Friday, February 29, 2008

Have A Great Weekend!

PJS is taking a weekend away from home and travelling further north to the smoke free casinos in Atlantic City. Two nights at the Borgata (the only place to stay in AC) should do wonders for my bank account. Not really, but considering the shear amount of idiots who come to play poker counting on losing $1,000 or more, it's easier pickings than you might think.

Saturday is yet another big game opportunity for the Gophers. At 7-8, the Gophers are one game back in the conference of the 8-7 Ohio State Buckeyes. The positioning matters because the 5th seed (currently OSU) in the Big Ten tournament gets a bye while the sixth seed plays on day one. During the teams' first meeting this season in Columbus, the Buckeyes jumped out to an insurmountable double-digit lead.

During that contest, as was the case at Purdue this week and in so many other losses this season, the Gophers put together stretches of brilliance. But they also put together stretches of highly inconsistent play. A Minnesota win gives them a very outside chance at a NCAA berth, but more than anything else it gives them a shot at finishing 5th in the Big Ten. And that's not a bad accomplishment for largely the same team that went 9-22 a season ago.

I'll be back Sunday with my thoughts on the game. Until then, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Keeping Tabs: RSIII Leads HS Team To Quarters

Ralph Sampson III, the center piece of Tubby Smith's incoming recruiting class, led his Northview, GA high school basketball team Tuesday to an upset win over one of the four #1 seeds in the AAAAA Georgia High School Basketball Tournament.

Chris Monter at Scout.com mentions this development here. The AAAAA bracket can be found here. Sampson will lead his Northview teammates on Friday in the quarterfinals against Norcross, a team that is ranked 10th nationally by USA Today. Norcross is the two-time defending AAAAA boys champion in Georgia and are led by Wake Forest signee Al Farouq Aminu.

I haven't been able to find a full boxscore from this game, but the Marietta Daily Journal has a write-up that can be found here. The writer states that Sampson had seven blocks and 11 points.

Also, it should be noted that this is at least Sampson's second game since Jim Souhan reported--and I then relayed--that RSIII's high school career had ended.

Gophers Look For Marquee Win Against Painter's Boilers

When the Gophers head to West Lafayette tonight to take on the Purdue Boilermakers, it will mark Minnesota's last best chance to tell the college basketball world that they can play with tournament bound teams.

Until now, the Gophers have flirted with making such a statement. There were the free throw misses at home in a winnable games against Indiana. There was the game at home against Michigan State that was played without Al Nolen. And there was a hard fought loss at Wisconsin's Kohl Center that could have went Minnesota's way had the offense executed down the stretch.

But instead of covering Minnesota's season, let's take a look at the surprise of the Big Ten, perhaps of the country.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have been very high on the Purdue Boilermakers. Early on, there weren't many writers, mainstream or otherwise, who gave Matt Painter's crew much of a chance to compete in the Big Ten. My position on Purdue was so out of the ordinary that a Purdue message board linked to this post and stated something to the effect of "A Minnesota blogger believes in us!"

In that post, I predicted the Boilermakers would finish 4th in the Big Ten. I hate to sound like Aaron Gleeman, and point back at something just to point out I was right, but ... here's what I wrote about Purdue as conference play was about to begin.

I know, I know, they're too young. They lost to Wofford and Iowa State. But ... they also handled Louisville and have the best group of youngsters in the conference. Some early season struggles were to be expected. Now the question is can Matt Painter coach these guys. And I think he can. Just consider that two years ago the Boilers languished at the bottom of the Big Ten. Last season, Painter had Purdue dancing and lost to Florida in the second round by single digits. That would indicate the Purdue alum can coach. Youngsters to watch include combo guard E'Twaun Moore, forward Scott Martin, 6'10" center JaJuan Johnson and forward Robbie Hummel.

When the Gophers tipoff against Purdue tonight--in the only meeting of the season between the two clubs--the Gophers will face a Purdue team has exceeded even my lofty expectations for them. The Baby Boilers are 12-2 in conference and in the thick of the Big Ten regular season title race. A win tonight puts the Boilers in a three-way tie atop the league.

Moore and Hummel have been absolute game changers. Hummel is doing everything: hitting from the perimter, scoring in double-digits and leading the team with 5.9 reboudns per game. Meanwhile, Moore is leading the team with 11.9 poiunts per game. Not bad for two freshman.

I could go on about Purdue's young team, but I want to focus just for a minute on Painter. The Purdue alum is the odds on favorite to collect hardware for Big Ten Coach of the Year. He deserves the nod. And he deserves credit for reecruiting the quartet of freshman in the first place. According to this Rivals article reprinted by Yahoo!, Painter had a decision to make two years ago. He could pursue high-impact talent like Greg Oden and Mike Conley. But he didn't put much effort in there, realizing that Purdue was a longshot to secure those rare talents. Instead, he tied down the area surrounding Purdue. All four of the freshman played high school and AAU ball within 100 miles of West Lafayette.

The Purdue lesson is one that Minnesota fans hope will play out in Williams Arena. Last season, Matt Painter took the Boilers to the tournament with two senior leaders. Now led by youth, the Boilers have taken another step forward. The situation for Minnesota is strikingly similar. Tubby Smith has revitalized the program. A team that finished 9-22 last season is flirting with 20 wins this season while being led by three senior leaders. And next year the Gophers have a mildly hyped five-man recruiting class of their own.

PREDICTION: The Gophers are decided underdogs tonight, even with that experience on our side. The best hope for the Gophers is the Boilermakers realize what they are playing for. But I think Purdue is 12-2 for a reason, and because this game is on the road for the Gophers I'm predicting a 72-64 Purdue win. But watch the game and enjoy it even if it gets ugly. Matt Painter doesn't get the attention Tubby Smith, Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan or Thad Matta do. But he just might be a coach in the process of building something that will sustain.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Keeping Tabs: Bostick's Future, Faber Likes The Barn

PJS Note: Periodically over the remainder of the basketball season I will post updates of Tubby Smith's incoming five-man 2008 class. The group has been ranked as high as 10th nationally and it is part of the hopefully golden future of Minnesota basketball.

Over the years, Minnesota has been spoiled by top notch junior college transfers. Bobby Jackson jacked up the tempo, intensity and his socks en route to one of the most enjoyable seasons that never happened in Minnesota men's basketball history. Vincent Grier, with his somewhat funky looking left handed jump shot, was perhaps the one bright spot in Dan Monson's tenure.

With two JUCO transfers coming in this fall, it's understandable that Minnesota fans would have high expectations for Devron Bostick (will be a junior) and Paul Carter (will be a sophomore).

Down with Goldy took up this topic in a recent post, and noted that Bostick is the #4 rated JUCO in the nation according to Rivals. That's great, right? Maybe, maybe not as Down with Goldy reports here. The bloggers findings were mixed, when looking back at players similarly positioned to Bostick in recent years. He concludes: "He should be anywhere from a rotation double-digit minutes type guy to a leading scorer type. Hopefully, leading scorer type."

Bostick is a 6'5", 215 pound small forward type who has traditionally been able to score at the high school and JUCO levels. The combination of athleticism and scoring at the small forward spot has been an issue for this year's Gophers. Damian Johnson brings the athleticism when he's playing the 3-spot, but not the scoring punch. Jamal Abu-Shamala and Blake Hoffarber do exactly the opposite.

** Following up on a recent post indicating the Gophers are interested in a third big man for the incoming class, three-star center Krystopher Faber indicates the Gophers are his top school.

Prior to the season Faber visited Northern Illinois and Minnesota. St. John's and UCLA have since joined his school list, but Minnesota is at the top of the list."Minnesota is my top school," said Faber. "I really like the coaching staff and the gym. The Barn is amazing, and I loved the atmosphere."
He really likes The Barn?!? Here I thought the kids don't like old school environments. I digress.

Faber is a relatively thick big man, standing at 6-11, 245 pounds. Reports indicate Faber's play has improved over the past season, and, according to Rivals, he finished with nice averages of 16 points and 17 reboudns per game. Because Ralph Sampson III would appear to be more of a finesse inside player, adding a prototypical banger to the interior would seem like a good play. Faber is getting ready to take an unofficial visit to UCLA and is contemplating a similar visit to St. John's. If Faber is a priority for Tubby Smith--we also know Tubby is still in search of another point guard--it would seems Minnesota's competition will come from Faber's in state school UCLA.

** Late last week I referenced Jim Souhan's well-written feature on Ralph Sampson III. In praising the article, I noted that RSIII had played his final high school basketball game. Souhan wrote something similar in the article I referenced. Well, let this stand as a correction, because RSIII's Northview team made its first-ever state tournament appearance on Saturday, and the Minnesota signee led his team to a 64-58 victory. Sampson filled the stat sheet with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks. In this Atlanta Journal Constitution article, Sampson's coach is quoted as saying our future center was double and triple teamed. Also quoted was the coach of the team Sampson helped to defeat. He called Sampson "a force."

