Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Randomness Rants Against IHOP

OK, so I had every intention of posting three, four or more times this week. I wanted to get the Your New Gophers series off to a fast start. I wanted to make fun of Harold Howell's tenure on the Gophers. There were other topics that I wanted to hit on, but alas IHOP struck me down.

Came home from eating a greasy, not-very-appetizing breakfast at IHOP on Memorial Day and after a few hours of an upset stomach I developed a temperature around 102. No fun. This was accompanied by IHOP trying to get out every which way possible. A day later the temperature was gone, but now I had the worst stomach cramping I've ever experienced, so much pain that Miss PJS wanted to take me to the emergency room on multiple occasions.

Went to the doctor on Wednesday and they said I most likely had food poisoning. They took some tests, the results of which I'm still waiting for, but in the meantime wrote a prescription for Cipro, the antibiotic they give people with anthrax poisoning. That's right, they were treating what they believed to be food poisoning from IHOP the same way they'd treat anthrax poisoning.

I'm never eating at IHOP again. Perkins yes, IHOP no.

That was probably too much information for some of you... Now on to other things.

*** The headline of this AP article hits the nail on the head. It reads: "Over-hyped Howell makes quiet exit."

I couldn't have said it better. The "athlete" from Florida that Tim Brewster convinced many was the next Devin Hester, had a horrible 2007 season and now has been dismissed from the team for "academic reasons."

The AP looks back at old Brewster quotes where he called Howell "one of the most dynamic high school players in the country," and one of "the most electrifying" high school players he'd seen in years.

Brewster's desire to hype everything needs to end. The AP article by Jon Krawczynski goes on to note that Brewster has hyped incoming freshman Marquies Gray (comparing him to Vince Young) and Sam Maresh (comparing him to Brian Urlacher). This ridiculousness is putting far too much on these kids--they are kids--too fast. Who can live up to the Vince Young comparison as a college QB?

The Howell situation should be a lessons for Brewster. Somehow I doubt he'll recall this situation the next time he has a chance to make some positive press hits over-hyping one of his recruits.

*** Thought Tubby Smith's 2008 recruiting class was completed? Think again. USC decommit Malik Story, a 6'5 guard who has a "money stroke" according to Rivals, is looking closely at Minnesota, Georgetown, Oregon and Wake Forest. A California native, Story is a three-star shooting guard according to Rivals.

Story is more likely to become a wing player than a point guard in the college game, though his obvious position remains at shooting guard. With Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph likely taking minutes at those positions, it would be somewhat surprising to see Tubby ink another two-guard with the team's lack of depth at point guard and in the front court.

*** Other names to be learning if you follow Gophers basketball recruitment are Glen Rice Jr., the son of the former NBA star, and Harrison Barnes, a standout from Iowa. Barnes, who has been favored to be heading to Iowa State, is a 2010 prospect. He's a 6'6 small forward and is being heavily recruited. A 6'4 shooting guard, Rice's recruitment is picking up. He has offers from Alabama, Georgia Tech and Minnesota, but with interest from many other southern schools. Rice is playing for the same AAU team that RSIII played for in Georgia. Rice is a Class of 2009 prospect.

*** Gopher football fans are clearly none too pleased about the University's decision to jack up ticket prices. The Wizard of Odds has the story, replete with the best picture of Goldy I've ever seen.

*** Rivals' basketball recruiting whiz Jerry Meyer in his mailbag took a question about Ralph Sampson III. Meyer said Sampson might not be "the guy" like a Kevin Love, but he should be part of a winning formula. Meyer state Devoe Joseph might have an even larger impact.

*** Finally, if you haven't yet, check out my weekly column over at 10,000 Takes. This week I wrote about Tubby Smith's position on recruiting very young kids. As many of you know Billy Gillispie at Kentucky recently received a verbal commitment from an 8th grader. All of my columns at 10k Takes can be found here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Your New Gophers: Vincent Hill

PJS Note: In an effort to prepare you for the myriad new faces on Tim Brewster's 2008 Golden Gophers, we're going to methodically brief you on each newcomer. To Brewster's credit the Gophers compiled their best recruiting class in recent memory (17th best in the country by Rivals' rankings).

Your New Gophers Wide Receiver: Vincent Hill

If Tim Brewster is going to be successful at Minnesota, and specifically with his desire to install a spread offense, he is going to need play makers at the wide receiver position. While losing Michael Floyd stings, Brewster landed his fair share of talent at the wide receiving position.

Brewster added two Rivals 4-star wide receivers, including Vincent Hill graduated high school in Fort Washington, Md, and subsequently attended Milford Academy Prep in New York. Hill's eligibility will be that of a true freshman, and could be red shirted, but with the dearth of talent at the wide receiver position that is unlikely.

The 5'11", 185 pound wide out was pursued by Syracuse, Temple, Utah, Virginia and Illinois, though it appeared that his two top choices were the Gophers and Illini, both of which offered scholarships. For the Gophers to win a battle with the suddenly tough Illini is a good sign.

In this
Rivals article, Hill calls himself a speed guy, stating that before he had knee surgery he ran a 4.35 40. Now he says he's in the low 4.4s. In that same article, Hill indicates the Illini were his favorites at that time. Brewster and wide receiver coach George McDonald began recruiting Hill relatively late in the game but were able to secure a commitment without Hill ever visiting the Minneapolis campus.

While Hill was recruited as a wide receiver,
Rivals speculates here that Hill could potentially be used in the defensive backfield, an area where we all know the Gophers desperately need help. We'll know more about this once camp battles begin, but Hill seems to like the idea according to this article.
"One of the things I really liked about Minnesota is that they are going to give me a chance to play both ways. Defense is where I have always played and it is really where my heart is. I pretty much played quarterback on offense up until my sophomore year, but he already had a good quarterback and my coach asked me to be a weapon at receiver. So I have not really been playing receiver for very long. I am really excited that they want to give me a shot to play on both sides of the ball. They have some young guys at corner back who look good, but they still need some help back there and I know that I can do that."

