on average $113,000 (Link, See table 4). A nice take too, certainly, but the gap between athletics and education at our universities is ever widening.

Most of us don't think twice anymore when coaches rake in the big bucks. Some economics guru tells us about supply and demand. We hear jargon like "market forces" and "competitive marketplace." So, we look the other way. But should we? In some instances, as this article from CFO.com points out, some of the spending is past on to students.

But as programs vie to outspend one another, many go deep into the red, forcing schools to raise student fees and seek new sources of support. (Texas is a rarity: its program is self-sufficient and usually runs in the black.) Indeed, although many schools have increased revenue by adding premium seating and charging for seat licenses and ticket guarantees, they haven't improved their financial positions much, if at all. Unlike in the corporate world, most universities don't bother to track the returns on their sports investments beyond the win column. Despite the myth of massively profitable college-sports franchises built on the backs of unpaid players, only a handful of athletic programs manage to break even without university or student-fee subsidies.
As sports fans, we like winning. Minnesota fans are overjoyed with Tubby Smith. Michigan fans wouldn't have blinked if their athletic department had made Les Miles a record-breaking offer. We can't begrudge these coaches, but we can tell our University presidents that enough is enough. At some point we should let college athletics be about the amaetur athlete again. And if that means coaches only make five times what university professors make, well, I would bet there would still be a long line of highly qualified people wanting to coach college athletics.

So, let's get rid of this "market forces" B.S. and put some blame squarely on the shoulders of our university leaders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yeah, So, That Was Close

In a post earlier today I suggested that Gopher fans take a deep breath. The 6-1 start was nice, I wrote, but I cautioned that it didn't mean a lot in the larger scheme of things. We destroyed some cupcakes that Eden Prairie, or maybe even Mahtomedi could beat.

And Wednesday night, in the Barn no less, the Gophers proved why we need to be careful with our expectations for this team.

Something called the South Dakota State Jackrabbits fought the Gophers for 40 minutes, and for most of the game controlled the game. The Jackrabbits handled the Gophers on the offensive end of the floor. When the Gophers played zone, the Jackrabbits attacked the zone and found the open shooter when the zone collapsed. When Tubby Smith had the Gophers in a man-to-man defense--which should have benefitted us considering we are far more athletic--the Jackrabbits made the Gophers overcommit, and when the help-side defense wasn't there, the Jackrabbits pounced.

The blue bunnies from South Dakota had about a 10 rebound advantage. A lot of this came when the Gophers were palying a flat-footed 2-3 zone. Not only did we fail to box out, but as the bunnies ran out to a 9 point first half lead, we failed to challenge a slew of outside jump shots.

Basically, the Gophers are incredibly lucky to have walked out of Williams Arena with a 78=72 win against the Jackrabbits. Had this been a team with a less childish nickname, say the Spartans, the Gophers would have been run out of the gym.

What else should we take note of? Here's a list.

** This near-disaster was mostly about team defense. Shots weren't challenged. The help-side defense was slow.

** On numerous occasions, the Gophers struggled to get going offensively. A 35-second violation against the blue bunnies is somewhat embarrassing. Part of the reason for tihs is the Gophers don't have a guard that can effectively, and consistently create his own shot. Only two Minnesota players on this night could create their own shots: Damian Johnson and Dan Coleman. Lawrence McKenzie? No. Al Nolen? He'll get there, but not yet. Kevin Payton? LOL

** Where art thou Lawrence McKenzie? He finished the game with 7 points on 2-for-6 shooting. Gophers bloggers took Dan Coleman to task earlier this year for lackadasical play. Coleman has since put up his first back-to-back 20+ scoring games in his career. Perhaps we should turn our attention to McKenzie.

** Speaking of Coleman, he led the Gophers tonight, and they needed every bit of it. Twenty-four points on 10-for-14 shooting is nothing to scoff at. He scored with his back to the basket, and showed off a baby-hook, among other inside moves. It's good to see him play down low.

** In the last two minutes, with the Gophers holding on to a two to five point lead, this is the lineup we saw: Damian Johnson, Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson, Al Nolen and Lawrence McKenzie. All the talk about starting lineups is pointless. The lineup at the end is what matters. Here is your go-to Gophers lineup. I'd assume that if Tubby wanted offense instead of defense, he'd have Blake Hoffarber on the floor instead of Johnson--but that might not be the case. Johnson has been the Gophers MVP so far, and he's not a liability on offense.

