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 Tubby Smith

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.)
 

TK's moment and this week's LPR

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 27, 2012 - 4:23 PM

I was at the Twins Diamond Awards on Thursday night when emcee Dick Bremer and the team surprised Tom Kelly by announcing that his No. 10 will be retired on Sept. 8.

Kelly was so broken up by the news that he waved and stumbled off the stage, unable to speak. I caught up with him a little later, and he said the moment reminded him, strangely, of managing some of those lousy Twins teams in the '90s.

``Late in the game, if we were down, and we often were, I'd go up and down the dugout telling the boys, `Let's ambush somebody,' '' Kelly said. ``Well, I got ambushed tonight.''

The moment reminded me of a great TK moment. During Kirby Puckett's retirement press confererence, the two most eloquent people in the room were Puckett and Kelly. Puckett gave us the beautiful quote, ``Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.'' Kelly simply said: ``I got to see every one of Kirby Puckett's hits in the major leagues. How lucky am I.''

I covered Kelly for a long time. Because of his hard edge, few people realized just how emotional he was on a daily basis. I believe he spoke about his players staying on an even keel because he was so emotional himself.

Congratulations to Mr. Kelly. I think it's fitting that the Twins should honor the only manager or coach in the history of major sports in Minnesota who won two world titles.

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This week's highly-irrelevant and self-serving Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Love deal is fascinating. The fact that he was eligible for five years and was given four with an opt-out after three years could mean a lot of things. I think it says a lot about Glen Taylor's paranoia and David Kahn's ambivalence about Love.

Taylor probably fears another mega contract that could weigh him down, the way Kevin Garnett's did, and Joe Mauer's is killing the Twins. And you can't forget that Kahn is desperate to justify his existence as a personnel boss, and he can't take any credit for Love.

This could work out well, in that the three-year option will force Taylor and Kahn to build around Love and Rubio and not settle for having Love locked up. But it's also dangerous, because Love the second-best player in franchise history could destroy the team's plans in three years.

2. Gophers hockey

They've earned their ranking as one of the best teams in college hockey, but you'd like to see them sweep a good team every once in a while, and the Gophers have begun to resemble the underachievers of recent history. Does this team have a surge in it, or has it already played the best hockey of the year?

3. Gopher basketball

So many fans love to overreact to individual games, or even individual weeks. I'm still not sure we know much about this team.

The three-game winning streak wasn't all that impressive, given Indiana's collapse. And the loss to Michigan State was hardly surprising or damaging. The Gophers weren't going to win at Michigan State with Tom Izzo going for his 400th victory.

I think this is going to be a long, unpredictable Big Ten season. I wouldn't congratulate Tubby Smith, or write off his team, for quite a while.

4. Minnesota Wild

Two straight victories kept them in the playoff picture entering the All-Star break. Despite their collapse, that's still better than I expected from this team entering the season.

5. Minnseota Twins

I keep hearing that Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Denard Span all look primed for bounce-back seasons, but there's nothing cheaper than winter baseball talk. I want to see if Morneau and Span really look recovered from their concussions, and I don't think we'll know anything about Mauer until well into the regular season.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Rick Spielman-Leslie Frazier duo is going to be tested in the next year. Spielman needs to dramatically upgrade the roster, and Frazier needs to prove that he can coach, and that he built a staff that can coach.

7. Gopher football

Three victories? Really?

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Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn from the Metrodome, from 10-noon, with a bunch of Twins guests. On Sunday. Of course. I make an appearance every afternoon with Reusse and Mackey on 1500espn at 2:05 every weekday afternoon. 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.

 

 

 

Friday morning LPR and picks

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 13, 2012 - 10:29 AM

Quick thoughts on the Wild loss and Gophers' win last night:

-It appears that hockey coaches have only one card to play. Last night, Wild coach Mike Yeo complained about his team's lack of effort in a lopsided loss to the Blackhawks.

I like Yeo. Even considering the Wild's slump, I think he's done a good job and is very promising. I see this season as evidence that he was able to get his players to overachieve for a span rather than as an indictment of his work of late.

But it's always the same with hockey coaches: Win, and your guys showed grit; lose and everyone's a dog.

It's just not true. The X-factors in hockey and basketball are shooting. If the Wild had the skill to finish more odd-man rushes with goals, they'd win more games and spend fewer postgame interview sessions complaining about effort. Last night, the Wild lost to a far superior team on the road. It's a game of skill.

