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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Game 6 prediction: Wild will stave off elimination

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 13, 2014 - 12:37 PM

I picked against the Wild in Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal and proved to be wrong.

I thought the Chicago Blackhawks would crank their game up a notch and put the Wild in a deep hole. That obviously didn't happen because the Wild responded with perhaps its best game of the postseason.

Tonight, the Wild faces its third elimination game of the playoffs in Game 6. The guess here is that the Wild remains perfect at home and forces a Game 7 in Chicago on Thursday night.

This has been a weird series in terms of its ebbs and flows. We really haven't seen the usual hatred and rough stuff normally found in a long, close series. These two teams have simply taken turns as the dominant team.

The Blackhawks assumed that role in Game 5 after a poor first period. The defending champions were booed off the ice and then took control in the second and third period to take a 3-2 series lead.

I'll pick the Wild tonight because they've been such a different team at home and they seem to thrive in these desperation situations.

The raucous crowd at Xcel Energy Center will likely play a meaningful role, too. The atmosphere inside the arena has been loud and intense throughout these playoffs and there's no question that has helped the Wild, which has outscored its opponents 16-5 in home games.

Neither team has lost at home in the playoffs and I think that trend continues tonight,

Wild responds once again

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 10, 2014 - 12:23 AM

I wrote a column for Friday's paper to advance Game 4 in which I wondered how the Wild would respond after winning Game 3. I viewed this as an opportunity for the Wild to show that it is serious about winning this series and truly ready to challenge the defending champions.

I guess we got the answer.

The Wild outplayed the Blackhawks to even the series and got important contributions throughout the lineup. I wrote my column on Ilya Bryzgalov, who gave up a soft goal with 38 seconds left in the first period but made a huge save on Patrick Sharp's breakaway later to preserve a one-goal lead.

I know Bryz makes people nervous, but he had a couple of critical saves tonight and the Wild has to hope that he can hold up as the pressure builds in this series.

Matt Cooke made his presence felt in his return from suspension. His line was terrific tonight.

I continue to be incredibly impressed with the development of Erik Haula in particular among the young guys. Haula's speed is so disruptive and he plays with a ton of confidence for a rookie.

Finally, Yeo and a number of Wild players credited and/or thanked the fans tonight. The noise inside Xcel Energy Center was as loud as I've ever experienced here. Great atmosphere for sure.

Game 3 prediction and interesting Yeo quote

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 6, 2014 - 12:46 PM

The Wild completed its morning skate and media session before Game 3 a little while ago. I checked with the league and Elias Sports Bureau to find out the all-time playoff record for a home team in Game 3 when trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series.

According to Elias, the home team has a 122-131 record in that scenario. I found that a little surprising. I thought the home team would have a better record because of the home-ice advantage and desperation factor.

In any event, I think the Wild will win tonight. Maybe something like 2-1 or 3-2. They should be desperate and rested and get some extra energy from a lively crowd.

One quote from Mike Yeo jumped out at me during his morning news conference. Yeo was asked a question about the difference from his perspective in the Avs series and what it will take to win this series against a Blackhawks team that has now won 6 of 7 playoff games against the Wild the past two years.

"For us, it's the mental hurdle," he said. "The first two games, I don't think we were completely on top of our game. We did a lot of good things and were right there with them. Scoring chances coming through two games were very even, we had a small edge in shots for. We had a pretty small edge in shot attempts for, which is a big difference from last year.

"As far as I'm concerned, we've leveled the playing field here, but we have to take the next step. We have to push past being close or even to them. We have to make sure that we get ahead of them. I believe that we can. It's a great test. It's a great team, but we've got a pretty darn good team ourselves. We just have to prove it now.”

Patterson primed for big second season

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 2, 2014 - 9:29 AM

I spent some time at Winter Park this week for the Vikings veteran minicamp. It was my first time being around Mike Zimmer and observing how he handles his team.

In talking to a number of veterans, there was lot of anxiety and nerves for them being around the new coaching staff for the first time on the field. Everyone was trying to make a favorable first impression. I’ll have more on this in my Saturday column.

One guy who seemed completely relaxed was second-year receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who never seems uptight about anything.

Patterson came across even more comfortable in his press conference, which is probably a normal thing for a guy entering his second season in the league. Patterson told reporters that he wants to become a fashion designer after his football career is over (he even offered to help our veteran NFL writer Mark Craig with a fashion makeover) and also shared why he doesn’t think he could be a hockey player.

“It’s tough being out there,” Patterson said. “I tried to skate one time and it didn’t happen. Hats off to those guys. They out there every day, beating each other up, losing teeth. I got a pretty smile. I’m not trying to lose any teeth.”

Patterson became a valuable weapon on offense – and not just as a returner – as a rookie once Bill Musgrave finally gave him a chance the second half of last season. It’s a safe bet that Patterson’s playing time and role won’t be an issue under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

I’m curious to see Patterson’s expanded role in Turner’s offense. Turner has a terrific offensive mind. He knows how to maximize his talent, and Patterson obviously has elite athleticism and play-making ability.

Two things stood out to me in Patterson’s media session. He said he hopes to play every receiver position this season and he criticized his work ethic as a rookie.

“Last year, coming in as a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I don’t think my work ethic was good enough last year. This year my whole mindset is, remember everything, do better than you did last year. I think I was kind of bad last year, this year will be way better.”

 Zimmer also made a smart move by retaining wide receivers coach George Stewart, who is widely respected inside the locker room and in league circles. Stewart and Patterson have a close relationship and Stewart, a long-time receivers coach, will be valuable for Patterson’s development.

“I just want to be great,” Patterson said. “You always want to be great as a person. I feel like I've got a lot of confidence in myself. Greg [Jennings] told me that a lot coming in as a rookie, 'You've got to be more confident than anyone you know.' I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates.”

 


 

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.”

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