Talent is talent, and if Hill can contribute in the defensive backfield, and he excels there, then maybe he can be a two-way player.

The criticisms of Hill mostly center around his diminutive size. ESPN Insider's take suggests he will need to add bulk, but they suggest "Hill is going to be a serious threat in the vertical passing game and his route-running skills make him very productive all over the field."

With the graduation of the enigmatic Ernie Wheelright and the departure of Tray Herndon, Minnesota's already thin receiving corps needs an infusion of talent. Hill, who is probably still learning the position, is one candidate to give the Gophers increased production in the spread offense.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Have A Great Weekend--Be Back Tuesday

Sorry for the lack of updates. My Mac is crashing on me repeatedly and the Geek Squad doesn't really know what to do. I've had to break out my old laptop PC. But we're heading out of town for the long weekend so posting will resume intermittently on Tuesday.

Hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tubby Ball Year In Review: The Final Chapter

PJS Note: This is the final chapter in a five-part series looking back at the first season of Tubby Ball at the University of Minnesota. Previously, we looked at the play of the three seniors, offense and defense under Tubby and player progression. Today, we give out grades to each of the non-seniors for their 2007-08 campaigns.

Part V: Grading the Players and Projecting to 2008-09

If I were a teacher, my fictional students probably wouldn't like me much. I'm probably overly critical and have never been good at giving compliments just so someone feels good. So, keep that in mind as you go through my year-end grades for the Gophers men's basketball team. Yes, I know it is about nine months since the season ended, but my procrastination on this can be summed up by stating that there is no sports season I enjoy more than college hoops. Ending this series, for me, ends my coverage of the 2007-08 Gophers. ***Tears***

Now, on to each non-senior, their grades, and a projection for the year(s) to come.

Jonathan Williams: Like almost all of the Minnesota big men, Williams, a St. Cloud native, struggled with Tubby Smith's demands to play more aggressive basketball. Reports came out that Williams played a dominating brand of basketball in practice. But once the ball was tipped in meaningful games, Williams oftentimes played a soft brand of basketball Dan Coleman would endorse. Statistically, you could argue he regressed. He started eight games as a sophomore, and only three as a senior. His minutes declined by about two minutes on average. His scoring dropped a point and he corralled one fewer rebound per game. Defensively, however, Williams was usually up to the task. He did well manning up DJ White in the Big Ten Tournament when Spencer Tollackson was out with an injury. And he showed flashes of being able to produce offensively, but he also showed many more signs of being slightly overwhelmed by the competition. At 6'9, 285, Williams should be a bruiser on the interior. He seldom was, and has never been able to establish a low post offensive game.

Grade: C-
2008-09: Look for Williams' minutes to increase slightly as a senior and he might even see a starting role while the incoming players progress. Don't expect him to turn into anything resembling an offensive threat. However, if all he is asked to do is play solid defense, the Gophers could do worse.

Jamal Abu-Shamala: Speaking of statistical regression, this junior from Shakopee went from 23.7 minutes per game to just over 13. He shot 43 percent (44-102) from three under Monson/Molinari in 2006-07 but that production fell dramatically to 34 percent (21-61) in 07-08. Abu-Shamala's game didn't change. He was a three point specialist who couldn't create his shot under Monson and he was the same thing under Tubby Smith. A couple things changed, however. The Gophers didn't want to settle for the perimeter shot as often under Tubby Smith. And Tubby Smith seemed to covet multi-dimensional players who could take the ball to the basket. Abu-Shamala couldn't do that. But his minutes also declined because of the arrival of Blake Hoffarber, a similar player with slightly greater athletic ability. Abu-Shamala seemed to be the biggest Gophers cheerleader even when he rode the pine. Because of that we have tremendous respect for the senior-to-be, even if we cringe when he touches the ball in the open floor.
Grade: D
2008-09: Expect his minutes to decline even more, though he'll surely come in against Northwestern and light up the Wildcats.

Travis Busch: Some will disagree, but I will continue to argue that the Cal Poly transfer and Mounds View native doesn't have the talent to compete in the Big Ten. If intensity and toughness were quantifiable, however, Busch would certainly have what it takes. Tubby Smith often turned to Busch when he needed just that. It's kind of starting that at 6'4, 220, Busch was Minnesota's most physical player when he was on the floor. He manned up Indiana's mammoth center. He sacrificed his body for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Early in the season I cringed when Busch came on the floor, but he soon earned his playing time. Simply put, Busch did what he was asked to do, and that wasn't to score, block shots, make great passes or dominate the boards. He was asked to provide occasional energy and toughness. On that score he delivered.
Grade: B
2008-09: Expect his minutes to be exceedingly minimal but for him to do everything he can do get the job done once he is on the floor.

Damian Johnson: No Minnesota player as large a step forward as did Monson recruit Damian Johnson. An afterthought in 2006-07, Johnson became Minnesota's best shot-blocker, defensive player and arguably its best rebounder. A tweener type, Johnson took minutes at both small forward and power forward. He showed a surprising ability to play on the inside against the Big Ten's big men and on the perimeter against slashing forwards. In my mind, Johnson was this team's MVP. He ran the floor, showed signs of developing an outside shot and a back-to-the-basket game. He needs to firm up his outside shot and his free throw shooting--55 percent won't get it done--but if he can take a similar step forward this upcoming season as he did under the first year of Tubby Smith, the sky is the limit.
Grade: A
2008-09: I expect Johnson to be a leader on the new Gophers team and to have solidified either his perimeter shot or his interior game. If he can add both, he will be the closest thing the Gophers have had in awhile to an all-around player. He will likely start, and he's earned it.