In basketball, shooting fixes all kinds of problems. I remember having a conversation with Larry Johnson's high school coach in Dallas. He played Johnson at center and surrounded him with four shooting guards. I praised the concept once, and the coach, ol' J.D. Mayo, told me: ``You know what? When we make shots, I look really smart. When we miss shots, it looks like we've never been coached.''

Simple, but true. The Gophers beat Indiana last night because they made shots. They made three-pointers, and Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams finished their drives.

Credit Tubby Smith with having his team ready to play last night. Credit the players for performing well in a tough place. But if Tubby tries to complain about a lack of talent on his roster at any point this season, remember that the Gophers were the more athletic and gifted team last night. Rodney Williams was the best player and athlete on the floor, and the Gophers had more quickness and depth than the Hoosiers.

Win or lose, my position on Smith is that he should not be allowed to make excuses. He has enough talent to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

-Today's LPR - the Local Power Rankings that are a transparent device in which I can comment on the development on all the local teams:

1. Timberwolves

Crazy to rank a 3-7 team No. 1 locally?

Maybe, but I think sports are as much about entertainment and atmosphere as winning championships. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love justify the purchase of a ticket, and the atmosphere at home games this year has been fun. That puts the Wolves way ahead of the pack in this market.

2. Gopher hockey

Lucia's boys are in a typical slump, failing to capitalize on their early promise. This weekend's games at North Dakota could tell us a lot about the state of this team and Lucia's program.

3. Wild

At this point I don't expect the Wild to make the playoffs. I would be more disappointed if I thought before the season that this team would make the playoffs, but I didn't. This slump may be a good thing in one way: It may allow the Wild brass to continue focusing on building for the future, instead of making a deal that might help this team.

Fletcher and Yeo need to recognize that this team isn't ready to make a playoff run, that they need more scorers to have any staying power. And I think Fletcher does.

4. Gopher basketball

Impressive win at Indiana. I think the Hoosiers are overrated, but give Smith credit for orchestrating a victory that keeps the season alive.

5. Minnesota Twins

I hasn't been an offseason filled with blockbusters, but the Twins have never made blockbuster signings, and making lopsided trades is harder today than it was when Terry Ryan was stealing from everyone in baseball in the late '90s and early 2000s. I think the Twins have had a reasonable, sane, rational offseason, and their fortunes will be decided by the health of their star players and the ability of their starting pitchers to provide quality innings.

I'm not particularly optimistic about either, but no flashy signing was going to change either of those realities.

6. Golden Gopher football

I'm surprised Jerry Kill hasn't gotten a contract extension for avoiding losses for the last two months.

7. Minnesota Vikings

I'm not impressed with the Vikings' search for a defensive coordinator. Rick Spielman is going to have to have a great draft to change this team's fortunes.

-NFL Picks:

49ers-Saints: The Saints don't perform as well on grass as on turf, but I think this is such a mismatch that secondary factors won't matter. The 49ers excelled because of a weak schedule and division this year, and won't be able to keep up with the Saints. My guess: Saints 30, 49ers 17.

Texans-Ravens: The Ravens' defense ain't what it used to be, but it's good enough to win at home against a third-string quarterback. This game, to me, points out just how weak the AFC is this year. (And I still can't believe a great defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau would make life so easy for Tim Tebow in a playoff game.) My guess: Ravens 23, Texans 15.

Broncos-Patriots: The Patriots have been lousy in the playoff since their last Super Bowl win. The Patriots have a mediocre defense and running game. You can seize on either trend and pick against the Pats, but I wouldn't. Belichick will not make the same mistakes against Tebow that LeBeau did. Belichick will find a way to contain Tebow and force him to read zone coverages.Tom Brady, facing a superior defense, will nevertheless move the ball enough to outpace Tebow and the Broncos My guess: Patriots 27, Broncos 12.

Giants-Packers: As with Broncos-Patriots, there are plenty of good reasons for picking an upset, and I'm not buying into any of them. The Packers' flaws (offensive line, porous defense, may have peaked too early this season) indicate that the Giants could win another big playoff game at Lambeau. The Giants have the better running game and defense. But I'm going big-picture here: The Packers remain the best team in football, they should be healthy again following their bye week, and they're playing at home. I'm not picking against Aaron Rodgers here, or for the forseeable future. My guess: Packers 31, Giants 26.

If you want to know how confident I am in any of these picks, please consider that I never bet on sports.

-Spoke with former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber for today's column. I wasn't joking when I said I think he has a better NFL future than Tim Tebow.

Weber had horrible coaching and little support at the U of M, yet still was highly productive. With good coaching and a great work ethic, I'm sure he can complete more than 46.5 percent of his passes, which is what Tebow did this season.