According to Scout, Northview will face Marietta on Friday in the second roud of the playoffs. This Scout link also has a game-by-game breakdown of Sampson's impressive output this season. By my count, Sampson has recored six triple-doubles, and been damn close to a handful of others.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back To .500

It was as if two different Minnesota men's basketball teams took on the Penn State Nittany Lions during a matinee at Williams Arena Sunday afternoon.

One group of Gophers made me want to toss my remote control in disgust. After a decent start through five minutes, the Gophers went ice cold from the field. After a couple shots rimmed out, the Gophers sped things up a little too much offensively. Perimeter shots were settled for without any semblance of ball movement. Transition threes were launched under duress. Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Nittany Lions moved the ball crisply. They created wide open three point shots and hit an astonishing percentage to build a double-digit lead.

Then something changed. The Gophers calmed down. A couple threes fell and, most importantly, the Gophers began taking the ball to the basket. By halftime, the Gophers had trimmed the Nittany Lions lead to two. And as soon as the second half began, the Gophers took over. Lawrence Westbook penetrated and drew fouls. Dan Coleman finished with a dunk instead of fading on layups. On offense and defense, the Gophers were the aggressor.

The Gophers eventually won 75-68 to climb back to .500 (7-7) in the Big Ten. But the game went down to the wire partly because the Gophers are playing very inconsistent. After the lackadasical first 15 minutes and the high intensity end of the first half and beginning of the second half, the Gophers let the Nittany Lions hang around. I'm not sure the Gophers have played a full 40 minutes of smart, crisp, tenacious basketball all season. It was the same story against Penn State

Westbrook's aggressivness helped him lead the Gophers with 15 points. He shot 6-6 from the free throw line. Also in double figures were Dan Coleman with 10 points (on 4-13 frm the floor), Lawrence McKenzie with 11 points (on 3-12 from the floor including 3-9 from three) and Blake Hoffarber, who finished with 10 points on 3-5 shooting (all outside the arc).

Other Observations:

** Jon Williams played his second straight very solid game spelling Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Williams slammed home a couple buckets with authority. It's cliche, but Williams has tended to play "soft." He was anything but Sunday.

** Jamal Abu-Shamala found himself in Tubby's doghouse midway through the first half and didn't return. A-S launched a three early in the shot clock (this was during the period when the Gophers were slightly out of control on offense). Tubby yanked A-S right after the shot and he didn't return.

** I'm really tired of watching during every Gophers telecast a highlight of Blake Hoffarber's off-his-butt shot during the Minnesota high school tournament. Unfortunately, I think we're in store for three more years of seeing this highlight.

** What's with Minnesota's free throw routines? The Gophers catch the ball from the referee, take a look at the rim and shoot. As a coach, I preached that the players needed a routine. But I've never seen an entire team employ the same routine and have it be as simple as catch, look shoot. For some this might work fine, but I don't think it gives the player time to clear his head after a miss. The Gophers shot 57 percent from the line Sunday. Coleman was 2-6. Damian Johnson was 0-3. Williams was 0-2.

UP Next: The Gophers have four regular season games remaining. And I believe the Gophers will be underdogs in each. Starting Wednesday, the Gophers travel to face the upstart Purdue Boilermakers. Then the Gophers return home next weekend to face Ohio State, before finishing the conference schedule with games on the road against Indiana and Illinois. If the Gophers want to find themselves in bubble talk later on in March, they must win three of these four games. I don't think it's likely.

Right back in the mix

Following another exciting weekend of WCHA hockey, the standings are still a mess after the top three of Colorado College, North Dakota and Denver.

Team W-L-T Pts. GF GA
Colorado Coll. 18-5-1 37
North Dakota 16-7-1 33
Denver 15-8-1 31
Wisconsin 10-11-5 25
MSU-Mankato 10-10-4 24
St. Cloud State 11-11-2 24
Minn.-Duluth 8-11-5 21
Minnesota 7-11-6 20
Michigan Tech 7-13-4 18
AK Anchorage 3-18-5 11

That's right, the Gophers, after taking three points from Wisconsin this weekend trails fourth place by five points with two weekends to go. The three points elevates the Gophers to eighth, but a sweep next weekend at last-place Anchorage should move them up to seventh.

Here is how I see things after next weekend:
4. Wisconsin 27 (split with St. Cloud)
5. St. Cloud State 26
6. MSU-Mankato 24 (swept at CC)
7. Minnesota 23 (three points at UAA)
8. MN-Duluth 23 (split with North Dakota)

The one other thing to think about is that Wisconsin has a bye in the final week, so they could fall if the teams below them win.

So, what was the difference this weekend, in which the Gophers scored eight goals on the heels of 10 goals in eight games?

Balance.

Minnesota got goals from everyone - two from freshman Patrick White (he entered with two), another from offense-challenged defenseman Derek Peltier and slumping Jay Barriball. The result was a 4-2 Friday win and a 4-4 tie Saturday, in which the Gophers had four one-goal leads.

Maybe the team needed a week off to regroup and to work on some things, including resurrecting a power play that was darn right bad. Minnesota will need to play like they did this weekend to score four wins during the next two weekends and maybe have a chance at a home playoff series. You never know with the Gophers.

I didn't catch a minute of action from the weekend (first time in at least 5+ years) because of high school section stournaments in girls' basketball, boys swimming, boys hockey and wrestling. It was a busy weekend.

But, Roman A from the Trib did:

Friday
Saturday

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Series Prep: Wisconsin at Minnesota

Series: Minnesota leads the all-time series 148-79-16 in a series that began in 1922.
Drop of the puck: Friday: 7:07 p.m; Saturday: 7:07 p.m. central time
Television: Friday night on Big Ten Network; Saturday is live on FSN North.

Announcers: Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog
PTFG Prediction: Minnesota has had two weeks to rest and prepare for the homestretch. I have to believe they at least split with a Badger team that is no better than middle of the pack.

Rankings:

Pairwise: Wisconsin 12, Minnesota 17
USCHO.com: Wisconsin 10, Minnesota (receiving votes)
USA Today: Wisconsin 12, Minnesota not ranked
Krach: Wisconsin 8, Minnesota 14

Articles:

Star Tribune: Ben Gordon tells Roman Augustoviz the Gophers aren't done.

Pioneer Press: Bruce Brothers says it's do-or-die time.

Minnesota Daily: Brian Deutsch looks for positives in the sub-.500 Gophers.

Weekend outlook:

Gophers at a glance: Six games to change a season, and a seeding. Minnesota, who enters the weekend with a 6-11-5 record and a ninth-place position, will square off with the rival Badgers, travel to last-place anchorage and host Duluth during the final three weekends.

At stake, a better position for the first-round playoffs as it appears only six wins would move the Gophers up into the top five. Minnesota has 17 points currently - seven behind fourth-place Wisconsin and Mankato.

Minnesota’s ninth place standing in the WCHA is a very unusual spot for the Gophers, who are the two-time defending regular season league champions and have finished fourth or better each of the past eight seasons. Minnesota has not finished lower than sixth since a seventh place finish in 1976-77. The only time in 56 years of league play that Minnesota finished ninth or lower was a 10th place standing in 1971-72.

Four points separates Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth for sixth place.

While the Gophers offense has been anemic, the goaltending continues to be top notch. Since the holiday break, freshman Alex Kangas has made 11 starts and owns a 1.75 goals against average and .935 save percentage, though he only has a 2-4-5 record. For the season, Kangas ranks 13th nationally with a 2.14 goals against average and 12th with a .923 save percentage.

Did you know? Despite its below .500 record, Minnesota has rarely been behind in any of its games. The Gophers have scored first in 23 of their 32 contests and trailed for just 386 of a possible 1,961 minutes (19.7 percent of the time). Minnesota never trailed in any of its three overtime losses or five of its ties.

Wisconsin at a glance: The Badgers are coming a weekend split with Mankato - the hottest team in the WCHA. Wisconsin is 6-2-3 over its last 11 games and, like Minnesota, the Badgers have been in several tight games recently with four overtime games among their last nine contests.

Freshman forward Kyle Turris, who was the preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year, has compiled 11 goals and 18 assists for a team-high 29 points. Ben Street has a team-best 12 goals while adding 15 assists for 27 points. Shane Connelly has played all but three games in goal and owns a 2.32 goals against average and .917 save percentage.


Did you know? Goals have been at a premium in recent Minnesota-Wisconsin clashes. The past nine meetings have featured a total of 33 goals scored between the two teams, including two shutouts. Last year, just 17 goals were scored in the five meetings and a total of eight goals were scored in the first matchups this year. Neither team has scored five goals in a game in the series since Minnesota posted a 5-3 win on Feb. 5, 2005.