Kevin Payton: The would-be junior from Camden, NJ regressed more than any player in Tubby Smith's first year on the sidelines. And maybe it's not that he regressed, but that he was identified as a liability on the court. After playing in all 31 games, and starting 14, as a freshman, Payton received the dreaded DNP-Coaches Decision in seven Big Ten games. Payton was tentative all season. He had no confidence in his shot and shot a disastrous 15 percent from three point land. He couldn't seem to handle high-intensity pressure in the back court, failed to get the Gophers into the offense and really, provided nothing, other than an occasional spurt of solid defensive play. To his credit, Payton kept a smile on his face at least publicly. That said, he was highly over matched and Tubby Smith knew it.
Grade: F
2008-09: If Payton wants more minutes he'll need to dramatically improve his ball-handling, decision making, outside shot and just about every other facet of his game.

Lawrence Westbrook: For a player who was stung with the reputation as a prep player as being selfish and a ball-hog, Westbrook certainly hasn't lived up to that hype. Good, right? Kinda, I suppose. It's never good to have a me-first player on your team, but the Gophers could benefit from Westbrook taking the team on his shoulders an providing the scoring lift he's capable of more often. Westbrook started all 34 games as a sophomore. He shot 42 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three and averaged 8.5 points per game. He also proved to be a very solid defender, a trait that probably earned him the playing time that Tubby Smith gave him. Perhaps it is because he was a sophomore, or because Coleman and McKenzie were the first two scoring options, but Westbrook was a tad streaky. However, the Hoffarber Miracle doesn't happen if Westbrook doesn't put the Gophers on his back after for a career-high 17 points in the Big Ten tourney opener against Northwestern.
Grade: B+
2008-09: If Westbrook can look for his own shot more often, and take the ball to the basket more often and have success at it, he could be the Gophers' leading scorer this upcoming season.

Al Nolen: Defensively, Al Nolen played like a savvy fifth-year senior. Offensively, Nolen played like a raw high school kid. He led the Gophers with 64 steals. He also missed the rim quite a bit and shot 29 percent from three. Coupled with the poor perimeter shooting, Nolen also never displayed a knack for penetrating defenses either to score or to draw defenders and dish. Thrust into a role as Minnesota's only true point guard, Nolen did as well as anyone could have predicted. He kept his composure and ran Minnesota's offense, if he didn't propel it with his own scoring. And he sparked Minnesota's full-court defense. Overall, Nolen was a pleasant surprise in 2007-08, even if it is clear he has plenty to work on.
Grade: B
2008-09: Because Tubby Smith was unable to land a point guard in the incoming class, look for Nolen to start and perhaps split time at the position with incoming combo-guard Devoe Joseph. If Nolen can improve his outside shot, look for his game to explode. A decent outside shot should open up lanes to penetrate, drive and kick. If he's not shooting 1,000 shots per day, he should be.

Blake Hoffarber: The Hopkins grad is what he is: A spot up shooter with a deadly outside touch and a flare for the dramatic. We will never forget the Hoffarber Miracle against Indiana. And his 42.7 percent (70-164) set a freshman record at the U. On many nights, Hoffarber was the first player off the bench, giving the Gophers some much-needed instant offense. When he was able to get free off of screens and in transition he provided that punch. When defenders didn't give him an inch, Hoffarber was typically unable to create his own shot by running off of screens, penetrating or creating space any other way. Defensively, Hoffarber wasn't exactly a liability, but he wasn't a game changer either. When applying full-court pressure, Hoffarber was more often than not on the bench.
Grade: B-
2008-09: Unless Hoffarber can dramatically increase his quickness, he will continue to be a lights-out three point shooter when the Gophers can get him space. He'll need to learn how to more efficiently run himself off screens and set up his defenders. However, if all he is is a guy who makes 70 threes a year and can't do much else offensively, I think we'll take that.

Final Analysis: Tubby Smith did more with the talent he had on the roster then even I thought was possible. The Gophers won 20 games, finished in the upper-half of the Big Ten and played more defense in 2007-08 then in the entire Monson/Molinari era. Tubby Smith brought a new attitude to the Gophers, and while the roster still has some dead weight on it, Tubby was able to maximize what he did have. Who would have thought Damian Johnson would mature into a game changer? Certainly not me.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Randomness Begins With Patrick Reusse

It's not easy for me to criticize Patrick Reusse. I grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs reading Reusse and Dan Barreiro. I fell in love with newsprint, so much so that in some high school English class, during your typical "What do you want to do as a career" lectures, I was called upon to state what I wanted to do professionally.

"I want to be a sportswriter," I said quickly.

The teacher in question grasped on to that and tried to use it as a way to engage me. (The high school days for me were spent neglecting class work, my talents and instead binge drinking and chasing skirts). She would repeat what I said to the class often. "You want to be a sportswriter..." It became kind of a joke among friends.

Anyway, it was my appreciation for what Reusse and Barreiro produced in the Star Tribune every day that made me take journalism classes, and yes, upon graduation, take a job in journalism. Four years later I've left the newspaper business. It's a business that is indeed dying. Sadly, it's a business that is actually killing itself. And that's why it is distressing for me to see a columnist that I admired write so ignorantly about new media.

In a column titled "Who'll gather news when Internet is all there is," Reusse bemoans the rise of online news, punditry and blogs. It is this attitude that will expedite the demise of the industry Reusse loves.

There are a couple points I want to rebut here. The first is something Steve Aschburner nailed on the head in a column at MinnPost.com. Aschburner, it should be stated, was the STrib's Timberwolves beat writer who agreed to take a buyout from the paper, then reconsidered and wanted his job back but, alas, the job wasn't there for him. So, while Aschburner might have a personal angle to his rebuttal column, he's spot on in this area.