I'd rather put my money on Weber than Tebow or Brady Quinn. And anyone who thinks that Tebow is somehow a better human than Weber is a religious fanatic. You don't have to quote scripture to be a good human being. I'll take Weber as a guy as well as a quarterback.

Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey and at 6:40 with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run an abbreviated Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-10:30 a.m. before making way for Gophers women's basketball. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

On Tubby, Tebow, Spielman and Rubio

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 9, 2012 - 9:52 AM

Catching up with the sports world after some time away....

1.Just when you thought he might be out of our lives for at least six months, Tim Tebow beats the Steelers with an impressive and dramatic performance, leading to our highly oversimplified national debate. It seems half the country thinks Tebow is an inspirational winner who can't be measured by conventional passing statistics, and half the country thinks he's overrated and lucky.

We tend to do this in sports: Reduce everything to a for-or-against debate that makes for an easy-to-stage TV argument. Here's my not-so-simple view of Tebow:

He's never going to be the kind of precision passer that every NFL GM wants. If you're choosing between the next Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers and Tebow, you'd take the next Brees or Rodgers. But not every team is in a position to make that choice. If you're choosing between Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Tebow, why not choose the compelling and entertaining guy who somehow wins games, even if he sometimes wins only because he stays out of the way of the players on his team who actually make a big difference every week?

Also: While I wouldn't want to build a franchise around Tebow, I'd rather have him than the starting quarterbacks for the 10 worst teams in the NFL, That might be faint praise, but it should be part of the debate. You don't have to compare Tebow only with the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL any more than you should be comparing Christian Ponder with the great quarterbacks at this point in his career.

Also: Tebow has a chance to get better. This is where character might matter. He's a gifted athlete with a strong work ethic and a tremendous drive to succeed. Those factors won't enable him to ever complete 70 percent of his passes, but they could enable him to become slightly more accurate as his career progresses.

Finally, Tebow is, beyond a doubt, one of the most entertaining players in a league in which there really aren't all that many interesting people. I don't think he should use his place in the NFL to push his religion on people, but I do find the way he plays and the way people react to him fascinating. So I hope the guy keeps his job as a starter for years to come. Would you really rather watch Brady Quinn? Or Andy Dalton? Or Alex Smith?

Not me.

The same argument can be made for Joe Webb. If Ponder becomes an efficient passer, then you'd obviously rather have Ponder starting than Webb. But if Ponder fails, and becomes our version of Orton or Quinn, then you can make an argument for a great athlete playing the position and trying to win in an unconventional manner.

2. If his name were anything other than Tubby Smith, would anyone think this man deserved to keep his job? He's lost 14 of his last 15 Big Ten games. He's shown an inability to adapt to injuries and help players get better while they're under his watch. Yesterday, against Purdue, even his vaunted defensive system stunk, allowing Purdue to shoot open three-pointers whenever they wanted.

And can we please re-visit all of the cheerleading from the local media that occured when the Gophers were beating junior-high teams from Winnipeg during their embarrassing non-conference schedule? Please remind me, people, why you were all so impressed? Won't you please admit that you just have no standards?

3. I know a lot of Vikings fans are questioning the Vikings' promotion of Rick Spielman to GM. After all, he's helped shape a roster that has flopped the last two years.

My view: Spielman deserves a shot at this. No one works harder or is more organized. Yes, he's missed on a number of draft picks, but most personnel gurus outside of Green Bay do. I'll say the same thing about Spielman that I said when the Twins made Terry Ryan their GM in 1994: I don't know if he'll succeed, but he's earned this opportunity. While most fans daydream about the Wilfs hiring some personnel magician away from another team, in any organization I like to see loyalty and hard work rewarded.

Of course, Spielman will probably be judged by Christian Ponder's career. If Ponder becomes a good NFL starter, then Spielman will have succeeded on his most difficult and important decision, and will have the opportunity to build around Ponder. If Spielman missed on Ponder, he'll probably be out of a job in two years.

4. I've had a lot of different views of Ricky Rubio over the years. I covered him at the Beijing Olympics, and he was very impressive while playing against the US in the gold medal game. I watched him play in Europe, and thought he had regressed. I watched him in preseason practices, and was newly impressed by his poise and ballhandling.

Just a few weeks into his first NBA season, I'm much more impressed by Rubio than I thought I would be. He's smoother and more efficient than I expected, and he doesn't throw some of the flashy, silly passes that I saw in Europe.

Rubio, Kevin Love and Derrick Williams could be the basis of a playoff team.

Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey  at 2:05 p.m. today and every weekday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

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