Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Pitino puts his assistants to work

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: April 2, 2014 - 3:44 PM

With the Gophers set to play in the NIT championship on Thursday, I thought I’d share some insight that I gathered while talking with Gophers coach Richard Pitino recently.

I had heard that Pitino and his staff keep track of a detailed set of statistics. I’m interested in how basketball continues to evolve in terms of statistical analysis. It’s not at the level of baseball obviously, but more coaches and teams – in college and NBA – are using advanced statistics as a resource tool.

Pitino said he strives to find a balance between relying on statistics and having a coach’s feel for the game.

“I like a lot of the stats because it can illustrate a point,” he said. “But I do think people have gotten carried away with it a little bit too much in general. I think people who don’t have a great feel often just throw you stats and they don’t quite understand what they’re talking about.”

Here’s some background on Pitino’s philosophy on statistics:

In any game, Pitino has six assistant coaches/student assistants who track specific statistical categories.

“They’ve got to do something,” he joked. “They’re all getting paid. They can’t just sit there with a nice suit on. We’ve got to put them to work.”

The statistical categories they chart include: Offensive sets, defense, deflections, how many times they get three defensive stops in a row, transition opportunities, second-chance points, loose balls, charges, blow-byes, challenged shots, post touches and missed screens.

Assistant coach Kimani Young keeps track of the hustle board during games. He charts deflections, loose balls, charges, post touches. During timeouts, he stands next to Pitino and holds the board for everyone to see.

“I constantly reference it like, ‘We don’t have enough deflections. Or they’re beating us in loose balls. Or we’re allowing the ball into the paint too much,’” Pitino said.

One assistant is in charge of offensive sets. Pitino explained how the process works, using a Michigan game as an example.

“In the Michigan game, we ran 23 plays,” he said. “Our motion, our pick-and-roll motion was 5-for-9. So throughout the course of a game, they’ll tell me, ‘Hey, motion is working or fist is working. Or [certain play] isn’t working. That stat is very good for me.”

Another assistant is in charge of charting the different defenses and presses that they use. The coaches write all their stats on a large dry-erase board in the locker room at halftime.

“We go into the locker room at halftime and on the board is, What are we on the break?” he said. “Every single offensive set that we’ve run and if it is working. Deflections, charges, blow-byes, loose balls, all those things we have up on the board.”

Pitino also gets updates on what offensive set or defensive call is most effective during every timeout. He already has a feel for what’s working best in any particular game, but he said statistics can help illustrate or reinforce a point.

Pitino said two statistics that he considers particularly meaningful are loose balls and deflections.

“Moving forward as we build a team, we want a team that’s going to be able to harass the ball and get deflections,” he said. “That takes time and recruiting the right type of guy for it.”

Pitino’s father has always viewed deflections as a vital statistic throughout his career. Richard said he adopted some of Billy Donovan’s favorite statistics from his time at Florida. He borrowed the “three stops in a row” idea from Tom Crean.

“I think there is a fine balance between relying on [statistics] too much and not having feel,” Pitino said. “A lot of coaches want their assistants to, ‘Don’t worry about stats, just pay attention to the flow of the game.’ And certainly I want my guys to do that. But I do think statistically throughout the course of the game, you can illustrate things to the team that they can understand. Everything that we do with these long seasons, you’re just trying to find a different way to tell them and show them something that they should already know.”

Hopkins stall tactics should usher in shot clock era

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: March 13, 2014 - 10:39 PM

Kevin Merkle, tournament director of the boys state basketball tournament, is scheduled to oversee the annual coaches meeting Friday morning.

Here’s hoping the first item of business begins with this: PUT A STINKIN’ SHOT CLOCK IN THE GAME!!

“I’m sure it will come up,” Merkle said.

Well, it should after mighty Hopkins – and to a certain extent Shakopee, too – made a mockery of the state tournament on Friday night. The two teams engaged in a staredown that sucked the life out of their Class 4A semifinal and embarrassed the State High School League in one of its marquee events.

