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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For a variety of reasons - a slow summer, local teams stinking it up, my Olympic excursion - I took a break from the all-important Local Power Rankings. Now, with the NFL returning to action, they're back.
If only Ricky Rubio were healthy, this could team might be the fastest-rising team in the NBA. As it is, the offseason roster improvements, along with Rubio's expected return from knee surgery, will make this easily the best and most fun-to-watch team in town. It's not really close.
What will be most interesting, to me, is to see how Kevin Love, who performed so well at the Olympics, plays this season. He's been able to improve in some way every year of his pro career, and he had to pick up some nuances, or confidence, playing with the world's best.
2. Gopher hockey
This should be a powerhouse team, which means I"ll be fascinated to see how Don Lucia handles the pressure of coaching a team with high expectations.
3. Gopher basketball
Tubby Smith should have his best team. I'm praying that none of his best players get hurt, partly because I'd love to have a fun winter in the Barn watching a good team, and partly because I don't want Smith to be able to cite any easy excuses. Other than his players having to walk outside in the cold to go to practice.
They'll be much better, but how much better? I say they're a playoff team, but as my hockey-minded buddies point out, the LA Kings barely made the playoffs last year, and they won the whole thing. Are the Wild better today than the Kings were last spring?
Maybe I'm crazy, but I see some hope for this franchise. I like Diamond. I like Deduno. I'm tremendously impressed by Cole De Vries' ability to get people out with average-at-best stuff. I think the Twins will re-sign Scott Baker, and Kyle Gibson could give them 100 good innings next year. Liam Hendricks has been awful, but there has to be something there - you can't dominate in the minors as much as he has without being able to eventually function in the majors.
Yes, they lack an ace, but this team went to the ALCS with a rotation of Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Rick Reed. They don't need Hall of Famers, they need functional big-league starters.
The Twins need to sign one innings-eater and hope Baker can become a staff leader.
A lot has to go right for the Twins to contend next year, but are they really that far away?
You can make the case that this is an improving team with a bright future. You can't make the case that this is a good team now.
7. Gopher football
UNLV stinks, and the Gophers almost found a way to lose to the Rebels. They are lucky to be playing New Hampshire this week.
Checking in from the Vikings' press room, where it has been proven that myself, Tom Pelissero and Kevin Seifert don't have a lot going on in our lives.
We're here, waiting on what has become the most interesting pick in the draft: The Vikings' selection at No. 3.
Vikings' general manager Rick Spielman has succeeding in adding mystery to the pick. My early view on what could be an unpredictable night is this:
The Vikings really can't go wrong.
If they take USC left tackle Matt Kalil, they'll be getting a good player at a position of need.
The same could be said if they drafted LSU corner Morris Claiborne.
Or Oklahoma state receiver Justin Blackmon.
I wrote the other day that Kalil makes the most sense for the Vikings. The immediate future of the franchise depends on protecting and developing Christian Ponder, and Kalil can immediately help with that.
There has been a late wave of media support for Claiborne at No. 3, based on the premise that stopping excellent passing attacks in the NFC North is the Vikings' biggest area of need. That's hard to dispute. But the Vikings should get Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook back on the field next year, and the Vikings' defensive system doesn't place a premium on elite one-on-one coverage.
I can't really argue against Claiborne. I just slightly favor Kalil.
Blackmon is a fine prospect, but I would rank him as the third-best prospect of the three and the riskiest.
The Vikings will improve themselves with either Kalil or Claiborne. They would also improve themselves with the other possibility: A trade for the right price.
I have no idea which rumors to believe and which to dismiss, so I"m not going to break them down here. If I'm the Vikings, I trade down only if I think I can land one of the players they truly value - guessing Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon - as well as additional picks.
All three scenarios - taking Kalil, taking Claiborne or trading down - could play out very well for the Vikings.
I'll be covering the draft tonight along with Dan Wiederer, Mark Craig and Chip Scoggins.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Wrote about Wolves' GM David Kahn the other day, and those who support him kept pointing out that the team improved this year and could have made the playoffs with better health.
You're missing the point. The point is that he's been the GM for three years and has brought in one quality starter, Ricky Rubio, who fell to him. He has yet to make one basketball decision that demonstrated professional insight. His best moves - drafting Rubio, hiring Rick Adelman and drafting Derrick Williams - were all easy, obvious, decisions.
We've got to have higher standards in this town. I had people arguing that he's fine because he isnt' that important in the organization because Adelman can make the personnel decisions.
Do you really want an older coach making personnel decisions? Isn't that how teams wind up mortgaging their future, by trying too desperately to win right away? Don't you want Adelman to at least have a smart counter-balance in the front office?
Buckle up, people. There will be a showdown in Target Field this weekend.
The Royals beat Cleveland on Thursday and head to Minnesota with a record of 5-14, same as your Twins.
