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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Remember 23 months ago when the Timberwolves were the funniest joke in town and the Vikings had maybe the best team in football?
This weekend, the franchises passed each other, the Wolves heading up, the Vikings landing with a splat.
Throw out whatever qualifiers you want about the Wolves' exhibition opener - facing a bad team, exhibitions are meaningless, etc. - but that was entertaining basketball we were treated to on Saturday night. Rick Adelman, Derrick Wililams, Ricky Rubio, J.J.Barea and a slimmed-down Kevin Love give us five good reasons to care about the Wolves.
And that's not all. You could see Michael Beasley having an excellent year offensively in this system, and at least paying attention on defense. I think this team's biggest challenges will be figuring out what to do at center and shooting guard. Darko and Wes Johnson haven't proved themselves yet.
At center, Love playing inside might often be the answer. The problem for Johnson is that if he can't shine in this system, he's probably not an NBA player. He's got to prove himself quickly.
While the Wolves looked more promising than they have for years, the Vikings embarrassed themselves. This is becoming a trend. They got Brad Childress fired last year with a pathetic performance against Green Bay at the Dome. Now they've turned in three stinkers this season, at Chicago, at Green Bay and now at home on Sunday against the Saints.
I came to Minnesota in 1990 to cover the Vikings. This is easily the worst Vikings team I've ever seen in person. W'hich is amazing, considering this team has three stars in their prime in Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin.
I'm about to start working on my column for the Monday paper, and I believe this is the question that needs to be answered: Should anybody's job be safe right now? Leslie Frazier's? Christian Ponder's? Any coach's?
This was a pathetic display. Frazier said after the game that he took responsibility for his team not being prepare. He also said he wants to see how Ponder performs the last two weeks so he can judge him on a larger body of work.
I think Frazier and Ponder both will be trying to save their jobs the last two weeks, even if noone wants to admit that.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday and every weekday with Reusse and Mackey. Thanks to Terry Ryan for his bluntness when we had him on Sunday Sports Talk this morning.
Today's LPR, my Local Power Rankings of revenue sports, sees little change. For good reason.
1. Minnesota Wild
While most local sports fans were reveling in the Gopher basketball team beating a mediocre, unranked opponent at home, the most impressive victory on Wednesday night was the Wild coming back from a 2-0 deficit in Edmonton to win in a shootout.
Now the Wild needs to survive a stretch of the schedule in which 20 of its 29 games are on the road. They won't have the best record in the West at the end of that stretch, but if they can remain in the middle of the playoff pack, they'll be set up well for the stretch run.
Mike Yeo has got to be the coach of the year in the NHL right now, and Chuck Fletcher has to be among the leading candidates for executive of the year, given that his trades improved the Wild's prospects for the future as well as improved the team this year.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
Time for this team to prove it's not going to fade away like so many other Lucia products. They've proven they have plenty of talent; now they have to show some grit.
3. Golden Gopher basketball
Nice win on Wednesday, but the level of cheerleading among local media members is a bit embarrassing. It's our job to put things into context, not do backflips over every victory. Yes, there were positives, like Julian Welch playing well at the point and Elliott Eliason showing great court-sense, and Rodney Williams looking comfortable at power forward.
Here's the proper context, though: Tubby Smith has beaten highly-ranked teams from Louisville and North Carolina during the non-conference schedule during his tenure at Minnesota, and those victories did not catapult his team to great heights. Beating Virginia Tech at home doesn't prove a whole lot more than this team can beat Virginia Tech at home.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
I don't like to see arena workers losing paychecks, so I can't be thrilled that the NBA went through a lockout and will play a shortened season. But from a selfish standpoint, this is perfect. Early-season NBA games can be horrid and meaningless. Now we get a 66-game season that will really get rolling right about the time football wraps up, and any winning streak the Wolves can muster could actually make a difference in the standings.
I'm most intrigued not by Ricky Rubio, but by how Rick Adelman will coach a bunch of players with a certain amount of skill but no real idea of how to play the game.
5. Minnesota Twins
Terry Ryan, Wayne Krivsky and Gene Glynn are all good hires, and Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were good, subtle, acquisitions. But the pitching staff is a mess, and without Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel the outfield will be, too.
I'm highly intrigued to see if Ryan make a bold move or merely hopes for improvement within the current roster.
6. Golden Gopher football
They haven't lost in, like, two weeks. Is that some sort of record?
7. Minnesota Vikings
I wrote about Leslie Frazier and the Vikings' front office for the Sunday paper. If you really care about this team, all you should be hoping for now is positive developments in the stadium chase, a healthy end of the season for players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and the highest-possible draft pick.
In other words, lose, baby, lose.
A follow-up to my column today on the ills of high-profile college coaching: I prefer pro sports to college sports. Pro sports are inherently honest. You win or you get fired. You produce or you get cut. No one is pretending to be Mother Teresa. I admire high school and small-college coaches who obviously aren't in it for the money, who actually do have a positive effect on their kids and sometimes their communities.
