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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Posts about WNBA

New Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 8, 2012 - 11:06 AM

Haven't done Local Power Rankings for a while, so this week's ranking should look far different from the last.

We now have good teams in town. And promising teams. And interesting teams. Today's LPR, which ranks the local high-profile revenue sports based on current performance and promise:

1. Minnesota Lynx

Going for back-to-back. Sometimes I leave the Lynx out of the rankings because they seem to be in a different category. They play in a small league that is subsidized by NBA owners. But let's give the Lynx credit for making it to the Finals for the second straight year while playing an entertaining style.

2. Minnesota Vikings

I thought this team would win five or six games, and that this season would be about making sure they had the right quarterback and coach in place. I was half right.

This team could still stumble, of course, but it should no longer look at any game on the schedule as unwinnable, and the work Frazier and his staff did in their first full offseason together has yielded a smart, well-run team. Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave are far better at their jobs today than they were a year ago.

3. Gopher hockey

This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Lucia.

4. Gopher basketball

This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Smith.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

This might be the most entertaining and intriguing team in town, and if Ricky Rubio were healthy, this team might be playing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, the roster is vastly improved, Rick Adelman is getting to run his first full training camp, and I expect Kevin Love to find some way to improve on last year's remarkable performance.

6. Gopher football

Losing to Iowa on the road isn't shameful. This team still has a chance to go to a bowl, or at least establish that Jerry Kill has made improvements in his second season.

7. Minnesota Twins

I know, I know, they stink. They stunk in 2011 and they stunk again last year. But you can't accuse them of not making changes. In the last year, they've changed GMs, a handful of coaches, their head athletic trainer, their Triple-A manager and a few behind-the-scenes positions.

In Terry Ryan's first offseason of his second tenure, he hit home runs with Josh Willingham, Jared Burton and Ryan Doumit, and got good value out of Jamey Carroll. He hasn't fixed the biggest problem, which is pitching, but he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

8. Minnesota Wild

The easy thing to say is that the NHL can't afford a lockout, that they're damaging their product.

But is that the way the NHL works? Or will hockey fans always return to the rink?

I think the latter. So while the lockout isn't a good thing for anyone, let's not pretend that the X is going to be empty when the bickering ends.

-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey to talk Vikings and Twins moves. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

-Amazing what some people think they read and hear.

On Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn yesterday, I did not say I thought it was a good thing that Terry Ryan was firing people. I said it was proof that the perception that he's overly loyal to his employees is false, that he frequently makes moves, and that he's as loyal to people moving their way up through the organization as he is to the people who hold their current positions.

 

Remember Al

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 8, 2011 - 7:59 PM

Many of my peers and friends in the business can offer much more comprehensive remembrances of the late Al Davis.

All I have is a good first impression.

I covered high school sports for the Dallas Morning News. My first pro assignment was covering Cowboys' training camp in 1989 in Thousand Oaks, Ca. The Cowboys would practice against the Raiders, who trained in Oxnard.

So on my first visit to Oxnard, I was watching the Raiders' defensive backs, when suddenly Elvis appeared. Well, he looked like Elvis. It was Al Davis, wearing his signature white, Elvis-style jumpsuit, gold-framed glasses and slicked-back hair.

Here was the owner and one of the most visible owners in sports, coaching his defensive backs.

I remember Davis' .life the way I remember Elvis', too. He was one of the greats before he slipped into self-caricature. He influenced the merger of the AFL and NFL, creating the NFL as we know it today. And he created the persona of one of the great franchises in sports history, the Oakland/LA Raiders. ``Just win, baby,'' and ``Commitment to Excellence'' became punchlines, as do all slogans when teams lose, but they weren't laughable when the Raiders were winning.

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Update: Tim Brewster lost eight of his last nine games. Jerry Kill has lost five of his first six games. Jeff Horton went 2-3 against Big Ten competition with the same players.

Jeff Horton should belatedly be named Big Ten coach of the year for 2010.

Also: When Paul Johnson was at Navy, he was considered a Gopher football coaching canididate when Joel Maturi hired Brewster.

I'm told Johnson did not have interest in the Gopher program. Too bad. Johnson has Georgia Tech undefeated this season.

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Covering the Lynx's championship on Friday night, and wrote a piece about Lindsay Whalen for the Sunday paper.

Whalen has always tried to maintain a pretty stoic public face, but I waited until the Lynx celebration was done and her teammates were all on the team bus before I caught her outside the lockerroom, and she was giddy and funny.

I'm staying in Atlanta to pick up a piece on the Packers that will run in this week's Star Tribune.