The Lawrence McKenzie Show

That's what it was Thursday night in Williams Arena. Senior Lawrence McKenzie put up a career-high 26 timely points to carry the Gophers past a Michigan Wolverines team that seems to be gaining confidence as the season drags on.

Instead of doing a blow by blow recap of last night's game, I want to focus solely on McKenzie. He pushed the Gophers out to a quick first half lead with his hot shooting from beyond the arc. He had nine points in the first five or six minutes. His offense came and went for the middle portion of the game, as the Wolverines fought their way to a lead midway through the second half. But then, showing the offensive punch we all knew he had, McKenzie took over towards the end as he did shortly after the opening tip.

He finished with an incredible line. He was 9-14 from the floor including 7-11 from three point land. The offensive onslaught from McKenzie, in my mind, can be at least partially explained because he is now reverting back into the role of a shooting guard. He started in the backcourt alongside Al Nolen. And only for small portions of the game was McKenzie charged with being the floor leader, which it is so incredibly clear isn't his strength.

It's tough to blame Tubby Smith or anyone else for the situation McKenzie was thrust into this season. The team only has one true point guard in Nolen, an exciting but still unpolished true freshman. So, Tubby began the season by trying to get McKenzie comfortable playing the point. It never happened, and not only was McKenzie prone to turning the ball over, but his offense disappeared on most nights.

Tubby didn't really have any other option to start the season. Nolen wasn't ready to play 25-30 minutes per game as he is now. The only other point guard options were Lawrence Westbrook (that's scary) and Kevin Payton (yikes). So McKenzie, playing for his fourth coach during his college career, was forced to completely reinvent himself. That plan didn't work out, at least not the way I imagine Tubby envisioned it.

Now, McKenzie can play a handful of minutes at the point with some confidence. But it is so incredibly clear that he is the best scoring option on this team. To lose that offense because McKenzie is concentrating on protecting the ball, setting up the offense or getting Spencer Tollackson involved was unfortunate.

Against the Wolverines, McKenzie led the Gophers to a 69-60 win. It's really too bad the dearth of point guards on this roster forced McKenzie to put that offense on the shelf for much of the season.

UP Next: The Gophers host Penn State this weekend, another highly winnable game that should get the Gophers back to .500 (7-7) in the conference. Penn State will likely come in with a chip on their shoulder after the amazing comeback the Gophers made in Happy Valley earlier this season.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Random Stuff: Bo Ryan Snags A Minnesota Recruit...

... For his 2009 class. But at least the recruit wasn't named Royce White. Instead, Ryan received a verbal commitment from Mike Bruesewitz, a 6'7 forward from Henry Sibley High School. According to The Capital Times, Bruesewitz had offers from Minnesota, Purdue, Davidson, Washington State, Iowa, Valparasio and Montana.

Bruesewitz is a three-star Rivals prospect. Without knowing how actively Tubby Smith was recruiting Buresewitz, it's hard to really work up a lather about this. It'd be nice if Bo Ryan never signed a Minnesota kid again, but that's just not going to happen. But Tubby's 2009 class will be defined by landing or losing Royce White.

That reminds me. If you like following Minnesota high school hoops, a good blog to check out is TCHoops. The blogger gives his observations after watching Royce and DeLaSalle face off against Brooklyn Center.

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Names are emerging in the sweepstakes to replace Everett Withers. The STrib's Chip Scoggins mentioned University of Louisville Cardinals Linebackers Coach Ted Roof came into Minneapolis to interview for the position Tuesday. Roof only signed on with the Cardinals a month or so ago, after an understandably rough stint as the head man at Duke. Such is the unfortunate nature of college coaching. The Louisville Courier-Journal picks up on Roof's interest in Minnesota in a blog post here.

Here is a bio of Roof from his days at Duke.

Scoggins had previously mentioned former Nebraska coordinator Kevin Cosgrove could be a candidate, but now Scoggins says that doesn't appear likely.

Other names that have been mentioned are Tim Tibesar, Kansas State's Defensive Coordinator. Tibesar is a St. Paul native. Rivals mentions Tibesar, as well as UCLA DC DeWayne Walker, a former Gopher, as possibilities. But the consensus at this point is Roof is the favorite.

KEEPING TABS: Devron Bostick's highly ranked SWIC Blue Storm are in a bit of a free fall. After sporting a 23-1 record just one week ago, the Blue Storm lost fot he third straight outing Monday. But it wasn't because Bostick didn't show up. He led the Blue Storm with 24 points.

COMING UP: The Gophers face Michigan tomorrow at Williams Arena during the first leg of a two game homestand that needs to turn into two wins. I'm not going to preview the Michigan game because it's Michigan, and despite the fact that they just upset Ohio State, the Gophers trounced the Wolverines a few weeks back in Ann Arbor and really ought to be able to do the same Thursday night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Defensive Coordinator Bolts

According to the Star Tribune, Everett Withers is leaving his position as defensive coordinator with the Gophers for the same position on Butch Davis' staff at North Carolina. Withers didn't comment to the Star Tribune, but it appears as if it is being spun by Minnesota officials that Withers always wanted to coach at UNC. Withers also got a small raise.

In the early days of PJS I profiled Withers here, and was pleased with the hire because Withers' resume indicated he would bring an attacking defensive philosophy to the Gophers. Early on last season it appeared as if Withers was trying to attack defensively, something the Glen Mason regime wasn't inclined to do. But eventually Withers learned that the talent level on the defense wasn't high enough to allow our secondary to handle one-on-one type scenarios. Eventually, Withers' defense was forced to play on its heels. Because of the dearth of talent, it's hard to blame Withers for the sieve of a defense he coached last season.

So, perhaps he simply wanted a fresh start. And the STrib speculates in the linked story above that me might have left because of a desire to be closer to family in North Carolina.

But the other angle to this is to ask why have we seen two defections from Tim Brewster's staff in the last week? Last week Director of Football Operations Randy Taylor resigned "to pursue other opportunities." So, after Tim Brewster puts together one of the best recruiting classes in the history of the program, two staff members bolt? If I were still a reporter, I'd be telling my editors that I believe something strange is going on.

Instead of pursuing that line of thought, we can instead speculate on a possible replacement. The one candidate the STrib mentioned to replace Withers is Kevin Cosgrove, the former Nebraska defensive coordinator who is said to have a long relationship with Brewster. I'll try and provide more names as they are speculated upon publicly.

We will also understand more about this situation when a new coach is hired. Will someone with a solid reputation come to Minnesota to coach with a still unproven Brewster?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keeping Tabs: RSIII's HS Career Ends; Class Could Grow

PJS Note: Periodically over the remainder of the basketball season I will post updates of Tubby Smith's incoming five-man 2008 class. The group has been ranked as high as 10th nationally and it is part of the hopefully golden future of Minnesota basketball.

I know many online pundits aren't fans of the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan. I am, and his feature on Ralph Sampson III today is the latest reason why.

Souhan made the trip to Georgia for the state's high school playoffs and walked us through Sampson's last game as a high school basketball player but also weaves in the up and down life story of RSIII's father, the legendary Ralph Sampson.

The younger Sampson fouled out of the state playoff game, and despite a bum knee, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, nine blocks and three assists.

But be sure to check out Souhan's feature. Here's a snippet:

Ralph III is folded onto a narrow wooden bench in an empty locker room, alongside his brother and Bombard. He's friendly and soft-spoken. His mother says he's an "A-B" student who was impressed by Minnesota's academics as well as by Smith.

Sampson chose Minnesota over Kentucky, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

"Coach Smith was what attracted my attention to Minnesota," Sampson says. "They were also the first school to offer me a scholarship."

The brothers are obviously close. They joke about their 1-on-1 games and the collateral damage of dunking at home.

"Robert was outside, trying to practice dunking, and he was hanging on the rim, which loosened it," Ralph III said. "I was going to go out there and show him how to do it, and when I went up and dunked it, I pulled the whole basket off the side of the house."

Ralph III is asked what his goal is for his Minnesota career. "My No. 1 goal," he says, "is to win a national championship."

I like the sound of that, RSIII.

Sampson finished his senior year averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game. Nice line.