First things first, credit to Hopkins’ Amir Coffey, who made a miracle shot from beyond halfcourt at the buzzer in the fourth overtime. Cool moment for him, something that he’ll always remember.

But fans won’t forget what led up to that shot, either. Hopkins held the ball in a stall tactic at the end of regulation and throughout the overtime periods. Shakopee refused to come out of its zone that worked so effectively all game.

So everyone just kind of stood around and waited for time to run off. You wouldn’t think a powerhouse program like Hopkins, with its abundance of talent, would need to resort to such a cheap tactic, but apparently Ken Novak and his players felt that was their only way to win. And it takes two to tango. Shakopee played right along.

Both teams operated within the rules of the game, but it was a ridiculous display – or non-display – of basketball that would be entirely avoidable if the state high school league would institute a shot clock.

Merkle said the shot clock debate comes up every year but it hasn’t gained much traction because it’s cost prohibitive for many schools. The high school league allows schools to experiment with a shot clock during non-conference season but Merkle said “I don’t think we’re that close” to having them in use full time at every school.

Merkle said seven states nationally use a shot clock in high school.

“Our coaches have voted in favor of it,” he said. “Not overwhelmingly, but the majority. The reason it hasn’t come forward anymore is there’s a cost to put it in and then there’s a cost to have somebody to run it every game for boys and girls all year long.”

What happened Thursday night put the high school league in a tough spot. They can’t force teams to play a certain way, but they also had a lot of unhappy fans at Target Center and beyond.

“Is that what you want to happen in a game? Probably not,” Merkle said, before adding, “They’re both playing within the rules and it was a strategy that they both felt they had to use to win the game, so I can’t disagree with that.”

Merkle said he doesn’t see or hear about that kind of thing happening too often. He recalled a team using a similar stall tactic in the tournament a few years ago.

I’m not discounting the cost factor in requiring schools to buy shot clocks for their gyms. That would be a significant expense for many schools that have a hard time making budget as it is.

But a shot clock would be good for the game in general as high school basketball evolves. It probably would have little effect on most teams anyway, given the fast-paced nature of high school basketball these days.

And it would prevent that nonsense that we watched in the semifinals of the large-school tournament.

  “There will be more discussion but who knows?” Merkle said. “Hard to say.”

Simpson healthy, ready for second chance

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: July 15, 2013 - 5:06 PM

Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson spent his Monday morning running sprints and catching passes alongside All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr.

In other words, Simpson's 2013 season is off to a promising start.
 
“I wanted to work with one of the greats,” Simpson said. “I got an opportunity to come down here and work with him so I wanted to take full advantage of it.”
 
Simpson and Fitzgerald don’t know each other personally. They share a mutual friend and Fitzgerald extended an invitation for Simpson to join workouts that he hosts at the Gophers football facility. Simpson took part for the first time on Monday.
 
“I’m trying to pick his brain while I’m here and try and get in the same position that he is,” Simpson said. “He’s a great receiver. When I was in college, I always looked up to him. It’s an honor to be able to train with him.”
 
Simpson looked healthy running through drills and is hoping to maximize a second chance with the Vikings this season. A three-game suspension and back injury derailed his 2012 season, which he described as “disappointing.”
 
He finished with only 26 catches for 274 yards and no touchdowns and didn't come close to becoming the vertical threat that the Vikings anticipated after signing him that offseason.
 
“It was really disappointing,” he said. “I was kind of behind the eight-ball anyway with the suspension. But this year, there’s nothing [hanging] over my head and I’m just happy to be out there and don’t have to worry about anything.”
 
Especially his back. Simpson suffered a strange injury when he woke up the morning of the Tennessee game in Week 5 and felt numbness in his foot. He didn’t feel normal the rest of the season.
 
Simpson said he spent most of the offseason getting rest and rehabbing his back and now feels 100 percent with training camp set to begin next week.
 
“I feel great,” he said. “My body is 100 percent. I’m just ready to go play ball.”
 