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I'm picking the Vikings to win on Sunday, and I'm not sure why. I guess I figure that if two bad teams play each other, you should probably take the home team. Which is why I was silly to take the Vikings last week.

As for Donovan McNabb's assertion that talk of him being benched is ``hilarious,'' my radio partner Tom Pelissero points out that McNabb said something similar last year...before he was benched.

I understand why Leslie Frazier wanted McNabb. I don't blame him for wanting a veteran in place following a lockout, and McNabb is serving the purpose of keeping the Vikings from rushing Christian Ponder into a pressurized situation.

But if McNabb can't win games, he has no value to this franchise. He's on a one-year deal. So today could be his last chance to prove that he has some value.

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Strange how baseball payrolls work. The Twins set a record for payroll, at about $115 million, and had their most disappointing season ever, barely missing 100 losses. Meanwhile the last four teams remaining in the playoffs all rank 10th or lower in payroll.

The Tigers are 10th (at about $106 million), followed by the Cardinals at 11, the Rangers at 13 and the Brewers at 17.

Could be a random event, or it could have two meanings:

1. The largest salaries are paid not to players who are on the rise, but players who have long-established value. That means older players. In the post-steroid era, age is a big deal. Players no longer can artificially extend their prime.

2. Old, rich players can be troublesome in the clubhouse. They can be divas. The Red Sox' sour attitude led to an epic collapse and the firing of Terry Francona. The Yankees are like a bunch of bankers, joyless and acutely aware of the bottom line.

You have to give big money to the right people. There is little dead weight on the rosters of the remaining teams.

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I'll be in Atlanta for Sunday Sports Talk. Tom Pelissero will be in the studio. We're on 1500espn from 10-noon. Guests include Lindsay Whalen, Kevin Seifert and Tom Linnemann. Follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

 

 

 

I always miss the big news

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 7, 2011 - 5:04 PM
So the Vikings sign Cullen Loeffler to a three-year deal?
I could joke about the team's priorities, but the guy is good at his job. When I spoke with kicker Ryan Longwell about his decision to return to the Vikings, he said one of the tie-breakers was his ability to work with Loeffler and holder Chris Kluwe.
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I’m at Philips Arena today, prepping for the WNBA Finals Game 3 tonight. I’m told it’s a sellout, although there are curtains blocking some of the upper-level seats.
Spoke to a few Lynx players at shootaround. Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin seemed to be walking well on her injured right knee, but isn’t saying if she’ll be able to play tonight.
For those who haven’t been following closely, the Lynx lead 2-0 in a best-of-five series. If they lose tonight, they’ll play on Sunday at Philips. If they lost that game, Game 5 would be Tuesday at Target Center.
``Atlanta played great the last two games,’’ said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen. ``We played well enough to win. We don’t want to give them any hope here. We know it’s going to be crazy in here, but you have to do anything you can to win tonight.’’

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Why do the Twins seem to helpless against the Yankees in the postseason, while other teams seem to handle them so easily?

Two reasons: Arms and attitude. The teams that beat the Yankees in the postseason tend to have power arms capable of missing bats. Twins pitchers pitch to contact, and when you pitch to contact to good, veteran hitters, eventually they’ll make very good contact.

Also: While they were pretty competitive in 2003 and 2004, the Twins have been complete wimps against the Yankees ever since, in the regular season and the postseason.

What you'll notice about the teams that have beaten the Yankees in the postseason is that they, and their managers, have been pretty cocky. The 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2004 Red Sox...up through this year's Tigers all had loose or fiery managers and stars who embraced the big stage of Yankee Stadium.

The likes of Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander qualify on both fronts - power arms with no fear of the Yankee lineup.

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There was a quick and predictable reaction to Delmon Young's productive postseason: Twins fans are acting as if they don't know him well enough to expect this.

Young has spent five full seasons in the big leagues. He is a horrid fielder and baserunner. Thus, his value must lie in his offensive production.

In his five full seasons in the big leagues, Young has had an OPS of higher than .741 only once - during his big 2010 season. He has a career OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) of .749. Jason Kubel's is .794.

Young has two things going for him: He's got great hands, and he's still young enough, at 26, that if he started taking defense or his plate approach more seriously, he could improve.

But to get agitated after watching him hit a few bad pitches in the postseason is silly. You know Young well enough to know that this is an aberration.And if he wakes up and plays well for another team, that doesn't necessarily mean he was going to do it in Minnesota.

The Twins needed him desperately this season, and he did nothing. That's a better idication of his value than what he's done in October.

