Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Here's today's highly irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Ranking:
They're not just the best team in town (in comparison to the competition they face), they're the most entertaining and endearing team we've seen in this town since the 2001 Twins.
Like the '01 Twins, the Wolves are not only good, they are unexpectedly good, and young, and charming. (Can I call professional athletes charming?)
Last night was the rare night I covered a Wolves game without being restricted by writing on deadline, so I got to work the lockerroom at my leisure. It's hard not to like Derrick Williams, Kevin Love, Martell Webster, J.J. Barea and Nik Pekovich. You can tell they are enjoying themselves and each other.
Rick Adelman is positioning himself for coach of the year honors. I picked the Wolves to win 28 games this year and they're much better than that. And as the Wolves rise, the Western Conference suddenly looks vulnerable beyond the No. 1 seed. Oklahoma City is excellent. The Spurs are admirable but hardly spry. The Mavericks are suffering a predictable championship letdown. Who else scares you?
The Wolves have learned how to beat Portland, the Clippers and the Rockets. I love the way Memphis plays, but the Wolves are not overmatched against them. And the Lakers are a mess. Mike Brown might be the only defensive coach who can hold down Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.
If the Wolves can make it to the playoffs without burning out Love and Rubio, they could be dangerous. Now that they're in the 8th slot, they need to make a move so they face someone other than Oklahoma City in the first round. Even moving into the 6th seed would mean a matchup with Memphis or one of the LA teams.
The Wolves are the most interesting team in town, and they're growing more interesting by the day.
2. Gopher hockey
Don Lucia is having a good year. He has a team that seems to be peaking at the right time. But he still needs to prove he can prepare a team for the postseason and guide it to big victories, like he did in the old days.
I'll give them this: They're better than they were last year. But they could improve by 10 games and still lose 89 and finish fourth. Which, after spending time at spring training, is about what I expect.
If only they had lost that silly game at Washington, they'd have the No. 2 pick and a couple of wonderful options: Drafting Robert Griffin III or trading him. I've thought for months that Griffin has more upside than Andrew Luck. He's a greater risk, but I was not impressed with Luck's throwing motion this season, and I wouldn't want to spend the first pick in the draft on a so-called game manager.
5. Gopher basketball
The coach should be fired, and yet the Gophs rank ahead of two other teams in town. That's sad.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here.
7. Minnesota Wild
I like Yeo. I like Fletcher. I think they're both sharp. I think Fletcher has a credible plan for rebuilding with dynamic young scorers. But right now this is the most pathetic team we've seen in this town since...last year's Twins.
Congratulations to Glen Perkins. He's shown great humility and flexibility while rehabilitating his career and his relationships within the Twins' organization since filing a grievance against the team.
Twins signed him to a contract extension today because he's become a dynamic pitcher while proving that's he's grounded, and a good teammate, and that he's invested in the organization. It's remarkable how quicky he's gone from problem child to franchise cornerstone.
Upcoming: Tom Pelissero and I will host a rare double-headed, live-and-in-studio version of Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Lots of talk about all of the above, including Tom's look at NFL free agency and the Vikings' plans, and my thoughts on my trip to spring training and a week with the Wolves.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Today's LPR, my Local Power Rankings of revenue sports, sees little change. For good reason.
1. Minnesota Wild
While most local sports fans were reveling in the Gopher basketball team beating a mediocre, unranked opponent at home, the most impressive victory on Wednesday night was the Wild coming back from a 2-0 deficit in Edmonton to win in a shootout.
Now the Wild needs to survive a stretch of the schedule in which 20 of its 29 games are on the road. They won't have the best record in the West at the end of that stretch, but if they can remain in the middle of the playoff pack, they'll be set up well for the stretch run.
Mike Yeo has got to be the coach of the year in the NHL right now, and Chuck Fletcher has to be among the leading candidates for executive of the year, given that his trades improved the Wild's prospects for the future as well as improved the team this year.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
Time for this team to prove it's not going to fade away like so many other Lucia products. They've proven they have plenty of talent; now they have to show some grit.
3. Golden Gopher basketball
Nice win on Wednesday, but the level of cheerleading among local media members is a bit embarrassing. It's our job to put things into context, not do backflips over every victory. Yes, there were positives, like Julian Welch playing well at the point and Elliott Eliason showing great court-sense, and Rodney Williams looking comfortable at power forward.