The Vikings signed Simpson to a one-year deal this offseason after trading Percy Harvin to Seattle. Simpson said he never worried that the Vikings didn’t want him back after last season, but he knows he has a lot to prove.
 
“They’re going to count on me and I’m going to make them proud,” he said. “It’s time for me to prove myself and show my worth. I’m ready to do that.”
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

E.J. Henderson confident in brother at middle linebacker

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 24, 2013 - 2:20 PM
I caught up with former Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson over lunch this week. Henderson, who played nine seasons for the Vikings, has retired from football after sitting out last season. Now his younger brother Erin will get a chance to start at middle linebacker for the Vikings this season.
 
My column on E.J. will be posted online Friday night and appear in Saturday’s print edition. But here are some of his thoughts on Erin’s transition to middle linebacker.
 
“I definitely think he will thrive in that role,” E.J. said. “I think you’ll see a lot more of his personality, even though you see a ton of it. But when you get the go-ahead to be that guy, three downs no matter what, you’re in front of the huddle.”
 
E.J. said he’s confident his brother can handle the demands of playing in the middle.
 
“Erin is a good athlete,” he said. “He is good in space. He’s been playing middle linebacker in nickel for three years. If I was worried about anything, which I’m not, it would be more him getting used to playing in the middle compared to playing in that bubble. You have to go a lot more different ways. You’re involved in the middle of the play versus being involved on the right side of the play. You’re getting mostly half of the action. In the middle, you’ve got to go everywhere. But I’m confident.”
 
I mentioned that Erin recently told 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero that he is upset by suggestions from fans and media that he’s not ready for that role.
 
“That’s good,” E.J. said. “That’s how he got here. With a chip on his shoulder.”
 
E.J. has remained in the Twin Cities and is doing a lot of work in the community. I’ll have more on that in my column. One of his initiatives is a youth fitness and diet program for elementary kids that he launched with former linebacker Ben Leber.
 
The program is called Youth Pro Fitness. Here is their website with schedule information for their summer camps.

Durant at Target Center: 'We'll bounce back from this'

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 21, 2013 - 1:34 PM
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was in Minneapolis visiting his childhood friend Monica Wright when devastating tornadoes hit Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday.
 
Durant saw the images on TV and decided to do his part to help. He made a $1 million pledge through a family foundation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.
 
Durant talked about his donation and the Oklahoma tragedy during halftime of Tuesday's Lynx game. Durant came to watch Wright play in the preseason game.
 
"It’s devastating," Durant said. "Natural disasters are something we can’t control at all. To have it hit so close to home, I call Oklahoma City my home now. It’s tough to go through, but we’re a city that comes together. We’ll bounce back from this. It’s tough right now but the sun is going to shine soon. We’ve just got to stick together."
 
On his $1 million donation: "God told me to do something to help these families out and that’s the first thing I thought of. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help. It’s such a tough situation. Some of those things you can’t get back. But I just try and help the families out as much as I can."
 
On his inital reaction to the tornadoes: "Tornadoes come through Oklahoma City all the time. Sometimes it’s kind of like routine. I thought it was just a small one because the small ones do hit in Oklahoma City around this time. But as the day went on, I saw the footages and the casualties, the houses being blown away. It was tough to see. I call Oklahoma City my home. I love the state. I love Oklahoma City. I go through Moore all the time. It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to come together as a city like we always do and we’re going to bounce back."
 
On his donation: "Hopefully they get back on their feet. I wish I could have done a better job for my team to stay in the playoffs because basketball and sporting events brings everybody together and takes your mind off it a for a few hours. Some part of me wishes I could have played better for my team to stay in the playoffs. Hopefully they get back on their feet. It’s so, so tough. I’m praying for the families, I’m feeling for them. Hopefully everything gets back to normal real soon."
 
On when he plans to return to Oklahoma: "I’m thinking about going back tomorrow. Go to the hospital to see some kids or something. Give some hope. Playing for the Thunder, we mean so much to the state. So many people support us. I just want to go back and support those people."

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