                                               

Upcoming: I'll be in Atlanta for Sunday Morning Sports Talk. Tom Pelissero will be in Minneapolis. The show is 10-noon. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Wrapping up the weekend in sports

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 25, 2011 - 6:35 PM
BLOG…
Congratulations to the Lynx for winning the Western Conference Finals. This sets up a big basketball week for me despite the lockout – I’ll be covering the Lynx in the WNBA finals, and Rick Adelman’s introductory press conference.
It’s nice to be able to say this about Glen Taylor’s operation without a hint of sarcasm: This is a great time to be a basketball fan in Minneapolis, even with a lockout.
On to the Vikings’ latest collapse. My column in the Monday paper will deal with the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Right now I’ll deal with the decision to try for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 17 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings led, 20-17, at that point. They hadn’t scored in the second half. The field goal unit ran onto the field, then was waved off. Donovan McNabb handed the ball to Toby Gerhart, who was lined up as a fullback ahead of Adrian Peterson, and Gerhart was stopped.
There are a number of problems with this sequence. Wouldn’t you rather give the ball to the NFL’s best running back? Yes. Of course.
But the first second-guess is the best second-guess in this case. The Vikings should have kicked the field goal. (And, by the way, I believe in first-guessing. So you can go back and see on my Twitter timeline that I said, before the play, that I’d kick the field goal.)
Even with Peterson carrying the ball, here’s the problem with going for it on fourth-and-1 from the 17: Even if you make the first down, you aren’t guaranteed an eventual touchdown. Odds are, you’d just wind up kicking a field goal, anyway. And you could turn the ball over, or take a sack, or get penalized, and wind up farther back than you started.
Kick the field goal, and the Lions have to score a touchdown to beat you. The Lions didn’t score a touchdown the rest of the way, winning the game with two field goals in regulation and one in overtime.
But if you’re going to go for it on fourth down, wouldn’t you want Jimmy Kleinsasser leading Adrian Peterson? Don’t you want your best player making the deciding play?
Lost in the loss is the outstanding play of the Vikings’ defensive ends, Jared Allen and Brian Robison. They dominated the line of scrimmage.
Both came into the season facing questions. Allen started slowly last year. Robison is considered undersized, and I wondered whether he’d hold up over the course of a game. Both have been excellent and relentless.
That’s the troublesome part of the Vikings’ struggles: They have a lot of admirable veterans who are seeing their last good year(s) wasted because the Vikings can’t get decent play out of the quarterback position.
I don’t doubt the effort or will of many of the Vikings’ veterans - Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Allen, Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson. But the NFL is not about willpower; it’s about coaching, design, and offensive skill players. Discovered this stat as I was researching my Monday column: As offenses explode all around the NFL, the Vikings and McNabb have produced just one pass play longer than 24 yards. It was a screen pass that Toby Gerhart carried 42 yards.
That’s pathetic.               
Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is having more health problems.
I mean this seriously: He should take off the rest of the season. He needs to get control of his health. He also needs to understand that nobody ever wants to see him writhing on the sideline again.
His health issues aside, the Gophers have lost to New Mexico State and North Dakota State at home. Kill and his staff deserve blame, especially for their handling of the quarterback position. I’ll also blame Tim Brewster. He was supposed to be a great recruiter, yet the Gophers do not have better athletes than New Mexico State and North Dakota State. And their best athlete, MarQueis Gray, is playing out of position.
Max Shortell hasn’t won the starting quarterback job, but Gray has lost it. Start Shortell, start developing him, and put Gray at a position where he can help this team – slot receiver. You’d be improving two positions at once.
 
 
 