Now, worrying about his — and his cronies' — livelihoods is a legitimate hand-wringer. Sweating out buyouts, layoffs, newshole and travel budget cuts, and even potential wage givebacks has become part of the daily grind for newspaper people, as routine as sharpening a pencil, changing a typewriter ribbon or slipping out for a cigarette break was for previous generations of journalists.

After all, an industry that essentially gives its core product — its news coverage — away for free in one form (its website) while moaning about the declining interest in its paid version (newsprint) is complicit in its own demise. Add to that a business model reliant on advertising revenue — once "owned" in near-monopolistic conditions by daily metros but now fragmented across hundreds or thousands of Internet options — that clearly is broken. Then prop it all up, not with the deep pockets of family fortunes and civic sensibilities of founders and heirs ... but with the bottom-line demands of shareholders in a public company or, apparently worse, absentee landlords and private-equity profiteers. Result: A perfect storm for journalism in crisis.

As a former reporter I'm asked about the newspaper business a lot. I like to use a simple anecdote. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, I will say, one could buy a cup of coffee for under $1.00. A newspaper could be purchased for a measly $.25. Today, a cup of coffee costs $4.00. A newspaper can be purchased for $.25. Now, there is something genuinely high-minded about delivering such an important service like the news at a price anyone can afford. But it's also a ridiculous business plan.

And with the rise of niche Internet sites, online advertising for newspapers has never taken off. Some reporters bemoan the immediacy the Internet demands. Instead of adapting, newspaper publishers are giving their product away online free, without a advertising base online to support it. The industry was flat-footed during the Internet revolution, and because of that the days of gray newsprint staining peoples' hands are behind us.

I'm 27. I get all of my news, for free, online. I read Politico.com. Daily Kos scours the Web so I don't have to. My Google alerts keep me up to date on Al Franken. I don't read the now useless game-stories written by LaVelle E. Neal III or Joe Christensen. It's 2008. Game stories are essentially obsolete. With ESPN highlights, mobile-phone tracking, your pyramid style AP game story isn't highly coveted. What is? Insightful analysis, with or without access. So, I turn to Aaron Gleeman for a different sort of take. Or to Seth Stohs for minor league coverage. They are producing a more useful product on most days.

But Reusse would argue that Gleeman, Stohs or any other blogger won't actually report "news." Well, that's changing. Out in Northern Virginia a popular progressive political blogger has flown around the state with a US Senate candidate, on the same plane with the Associated Press, Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch and others. It's simple math for the campaign in question here. The blog's readership is on par with the big mainstream media boys. And it's a more focused medium. As the STrib's and Reusse's readership slips away to more savvy consumers, so too will your access. Soon, Terry Ryan, Brad Childress and Tim Brewster will look to the niche sites on the Web to get their message across.

The point is, the last line of defense for papers, their access, is slowly going away, perhaps more slowly, than their subscriptions. And while some bloggers don't want access, others will gladly take it.

There will come a day when Reusse, or his successor, is going to need to adapt and build an online brand. Otherwise, the the Twin Cities won't be a two media outlet market anymore. Instead, it will have a more focused media, probably with 20+ outlets ranging from Gleeman and Stohs to Pacifist Viking, Rivals and Gopher Nation.

It's coming Patrick. The time is now to adapt. Well, actually, that time might have passed.

Whew....That was a rant. Now on to other things.

*** Ohio State blog Our Honor Defend continues its "Better Know a Buckeye" series by taking a look at Eden Prairie product Willie Mobley. It's a very extensive, thorough and well-done look at the ups and downs of Mobley's recruitment, replete with a section on "shenanigans" surrounding his recruitment. Here's a glimpse of the "shenanigans" section:

"someone, or some entity, sent phony letters to Willie Mobley, on Ohio State letterhead and with a forged Jim Tressel signature, encouraging him to take a look at the Gophers. Why, you ask?"
Read the post for the full story. Excellent, excellent post, guys.

*** In more forward-thinking football recruiting news, the Gophers' recruitment of Michael Carter (Tyrone's cousin) seems to be picking up. A Florida defensive back, and top 100 (#66) Rivals player in the Class of 2009 is reportedly down to Minnesota, Miami and Georgia and maybe Auburn and West Virginia!

*** A Wisconsin blog titled Hoops Marinara put together an excellent post this week about how Big Ten basketball recruitment for 2008 stacks up against the rest of the country. Quick answer? Not so good, though Tubby Smith and the Gophers do get a fair share of props in the post. But in the seemingly always "down" Big Ten, the blogger wonders if we're in for more hard times. Only three of the Rivals top 25 are coming to the conference.

*** Back to football, the mainstream media reported this week that would-be sophomore wide receiver Tray Herndon was released from his scholarship by Brewster's staff. It was just last August Herdon was named the Gophers' starting slot receiver. Nonetheless, the talent level at the wide receiver position should increase this season, so Herndon might have just been reading the tea leaves.

*** I've received a couple emails about doing more football coverage. And it's coming. I swear. I'm going to do something similar to what Our Honor Defend is doing that I linked to above. We're going to concentrate more on impact players, however. I'm going to do this in part because Tim Brewster really does deserve to be applauded for the job he's done in the recruiting department. Here's a snippet from ESPN's college recruiting analysts:
It might be early, but Tim Brewster is certainly off to a great start on the recruiting trail in '09 and building off his surprising No. 23 class from a year ago. The second year head coach with a reputation as a fierce recruiter has landed another talented offensive prospect who by most accounts, was a reach for the Golden Gopher program that went 1-11 in 2007.