Here's the proper context, though: Tubby Smith has beaten highly-ranked teams from Louisville and North Carolina during the non-conference schedule during his tenure at Minnesota, and those victories did not catapult his team to great heights. Beating Virginia Tech at home doesn't prove a whole lot more than this team can beat Virginia Tech at home.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
I don't like to see arena workers losing paychecks, so I can't be thrilled that the NBA went through a lockout and will play a shortened season. But from a selfish standpoint, this is perfect. Early-season NBA games can be horrid and meaningless. Now we get a 66-game season that will really get rolling right about the time football wraps up, and any winning streak the Wolves can muster could actually make a difference in the standings.
I'm most intrigued not by Ricky Rubio, but by how Rick Adelman will coach a bunch of players with a certain amount of skill but no real idea of how to play the game.
5. Minnesota Twins
Terry Ryan, Wayne Krivsky and Gene Glynn are all good hires, and Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were good, subtle, acquisitions. But the pitching staff is a mess, and without Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel the outfield will be, too.
I'm highly intrigued to see if Ryan make a bold move or merely hopes for improvement within the current roster.
6. Golden Gopher football
They haven't lost in, like, two weeks. Is that some sort of record?
7. Minnesota Vikings
I wrote about Leslie Frazier and the Vikings' front office for the Sunday paper. If you really care about this team, all you should be hoping for now is positive developments in the stadium chase, a healthy end of the season for players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and the highest-possible draft pick.
In other words, lose, baby, lose.
A follow-up to my column today on the ills of high-profile college coaching: I prefer pro sports to college sports. Pro sports are inherently honest. You win or you get fired. You produce or you get cut. No one is pretending to be Mother Teresa. I admire high school and small-college coaches who obviously aren't in it for the money, who actually do have a positive effect on their kids and sometimes their communities.
Only in large-revenue college athletics do you have the disconnect of rich, domineering coaches who, when they lose, want to tell you that they're molders of young men. Only in large-revenue college athletics on insular campuses could men like Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine be able to use the auspices of a program to lure victims, and not get caught.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today for my regular appearance on Reusse & Mackey, then I'm filling in for Joe Soucheray on Garage Logic on the same station from 3-6. I'll also be on Tom Pelissero's show at about 6:15.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Enjoy the weekend.
I've seen and heard a lot of arguments against what I wrote in the Friday Star Tribune - that Penn State should cancel the rest of its games this season and be investigated by the NCAA, which should consider the death penalty for a program that enabled the raping of young boys in its lockerroom.
I believe more than ever that the Penn State game on Saturday in Happy Valley against Nebraska should have been cancelled. Saturday in Happy Valley was not the time or place to celebration the program that provided a haven and hunting ground for Jerry Sandusky, and a massive stadium should not have been provided as a forum in which to cheer for the program or ousted coach Joe Paterno.
For those saying that the NCAA doesn't rule on criminal acts, but only on matters of competitive balance, don't you think that a coverup of heinous acts that, if uncovered, would have damagd recruiting and possibly led to the ouster of the winningest coach in college footbalt gave Penn State a competitive advantage? Shouldn't the NCAA be concerned with the coverup of crimes within a big-time college football program, if not the crimes themselves?
I thought playing the football game was a pathetic display of priorities. But I expect nothing more from college football and the corrup and sanctimonious people who run it.
My colleague Phil Miller pointed this out today, as we were waiting for the Gopher-Wisconsin football game to start:
In 2008, the Twins signed Adam Everett to play shortstop. In 2009, they traded during the season for Orlando Cabrera. In 2010, they signed J.J. Hardy. In 2011, they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka. In preparation for the 2012 season, they have signed Jamey Carroll.
That's five straight seasons in which the Twins have been forced to find a starting shortstop outside of the organization. That's an embarrassing stretch for a franchise that prides itself on drafting and developing players.
Who could have imagined the Twins missing Jason Bartlett this much?
For the record, I think the signing of Carroll makes sense. He's affordable, he catches the ball and he gets on base. He's a reasonable if unexciting signing.
Note to NBA players: Stop trying to make us feel sorry for you. You make too much money. Sign the deal and play, or get a real job. That is all.
Upcoming: I'll be in the 1500espn studio with Tom Pelissero for Sunday Morning Sports talk, 10-noon on Sunday. We'll both be in Green Bay to cover the Vikings-Packer game on Monday. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05, my normal time slot, with Reusse & Mackey. (Mackey's the rational one.) (I can't believe I just said that.)
My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.