** Spencer Tollackson came through in the clutch. With 1:30 left, and the Gophers nursing a 3 point lead, Tollackson had the ball on the block with the shot clock at 10. He did his best Kevin McHale up-and-under, jumped, and somehow underhanded a pass to a wide-open Coleman under the basket.

** South Dakota State sophmore Garrett Callahan should transfer to the Gophers. He destroyed us. He has a quick a release as Blake Hoffarber, can penetrate effectively and was the best player on the floor Wednesday night.

** The Barn can still get loud!

** Al Nolen hit 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch for his only three points of the game. But he was feisty on the defensive end, and on this night the Gophers needed his energy

** Sometimes I think I sound like I'd like to knob off Damian Johnson. But I can't stop with the superlatives for him. He led the Gophers in rebounds. He altered shots down the stretch. He was the most effective Gopher in drawing fouls and penetrating. Johnson finished with 10 points and went 4-for-5 from the free throw line. Most improved Big Ten player?

In summary, the Jackrabbits put quite the scare into the Gophers. The win wasn't pretty. But 7-1 is 7-1 and the Gophers now have 10 days off before Santa Clara comes to town. The close game should give Tubby Smith plenty to bark about in practice. It was clear at times he wasn't happy Wednesday night.

For the same reasons we shouldn't point to the 7-1 mark and start talking about Big Ten titles, we also shouldn't point to this surprisingly close game and believe that the Gophers can't be competitive. They can. But there is work to be done.

Gameday Vs. SDSU: Thoughts On The 6-1 Start

You're excited. I'm excited. We're all excited for Tubby-ball. And we have reason to be pleased. A year ago, the Gophers were 2-5 at this point and Dan Monson was on his way out.

I don't mean to rain on our collective parade with this post, but I just want to start a discussion about the 2007-08 Gophers. What do we really know at this point? By this time tomorrow the team should be 7-1 after romping South Dakota State. Then the Gophers host Santa Clara (8-1) and head to Las Vegas for three games: Nicholls State (9-1), Kennesaw State (10-1) and UNLV (????).

At worst, the Gophers should enter the Big Ten season at 10-2. But I submit that we won't know until the end of January exactly what kind of team we have on our hands. To date, the Gophers have proven the following:

** Scoring will come easier this season because of a high-intensity pressure defense and because the addition of Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen gives increased scoring output. If one of the three seniors has an off night, the Gophers can still score more than 45! That's a big improvement over last year.

** Damian Johnson can be a difference maker on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. He's exactly what the Gophers needed--considering their lack of depth in the frontcourt--to be successful. And Johnson is the exact type of player the Gophers will need in the Big Ten season.

** Tubby Smith is pushing his players out of their comfort zone. I will wager that Dan Coleman is far and away this team's best player come the middle of the Big Ten season. He's had to change his game to fit into Tubby's plans, and in Coleman's case this is a good thing. Attacking the basket will only make Coleman a better perimter player.

** The Florida State game tells us that Spencer Tollackson--God bless his hustle--will struggle against more athletic big men. That game also tells us that the Gophers' guards will be out-classed from time-to-time by more athletic playmakers. Thankfully, the Big Ten isn't loaded with explosive guards and Greg Oden is sitting on a bench somewhere in the pacific northwest.

** Most importantly here, we've learned the Gophers will destroy the cupcakes on their schedule. And, frankly, this is why we're all so excited for Tubby ball. In year's past, a tilt against South Dakota State would be worrisome.

What I'm trying to say is, while we've seen some positivies, it's far too early to judge this team. We can be pleased that it's a fun team to watch--who would have thought that this crew could put up near 100 points? But we shouldn't blow this early record out of proportion.

Down With Goldy said it well here: As much as the optimism is flying, they really haven't done anything special, which is a clear sign of just how far the program had fallen. The win at Iowa St, while wouldn't mean much to many programs, was a huge win for the Gophers. No shame in losing @ FSU. With only the game @ UNLV remaining as a quality game in non-conference, we'll likely have to wait for the Big Ten season to know just how good this team is.

Exactly.