That running back is, of course, Hasan Lipscomb, a 4-star product out of Texas that picked Minnesota over LSU, Nebraska and others. His quote about why he picked Minnesota is telling in that it gives us a window into exactly what Brewster's sales pitch is now. Here's Lipscomb:

"They told me I can come in and start like every school tells recruits, but I believe them," Lipscomb explained. "At some of those other schools like LSU I would be like the third running back -- in just the freshmen class alone."
Brewster is using Minnesota's decades-long futility to his advantage. You have to acknowledge your problem before getting passed it, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Royce and Rodney Updates

The Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf reported the other day here that Rodney Williams has narrowed his list of schools down to three, except he's apparently only telling us who two of the teams are. Strange? Yes. But I've got a theory!

Medcalf reports that Williams indicated Minnesota and Kansas are two of the three teams. Kansas, according to Medcalf and Rivals.com, hasn't offered the athletic swingman yet. Rivals' page on Williams also indicates three teams that the Cooper product is "high" on. Those teams are Minnesota, Miami (FL) and Wisconsin.

Guess here is that Williams is also including Wisconsin in that list, considering Bo Ryan's need to pluck Minnesota talent in order for him to have a chance to compete in the Big Ten. However, if Williams does commit to the Gophers, it will have taken just one full year for Tubby Smith to completely shut the gaping hole that has allowed countless top Minnesota reecruits to escape maroon and gold and wear that hideous red and white.

Finally, per Rivals, we learn that 2009 commit Royce White has moved up the recruitment ladder. If you believe in the 5-star Rivals scale, at this time last week White was your average 4-star prospect. Now, he's added a star and is the #18 player in the country, according to Rivals' scouts. Williams, at 4 stars, is ranked #28. Food for thought: No Big Ten team has a 2009 player ranked higher than White or Williams.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Housekeepimg

Beginning tomorrow I'm going to be doing a weekly (hopefully) guest post at 10,000 Takes on Gophers sports. If you don't read 10k Takes, well, I recommend it. It's one of my daily stops. Others are providing guest posts too, including the best Vikings blogger Pacifist Viking.

Hopefully you'll check it out. Some weeks I might post the same thing here as I do at 10k Takes, but other weeks I will not.

Also, thanks to reader Erik Herberg I put up a new header today. I need to tweak the size of it a bit in photoshop, but I love the way Goldy looks! Thanks Erik for going to all of that trouble!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Randomness Includes Gina Gershon

I'm heading to a three-day conference here shortly, but a few things I wanted to get out. Here goes.

*** An MSU blogger from Spartans Weblog produced a "way-too-early" Big Ten 2008-09 basketball preview this week. I tend to agree with his top 5 of Purdue, Wisconsin, MSU, OSU and Minnesota. Indiana is going to drop big time. Purdue, IMO, was the conference's best team last year and isn't losing a lot. Wisconsin is steady and should be solid again. Ohio State has reloaded.

*** Speaking of Big Ten basketball, if you hadn't heard, Michigan's Ekpe Udoh is leaving Ann Arbor, citing an inability to fit into John Beilein's plans. A would-be junior, Udoh is a shot-blocking force in the middle. He led the Big Ten with 92 blocks a season ago and in just two seasons recorded enough blocks to rank 5th all time in school history according to MLive.com. MIchigan wasn't going to contend with or without Udoh this season, and his relatively raw offensive game probably irks Beilein who wants to run and gun. That said, I loved watching Udoh play and am partially glad the Gophers won't have to face him in the paint this season.

*** If you ever have any doubt about Tubby Smith being a class act, read this.

*** Turning our attention to football for a moment, Tom at Gopher Nation covered the commitment of 4-star running back Hasan Lipscomb. A Houston native, Lipscomb is a 2009 recruit. Tim Brewster has an excellent incoming class by Minnesota standards and his follow-up class is already looking better than any coach in recent memory has been able to put together. Brewster deserves loads of credit for delivering inn the recruiting area as he promised he would.

*** Finally today a break from sports. I took Miss PJS to a show on Broadway for her birthday last weekend. After watching Phantom (enjoyable, but I would have preferred Yankees v. Mariners), we started walking back towards Times Square. We stumbled upon a huge crowd outside of Spamalot. Obviously this group was waiting for Clay Aiken. We waited for a moment and someone next to us said "It's not like this is Brad Pitt coming here, let's go." We agreed and continued walking. We soon came to a much smaller gathering outside of the production for "Boeing, Boeing." Bradley Whitford stars in this, and he came out and said hello. I soon asked the gathering of 10 or so who else was coming. "Gina Gershon," they said.

Miss PJS has never heard of Gina Gerson. Of course, I fondly remember Gina's scenes in Palmetto, for instance. I don't know why, but honestly, whenever Gershon I flip by a movie that Gershon is on, I stop. I think it's the lips. Anyway, nothing other to report here other than I bumped into Gershon, took a picture of her. Here it is.


No, that's not me in the pic, but Gina's obviously checking me out. And just for fun, here's one reason why I love Gina. Perhaps she can be the Official Fantasy WOMAN of PJS. Oh, wait, someone already does that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tubby Ball Year In Review Part 4

PJS Note: Since we're approaching summer, I think I really need to finish this series! There will be one final post after a look at the offense here. In the three previous posts in this series we looked at the defensive improvement, the three departing seniors and player progression. Early next week (hopefully) I'll wrap this up with some thoughts on each of the returning players.

Part 4: Offense

As a former AAU coach, I always preferred coaching defense. Simply put, it was easier to take a group of 13 year olds with average talent and make them a tenacious defensive team than a well-oiled machine offensively. I thought about this a lot while watching Tubby Smith try and take the leftovers from the Monson and turn the program around.

Why? The defense took tremendous strides? The offense? Yeah, sorta ugly. But until we have a higher caliber of talent on the roster, it's premature to blame the coaching staff, the schemes or anything else.

