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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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.

Ralph's career: It is what it is

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 9, 2012 - 5:05 PM

If you hadn't ever seen Ralph Sampson play, you would know exactly what kind of player he is by looking at his bio and statistics.

He's 6-11.

He rarely gets to the foul line (he has just 33 free throw attempts this season.)

He can shoot well for a big man (.88 free-throw percentage, .525 from the field this season.)

He can block shots (193 on his career) but doesn't rebound well (4.7 per game as a senior.)

Those statistics paint a picture of a big man who plays like a small man, who shies away from contact, who is wasting his talent.

Ralph's last four game rebound totals: 2, 3, 3, 3. Has just two blocks in his last five games.

He's made 9 of his 16 shots the last two games, but often refuses to join the battle.

I could say I'm interested in seeing how he performs tonight against Wisconsin, an arch-rival in a key home game with an NCAA berth on the line, but don't we already know?
 
(I'm writing a column on the game for the Friday paper. I'll be on 1500espn tomorrow at 2:05. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.)
 

Friday Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 20, 2012 - 10:27 AM

My weekly and highly irrelevant Local Power Rankings of Minnesota's seven prominent revenue teams:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx

Suddenly beat-up old Target Center is the axis of power in Twin Cities sports. The Lynx won the WNBA championship and the Wolves have become easily the most likeable and interesting team in town.

They're 6-8 heading into tonight's game against the Clippers, and a fascinating contrast between the best young athletic power forward in the game (Blake Griffin) and the best young productive power forward in the game (Kevin Love.)

As I wrote today, I think the Wolves would be foolish to do anything other than sign Love to a maximum contract and depend on him being their franchise player. It's easy to watch Griffin and assume he's a superior player to Love, but the numbers don't bear that out. Love is better across the board, in pretty much every category other than dunking.

With Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio and Love, the Wolves employ three people around whom they can build a winner.

What's going to be most interesting to me is how Adelman handles the return of Martell Webster and Brad Miller. Wayne Ellington is highly effective for short bursts at shooting guard. Wes Johnson continues to struggle with his shot but seems to be trying to play a better all-around game, and has had success driving to the hoop the last few games. Webster could make the Wolves much better at shooting guard.

At center, Darko has again proved that he's an NBA bust, Pekovic has become a useful center and Miller is perfectly suited to operating in Adelman's offense. If Adelman can get more production out of center and shooting guard, the Wolves' improvement could become a factor in the Western Conference playoffs instead of just a nice local story.

2. Gopher hockey

It will be an interesting weekend, seeing how the Gophers perform against third-place Colorado College. The Gophers had another so-so weekend at North Dakota, losing on Friday before playing very well in a win on Saturday.  More important, they survived all those handshake-line cheap shots.

The Gophers have become less dominant and impressive as the season has progressed but remain tied for first in the WCHA. We may find out a lot about their staying power this weekend against a good CC team.

3. Gopher basketball

I'll be at the Barn on Sunday for a deceptively big game. A victory moves the Gophers toward the middle of the Big Ten pack, a loss negates the progress they've made with two road victories.

A victory would also be a sign that Tubby Smith is doing what you would hope he would do, and find solutions to his team's problems during the season, instead of throwing his hands up and complaining about the lack of a practice facility and injuries.

4. Minnesota Twins

I know, I know, the average fan is screaming about the Twins not spending money or making a huge move this offseason, but the moves they have made have been logical and surgical. I like the signing of Joel Zumaya as a low-risk, high-reward investment. But no matter how the moves they made turn out, they need Mauer and Morneau to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding to have a chance to contend.

If those three things happen, then the lineup and pitching staff could fall into place, thanks to Terry Ryan's moves.

5. Minnesota Vikings

It's hard to be impressed with the coaching staff Leslie Frazier has put together. Any improvement we see next season in terms of coaching will have to come from Bill Musgrave's work with Christian Ponder and Frazier's influence on the defense, along with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

6. Gopher football

Not much new to reflect on here. I still think Jerry Kill has a chance to build a solid program, and next season will be the first time in a long time the Gophers have a quarterback returning under the same set of offensive coaches. I could see MarQueis Gray having a big season.

7. Minnesota Wild

Yes, they've dropped from first to last in my rankings, just as they've dropped from first to out of the playoffs in the NHL. They are currently unwatchable.

Upcoming: I'm writing about the Vikings' coaching philosophies for the Sunday paper, then covering the Gopher-Northwestern game for the Monday paper.

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today, and Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday from the boat show. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

 

 

Tebow is the devil, and this week's LPR, with lots of thoughts on Cuddyer, Ryan and Twins

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 16, 2011 - 1:07 PM

OK, as usual, the headline is a little strong. What I meant to say is that Tim Tebow isn't the devil. I just think he made a deal with the devil. All this religious stuff is just cover.

Tebow obviously has sold his soul for a few NFL victories. There is no other rational explanation for him going 7-1 while throwing like a drunk Tarvaris Jackson.

On to today's highly irrelevant Local Power Rankings, which are really just a vehicle that allows me to comment on the seven major revenue sports in town:

1. Minnesota Wild.

Duh. Still the No. 1 team in the NHL. I wrote in today's paper how everything is looking up for the franchise, whether you're looking at the standings or young talent or realignment.

I asked Mike Yeo on Wednesday night if he looked forward to playing more games against teams like the Jets and Blackhawks. Yeo said, yes, ``we already dislike the Jets. And we already dislike the Blackhawks.''

The Wild could be quite entertaining for years to come, and I hope they find a way to land Zach Parise, who owns a home in Minnesota and would the front-line scorer this team needs.

