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 Gophers players

Prepping at the Dome

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 25, 2012 - 5:10 PM

Catching up on the local sports scene:

-Vikings. I'm at the Dome, where I'm picking a typical grind-it-out victory for the Vikings. Tampa Bay has scary weapons in Doug Martin and Victor Jackson, but the Vikings have a number of advantages in this game.

Their defense has excelled at taking away the best skill-position player or players on the other team, with Larry Fitzgerald being the most recent example. The Vikings have been able to run the ball on pretty much everyone, and are smart enough not to veer away from their strengths, even though Tampa Bay is much better against the run than the pass.

Most of all, though, the Vikings appear to be the superior team at this juncture, and they're getting to play at home, presumably in front of a loud crowd, against a team that doesn't play often on turf. And the Bucs had to play on Sunday and spend Wednesday traveling. NFL players just don't bounce back that easily and quickly, not most of them.

My sure-to-be-wrong prediction: Vikings 23, Bucs 16.

-Twins: In September, I heard that the Twins would make major changes to their coaching staff. The only surprise, among the recently-announced changes, is that Terry Steinbach will be the bench coach. I hadn't heard Terry's name previously, and he wound up taking the position I had heard was reserved for Triple-A manager Gene Glynn.

This lineup makes sense. Glynn is very valuable where he right now, and Steinbach should be a good foil for Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire is hyperactive on the bench. He needs someone to slow him down and offer all of his options. Gardenhire's first instinct is to act. Steinbach's job will be to make sure Gardenhire has thought every move through thoroughly as possible.

Whatever the changes to the coaching staff, the success of the franchise will depend on finding pitching. With word that Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse may be looking for a $75-million contract, it's more apparent than ever to me that Terry Ryan is going to have to try to get lucky with trades or low-level free-agent signings that will not impress anyone initially.

-Wild: Remember when we had an NHL team in our town? Me, neither.

-Gopher football: I want to like Jerry Kill. I really do. He's making it difficult, though. I've already ripped the removal of North Carolina from future schedules. I'm also disturbed by the removal of redshirts from several key young players.

The last time I went to one of Kill's press conferences, he emphasized the importance of patience. Removing the redshirt from your freshman quarterback at midseason and telling him on Friday that he would be starting on Saturday is not patient. It's an act of desperation.

Jerry: Recruits can smell desperation.

-Gopher basketball: As tough as I've been on Tubby Smith on many fronts, I won't bash him because his son got  a DUI. While I believe driving while intoxicated is absolutely wrong and reckless, I also know a million people who have done it at some point in their lives. Saul Smith made a terrible mistake, but let's not play the ``leader-of-young-men card.'' He's an assistant coach. Let's not pretend that an assistant coach getting a DUI is going to alter the lives of a dozen college basketball players.

-Here are a few notes on tonight's game, courtesy of Vikings media relations:

-Matt Blair will enter the Vikings' ring of honor tonight.

-Percy Harvin ranks second in the NFL in receptions, with 53. His 271 receptions rank second in franchise history for a player in his first four seasons. He's caught a pass in every NFL game in which he's played.

-Kicker Blair Walsh leads the league with 27 touchbacks. He's tied for third in the NFL with 16 field goals.

-The Vikings' 72 sacks and 25 forced fumbles since the start of the 2011 season are the most in the NFL.

-Jared Allen has a sack in five straight games.

-Kyle Rudolph is tied for the lead league among tight ends with 5 touchdown catches.

-Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib. I'll be on WJON at 7:15 a.m and 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow to talk about the game.

 

Twins' Game 2: Know anybody who can pitch?

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: April 7, 2012 - 5:33 PM
I've been saying for weeks that I like the position-player portion of the Twins' roster, and organization. I see depth, health and promise. I think this lineup could score a lot of runs and at last be professional in the field.
The pitching, though, is already a problem. Scott Baker, who had a chance to become the staff ace this year, is babying his elbow again, now looking for a second opinion. Jason Marquis, because of his daughter's injury, is behind schedule. And during our pregame session with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Saturday afternoon, he asked, ``You guys know about Hendricks, right?''
No, we didn't.
Hendricks is in a Baltimore hospital with food poisoning. So Anthony Swarzak will start on Sunday.
I asked Swarzak how many pitches he could see throwing on Sunday. ``In my mind,'' he said with a smile, ``about 200.''
Swarzak starting isn't such a bad thing in and of itself. He's an admirable competitor. What's alarming is that the Twins didn't make it through the first weekend unscathed.
The Twins' early schedule is brutal, and their pitching staff is short-handed. That is not a good combination.
A couple of Twins employees I spoke with said they're going to need to score a lot of runs early in the season while the pitching sorts itself out. And all of the pitching problems highlight the need for Francisco Liriano to act like an ace in deed and attitude today.
Liriano pitched well this spring after a rough first outing. If he's ever going to put it together, it would probably happen this season. Contract years tend to make superheroes out of ballplayers.
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A decade or two ago, sports columnists as major newspapers covered a variety of national events: World Series, Super Bowl, golf majors, Final Four. These days, not so much.
I covered a handful of Masters, and that is the event I miss covering the most.
Strangely, it's also the event I felt guiltiest about covering.
Augusta National Golf Club has zero female members. I can't condone that. I can't even quite fathom it. But the same members who discriminate against women put on the best sporting event I've ever covered.
I love the tournament and don't think much of the people who run it. That being said, I wish I were there. There is nothing quite like covering enough Masters that you can tell what each roar means.
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Tomororw, I'll be co-hosting Sunday Sports Talk from Baltimore from 10-11:30. We'll also run the Ron Gardenhire Show from 9:30-10. Monday morning I'll head home to cover the Twins' home opener.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