Only in large-revenue college athletics do you have the disconnect of rich, domineering coaches who, when they lose, want to tell you that they're molders of young men. Only in large-revenue college athletics on insular campuses could men like Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine be able to use the auspices of a program to lure victims, and not get caught.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today for my regular appearance on Reusse & Mackey, then I'm filling in for Joe Soucheray on Garage Logic on the same station from 3-6. I'll also be on Tom Pelissero's show at about 6:15.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Enjoy the weekend.
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.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey, and at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
In real time, sitting in the press box at the Georgia Dome, I didn't like the Vikings' play calls on their four-down series inside the Atlanta 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
But is it possible I didn't like the play calls simply because they didn't work? And didn't one of them essentially work, in that Percy Harvin found himself in the end zone with the football and at least one referee telling him that he had scored?
The Vikings are 2-9. Their coaches are easy targets right now. But with the benefit of time spent thinking about this, I'm not sure they messed up Sunday, even if Leslie Frazier blamed himself for not kicking the field goal.
First-and-goal from the 3: Christian Ponder rolls right and gets sacked. It's not really a bad play call. Using Ponder's speed on a rollout makes sense. I question having only one receiver in the area that Ponder could have easily thrown to - Devin Aromashodu - but the rollout itself wasn't a bad idea.
Second-and-goal from the 5: Percy Harvin runs up the middle. This may not not seem like an ideal play call, but Harvin runs with remarkable power for someone his size, and the play essentially worked, with the offensive line moving the pile and Harvin gaining three yards.
Third-and-goal from the 2: Harvin smashes up the middle again. And again, you can question why Harvin is running power plays at the goal line, except that, like the previous play, this one pretty much worked. Harvin, according to himself and a lot of people watching the game with benefit of more replays than I saw, seemed to score. So if he essentially broke the plane of the goalline with the ball, can we really second-guess the call?
Fourth-and-goal from the 1: Frazier is kicking himself for not kicking the field goal and cutting the Atlanta lead to 7, but doesn't it make sense to try to score when you're on the 1, and your last two running plays worked as designed? This is another easy second-guess I'm not sure we should make.
Toby Gerhart never had a chance on the play. I'd rather question the design of the actual play, which required pulling offensive lineman, than the idea of going for the touchdown, or handing it to Gerhart. If Gerhart is going to have value, it's going to be in backing up Adrian Peterson and running hard between the tackles. On an obvious running down, though, you might want to rely on simplified blocking schemes.
In hindsight, I don't think the Vikings' coaches should be taking so much heat for this sequence.
I spoke with Harvin after the game, and asked if he's still bothered by migraine headaches.
``That's all behind me,'' he said. ``I haven't had a headache, don't look to have one again. The training staff has been doing great on following all the protocols if anything pops up...but nothing has. We're going to keep with the menu we have and hope for the best.''
The Vikings lost again on Sunday, but what struck me were a few positiives: Harvin's incredible talent and competitiveness, Jared Allen's willingness to long-snap and his hustle while covering punts, and Christian Ponder's poise.
A couple of Viking employees told me that when veterans started expressing frustration on the sideline or in the huddle, it was Ponder who calmed them.
I asked Allen about beating his teammates down the field to force a fair catch, after he served as the long-snapper. ``Don't give me too much credit,'' he said, laughing. ``It's my strategy to beat everyone down there so I don't get blindsided.''
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every day this week with Reusse and Mackey, and probably joining Tom Pelissero tonight on his show between 6-8.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Green Bay, Wi. _ Antoine Winfield has a broken clavicle, meaning the Vikings' lousy secondary just got worse. Husain Abdullah also has a concussion, so Carson Palmer must be feeling quite good about his decision to return to the NFL in time to face the Vikings.
As for the game itself, the Vikings have never been beaten worse by the Packers than they were tonight. They lost, 45-7, and only Randall Cobb's fumbled punt allowed the Vikings to score.
For the Tuesday paper, I wrote about the Vikings' ineptitude in this game. For the Wednesday paper, I plan to write about what the Vikings should do moving forward. Right now, I'll just offer this instant reaction:
The Packers are the best team in football. The Vikings are very close to being the worst team in football. That's stunning not only when you consider where these teams were in '09, when the Vikings swept the Pack, but where they were last year during the first game at Lambeau, which the Vikings very nearly won.
I didn't write about Aaron Rodgers tonight because I didn't think he played spectacularly well, not by his standards. And yet I got back to the press box and saw his final stats and they were as follows: 23-of-30 for 250 yards, four touchdowns, a 140.3 passer rating and no interceptions.
He completed passes to 10 different receivers and survived a strong pass rush by the Vikings. In fact, the pass rush was the Vikings' only strong point on Monday night.
The Vikings have the most lopsided roster I've ever seen. Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen are MVP-caliber talents. There are a few other good players in their prime. But most of the roster is comprised of too-young, too-old or too-lousy players.
``I can't really put my finger on it,'' coach Leslie Frazier said when asked what the problem was.
Well, the coaching doesn't look too good at the moment. It's not a great team, but even mediocre teams should be able to avoid silly penalties and line up correctly.
This team is a mess. I picked the Vikings to go 7-9 this season and it turns out I was a raving optimist.
I don't think the Vikings' leadership can stomach this, but it's time to look to the future. The present? Nothing to see here.
Through nine games, Rodgers has thrown 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Tuesday and the rest of the week with Reusse & Mackey.
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