2. Gopher hockey

We're seeing slippage. I love the talent on this team but have to be shown that they can gut through the long season and be at their best in the postseason. So far they've been impressive, but I still don't think they're quite playing to their talent level.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Yes, the Gopher basketball team has a gaudy record. But just holding intrasquad scrimmages means the Timberwolves have faced tougher competition.

I'll be at Target Center on Saturday night to see the debut of Rubio, Adelman, et al. And I'm as intrigued and optimistic about this franchise as I've been since Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell staged their mutiny.

4. Gopher basketball

Can we please get to the point where the Gophers stop getting praised for playing and beating lousy teams?

The Gophers' nonconference schedule is an embarrassment for the program and an affront to ticket-buyers. I'm not going to take this team seriously until it plays, and wins, a few conference games.

5. Minnesota Twins

While the average ranting fan demands that the Twins make a blockbuster trade or sign a top free agent, realistic observers of the team should be able to recognize that Terry Ryan is having a very good offseason so far.

Bringing Matt Capps back doesn't impress anyone, but Ryan has always believed that competent relievers fluctuate year-to-year, so it's probably a worthwhile gamble. He got rid of Kevin Slowey, which could have the same positive effect on the Twins that the Wild trading Martin Havlat has had. Jamey Carroll is the kind of short-term, inexpensive stopgap that could help the 2012 Twins without busting the payroll or blocking any worthwhile infield prospects. Ryan Doumit is a perfect fit for a team that doesn't know how many games its catcher will catch.

And even for someone who has known Michael Cuddyer since 1997 and thinks very highly of him as a player and a human, the Josh Willingham signing is a winner. Willingham is a similar player to Cuddyer and is less expensive, and Cuddyer's departure brings two draft picks to a Twins franchise desperate to rebuild its farm system.

Ryan has also signed a number of minor-league players who are more talented than their struggles indicate. And remember, Ryan's strength was always finding hidding gems, like Lew Ford, Alexi Casilla, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana.

Also: Bringing back Bill Smith is a winning move for the organization. I don't think he was a natural general manager, but he does good work in Latin America and in Lee County, where he's always had a great working relationship with the stewards of the Twins' spring training ballpark.

Smith is a valuable employee, and it speaks volumes about his selflessness and his relationship with Ryan that he would come back to an organization that just fired him.

A couple of months ago, the Twins' front office looked overmatched. Now the Twins' front office features Ryan as the boss, former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky as a valued adviser, and Smith. Those moves, with the addition of Gene Glynn as the Triple-A manager, should pay dividends. If not this year, then in the future.

6. Gopher football

Jerry Kill hasn't lost a game in a long time.

7. Minnesota Vikings

They need to keep losing and draft Matt Kalil, then land either a speed receiver or quality defensive back at the top of the second round.

The Vikings have a dozen problems to address, but as Jacques Lemaire always said, ``Solve one problem, and two more disappear.''

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Upcoming: I'll be at Target Center to watch the new Wolves on Saturday, then at the future site of Zygiopolis on Sunday to watch the Saints and Vikings.

Today, I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05, and sometime tonight (between 6 and 8) with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday before the Vikings game (also on 1500espn). My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

This week's LPR: Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: November 29, 2011 - 10:21 AM

Was off for the holidays last week, so I haven't offered my second installment of the all-important LPR: Local Power Rankings of our mostly-woeful revenue sports teams.

Here's Round 2:

1. Minnesota Wild:

Impressive that Mike Yeo could get this team to respond after a two-game losing streak, and on a back-to-back with a goalie who got pulled the night before. Right now Yeo might be the best coach/manager in town, and he's still getting used to having his own parking space at the X.

Also: Cal Clutterbuck, long a favorite of mine because of his toughness and hustle, was outstanding last night. As was Mikko Koivu and Backstrom. This team continues to overachieve, and in this town, if you overachieve you're an easy No. 1.

2. Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team

We're seeing some slippage here. They've slipped to No. 5 in the national rankings, and the specter of all of Lucia's recent underachievers is rising into view. In this town, they're still easily No. 2, but they have to prove they can win games while they're under pressure. This has been a soft, soft program for a long time.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

That's right, just planning to practice within the next two weeks moves the Wolves to No. 3. In this case, the devil you don't know is better than the devils you know. Plus, the 66-game schedule almost ensures that the Wolves won't lose 50 games again.

4. Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team

What does it say about Tubby's program that one injury can destroy all expectations for an entire season even before the Big Ten schedule begins?

Actually, it says a lot.

5. Minnesota Twins

The signings of Doumit and Carroll are good, common-sense moves that could solve glaring problems. What's more impressive is the way Terry Ryan (and Bill Smith before he was fired) started fixing the baseball operation. The hiring of Wayne Krivsky (Smith deserves credit for that one), the re-hiring of Ryan, and the hiring of Gene Glynn as Triple A manager are moves that might not affect the 2012 standings but should help the Twins regain their respectability and set them up for future success.

The Twins would also benefit from luring Smith back into the fold. He has many skills that can benefit the business side of the operation. He's been a good soldier for this organization for a long time and should be treated as such.

6. Minnesota Gopher football team

Three victories against a weak schedule is not impressive, but Kill and his staff at least coaxed some improvement from Gray.

7. Minnesota Vikings

This team is an imperfect storm of lousy personnel and poor coaching. I think personnel depth is the bigger problem, but a team with Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin in their prime should have more than two victories.

Upcoming:

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey, and at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

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