Perhaps the strangest thing statistically is the reduction in production for the trio that was to be the team's workhorses. Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie and Spencer Tollackson each saw their points per game decline by about three. If you had told me that at the beginning of the season, I would have guessed that the Gophers would have been worse offensively as a team than they were in 2006-07. Not the case.

In the Monson/Molinari farewell tour, the Gophers put up 60.6 points per game on average. Then juniors, the big three accounted for the vast majority of that. So, while we saw surprising reduction in offense from three seniors, Tubby Smith was able to find more offensive threats. Blake Hoffarber certainly helped in this department. He led the conference from three point land, and despite being one-dimensional, averaged more than 8 points per game.

But more importantly than Hoffarber's impact to the offense was Lawrence Westbrook, who made up for the loss in production from Coleman, Tollackson and McKnezie. He went from a player averaging 10.8 minutes per game in 06-07, to a full-time starter who became a top three scoring option.

So, Westbrook, Hoffarber, and even Damian Johnson, more than made up for the offensive regression of the three seniors to help the Gophers average about eight more points per game in Tubby Smith's first year. And that's great, but it was still ugly!

Why did the three seniors regress then, with others stepping up around them? Well, in McKenzie's and Coleman's instances, it was partially to do with a new offensive direction from Tubby Smith. It was no longer OK for Coleman to be an outside-oriented player. Tubby wanted him to attack the basket, post up and be physical. Coleman never adjusted and his numbers suffered for it. Same can be said for McKenzie who went from primarily a scoring threat to a guy Tubby needed to play some point. It wasn't ideal and McKenzie's numbers suffered for it.

Aside from individual numbers, the Gophers were an average offensive team in the Big Ten. Their 68.3 points per game was good for 5th in the conference. As a team the Gophers shot 43 percent, good for 6th in the conference. Going a little deeper, however, shows that the Gophers offense, while average by typical metrics like points per game, looks weaker on closer inspection.

Using Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats, we see that the Gophers' offense, when looking at efficiency--which is basically found by looking at how many points a team scores per 100 possessions--was relatively weak. The Gophers scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions, good for 127th in the country. For a team that tried to push tempo and create offense via turnovers, that number isn't very good.

Taking a break from the statistical analysis, I want to concentrate for a moment on the overall philosophy change. Dan Monson came to Minnesota from Gonzaga where he ran a, if memory serves, run and gun, three point launching offense. He soon figured out that didn't translate as well into the point guard/big man oriented Big Ten. Monson never adjusted, wasn't adept at coaching defensive basketball and didn't have a knack for developing post players. So, in the Monson-Molinari era, the Gophers were largely a perimeter oriented team that didn't force turnovers, didn't throw the ball inside at a great rate and shot mostly jump shots.

Tubby didn't have the personnel to drastically change the results, but he immediately changed the mindset. His pressure man defense created offense. His desire to pound the ball inside to Coleman and Tollackson didn't produce offense, but it was the right strategy with his team. He needed to create an interior presence to open up the outside game. One concern I had when Tubby was hired was the reputation UK fans gave him for playing slow offensively. I found it encouraging that he tried to push tempo when possible.

Like many of you, I cringed during long stretches when the Gophers' offense was woeful. For now, I'm going to write that off to a change in philosophy, a lack of talent, a lack of athleticism and his attempt to fit square pegs into round holes.

Brewster's Pretty Darn Good Impressive Quotes Vol. 2

PJS Note: Tim Brewster recently said the Gophers were "pretty darn good impressive," during a spring game. We love Brewster's ability to string descriptors together. To honor Brewster's rhetorical gifts, we're going to chronicle them here.

Today's entry comes from a Q&A with the PiPress' Bob Sansevere.

Sansevere: Did your relationship with [Houston Texans' coach Gary] Kubiak play a role in [Dominique Barber] being drafted by the Texans?

Brewster: I was in the NFL five years. As you go through the draft and you know somebody, you use that. Gary knows I won't BS him. I don't sugarcoat things. If a guy is a player, I say he's a player. If a guy's a problem, I say what they are.
PJS Comment: Oh, really. Coach Brewster, saying you "don't sugarcoat things" is like me saying I don't pick on you for the fun of it. You, sir, sugarcoat things. And various writers--from lowly bloggers like myself to the local columnists--hammer you for sugarcoating things. It's a vicious cycle.

Here's just one example that comes to mind. Last year before the season began you were justifiably talking up your recruiting class (And you continue to do well in this department). In overselling your class, however, you told Gophers faithful that Harold Howell, the diminutive track star from Florida was probably the next Devin Hester. Here's one of your quotes on Howell, this time from a Q&A with the official UofM sports Web site:
"We are extremely excited and fired up about Harold Howell. Harold Howell is going to return kicks and punts for us. ... Because if we give Harold Howell a crease, if we give that young guy a change, he’s out."

I'm not sure what the difference is between being extremely excited and fired up, but the point here is Harold Howell was a disaster from the first time he touched the ball. He might be lightning quick. But in order to return punts in the Big Ten, one must first me able to catch a floating football with giant athletes storming down the field waiting to level you. Howell didn't have the experience or skill to do this.

So, thankfully for Dom Barber, Gary Kubiak didn't read your "sugarcoating" of Harold Howell's skills last year.

Monday, May 5, 2008

And Verdell Jones Chooses .... Indiana

Verdell Jones is set announce his college choice at 5 p.m. central time today at a press conference. All signs still indicate he will be coming to the Gophers, but Indiana and Kentucky are big players in the race for, arguably, the best point guard still available for the 2008 recruiting class.

UPDATE: Jones picks Minnesota AND Indiana. Impressive.

The Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf, quoting the pizza man at the location of Jones' press conference, indicates the point guard picked Indiana.

