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 Vikings draft

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.

Quick postgame reaction

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 24, 2011 - 6:49 PM

Cam Newton was spectacular today, and Joe Webb reminds me of Cam Newton.

I'm not saying they're comparable. Newton was the best player in college football while winning a national championship, then was taken with the first pick in the draft. Joe Webb played at UAB and was drafted as an athlete, not a quarterback.

But when Webb throws with touch, as he did on Saturday, and especially when he runs, he looks like a less-polished version of Newton.

He's building a body of work that shouldn't be ignored, and when I asked Leslie Frazier whether he deserves consideration as a starter, Frazier said, essentially, yes.

More on that in tomorrow's paper and on the website later tonight.

Also...

-I think Adrian Peterson has a torn ACL and will be out until next August. This is a bad break, and you have to wonder whether he'll be exactly the same guy when he returns. I'm sure he'll still be a very good back, but his explosiveness was unique.

-Christian Ponder's numbers don't look terrible, but for the third straight week I hated the way he played. Against Detroit he threw the ball up for grabs. Against New Orleans, he looked scared to death. Saturday, he again looked scared to death, tucking and running at the first sign of trouble, throwing quickly and nervously instead of making his reads. Then Webb came in and excelled.

I know a lot of rookie quarterbacks struggle and still have good careers. But I'd feel a lot better if Ponder were struggling because he was trying to jam the ball into tight windows, or hanging in the pocket too long while making his reads. Being skittish in the pocket is something that is hard to overcome, and that prevents making progress. How can you get better at reading defenses if you take off right away, or settle for the easy, quick, pass? There were plays when he stared down the back out of the backfield.

-Rex Grossman is awful. He's the worst kind of awful - the kind of awful quarterback who makes just enough plays to tease you into thinking he might get better. But he doesn't.

If anything demonstrates the importance of quarterbacking in the NFL, check out Mike Shanahan's career. When he had John Elway, people called him ``The Genius.'' Before and since he's been a dud.

-Joe Webb still carries his UAB backpack. I asked him if he's considering upgrading. ``Not a lot of people know about UAB,'' he said. ``I'm trying to get the word out.''

 

Big changes for Wolves, other stuff

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 14, 2011 - 1:04 PM

Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder just finished speaking at Winter Park.

Frazier said Ponder and Adrian Peterson both look healthy and should be fine for Sunday, and Frazier said Ponder is the unquestioned starter.

I asked Frazier about Joe Webb's future, and Frazier, while complimentary, said he's not sure how Webb's career will play out.

Also: Vikings longsnapper Cullen Loeffler was named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team. He receives a $1,500 grant that he plans to donate to his high school, Tom Moore High, in Texas.

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Congratulations to Tom Lehman for being named Champions Tour player of the year.

Somehow, I had never spent much time around Lehman. When I covered the Masters, he was rarely there, and when he was there, he wasn't playing well.

I covered his second-place finish at the 3M Championship last summer, and found him to be very thoughtful and honest in assessing his career. As I wrote then, he had reasons to lament that his career could have been better, but in the big picture he went from a fringe golfer to Ryder Cup captain and major champion, and he did it with class.

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Spent the last two days at Wolves practice, and Rick Adelman allows the media inside in time to watch a portion of scrimmaging. As I wrote in today's paper, Ricky Rubio is making a good first impression on his teammates and coach, and I really didn't expect that, given his struggles in Europe last season.

I don't think he'll ever be a star or post gaudy statistics, but I think he can run an offense and a fastbreak, which would make him an immense upgrade over Jonny Flynn.

I love the J.J. Barea signing, too. The guy can score and penetrate. He's not a great defender, but he fits perfectly here as a dynamic point guard who speaks Spanish. He's an ideal signing.

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Realignment is going to be a godsend for the Wild, which is struggling to sell tickets even as the team sits atop the NHL.

The atmosphere in Winnipeg last night seemed raucous. Blackhawk and Red Wing fans will love coming to Minneapolis for games. The Wild is going to have real, geographic, intense rivalries with teams featuring crazed fan bases, and we'll get to watch more road games at a reasonable time on TV.