Series of Random Thoughts as I head to Target Center

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: August 30, 2011 - 5:54 PM
Covering the Lynx game tonight, my column on the team will be in tomorrow’s paper.
Someone remind me how you write about a winning team again?
If any of the Lynx players come down with bilateral leg weakness as I'm sitting courtside, then we'll know that I'm the carrier...
Spanning the globe, or at least the part of the globe threatened by hurricanes, earthquakes, recessions and stick food:
-Chester Taylor’s departure was overrated, and the potential of him returning was overblown. Backup running backs, even good ones, are easy to find. While I think the Vikings reached when they used a second-round pick on Toby Gerhart (because he’s just a backup running back right now), he’s better at this point in his career than Taylor is.
If there’s anything more overrated than a backup running back, it’s an older backup running back who averaged 2.4 yards per rush last year at the age of 31. Gehart and Lorenzo Booker can handle anything Adrian Peterson can’t, and Gerhart will have to prove his worth as a starter if anything happens to Peterson.
Who, by the way, could have an immense season. Think about it: A healthy, eager Peterson in a contract year in a power-running offense. If he stays healthy, I could see him buying Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan and Visanthe Shiancoe Rolexes at the end of the year, along with the offensive linemen.
-I spoke with Justin Morneau after Sunday’s game, during which he ran around like a maniac on the bases and in the field. Now he’s sitting out in Chicago because of more concussion-related symptoms.
That’s about the worst thing I’ve heard all year. Here’s a guy who was trying to set an example for his teammates by hustling, and he once again raises the specter of an injury that just won’t go away.
As for Joe Mauer, I’m developing a pet theory after talking to lots of people in the Twins’ organization: I think he’s depressed about something. Seriously. If you’ve ever been depressed, or read about depression, or known anyone who has battled depression, you know that in depression’s throes, a person is much more prone to have the common cold turn into the flu, and is much more prone to having a minor injury become a major setback.
I don’t say this lightly. If Mauer is struggling with something in his personal life, that would explain a lot.
-I read with interest reports of the University of Kentucky sports information department banning a student reporter from interviews with basketball players because the reporter contacted two walk-on players without going through SID channels.
I went through that while covering the University of Missouri basketball team, coached by the cantankerous Norm Stewart. Norm heard that I had tracked down a player on campus to follow a lead, and he stopped speaking with me. (Of course, I’ve caused a few people over the years to stop speaking with me, including a lot of people I now really like. Including Jerry Burns, like Jerry Burns.)
My situation was slightly different than the current Kentucky dust-up. Stewart didn’t ban me from interviews with players or restrict my access, he just stopped giving me bonus time with him. He was well within his rights to do so, and I didn’t complain because I had no basis for complaint.
The Kentucky situation is a little more complex than many national media reporters are making it seem. While I agree that no SID or school should ever restrict a news organization’s first-amendment rights, all Kentucky did was restrict the reporter from a round of interviews that were not available to all media members. While I would put up a fight if I were the Kentucky student newspaper, sometimes we (reporters and columnists) simply have to accept that if we aggressively pursue information, we’re going to forfeit opportunities to receive help from PR people.
I’ve had a lot of people turn down interview requests from me because I criticized them or they didn’t want to discuss the topic I was interested in, and that’s their right.
-I’ve been saying this on the radio all week: The Vikings’ offense really reminds me of Joe Gibbs’ Super Bowl winning offenses when he was in Washington.
What’s good about that is that Gibbs didn’t need a great quarterback, running back or deep threat to win Super Bowls. He won Super Bowls with three different non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks and three different featured running backs.
Eras have changed, and quarterbacks may be more important now than they’ve ever been, but Gibbs’ philosophies should hold some promise for today.
He likes power running, multiple tight ends (or H-backs), and softening the defense up for the long pass. Those tenets should be pretty timeless.
-The consensus among local media outlets seems to be that the Wolves’ coaching job is Rick Adelman’s for the taking. I can’t say that’s not true, I can only say that I think owner Glen Taylor wants to take a good hard look at hiring Sam Mitchell, and Taylor is free to trump David Kahn’s judgement on this hire if he wants to.
While the long, torturous process has turned off a lot of people, I actually think the Wolves are in good shape here. Adelman is an excellent coach, although he may be reaching a time of his life – he’s 65 and reportedly his wife isn’t keen on him coaching this year – where basketball might not be a consuming passion. Mitchell was an NBA coach of the year not long ago and is the lone candidate who can bring back memories of the Wolves’ competent years and might be the best candidate for toughening up a soft roster. And Don Nelson, while likely to flame out quickly and head back to Hawaii, would at least make the Wolves more fun to watch.
Personally, I’m pulling for Mitchell because I like him and think he would look at this as the opportunity of a lifetime, instead of just another paycheck.
-Michael Vick’s contract, even when simply looking at guaranteed money, seems like a huge risk to me. There is no guarantee his speed and skills will survive the beatings he’s taking as a running quarterback, and no one knows how he’ll react to once again having a lot of money in his pocket. I wouldn’t have signed him to this deal, especially since the Eagles’ coach, Andy Reid, is so good at developing quarterbacks.
It's obvious the Eagles are going for it this year, but I still think they're maybe the third-best team in the NFC, behind the Packers and perhaps the Saints. (I see the Saints reounding this year.)

-Upcoming: I’ll be flying to LA for the weekend to cover the Gophers at USC and the Twins at Angels. My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.

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