Meanwhile, Chris Monter of Scout.com indicates Jones picked the Gophers.

Weird. Knowing Myron's track record, we're leaning towards Scout for accuracy here. Plus, calling the pizza man at the joint Jones is having said press conference doesn't strike me as New York Times quality reporting. Perhaps verification is needed, Myron? Sheesh.

OOOOPS. Myron wins, Myron wins. JONES PICKS INDIANA. Fine. We're OK with that.

The official word from Jones himself, who has been working with the East Central Illinois News Gazette to chronicle his recruitment. He's quoted as saying he picked Indiana for the team's playing style, Coach Tom Crean's "energy" and the IU tradition.

Analysis: I've been of the mind that the Gophers need another point guard. Al Nolen couldn't do it alone as a freshman and his lack of offensive ability will make it tough for him to play 35 minutes a game at the point guard spot. So, we need another ball handler. Devoe Joseph is a highly rated guard, but he's more of a scorer according to scouting reports then a ball handler.

Some will argue, and they have a point, that the Gophers need size. Frankly, I think we need talent, and if the loss of Jones means we get someone of equal or higher talent next season, regardless of position, I'll be pleased.

Now, let's do like Wisconsin and shore up our 2009 and '10 classes. Did you know that Bo Ryan has his entire 2009 and 2010 classes nailed down?

Despite Jones picking IU over Minny, Tubby's 2008 class already ranked in the top 10-15 in most publications, will include two interior players--Ralph Sampson III and Colt Iverson--guards Devoe Joseph and Devron Bostick (JUCO Soph) and three/four Paul Carter (JUCO Frosh).

Here's a snippet on each:

RSIII: In my mind the crown jewel of the class, the son of the former Virginia great, Ralph Sampson III has been described as a late-blooming interior player with a quality outside shot. He's still growing basketball-wise by all accounts and his recruiting picked up heavily, but thankfully Tubby was in on the recruitment early.

A 4-star center, Sampson, from Duluth, Ga., is ranked by Rivals as the 59th best player in the 2008 class and the 11th best center. At 6'11, 220 pounds, Sampson isn't your Cortney James type of banger, but he will be a much more athletic big man then Gophers fans are sued to (think Spencer Tollackson and Jeff Hagen!). He had offers from Clemson, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Maryland, but picked the U.

Colt: A 6'9, 240 pound power forward from Yankton, S.D., Colton Iverson is known as a big man who can get out on the break, impact shots with his wingspan (another shot blocker will be nice next to Damian Johnson).

Like Sampson, Colt is a Rivals Top 150 player, coming in at #138 and is ranked as the country's 37th best power forward in the 2008 class. Recruitment of Colt was mostly local, with teams like Nebraska, Iowa State and Creighton having offered the big man. But, at the time, the two-time national champion Florida Gators were also recruiting, and offered, Colt. But he picked Tubby and the Gophers. I imagine the Gators liked Colt's quickness for a big man and his ability to play a transition game.

Paul Carter: Listed as a power forwrd, Carter stands 6'9 but weighs 190 pounds, and will likely see time at both the 3 and 4 once he cracks the rotation, much like Damian Johnson did this past year. A JUCO freshman from Missouri West-Plains Community College, Carter is described as an athletic player that can slash, score from the perimeter and inside and rebound well.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes Carter to crack into the rotation. The consensus I've seen is that of the newcomers, it could be Colt and Carter who battle to be that 4th big man. Carter wasn't as heavilt recruited as the others. He had offers from Wyoming, Charlotte and Baylor.

Devron Bostick: . Bostick will be a junior and is coming off of a JUCO Player of the Year season at Southwestern Illinois Community College. At 6'5, 215 pounds, Bostick might be the only pure small forward on the Gophers' roster. Blake Hoffarber is more of a spot-up two-guard. Bostick brings.

JUCO transfers are sort of hit or miss. Minnesota has had some good recent luck with Vincent Grier and Bobby Jackson, but Bostick doesn't appear to be on either level. Having read less about Bostick than the others, I'll pass judgment and simply hope he dominates Raymar Morgan next season.

Devoe Joseph: The second Rivals 4-star recruit in the class, Joseph stands at 6'2, 170 pounds and is ranked as the country's #10 shooting guard and the 61st best player overall in the country.

Nice! The Gophers needed a few things as last season indicated. Talent and offense. Joseph brings both. With offers from Kansas, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and others, a native of Pickering, Ontario. Think of Joseph as an excellent outside shooter in the mold of a Hoffarber but with athletic ability. Joseph, at least according to scouting reports, has the ability to get to the rim but he needs to progress in this department. If Tubby goes with a 3-guard lineup next season, don't be surprised to see an Al Nolen, Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph starting lineup.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Randomness

First of all, if you missed it below, all signs indicate Verdell Jones will commit to the Gophers on Monday, giving Tubby Smith a six-man 2008 recruiting class. We can debate whether the Gophers would have been better off signing a big man or a point guard with this scholarship, but either way Tubby is doing what he needed to do--drastically improve the talent level on Minnesota's roster. More on this next week if indeed Jones does pick the Gophers.

*** Minnesota recruit Colton Iverson was named the South Dakota Class AA Player of the Year this week. Good for Colt. Of the incoming players, however, it's Iverson who I worry might have a lengthy adjustment period in the Big Ten. We'll see.

*** In this letter to the editor in the Minnesota Daily, writer Kevin Wendt begins by making a logical, coherent cry for more attention to be paid to scholastic achievements than to athletics. I agree. He writes this in the context of the Royce White verbal, and goes on to state that he's happy to bring Royce White on campus with "conditions." Kevin's conditions? "I say he can attend, but he has to select a major without the word "sports" in it. I say we place him in IT and let his academic potential grow as much as his athletics. Or how about CSOM and an economics program?"