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Anyone harboring an old-school, tough-it-out mentality about head shots and concussions is going to have to join the modern era of sports. I found it amazing that a number of ESPN analysts tried to defend James Harrison's helmet-to-helmet hit on Colt McCoy.

The more we find out about concussions, the more we should understand how devastating they are to an athlete's career and life. Athletes need to be protected from unecessary shots to the head. Harrison launched himself, helmet-first, into McCoy's head. He got off easy with a one-game suspension.

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If it's true that Josh Willingham is in and Michael Cuddyer will no longer be a Twin, I'm in favor of the move as an analyst and I hate the move as a human being.

Cuddyer is one of the best people I've covered in sports. I was there the day he took batting practice in the Metrodome the day after signing with the Twins, and I found him to be one of the most honest and down-to-earth athletes I've ever encountered.

In terms of baseball value, though, the Twins got Willingham for less money, and would pick up two draft picks if Cuddyer signs elsewhere. For a rebuilding team stuck with huge contracts like Joe Mauer's and Justin Morneau's, this is a sensible decision, to sign Willingham.

Willingham is a similar player to Cuddyer. The draft picks and affordability make him more attractive as a free agent than Cuddyer.

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I'd include a section here on Gopher basketball, but until they start playing real opponents, I don't care about the program or the season. Who cares if they can beat an overmatched small school? All that will matter is how they perform in the Big Ten, and this team will have to prove it's tough enough and talented enough to compete in the conference.

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Upcoming: I'll be at the Wild game tonight, working on a future column, and will be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every weekday with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.

Bad day of coaching

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 5, 2011 - 6:54 AM

Big picture: The Vikings are much better off losing these games and landing the second pick in the draft, and facing their shortcomings, than they are winning meaningless games and making themselves feel better as the end of the year looms.

Small picture: That was a poorly-coached team that lost to the Broncos on Sunday.

Writing opinion for a living can make you look pretty silly. My column in the Sunday paper made the point that while the Vikings' coaching staff hasn't distinguished itself, it's a lack of personnel and depth that is the Vikings' biggest problem.

I'll stick with that opinion, but the Vikings' coaching staff failed in pretty much every area on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave often left Kyle Rudolph, perhaps his best possession receiver, on the sideline on obvious passing downs. He sometimes even left Percy Harvin, the best player on the field, on the sidelines, too.

It's always hard to tell who's at fault when a unit collapses, but the defensive backs having no idea what their responsibilities were is frightening, considering that Leslie Frazier was a cornerback and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac has plenty of experience in the league and with this group.

And Frazier once again allowed his faith in his players to overwhelm logic. Saying that he didn't allow the Broncos to score because believed his players could block a short field goal attempt, well, that defies logic.

The Vikings probably wouldn't have won the game if they had allowed the Broncos to score quickly, but at least they would have a had a chance, and at least they would have had some control over the outcome. Instead, they played for a block of what was essentially an extra point. How often do extra points get blocked?

Almost never.

Frazier is a man of faith and likes to believe in his players. But the NFL is a game of probabilities. Frazier needs to learn how to play the odds, and he may have to learn within the next four games, to give Zygi Wilf a sign that he's making progress on the job.

Wilf takes losses hard, and I don't know if I've ever seen him more ashen-faced than when he left the lockerroom on Sunday. Frazier should take note.

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The Wild had another comeback win on the road last night, beating Anaheim, and Josh Harding was outstanding in the third period.

The Wild now has more points than any other team in the NHL, but what I'm watching is the point total for the eighth-place team in the West. What's really important is for the Wild to make the playoffs, and it has an eight-point lead over the teams tied for eighth in the West.

As far as they've come, that doesn't give them a tremendous margin for error.

Their goals differential is plus-9, the fourth-best mark in the West. They're tied for sixth in the conference in goals scored. To stay near the top of the conference, they'll eventually have to score more goals.

So far, they have far exceeded expectations, and on a team without any true stars, it's hard not to give most of the credit to Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo.

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About the only criticism remaining of Aaron Rodgers was that he has led relatively few fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, compared with the great quarterbacks with whom he statistically compares.