There are certain questions I get asked repeatedly. Let me provide a few answers:
1. I don't write headlines. If you love the headline, I don't get the credit. If you hate the headline, I'll take the blame if you like, but I didn't write it. And while we have a dedicated team of editors who do their best to capture the spirit of a column in the headline, please don't read the headline and fire off an angry email. The opinion expressed in the column might be slightly different, or less vehement, than the headline suggests.
2. I don't write ``articles.'' I write ``columns.'' The difference, and my business does a terrible job of differentiating these things, is that articles are supposed to be based in objectivity and reporting, while a column allows the auithor to express opinions and his or her perspective. It's my job to write opinion pieces, so if you're shocked to see me writing opinion, well, we in my industry haven't done a very good job of explaining to you that that is my role.
The line has blurred over the years, with more beat writers (people assigned to cover specific teams or leagues) writing more opinion pieces, but essentially my job is to do my homework and then tell you what I think. A beat writer's job is to bring you the news.
3. I don't dislike Jerry Kill, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in three years or so, he's fielding a competitive Big Ten team. In fact, I like the guy. I like open, honest, intense people.
I criticized the timing of his contract extension because it looks to me like another amateurish decision by the overseers of Gophers athletics. I'm not calling for him to be fired; I'm saying that he should be forced to prove himself like anyone else in any line of work before he's rewarded.
Sorry, a one-point win at home over Iowa doesn't justify the extension. It was a nice moment and a sign that Kill hasn't lost his players, which is a positive development. But as I've said before, if beating Iowa at home is such a monumental achievement, why didn't Jeff Horton get the job?
4. I haven't been as hard on Leslie Frazier as many of you would have liked because I had low expectations for this team entering the season. I figured this was a 7-9 team, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's about where this team ends up.
I think Frazier is learning on the job, and that should be expected. To me, the key to his tenure might be how his offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, handles the offense now that Christian Ponder is in place. Musgrave is highly respected around the league as a quarterbacks coach. Now he has to prove he can run an offense effectively. Sunday was a start, with Musgrave using Percy Harvin creatively and getting Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game.
5. I haven't been as hard on Ron Gardenhire as many of you would like because I think the average fan is nuts when it comes to evaluating managers. Take the World Series. Both managers made egregious strategical errors, and yet Ron Washington almost guided his team to a title, and Tony La Russa won the title with a team that shouldn't have even been there.
All managers, even the greats, make moves that make us scratch our heads. And no manager can win without pitching depth and talent.
I didn't see Gardenhire performing any differently this season than he did when the Twins were considered baseball's model franchise. He's not the X factor.
6. Don't take my predictions any more seriously than I do. After all, I thought the Twins were going to be good last year.
7. I'm hearing that the NBA lockout will end within three weeks, and that the owners will get pretty much the deal they wanted all along. They always planned to make the players miss a paycheck or two, knowing that would bring them all the leverage they need to finalize a deal.
8. I don't expect the Twins to re-sign Joe Nathan or Michael Cuddyer. The Twins value them both, but once a player hits the open market, someone is going to bid more than the Twins. That's just reality. If the Twins really wanted Cuddyer back, they wouldn't have offered him $16 million over two years, which was bound to insult Cuddyer's agent if not Cuddyer himself.
9. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and all weekdays, with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Crazy night in Charlotte. At dinner with the boys when I get a text from Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Minneapolis band The Jayhawks. They were about to take the stage at Spirit Theater a few blocks away.
So I head there with photos Jerry Holt and Carlos Gonzalez and videographer McKenna Ewen, and halfway there, I realize I'm wearing a Jayhawks t-shirt that I bought at their First Avenue shows this winter.
Great show, intimate theater, and we even had the pleasure of watching a drunk guy hit on two women sitting in front of us, before he passed out right in front of me and missed the encores.
This morning I'm in the press box at the Panthers' stadium. It's a beautiful day, and I'm about to start Sunday Morning Sports Talk with Tom Pelissero.
Among the topics:
-Should anyone ever listen to anything Donovan McNabb has to say?
-If beating Iowa at home is such a big deal, why isn't Jeff Horton still coaching the Gophers?
-Yes, I really do like Jerry Kill, but I'm not backing off the notion that it was silly to give him a raise and an extension before he won a Big Ten game.
-Christian Ponder and Cam Newton are proof that a promising rookie quarterback brings more promise than anyone at any position in sports. These teams are terrible in terms of record, and yet I can't wait to watch this game. I did not feel the same way when McNabb was starting.
-Check out startribune.com later for postgame video as well as game coverage from me, Dan Wiederer and Mark Craig, plus the work of Holt, Gonzalez and Ewen.
-I'll live tweet as internet allows, at @Souhanstrib.
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