This is where I think Kevin's argument is lost in bitterness.

*** Congratulations to Tubby Smith for being inducted to the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame. Back in the commonwealth for the induction, Smith said "I call it my old Kentucky home. Once you're a Kentuckian, you're always a Kentuckian."

Very statesmanlike of you to say that, Tubby. That said, 10 years from now the Gophers are going to build a new arena named after you. Heck, we might even add a statute once you win back to back national championships. At that point, I imagine Minnesota will be your one and only home.

*** For two other takes on how wrong Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse was in this column this week, check out Twin Cities Boys Hoops and Down with Goldy. Reusse criticized Tubby Smith, Joel Maturi and the UofM brass for allowing Royce White to verbally commit to the Gophers because Reusse posits there are some academic issues with White, who was booted from private school DeLaSalle for an admitted "academic mistake." I disagreed with Reusse here, arguing that the columnist has no way of knowing what has transpired between Tubby and Royce, considering Tubby can't talk about recruits until they actually sign.

*** First we dealt with rumors that Gophers assistant and recruiting whiz Vince Taylor might take a head coaching gig at Western Kentucky, an obvious place for him to get his first head man job considering his ties to Kentucky. That job went to a University of Texas assistant and former WKU assistant. Now, in Charley Walters' column this week, he suggests that "There's buzz that Gophers men's basketball assistant Vince Taylor might be able to nearly double his salary by joining alma mater Duke, which lost top assistant Johnny Dawkins to Stanford as head coach last weekend."

It's no wonder Taylor's name would surface to fill a position at Duke. He played there. And he's coached for Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith. He's considered one of the better recruiters in the country. Unless he is offered a head coaching position somewhere, the Gophers should do everything they can to keep him on board. In fact, and I know this is early, but Taylor should be considered the heir apparent to Tubby Smith. If Tubby is to be here another six years, it would be a good idea to make sure Taylor knows he is the likely successor.

Verdell Jones' father has also credited Taylor just as much as Tubby Smith, for Jones' likely commitment to Minnesota.

*** Now for your random movie selection of the week, but with a disclaimer. I have an unhealthy obsession with all movies that star Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think I first thought he was great when he played the snotty butler in The Big Lebowski. But since then I've found his portrayal of characters to be better than any actor of my generation. So, I see every movie he makes. My friends don't understand this strange fascination of mine, but whatever.

I saw The Savages and Charlie Wilson's War in the movie theatre but could never find his work in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead in a theatre near me. So, I rented the selection on a slow day this week and found that of the three movies he was in this year, this one, which also features some nice shots of Marisa Tomei's wonderful chest, was his best of the year. Basically, Hoffman and Hawke are in desperate need for cash. Hoffman has been stealing money from his employer which is about to get audited (never mind a drug addiction) and Hawke is just a typical burnout with no prospects. Hoffman hatches a plan to rob their parents' suburban jewelry store, a plan that was great in theory but didn't really work out that way.

Not the best movie you'll ever see. And certainly not uplifting or comical in any way. But if you're having a PSH marathon anytime soon, I recommend this over his other two pictures from this year.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

All Signs Indicate Verdell Jones Will Be A Gopher

Now, this is a high school kid we're talking about here, and no official announcement has been made, but all indications are that Verdell Jones will put on a Minnesota cap when he holds a press conference Monday announcing where he will play basketball this fall.

The Pioneer Press is reporting that rumors are rampant that Jones is a lock to choose Minnesota. The Illinois Prep Bulls-eye is also stating that Jones will likely become a Gopher, and reporting that Jones has advised Minnesota media to attend his news conference.

Playing for Champaign Central in Illinois, Jones has become a highly coveted commodity because of the shear dearth of available talent still on the market. At 6'4, 160, Jones is a 3-star point guard according to Rivals and is the 26th ranked point guard in the country. While he is being heavily recruited by Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, among others, we shouldn't confuse Jones with Derrick Rose. However, Jones is in the same class as Jordan Taylor, the Benilde St. Margaret's point guard (read: traitor) who is heading west to play for Bo Ryan.

ESPN Insider's recruiting evaluation on Jones is as follows: "Jones really came on this summer. 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 play maker; looks to score."

If ESPN's analysis is accurate, Jones will make a nice back court partner for Al Nolen. Nolen, primarily a defensive point guard, needs help running the show. Having an offensive oriented point guard can work to solve many of the Gophers' scoring woes. I agree with the blogger at From the Barn, who wrote that he is pleased the sixth member of the class will be a ball-handler insetad of a big man. The Gophers do need both, but the guard play had the potential to be a huge weakness next season with only guards Nolen, Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph on the roster. Of that group, only Nolen can effectively play point.

Assuming Jones does indeed pick Tubby Smith over Billy Gilispie, Bruce Pearl and others this will be the sixth player in Tubby's incoming 2008 class. That is something that is extremely rare in college basketball, having six players in one incoming class. And it will be a startling sign to the rest of the Big Ten that Tubby is intent on drastically improving the talent level on the Gophers.

Tubby Smith's 2008 class has already been pegged as a top-10 class nationally. He's landed 4-star talents in Ralph Sampson III and Devoe Joseph. He's nabbed the JUCO Player of the Year in Devron Bostick and JUCO standout Paul Carter (who will be a sophomore next season) and South Dakota big man Colt Iverson. The addition of Jones would further solidify the incoming class, and will give us a second reason to completely ignore any further negativity aimed at Tubby from UK fans (not the decent fans, but the jerks who blame Tubby for global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and various geo-political messes).

This could be the second time in a matter of months that a coveted recruit picked Tubby and Minnesota over Billy Gilispie and Kentucky. After taking all of that grief from UK fans over the last year, won't this be a nice piece of irony?