That said, I'm sure Tubby would rather be off to a potentially misleading 6-1 start then to still be dealing with this nonsense.

The Gophers tip-off tonight at 8 p.m. CT at Williams Arena. The game is on the Big Ten Network.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coleman Reaches Milestone In Another Rout

Senior Dan Coleman, the recipient of some criticism from the Minnesota blogosphere in the first few weeks of the season, put up 22 points and 11 rebounds Saturday night as he led the Gophers to their first 90-point plus output for two years.

Coleman's 22 points allowed him to become the 34th Golden Gopher to surpass the 1,000 point total for his career. Congratulations, Dan.

For all the jabs we online pundits have thrown Coleman's way, he still leads the team in scoring with 12.1 per contest. Last week I suggested that Coleman was struggling to adapt to a new system. No longer was it considered OK for him to spot up outside the three point line and fire away. Now, he is being relied upon to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. As Tubby Smith said in the post game press conference, good things happen when his team aggressively attacks the basket.

In this Minnesota Daily article, Coleman talks about learning that new system. He said: "I feel like I'm starting to settle in a little bit. Learning the new system hasn't been the most natural transition for me."

While we should applaud Coleman's accomplishment, that doesn't mean he can't still take a step or two forward--especially if he has professional basketball aspirations. In the post game press conference--which I was able to watch online at GopherSports.com, as a paying member--Tubby Smith still suggested that Coleman can do a better job of taking the ball to the rim. Tubby said Coleman sometimes still feels more comfortable finding a spot on the perimiter.

It was in that answer that I realized Tubby is trying to completely change the way Coleman plays basketball. If Coleman can score inside, his outside game will only become that more dominant.

But Coleman wasn't the only bright spot in the Gophers' 91-74 win over Colorodo State. The game wasn't as close as even the final score might indicate. Blake Hoffarber came off the bench again and lit up the scoreboard. In 22 minutes, Hoffarber put up 21 points, including 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. Joining Coleman and Hoffarber with double digits were Spencer Tollackson (16), Al Nolen (11) an Damian Johnson (10).

One of the concerns we had heading into the season was scoring depth. With Hoffarber's ascension and the soli role play of Johnson and steady point guard play of Nolen, the Gophers can at least say they have four offensive players (Coleman, Tollackson, Hoffarber and Lawrence McKenzie) and myriad role players.

Quite the difference a year--and a Hall of Fame coach--makes.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Have A Good Weekend

I'm off to Atlantic City for a night of poker and heavy drinking, so I'll be gone until late Sunday or Monday.

I'm going to try and sneak away to the hotel room to catch portions of the Colorodo State tilt against the Gophers basketball team at Williams Arena tonight.

Before I leave you, there are a few Gophers items to bring your attention to.

Colorodo State is coached by former North Dakota State University coach Tim Miles. The Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf has a look at Colorodo state here. The Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller also takes the Miles angle in a story here.

Meanwhile in this preview from The Coloradoan, today's opposition talks about being star-struck by Tubby Smith.

Down With Goldy suggests that Colorodo State is "not a scary team." I completely agree. Tim Miles' former team seemed to be more positioned to make an upset than the Colorodo State Rams.

In his blog, Fuller informs us that Tubby is bringing the Gophers national attention and Fuller breaks down the numbers to show us just how much impact he has had.

ANd now, I'm off. Ski-U-Mah, and wish me luck in Atlantic City. I want to be up a few grand by the time the Gophers begin so I can throw some money down on them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dennis Green: You Are Who We Thought You Were

And that would be a kook.

That descriptor isn't used lightly. But when someone takes perhaps their most un-flattering moment, where they come across as someone Nurse Ratched should be observing, and brings that back into the public eye, um, yeah, that would be considered kooky.

Dennis Green is trying to capitalize on his post-game meltdown last year after his Cardinals blew a large lead against the Chicago Bears. And by capitalizing, I mean that Green is apparently going to try and trademark the phrase "They Are Who We Thought They Were."

This would fall into the category of simply not being able to make it up. Here's the YouTube clip in case you are in need of a good laugh.



I say, why not take it one step further. The Sheriff could take his desire to capitalize on his insanity by trademarking "High Performance Helicopter." Another Denny Green conundrum.

(HT-AOL FanHouse)