Did you see that drive on Sunday? It was surgical.

I've been saying all year that I think the Packers can go undefeated, not because they win easily every week, but because their offense seems to be able to score anytime it needs to.

What I wonder is if the mental wear and tear of trying to remain undefeated could cost the Packers in the playoffs. It's hard to play under pressure week after week.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every weekday with Reusse & Mackey.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Should rename this blog: More Twins injuries and Wolves' intrigue

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: June 24, 2011 - 9:45 PM

I'm in Milwaukee for the Twins' series. Before the game, the Twins announced that Justin Morneau will be out until at least August. He'll undergo surgery on his neck to repair a herniated disc that is causing pain and numbness in his left arm.

We all know that the Twins have been decimated by injuries. Let's spin this story forward in two ways:

1. Gardenhire said Mauer is taking grounders in case the Twins need him to play another position with Morneau out. This can only be good. This lineup's lack of run production is catching up to it this week. Mauer needs to be in the lineup every day, one way or another. And in a National League city, with the DH not available, he should be available to play first base.

2. Once again Michael Cuddyer becomes invaluable. He's helped carry this team all month, and now he'll be needed at first, DH and in rightfield, and we know he's willing to play every day, and play with pain, and attempt to lead this team.

I didn't think there was any chance of Cuddyer re-signing with the Twins, but it's such a good marriage, both sides should strive to find a way. He's the kind of guy who should play with one franchise his entire career. He's smart enough to know the grass isn't greener elsewhere, and the Twins' entire organization values him.

And if you didn't think there was a place for him to play next year, well, the Twins can't assume Morneau is going to play 150 games at first base next season. Cuddyer would again be the perfect combination first baseman/outfielder for this team.

-Yes, I liked David Kahn's draft on Thursday night. But you knew there had to be another layer of intrigue, and here it is: There are reports (from Draftexpress.com) that Tanguy Ngombo of Qatar is 27, not 21, and is too old to be eligible for the draft.

That would be a blow to a front office that has been touting its international scouting.

What's really fascinating is that if you spell his name backwards, you get Yugnat Obmogn.

-Jose Mijares continues to be a major disappointment. Or maybe we just expected too much from him.

The guy has a career 2.73 ERA, and yet you can't trust him.

-Spoke with former Twin LaTroy Hawkins, one of my favorites, before the game. He underwent shoulder surgery last year, and has allowed just one run this season. His ERA is 0.47.

 

``I'm sticking around, trying to get some guys out,'' he said with a smile. ``Surgery was tough. Missing a lot of last year was tough. But I couldn't be mad. I went a long time without having surgery.

``I think the hardest part is rehab. Rehab sucks. I mean, rehab sucks. It threw mjy whole offseason out of whack.

``But you know what, you go through it and it makes you stronger and makes you appreciate your talent. It's not like I didn't take care of myself the first time, but you do take extra steps to give yourself a second chance to play the game.''

-Twins lose, 4-3. Key moment is Ron Gardenhire's decision to take Scott Baker out and have Mijares pitch to lefty Prince Fielder, one of baseball best and hottest hitters.

Fielders kills righthanders, but he also hits well against lefties.

My default position on this remains the same: I favor the Twins' starters, who have been the key to their turnaround, staying in the game as long as they can. I would much rather have Baker decide the game than Mijares. In any situation. Against any batter.

-My Milwaukee colleagues tell me that Delmon Young worked out at Miller Park for the Brewers when he was eligible for the draft in which the Rays took him first overall.

They said he put on the best power hitting display they've ever seen from an 18-year-old, bashing homers to all fields. Then the Brewers told him he could hit in the first group of batting practice, with the scrubs, and he insisted on hitting with sluggers like Richie Sexson. And he put them to shame.

Which is another reminder that Young should spend more at-bats trying to knock down a scoreboard and fewer trying to bloop a single to right.

-Upcoming: We're aiming for Wolves and Twins guests on Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday, following the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30 on 1500ESPN. Also, Milwaukee radio star Drew Olson will join us to talk Brewers, Packers, Bucks, etc.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

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