New LPR, highlighting Wolves,Twins,Vikes

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: March 8, 2012 - 12:01 PM

Here's today's highly irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Ranking:

1. Timberwolves

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.

3. Twins

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.

4. Vikings

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Minnesota basketball, the good and bad, and a new LPR

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 29, 2012 - 8:38 AM

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:

1. Timberwolves

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?

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Upcoming:

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.

Today's LPR, plus Cris Carter, and the truth about the Wild and Gophers

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 15, 2012 - 8:58 AM

Today's Local Power Rankings, my irrelevant, transparent device for commenting on the local sports teams:

1. Vacant.

I've ranked the Wolves No. 1 for weeks, but I can't keep them in this spot after a four-game losing streak. They should win tonight against Charlotte, perhaps one of the worst teams in recent NBA history, but then the schedule gets tough again.

I picked the Wolves to win 26-28 games this season, and I still think that's about right. They're still the most entertaining team in town, but those who thought they were bound for the playoffs might have been ignoring the fact that most of the roster is a mess.

They have three worthy NBA starters right now - Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nik Pekovic - and two were drafted by Kevin McHale. There are too many talented but unreliable players on this team, from Michael Beasley to Anthony Randolph to Wes Johnson to Martell Webster.

David Kahn likes long and athletic guys, but he has had trouble acquiring long and athletic guys who know how to play basketball.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Not playing games has elevated the Vikings above all the teams currently losing games.

My reason for elevating the Vikings today: Clarifying roles in the front office, with Rick Spielman running the show and able ot retain righthand man George Paton, should make this a better organization. And while the Vikings have lots of needs, I think Christian Ponder will show marked improvement in his second season, and I think the Vikings' ability to draft high in a talented draft should dramatically upgrade the talent on the roster.

3. Gopher hockey

Yes, they got swept in Denver, and yes, there are signs that this could be another disappointing Lucia squad, but they still have a chance to make a postseason run, which puts them ahead most local teams.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

See above, under ``Vacant.''

5. Minnesota Twins

They will be better this year than they were last year. They are almost guaranteed to be healthier, to catch the ball better, and to have a better bullpen. Will they contend? I doubt it. But they should be respectable, which would be an upgrade.

6. Gopher basketball

When I watch the Gophers outplay Wisconsin and Ohio State for long stretches, I see a team with plenty of talent that doesn't always play hard, doesn't always play smart, and is often hamstrung by Tubby Smith's substitutions. Subbing in five players when the players on the court are having success is just silly.

7. Gopher football

Ran into Jerry Kill at the Gopher basketball game. He says he's healthy, and he sounded fired up. That's all I've got.

8. Minnesota Wild

This team doesn't score enough goals. It doesn't score enough goals because it lacks talent. That was my assessment entering the season and it's proven true. This franchise is still digging out of the Doug Risebrough era.

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A reader suggested this name for Minnesota athletic director, and it's an interesting one:

Darrin Nelson.

Nelson has Twin Cities ties from his days as a Viking. He's worked as an assistant AD at Stanford, the rare school capable of combining high academics, ethics and winning sports teams. He's currently an assistant AD at the University of California, Irvine.

I don't know if he's the best candidate out there, but he's a smart, experienced man.

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Cris Carter is right. Randy Moss, even if physically capable of making a comeback, has hit the wall that all diva receivers hit: He's not good enough to make up for the headaches he may cause.

I'll be writing more about this in the near future.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn from 6-8 tonight, spending the first half doing ``Talking Twins'' with Phil Mackey.

I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk (10-noon) from the Golf Show at Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday, with Tom Linnemann co-hosting. Come by and we'll fix your slice. Or not.

Have to admit, watching Phil whip Tiger at Pebble Beach has made me want to play golf again, which is bad news for people who own houses along the right side of the fairway at any course I may visit this year.

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

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