** The PiPress' Marcus Fuller continues to report via his blog here and here that the Gophers are still pursuing two or three other players for next year's class. The current targets are point guards Verdell Jones, Jorge Gutierrez, and big man Krys Faber. Here's a mini PJS scouting report on each:

Verdell Jones is a 6'4 point guard from Illinois that is weighing offers from Minnesota, Kentucky and Tennessee. According to Rivals, Jones has "high" interest in each school. This would be the second recruit--Sampson being the other--that had his decision boil down to Minnesota and Kentucky, effectively pitting Tubby Smith against Billy Gillispie in a recuriting war. Jones is a Rivals 3-star prospect, but his value is increasing because he could be the most talented point guard who is still uncommitted. ESPN.com Insider, which indicates Minnesota is Jones' #1 right now, said the following about the guard:

"He really knows how to score in various ways; a prolific scoring guard. He is a deep outside shooter, excellent scoring shot from anywhere on the court and gets to the rim at will. He's quick, but needs a lot of strength; weak up top. He is not a great defender but is capable of playing defense but loves offense a lot more. More of a 2 guard than point; not a playmaker; looks to score."

Jorge Gutierrez, a native of Mexico, might be a new name for most of you. The long-haired 6'2, 175 pound combo guard from Henderson, NV, has seen his value rise over the last weeks due to strong play, and also because of the aforementioned lack of quality point guards remaining on the market. Unlike Jones, the Gophers haven't offered Gutierrez, but he could be a Plan B if Jones doesn't sign on. According to ESPN.com Insider, Guttierez is more of a pass-first kind of point guard.

"He prefers to involve his teammates over scoring the ball himself, though he indeed has the ability to score. He easily finishes around the rim, using his either hand, though he shoots jumpers as a righty. He rebounds the ball well for a player of his height and seems to make the right plays at the right times. He also plays defense well and typically matches up with the opposing teams best perimeter player"

Krys Faber is a name that has been bouncing around Minnesota recriuting boards for awhile. A 6'9 center from Los Angeles, Faber reportedly visited Minnesota but decided to wait until April to make a decision. He's also received ineterst from programs like USC, Connecticut, Washington State and St. Johns. Faber would help give the Gophers depth in the already thin frontcourt. And with the graduations of Tollackson and Coleman, the Gophers need all the height and girth they can acquire. RSIII and Colten Iverson are two key big men signees, but Faber would help provide the depth the Gophers don't have right now. ESPN.com Insider indicates Faber's current #1 is Minnesota.

"Faber is one of the more promising big men that have yet to sign a Division I letter of intent. He has a high-major frame with broad shoulders, long arms, and huge hands. This lefty catches everything thrown into his vicinity and generally makes savvy-type decisions, despite being double and triple-teamed throughout each and every game. ... Overall, Faber projects to being a solid "five" at the next level, and with proper coaching and work ethic he should be a solid contributor by the time he's a sophomore in college."

** Meanwhile, my friend Tom at Gopher Nation put together a thorough look at Sampson, Devron Bostick and Paul Carter last week. Instead of rewriting that on PJS, I'll gladly send you to Gopher Nation to check out his fine work.

** Grandpa Sid Hartman also did his version of a Keeping Tabs article last week. His piece which was short on substance on the incoming crop, suggested that next year's team could well struggle more than the current Gophers led by seniors Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Sid wrote: "My guess is that it will take another recruiting class after next year's before the new coach will be competing for Big Ten titles and a position in the NCAA tournament."

That could well be true, that it will take two years of quality recruiting to get the Gophers into the upper echelon of the Big Ten. But Sid also posits that it takes seniors and experience to win in college basketball today. I don't think that's the case any longer. While senior leadership once ruled the day in college hoops, today's winners are typicllay the team's with the best talent, nevermind the experience factor. Look at Matt Painter's Boilermakers, occasionally called the Baby Boilers. Experienced they are not. Look at Thad Matta's young, stud-laden squad from a season ago. The Gophers don't have a Greg Oden, Eric Gordon or Carmello Anthony type coming in next season, but there is no reason a more talented group of freshman can't outperform a trio of seniors who have been short on talent and leadership.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gophers Keep Things Interesting Against Bucky

I sat down for the Wisconsin-Minnesota game this afternoon fully expecting to hang my head by halftime, admitting that our eastern rival is superior. Instead the Gophers came out and put together a methodical first half that would keep the game interesting well into the second half, before Bucky pulled away with about four minutes left. The Badgers eventually won 65-56.

So, how exactly were the Gophers able to compete for 36 minutes with the Badgers--a team that ran the maroon and gold out of Williams Arena just two weeks ago? Credit defense, and a first half tempo.

While shots weren't falling in the first half, the Gophers were getting to the free throw line by running effective pick and rolls, cutting and penetrating. The Gophers were playing Wisconsin's game better than the Badgers were. Defensively, the Gophers were limiting Bucky's ability to penetrate and create. All shots were contested. Offensively the Gophers were calm. Shots weren't rushed. The transition game was non-existent and because of the slow play turnovers were sparse. And what resulted was a back-and-forth first half that ended with the Badgers up just one.

Meanwhile, the typically loud Kohl Center crowd was muted. The BTN's Greg Kelser consistently referred to the Kohl Center as a library-type atmosphere. In the first half, the Gophers did exactly what they needed to do to pull off a big upset on the road.

And then, strangely, the Gophers' strategy seemed to change in the second half. Instead of forcing the ball inside after cuts and picks, the Gophers started looking for the first, quick open shot--typically threes. For a few minutes, this up tempo style was paying off. Lawrence McKenzie and Lawrence Westbrook hit a few from outside in succession. The Gophers built a five point lead.

But Bucky continued its methodical play. The Badgers weren't hurried. They didn't start turning the ball over. But Minnesota's second half tempo eventually did damage to the Gophers. Instead of making sound offensive decisions, the Gophers became rushed. Al Nolen--who started I believe for the first time and played well for most of the game--found holes in the Wisconsin defense, but then dumped off a couple questionable no-look passes in the paint. Result: turnover.

More than anything, however, the Gophers were hurt Saturday afternoon by an inability to finish in the paint. Jonathan Williams missed uncountable bunnies underneath. Spencer Tollackson couldn't finish. Dan Coleman, well, Dan Coleman disappeared for most of the game as he is wont to do. But many of the interior misses came at momentum-changing times. Nothing would fall.

Foul trouble also hurt the Gophers. Spencer Tollackson was on the bench for most of the second half with three fouls. Jon Williams, Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson all finished with four fouls. Of the four big men, it was only Williams that made an impact on the boards, leading the team with eight. Senior leaders Tollackson and Coleman finished the game with one rebound apiece.

While poor shooting (the Gophers shot 33 percent) and the faster-paced second half probably cost the Gophers, it was also clear that the defensive effort was far superior Saturday than it was against the Badgers two weeks ago or against Illinois this week. Not until the middle part of the second half were the Badgers able to consistently penetrate and score or kick to an open outside shooter. The Badgers deserve credit for their ball movement and patience, but for most of the game the Gophers were able to play very sound defense, typically playing half court man to man.

The rotation was different again. Al Nolen led the team with 33 mostly solid minutes. He had a couple shaky moments, and he needs to learn how to make crisp interior passes, but it's good to see him playing more. Nolen was part of a three guard lineup that included McKenzie and Westbrook that saw a majority of minutes. Of the four big men, Johnson saw the most action (26 minutes). Coleman (22) and Williams (21) played more than the foul-plagued Tollackson (12)

The boxscore for the game is here.

UP Next: The Gophers come home for two winnable games. On Thursday, the Michigan Wolverines come to The Barn and on Sunday the Gophers host Ed DeChellis' Penn State Nittany Lions.

Interesting Piece On Minnesota Recruiting

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in its version of a preview for the Gophers-Badgers game this afternoon, looked at how Wisconsin has been able to dominate the recruiting wars in across the border during the Dan Monson years.

I found this section interesting:

In past years, UW has benefited from its ability to identify prospects early as well as a lack of scholarships in the Gophers' program.

The latter is what helped land Leuer at UW. Minnesota initially wanted the 6-foot-10 forward to walk on as a freshman with the promise of giving him a scholarship as a sophomore. By the time they offered a full ride, Leuer's stock had risen and other schools were in the picture.

Jordan Taylor and Berggren were identified as fits for UW's system early and offered scholarships before their junior seasons. Berggren had a Minnesota offer. Taylor did not.

No doubt Dan Monson had some Clem Haskins induced obstacles to overcome, but he clearly struggled in identfying talent early. He was probably always playing catch up.

The article also mentions two 2009 products in Royce White and Rodney Williams. If the Gophers can keep those two players home to build off the outstanding 2008 class, Tubby will be well on his way to righting this ship.

** The inlaws are in DC admiring various monuments. It's game day, so of course I had to pass on the outing. I'll be watching the Badgers-Minnesota game closely to gauge any improvement from the Illinois game.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Have A Good Weekend

Hey all, the weekend is upon us. That means a trip to Madison for our rodents, where they are destined to pull off an incredible upset. Probably not, but we can dream big dreams. Sorry things have been slow around here. The day job was very slow in January, which allowed me loads of time to opine on anything and everything. But the last couple weeks have been a bear, and now that I finally have a weekend off, various inlaws have descended upon my otherwise tranquil Northern Virginia home. Because of this highly unfortunate occurence, I'll be away until Sunday night when I hope to have a glorious review of how Kevin Payton made a successful jump stop and in doing so led the Golden Gophers to a stirring come from behind win at the abomination known as the Kohl Center.