The tension will be...awkward?
I'm saying it here and now, just as I've been saying for months: I think Andrew Luck will be a good NFL quarterback, and I think Robert Griffin III will be better than Luck.
I'll check back later tonight when we have some news.
I'll be on KFGO in Fargo with Mike McFeely at 4:35 to talk the draft and Twins. I'll be on 1500espn at my usual time, 2:05, on Friday, and Pelissero and I will run a studio version of Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-noon, following the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30.
Chatted with Torii Hunter this morning. Last night, he hit his head against the rightfield wall...and then hit a grounder up the middle and turned it into a double with hustle.
Most players get hit in the head these days, they are sent for tests and observation. Hunter's name was in the lineup Thursday morning before he even got to the clubhouse. Angels manager Mike Scioscia knows Hunter always wants to play.
``Man, I'm like a '64 Impala, with no seat belts,'' Hunter said. ``Old-school.''
True. After a little baseball talk, Hunter started bragging about his son, Torii, Jr. He has a lot to brag about.
Hunter says Torii, Jr., got a 27 on his first try on the ACT, and about 1,600 on the SAT. ``He has a 37-inch vertical, runs a 4.48 40,'' Hunter said.
Torii, Jr., is deciding whether to play football or baseball, or try to play both. Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Arizona have offered him football scholarships. He's considering Stanford and Minnesota for their baseball programs.
Arkansas might have had an edge before Bobby Petrino got fired. ``His uncle went there, his Momma went there, I signed there, and they have a really good engineering program, and that's what he wants to do,'' Hunter said. ``But Stanford is one of the best in that area.''
I got the feeling that Hunter was quite impressed with Stanford's campus and academics. ``We went there on a recruiting visit,'' Hunter said. ``Just 6,500 students. They have the students live with the athletes, which I like. The way they set up everything on the recruiting visit kind of sold us. We're sitting in the weeds, waiting to make the decision.''
The Vikings just sent out a press release about long-snapper Cullen Loeffler awarding an equipment grant to Ingram High in Texas.
From the release: Minnesota Vikings long snapper CULLEN LOEFFLER and USA Football will donate a $1,500 equipment grant to football programs within the Ingram (Texas) Independent School District, which Loeffler attended as a youth.
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.
Rick Adelman has been to the Timberwolves what Tubby Smith should have been for the University of Minnesota. He makes a difference in such obvious ways.
Last night, the Gophers held Wisconsin to 16 first-half points and still found a way to lose, because finding a way to lose is what Tubby's teams have done the last two years.
Last night, the Timberwolves beat a good team on the road, whipping the Clippers in LA with a powerhouse fourth-quarter performance, in part because Adelman has a feel for when to play his players, and because he has tremendously upgraded the Wolves' offensive intelligence and defensive tenaciousness.
Darko is not a good player, yet Adelman has used him to good effect twice against the Clippers, particularly in keeping Blake Griffin from the basket. I know Adelman won't win the coach of the year award, but I'd consider him.
In light of last night's developments, here's my latest high-irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Rankings:
I left the No. 1 slot vacant in my last rankings because I couldn't reward the Wolves when they were playing poorly, and no other local teams had earned this spot. The Wolves, having won five of six, easily reclaim this spot. This is a likeable and surging team.
2. Gopher hockey
Four straight victories: That's impressive, but we all know we're going to judge this team by the way it performs in the postseason.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The last two seasons were abysmal, but I'm seeing signs of hope. The farther I get from last season the more willing I am to give Christian Ponder the benefit of the doubt as a rookie quarterback playing with a limited supporting cast. Add Matt Kalil, then find a starting cornerback and a speed receiver either in free agency or the draft, and this team could quickly make strides, especially if Ponder learns from last season.
4. Minnesota Twins
I don't think this is a good team, but there's no way it can suffer as many injuries as it did last season, and the infield defense is guaranteed to be better.
5. Minnesota Wild
Other than the Nick Leddy trade, I like all of Chuck Fletcher's moves. He's aggressive and forward-thinking and I do believe he's building a winner. I just think the young scorers he's drafted and acquired are going to have to make it to the X before the record will support that assertion.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here, although I continue to hear from Minnesotans about how much they like Jerry Kill. If that vibe works on recruits, we may have something here.
7. Gopher basketball
And your new last-place team in the LPR: I give you the Minnesota Golden Basketball Gophers.
Tubby Smith loses games he should have won, then blames the administration, or his players, or nightlife in Minneapolis. He did take the blame for one mistake: Moving Blake Hoffarber to the point last year. Otherwise, he's a finger-pointer of the first degree.
He must go. But does the new president and his 98-person advisory committee think he should go?
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers with Reusse and Mackey. I'll also be on from the stadium for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn on Sunday morning.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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