Also, maybe this would be a good time to open a thread up to thoughts and suggestions. What would you like to see more of? Less of? Do you like the Keeping Tabs on the Future series? Do you like reviews and previews, or would you prefer more sarcasm, photoshops and desperate attempts at humor? Tell me, PJS readers, why you come here and what would make you come back more often.

Other than that, I'm out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Illini Rout 'Casual' Gophers At Home

Yeah, so, say goodbye to any dreams of a March Madness bid. Such a happening was a longshot as it was--as emailers have very pointedly informed me. But this scribe, and most importantly the amateur athletes who call the raised floor home, still had hope. Until Tuesday anyway, when the Gophers lost for the 18th straight time to Illinois. Yes, 18. Not kidding.

The game itself was not close. The flannel and sweatshirt wearing season ticket holders filed out early. Tubby Smith looked bewildered. Hell, I had this article completed with more than 5 minutes left in the game, at which time it was 73-47 (I'll update with the final in the morning).

It sounds cliche, but Gene Keady put it well on the BTN tonight: "Illinois is playing hungry and Minnesota is playing casual."

This could be seen everywhere from second half loose balls that were fought for by Illinois and watched by Minnesota. It could be seen in the first half when the Illini were moving the ball crisply on offense while the Gophers were sitting back in a yawn-inspiring 2-3 zone. While the Illini were flying around picks and slashing with authority on offense, Minnesota guards were jogging.

The question is how can this happen? It seemed to begin in the first half for two reasons. First the Gophers new fangled starting lineup turned the ball over (more on the lineup below). Second, poor shooting (2-15 to start the second half) didn't help. But most importantly, I think, Tubby's defensive choices took the aggression away from the Gophers.

When have the Gophers been at their best this year? When they've been harrassing opposition guards, creating turnovers that lead to easy baskets. But Tubby had the Gophers play the majority of the tone-setting first half in a back-on-their-heels- 2-3 zone. The typically cold shooting Illini started hitting from the perimeter. While building a double-digit first half lead, the illini moved the ball quickly on offense. They penetrated, kicked, rotated and found easy, open looks on our 2-3 zone. And when they missed, boxing out was a problem in the 2-3 zone.

So, the Gophers decided to take away their own strength by looking to exploit Illinois' weakness. And it backfired in more ways than one.

While the Illini were working hard for their shots on offense, the Gophers' laid back defense translated into offensive stagnancy. Like they were on defense, the Gophers on offense were standing around, waiting for something good to happen. While Illinois guards were sprinting around picks, the Gophers were playing at a pace more likely to be seen from Pam Borton's squad.

Beacuse of this the Gophers established nothing on offense. As the game began, Tubby's lineup which consisted of guards Westbrook and Hoffarber, couldn't get big men Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman into the game. Possessions were sloppy. Turnovers weren't abundant, but possessions were nowhere near crisp.

Let's look a little more at that lineup

That Starting Lineup:

For the third straight game Tubby Smith started an unconventional lineup: Blake Hoffarber, Lawrence Westbrook, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. That's two relatively slow-footed outside shooters, a still maturing two-guard in Westbrook and our two senior big men. Let's go over the good and bad of this lineup.

** This lineup forces Blake Hoffarber to play point guard to begin games. This is troublesome because he's far too left-hand oriented, he is occasionally careless with the basketball and is wont to look for his shot more often than we might like a point guard to at the beginning of a game. We can't get Coleman and Tollackon early touches if Westbrook and Hoffarber are also looking to get their stroke going.

** With both Hoffarber and A-S on the floor at the same time, the Gophers have fewer options defensively, at least fewer effective options. They still toyed with full-court pressure, but Hoffarber and A-S are less adept at pressuring ball handlers than other guards.

** On the positive side, this lineup gives the second team a scoring punch. Bringing Lawrence McKenzie off the bench allows him some room to maneuver offensively. If we need his offense, he can look for his shot.

Final Thoughts:

This was easily the most frustrating loss of the season. The Wisconsin game was painful, but at least explainable. This loss was much tougher to swallow because it seemed like the Gophers took themselves out of the game with the decision to play soft defensively to begin the game. It would be much preferrable, at least for this fan, to see this Gophers team apply the type of defensive pressure that caused Indiana, Michigan State and others to turn the ball over in large numbers.

Individually, it's hard to praise or blame any one or two players. This was a team loss, from the coaches on the sidelines on down. And it was unfortunate because now the only thing the Gophers can play for is an NIT bid. And, oh yeah, that game this weekend at Wisconsin means a whole lot less. You can't get trounced at home by Illinois and have any hopes to pull that type of upset on the road.

*On a brighter note, Obama dominated today in the Potomac Primary! After the Illinois loss, I now know what Hillary Clinton feels like today!

Programming Note

Real life is intervening today--primaries in my backyard today--and I won't have the typical preview up for the Illinois-Minnesota game this evening. I will, however, be back later tonight with what will hopefully be a recap of how the Gophers moved above .500 in Big Ten play.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hey Hawkeye State ...


Time to eat some crow, my friend? ("My friend" here is used in the way John McCain would use it in referring to Mitt Romney).

Here's what HS stated at Black Heart Gold Pants last week:

"You read it here first: Iowa will beat Minnesota in The Barn this weekend."

Well?!?!?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Futility reaches lowest point

Four straight games with one goal each. Eight straight games with two goals or less. Yeah, the Gopher men's hockey team is struggling offensively.

For the third straight weekend, Minnesota came away with one point, while teams ahead of them in the standings begin to pull away. Denver won 4-1 Saturday after the two teams skated to a 1-1 tie Friday.

The results this weekend has Minnesota in seventh place with 17 points - five behind Wisconsin and Minnesota State-Mankato for fourth - and one point ahead of Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State for ninth.

Can it get any worse?

This past weekend, Minnesota's 13 forwards failed to score a goal, with defensemen R.J. Anderson and David Fischer lit the map. Instead of breaking down the past weekend, I thought I'd look at some (un)offensive numbers.

Anderson's goal on Friday, which tied the score at one midway through the third period, was his fifth goal of the season. Remember, despite being an offensive talent in high school at Centennial, Anderson didn't record a goal in his first two seasons.

With his five goals, he has more goals than these everyday starting forwards:
* Jay Barriball 3 (he did not play Saturday - ankle injury)
* Mike Howe 4
* Ryan Flynn 3
* Patrick White 3
* Justin Bostrom 2

What's even more pathetic is Anderson's 12 points are fourth on the team!!!!! Only Blake Wheeler (26), Ben Gordon (22) and Barriball (16) have more points this season.

It's not that Minnesota isn't getting shots - they outshot Denver 32-27 last night - but the shots they are getting is what is key. Nobody can create shots in the slot, leaving the majority of the blasts to come from the outside, or ones that the goaltenders can clearly see.

Right now, the Gophers average 2.4 goals per game, which won't get it done. It's too bad because the WCHA is down. Mankato has won six straight, even leader Colorado College lost on their home ice to St. Cloud Saturday.

One more stat: 15 power-play goals (15-for-135....11 percent). I remember the days that we approached 18-20 percent.

Thank goodness the Gophers have next weekend off. Now, we can enjoy the finer things in the program - go Gophers basketball!

Gophers Beat Sloppy Hawkeyes

As I settled in for the Iowa-Minnesota games yesterday, I was mistakenly expecting crisp, fundamentally sound basketball from Todd LIckliter's boys. That's why I was surprised by just how sloppy the Hawkeyes were--throwing full court passes that ricocheted off the backboard, for example.

I was expecting the Hawkeyes to milk the clock and be in position to get good looks as the shot clock hit zero. For the most part, they didn't do that.

The Gophers defense can take some credit, but it was Iowa's sloppiness more than anything else that let the Gophers jump out to an early lead in the first half, and hold onto it even as the Minnesota offense cooled down. As has been the case all season for Minnesota, the Gophers had trouble putting an opponent away. Leading the entire first half, and taking a nine point lead into the locker room, the Gophers came out and allowed Iowa to get back in the game. The Hawkeyes starting hitting three pointers and all of a sudden they led by one point with under 10 minutes left.

But Al Nolen and the Gophers responded. Patrick Reusse walks us through the last ten-plus minutes:

And yet, after Iowa's Justin Johnson and Tony Freeman had a brief run of tossing in three-pointers, the Gophers found themselves trailing 42-41 with 11:16 remaining.

"It kind of hit me by surprise," center Spencer Tollackson said. "I didn't really see how they got back in it, the way we had played defense."

Smith's response was to order up more defense on the perimeter. He did this with a lineup over the last 8:45 that consisted of forwards Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson and guards Al Nolen, Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence McKenzie.

All this quickness was too much for Lickliter's slewfoots, and the Gophers' small lineup finished with a 22-8 sprint to victory. The trigger for this burst was Nolen, the freshman guard who had seen reduced playing time since missing the Michigan State loss on Jan. 20 because of a bruised thigh.

Nolen finished the game with 11 points, eight assists, three steals and just two turnovers. Mckenzie and Tollackson joined Nolen to lead the team with 11 points. Damian Johnson also added nine points, seven rebounds and his usual dose of game-changing energy.

For the second game in a row, the Gophers began the game with McKenzie on the bench. McKenzie reportedly didn't start at Northwestern because he had missed a study hall. And the new group of starters--Coleman, Tollackson, Abu-Shamala, Westbrook and Hoffarber--got the Gophers off to a nice start. And it was Hoffarber playing a little point guard, and against the Hawkeyes, he was up to the task. Interesting lineup decision for sure.

UP Next: The win moves the Gophers to 15-7 and 5-5 in confernce play with Illinois coming to Williams Arena on Tuesday

Friday, February 8, 2008

Weekend Series Prep: Minnesota at Denver

Series: Minnesota leads the all-time series 90-61-11 in a series dating to 1951.
Drop of the puck: Friday: 8:37 p.m; Saturday: 8:07 p.m. central time
Television: Friday night on Big Ten Network; Saturday is live on FSN North.

Announcers: Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog
PTFG Prediction: Denver is coming off being swept at Mankato - I say Minnesota gets a win this weekend - split.

Rankings:

Pairwise: Denver 5, Minnesota 18
USCHO.com: Denver 7, Minnesota 20
USA Today: Denver 7, Minnesota (receiving votes)
Krach: Denver 5, Minnesota 13

Articles:

Star Tribune: Roman Augustoviz talks about all the overtime games recently.

Star Tribune: Dean Spiros profiles Roseau's Aaron Ness, who is headed to the U next season.

Pioneer Press: Bruce Brothers talks about the goal-scoring drought.

Minnesota Daily: Brian Deutsch breaks down the pivotal weekend series.

Weekend outlook:

Gophers at a glance: Minnesota has played the past three weekends against teams above them in the standings, coming away with a 1-2-3 record. Not good enough to move up - but not bad enough to fall to far out of it.

Going into the weekend, Minnesota is in seventh place with 16 points, but trails Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth by only three points for fourth place. Then again, St. Cloud State is only two points behind Minnesota in ninth.

With eight games left, the time is now for the Gophers to make a run for one of the top five spots in the league.

While the offense has sputtered of late, freshman goaltender Alex Kangas has been outstanding in recent weeks since landing the regular starting goaltending job. Since the holiday break, Kangas has made nine starts and owns a 1.71 goals against average and .934 save percentage, though he only has a 2-3-4 record. For the season, Kangas ranks 15th nationally with a 2.16 goals against average and 14th with a .923 save percentage.

The Gophers will be without forward Tony Lucia for tonight's game. Lucia must sit out a one-game suspension for taking a fighting penalty in a game last Saturday night against North Dakota. Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol, who flicked off official Don Adam in Saturday's game, was suspended two games by the WCHA,

Did you know? The Gophers have scored a total of eight goals over their past six games despite putting 172 shots on goal for an average of 28.7 shots per game. Opposing goaltenders have compiled a .953 save percentage over the span.

Denver at a glance: Brock Trotter, the University of Denver's leading scorer, has signed a contract with the Montreal Canadiens. That means Denver will be without the player who had 31 points in 24 games this season. Trotter did not play last weekend when the Pioneers lost to MSU-Mankato 3-2 and 5-1.

The Pioneers have hit a rough stretch with losses in four of their last five games. Denver has allowed 22 goals over their past five games (4.40 per game) after surrendering just 37 goals in their first 21 games (1.76 per game).

Senior Peter Mannino, a four-year starter, has started all but one game in goal this season and owns a 2.25 goals against average with a .916 save percentage.

Did you know? The Gophers did not play at Denver last season and are making their first trip to Magness Arena since Nov. 18-19, 2005.

Denver swept Minnesota in a home series for the Gophers, 4-1 and 5-1, back in early November.

Surprisingly Decent Hawkeyes In Town Saturday

When the 2007-08 college basketball season began, and talk turned to potential Big Ten laughingstocks, the Iowa Hawkeyes were sure to come up.

Steve Alford's greasy split ends were gone. Three of Iowa's four leading scorers had also moved on. That left journeymen coach Todd Lickliter with a relatively unproven group of Hawkeyes. It appeared as if Iowa was entering one of those let's-just-get-it-over-with seasons. So, as a that's why I was slightly upset when the Big Ten schedule came out and it only had Minnesota and Iowa playing once. I figured the Hawkeyes would prove to be two easy wins.

Well, I was wrong.

Iowa isn't going dancing this season. And they've had some sad moments. But they've also won games that Minnesota couldn't--Ohio State and Michigan State--and they've done so by forcing opponents to slow down and play a half court game. For all of the praise heaped upon Tubby Smith, Lickliter, formerly a coach at Butler, deserves quite a bit of credit for how he's gotten his group to surpass expectations.

Coming into Williams Arena Saturday at 1 p.m., the Hawekeyes are 4-7 in conference play having won only one game on the road (at hapless Michigan). They are led by guard Tony Freeman, who has taken a giant step forward in his junior season. Senior Justin Johnson joins Freeman to give the Hawkeyes a one-two scoring punch in the backcourt.

The key for the Gophers on Saturday will be to create turnoveres and push tempo. When the Hawkeyes beat MSU and OSU, they did so by playing an excruciating slow style. The Hawkeyes like to play in the 40s to 50s. And the Hawkeyes rank just behind Wisconin in scoring defense, allowing just 57 points per game. Meanwhile, the Gophers are playing in the 70s on most nights. So, if the pace is slow early on in The Barn, trouble is around the corner.

The Gophers are coming off a 92 point outburst against Northwestern. That game started with a surprise: A new starting lineup. Lawrence McKenzie was on the bench to start the game because he reportedly missed a study session. Blake Hoffarber and Jamal Abu-Shamala played the two and three sports and Lawrence Westbrook got the start at point.

I'd be surprised if McKenzie wasn't back in the lineup, but I actually liked what transpired with him coming off the bench. Westbrook took on a distrubtion role with the first group, setting up Abu-Shamala and Hoffarber. Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson also got their touches. With McKenzie starting this season at point guard, he's often ignored his offense and concntrated on being that floor leader. But when he came off the bench Wednesday, he was with the second team, and was looked to as the scoring option on the floor. Who knows how McKenzie would react to coming off the bench, but it might be something to try moving forward.

Four Keys For Minny:

** Run, Run, Run. Easy baskets are key.

** Play defense for 35 seconds. Iowa will milk the clock. We can't let them get an open shot after 30 seconds of good defense. It's demoralizing.

** Shoot well from the outside. When Hoffarber, McKenzie, Westbrook and Abu-Shamala can hit from the outside, life for Coleman and Tollackson is so much easier.

** Come out fast. In losses against OSU and Wisconsin, the Gophers have dug far too deep of a hole to climb out. A lackadasical start will only give Iowa confidence.

Prediction: If this game were in Iowa, I'd pick differently. But it's in Minneapolis and the Hawkeyes simply haven't played well on the road this year. The Hawkeyes will slow the pace down some, but not enough. Minnesota 64, Iowa 52.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Brewster's Class Impresses

I'm going to comment more on this in the coming days and weeks, but I will just say this for now: Tim Brewster has put together the highest rated recruiting class the University of Minnesota has witnessed in my lifetime.

I don't know how he did it, coming off a 1-11 season. Surely he told recruits they'd have a chance to make an immediate impact. The new staidum could have been a selling point. Or he could have paid them. Who knows.

Pick any recruiting service and the consensus is clear: Tim Brewster put together a top 25-ish class nationally and a top 3 class in the conference. Considering I was one of those heckling Brewster's penchant for rhetorical insantiy throughout the season, it's only fair that I give him credit now. Well done, coach Brewster.

I'm going to take a look at a few of the top recruits individually when the day job slows down in the weeks to come. But for now, go over to Gopher Nation where Tom does an outstanding job disecting the recruiting class.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In Tribute To Bobby Knight, Monson Apparently Throws Chair

Via the Daily 49er, Long Beach State's student newspaper, Dan Monson reportedly did his best Bobby Knight impersonation last weekend in a loss at home to UC Irvine.

The 49ers have barely managed to squeak out four wins and have suffered 16 losses - eight of which were by 15 or more points. The most recent, Saturday night in The Walter Pyramid, was a quick and easy 22-point beat-down by center Darren Fells and the rest of the Anteaters.

Tip-off was at 7:05 p.m. and I was done with post-game interviews and on Second Street drinking within two hours. And trust me, alcohol was needed after this game. The 49er defense was absolutely thrashed by threes, the offense was purely the Donovan Morris show and head coach Dan Monson went Bobby Knight on a chair after sophomore guard Chris Peys tried to put up an "Oh my god, what are you doing?" 3-pointer.

Stay hot, Dan Monson.

Seriously, however, I've always had a tremendous deal of respect and admiration for Mr. Knight. For a very well done look at his remarkable career, head to Hoopraker.

BTB Power Rankings

Every week the Big Ten Bloggers group conspires on a set of power rankings. Most weeks I'll post my version here. I filed my ballot via email last week. Check Gopher Nation for the results.

1) Purdue (17-5, 8-1): Last week: 2-0 (W vs. Iowa, @ Illinois) Next week: 2/5 vs. Penn State, 2/9 @ Wisconsin

No one can call yours truly a bandwagon jumper with the Boilermakers. During the first power poll, I believe I had Matt Painter's youngsters ranked higher than any other Big Ten blogger. I've had faith in these young Boilers and they have done me proud. I might just adopt this squad moving forward.

2) [Redacted] (18-3, 8-1): Last week: 2-0 (W vs. Indiana, @ Minnesota) Next week: 2/6 @ Iowa, 2/9 vs. Purdue

Nothing puts me in a sour mood quite like getting bitchslapped by Bucky. Bo Ryan's domination of the Gophers finished off a great week that began with a domination of Indiana. If they hold survive the road test at Iowa and hold home court against the Boilers, the [redacteds] will once again sit atop the conference.

3) Indiana (18-3, 7-1): Last week: 1-1 (L @ Wisconsin, W vs. Northwestern) Next week: 2/7 @ Illinois, 2/10 @ Ohio State

I see the Hoosiers dripping the game next weekend at Ohio State. And I'm bored with Eric Gordon. DJ White is the most important player for the Hoosiers.

4) Michigan State (19-3, 7-2): Last week: 1-1 (W vs. Illinois, L @ Penn State) Next week: 2/9 vs. Northwestern

Our friennds at SpartyMSU forgot to air out their meth lab this week. No way should Izzo's clan be in the #1 spot after losing in Happy Valley as the Lions are still Gearly Claxon-less. If anything, MSU should find it's way to the bottom of the rankings. Embarassing loss.

5) Ohio State (15-7, 6-3): Last week: 1-1 (W @ Penn State, L @ Iowa) Next week: 2/5 vs. Michigan, 2/10 vs. Indiana

Unfortunate loss at Iowa for Thad Matta's squad. But I can't fathom putting the Hawkeyes in the top six, so I won't.

6) Iowa (11-12, 4-6): Last week: 1-1 (L @ Purdue, W vs. Ohio State) Next week: 2/6 vs. Wisconsin, 2/9 @ Minnesota

The Hawkeyes enjoy a nice surge into the upper half of the league. But it won't last. 0-2 this week for Lickliter. You read it here first: Minnesota will embarass Iowa in The Barn this weekend.

7) Minnesota (13-7, 3-5): Last week: 1-1 (W @ Michigan, L vs. Wisconsin) Next week: 2/6 @ Northwestern, 2/9 vs. Iowa

No comment.

8) Penn State (11-10, 3-6): Last week: 1-1 (L vs. Ohio State, W vs. Michigan State) Next week: 2/5 @ Purdue, 2/9 @ Michigan

Hand it to Ed DeChellis for keeping this team motivated sans Claxton.

9) Illinois (10-13, 2-8): Last week: 0-2 (L @ Michigan State, vs. Purdue) Next week: 2/7 vs. Indiana

I'd be enjoying the Illini's struggles much more if we could mock Bill Self instead of bland Bruce Weber.

10) Michigan (5-16, 1-8): Last week: 0-1 (L vs. Minnesota) Next week: 2/5 @ Ohio State, 2/9 vs. Penn State

Signing day tomorrow Michigan football fans!

11) Northwestern (7-12, 0-8): Last week: 1-1 (W vs. Texas-Pan American, L @ Indiana) Next week: 2/6 vs. Minnesota, 2/9 @ Michigan State

Thank you, Wildcats. You make Minnesota football look awesome.

Monday, February 4, 2008

New Look Gophers Go Into Hiding Against Wisky

The Gophers played their worst 40 minutes of the season Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena. There didn't seem to be any fire, desire or intensity. There was no fight in a Gophers team that gave away its last best chance to grab the proverbial "big win" they needed to solidfy an otherwise shaky resume.

Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers did all of the little things right--and when I say little, I mean like making entry passes to the right hand, etc--and embarrassed Tubby Smith's Gophers in front of a crowd that would have went nuts had the local lads just given them an opportunity. But no such opportunity emerged for the Barnyard to erupt. The Badgers jumped out to a quick 10 point cushion and really never looked back.

It was almost as if the Gophers didn't have any fight left. OTS said as much after the game. From Jim Souhan:

The latest failure prompted Smith to wonder how college seniors winding down their careers can fail to reach an emotional peak on such a day.

"I don't know how that can be," he said. "I don't know how your mind can not be there. You're playing Wisconsin, your archrival."

At home. "This one was probably worse than the last one," Smith said. "The last one [against Michigan State], we at least gave ourselves a chance. This one we didn't have a chance."
I appreciate the honesty from Smith. All season, he hasn't shied away from saying what is obvious to those of us who follow this team. You can't mince it: Senior 'leaders' Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie have all been highly disappointing. We all want them to be so much more. We want them to fight to win something during their senior year, but whether it's a lack of skill (Tollackson), consistency (McKenzie) or passion (Coleman), this group doesn't have it.

What's more unfortunate is that it appears this team is regressing. Tubby Smith is known as a bench coach and a teacher. Even those who wanted him out at UK give our coach that much. But other than Damian Johnson, not one Minnesota player seems to have improved either from last season or from the first tip of the year against Army. And during Big Ten season, as the team should perhaps be completely in sync, they are anything but. After fighting to the last whistle with Michigan State and Indiana, the Gophers have folded early in their last two big games: at Ohio State and Sunday against Wisconsin.

Those are troubling observations.

Some of this can be attributed to Tubby's decision to change directions. As the season began, Tubby went 10 or 11 players deep every night. Many of us cringed as Kevin Payton struggled, Jamal Abu-Shamala tried to play defense or Travis Busch tried to guard Raymar Morgan. So, Tubby shortened his bench, started effectively playing 6 or 7 guys. New roles. New expectations. Worse results.

Because of this we can, for the first time here at PJS, criticize Tubby Smith's leadership.

If Tubby didn't know that Payton, JAS and Busch were incapable of performing at the Big Ten level, then Tubby didn't do a very good job evaluating the talent on his team. Every Internet pontificator knew as much. Tubby either didn't see it or didn't care and instead worked to develop the aforementioned players.

But when things got tough, Tubby panicked. After an excusable, albeit disappointing, three game skid--against Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State--the Gophers came out against Michigan on Thursday a different team. Instead of playing full-court pressure defense and forcing turnovers, the Gophers played half-court pressure defense. With a much shorter rotation, Tubby couldn't apply full-court pressure. So, in a reactionary move to stabilize the talent level on the floor, Tubby effectively changed the DNA of this team.

In hindsight, it probably would have been best for the coaching staff to notice the lack of bench talent early on and get Coleman, McKenzie, Tollackson, Al Nolen, Damian Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook used to playing 30-40 minutes.

Either way, the Gophers probably don't have the talent to be much more than an NIT team this year. But if Tubby had handled this team a little differently over the last few months, perhaps the home crowd would have had at least one chance to rise to their feet in support of our lovely rodents.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A brawl where a hockey game broke out

If there was any question entering this weekend whether there was bad blood between Minnesota and North Dakota in hockey - that was answered Friday and a bit more Saturday.

The two teams combined for five goals in six periods and one and a half overtimes as the Sioux came away with three points in a 2-1 overtime win Friday and a 1-1 tie Saturday.

The Gophers offense may have hit its low point of the season, as the team was only able to net one goal in each game. Evan Kauffman scored the long goal three minutes into the game Friday on a short-handed backhander that beat Sioux goaltender Philippe Lameoreux.

Ben Gordon scored the lone goal in the third period of Saturday's game from 30 feet out.

The lack of offense from the Gophers and two more outstanding performances from freshman goaltender Alex Kangas, who started his sixth straight game, were overshadowed by a game Saturday that featured 34 penalties, for a combined total of 160 minutes. Many were issued well after the game was over.

With three seconds left in the game, a meaningless faceoff outside the Gophers zone turned a may lay that resulted in six players being cited for penalties, with the Gophers' Tony Lucia and the Sioux's Darcy Zajac receiving fighting majors and game disqualifications.

The may lay started when Zajac crosschecked R.J. Anderson from behind after the horn blew. Immediately, Lucia jumped on Zajac and the two dropped gloves.

Both will not be able to play in their next contests. For Minnesota, that means Lucia will have to sit out Friday at Denver. Lucia will have Drew Fisher or Brian Schack to choose from to suit up.

The fighting didn't end, as UND defenseman Joe Finley (listed at 6-7) dragged Blake Wheeler from the handshake line, spearing him with his stick. That started another round of fisticuffs, with both coaching staffs taking their players off the ice before referee Don Adam made the decisions on penalties.

A crazy finish to a crazy weekend, which featured an acrobatic diving goal (rated No. 1 play on SportsCenter) in overtime for UND Friday. Cameras also caught UND coach Dave Hakstol flipping the bird at the linesman; UND's former athletic director sieving; and many uncaught profanities by players on the bench via the FSN microphones.

* Minnesota travels to third-place Denver next week for a two-game series. The Gophers are currently in seventh place, just ahead of St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech. They trail Wisconsin, Duluth and Mankato by less than four points.

Game Day Prep: Wisconsin at Minnesota

Series: Minnesota leads 91-82, according to the UM athletic department release.
Of Note: Since Bo Ryan took over in Madison, the Badgers lead the series 9-1. Thank you, Dan Monson.
Tip: 1 p.m. central time
Television: Big Ten Network
Announcers: Matt Devlin and Trent Tucker. YES!!!

Ken Pomeroy Scouting Reports: Minnesota, Wisconsin

Rankings:

AP and ESPN: Wisconsin 13/13, Minnesota Unranked
Basketball Predictions: Wisconsin 4 seed , Minnesota "Just missed Cut"
Ken Pomeroy RPI: Minnesota 84, Wisconsin 17
RPI Ratings: Minnesota 77, Wisconsin 19
Real Time RPI: Minnesota 80, Wisconsin 13
Colley Rankings: Minnesota 61, Wisconsin 12

Articles and Blog Posts:

The Capital Times (Madison): UW's Joe Krabbenhoft comes mighty close to coming off as just a tad too cocky. Aside from that, a typical preview that gushes over Minnesota's pressure defense.
CSTV: Straight forward preview.

Gopher Nation: Tom is having problems being confident in the Gophers.

From the Barn: Also predicts Minny loss.

Down With Goldy: This preview contains cute girls and a photo of Brian Butch in a bra. Click at your own risk.

STrib: Myron Medcalf features Brian Butch. I was bored with this.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Gophers' Next Big Test Comes Against [Redacted]

One of PJS' most frequent commenters, lone[redacted], likes to suggest that when Minnesota and [redacted] aren't playing, the collective fan bases of both sides ought to root for one another, instead of opponents like Ohio State, Indiana or any other more successful program.

Bah.

There is no program that this scribe likes to see down on its luck more than the men's basketball team from Madison. There is no Big Ten coach that strikes me as more of an arrogant douche than Bo Ryan. Sorry, lone[redacted]. It's not really a personal thing. I have many friends who, for some reason I'll never understand, identify with the [redacted]. And it's gotten worse in the last half-decade. Like a foreign policy Ron Paul rails agaisnt, some of my angst towards [redacted] comes because Bo Ryan has set up shop, set up a outpost so to speak, in Minnesota. While we Minnesotans are quietly working to indoctrinate our youngsters with Smilin' Goldy propaganda, there's [redacted], seemingly always acting like the more evolved mammal.

So it is then Sunday night when [redacted] comes to Williams Arena, the Gophers will have a chance to change the trajectory of this rivalary. Tubby Smith's Gophers can send a message to the masses in Minnesota that no longer shall we allow Bo Ryan free reign over our best and brightest recruits.

Unfortunately, the Gophers aren't in the same class this season as the [redacteds]. Their only loss in the Big Ten has been a respectable one, 60-56 at upstart Purdue. Our rivals to the east just handled Indiana at home. We should remember Michael Flowers' game-altering, perhaps season-changing steal against the Texas Longhorns that has given this new version of [redacteds] confidence.

And that's been why Bo Ryan has been so damn frustrating, and unfortunately this is a compliment: He has been able to avoid rebuilding. Devin Harris and Alando Tucker gone from a 30 win team (that ended with a thud in the NCAAs) and Ryan has the [redacteds] again at the top of the conference.

How? Flowers, a senior, is one reason. He might be the best defensive guard in the conference. Center Brian Butch has seen his playing time increase along with his production in his final season in Madison. Junior forward Marcus Landry has stepped in to play big minutes. Joe Krabbenhoft has steadily become a reliable contributor for Ryan. An then there is sophomore Trevon Hughes, who is blossoming in his sophomore year.

Some of the names are new. Others aren't. And that's been the whole point for Ryan. His teams win. Unlike the star-led Ohio State Buckeyes, Ryan wins with a functiniong group that forces teams to play their style. It's effective. We should respect the success. But also want to help end it.

As you'd expect, the [redacteds] lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 54 points per game. They hold down the defensive boards. But this group isn't without fault. Among Big Ten teams, the [redacteds] are below-average in the turnover department. And if Minnesota has a strength, it's the Tubby Smith generated pressure defense.

If the Gophers want to continue to dream about the NCAAs--and yes, emailers, I believe there is an outside chance--they absolutely need to win Saturday. [Redacted] could end up conference champions. Having already given away games at home to Michigan State and Indiana, beating [redacted] is a must.

Be ready to gloat to your easterly friends if:

1) Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman can score consistently on the inside as they did against Michigan.

2) The Gophers are creating turnovers and scoring in transition.

3) Lawrence McKenzie puts the team on his shoulders as he has done in two consecutive second halves.

4) The Badgers are unsuccessful in controling pace. The Gophers would rather play in the high-60s, low-70s. Not so for the [redacteds].

Prediction: Unfortunately, I don't think this Gophers team has what it takes to upset a top ten team. [Redacted] plays good, smart basketball and aren't prone to long stretches of poor play, as our Gophers are. When the [redacteds] lost to Purdue, that came in part beacuse of the pressure the Boilermaker guards applied on their opponent. The Gophers can do the same thing, but I don't think the Gophers can convert offensively as well as Purdue did. Pick: Wisconsin 64, Minnesota 59.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Weekend Series Prep: North Dakota at Minnesota

Series: Minnesota leads the all-time series 137-121-11 in a rivalry that dates to 1930.
Drop of the puck: Both games are at 7:07 p.m central time
Television: Both games can be seen on Fox Sports Net North (live)

Announcers: Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog
PTFG Prediction: The Gophers are hoping for a split - I say one point.

Rankings:

Pairwise: North Dakota 6, Minnesota 17
USCHO.com: North Dakota 3, Minnesota 18
USA Today: North Dakota 3, Minnesota 15
Krach: North Dakota 5, Minnesota 12

Articles:

Star Tribune: Roman Augustoviz profiles Blake Wheeler, who scored the game-winner over the Sioux in the Final Five last March.

Star Tribune: Traffic around the U could be a mess tonight.

Pioneer Press: Bruce Brothers talks about the tough road ahead.

Minnesota Daily: Brian Deutsch talks about the three freshman defensenman.

Weekend outlook:

Gophers at a glance: Freshman Alex Kangas will start his fifth consecutive game tonight. He is third among Division I goalies in his class with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. Minnesota (12-11-5, 6-9-3 WCHA) will have to score more than two goals a game this weekend to win. The magic number seems to be three right now, but Minnesota has hit that only once in three weekends.

Minnesota needs at least a split this weekend - a tie for the fourth straight weekend just won't cut it.

Did you know? Over its last 14 games during the month of February, Minnesota owns an 11-2-1 record. In Don Lucia’s eight previous seasons, the Gophers are 39-16-3 during the month.

North Dakota at a glance: The third-ranked Fighting Sioux have climbed to second in the WCHA standings with a seven-game winning streak. North Dakota (16-8-1, 13-7) has held its opponent to one goal in five of the past six games. Goalie Jean Philippe-Lamoureux has been solid all season, posting a goals against average of less than two.

While the Sioux lost top line centerman Jonathan Toews and star defenseman Brian Lee from a season ago, top scorers Ryan Duncan (10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points) and T.J. Oshie (12-14-26) are still on the roster. Duncan is the defending Hobey Baker winner.

Did you know? There are six Minnesotans on the Sioux's roster, while only four from North Dakota.

The two teams split at North Dakota in early December, losing 4-2 and winning 4-1.