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 Williams Arena

Way to go, Wilfs

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 26, 2011 - 9:04 AM

I'd like to congratulate Zygi Wilf and the Vikings' ownership team for telling Vikings employees that they won't suffer financially if there is a lockout.

I thought one of the most embarrassing moments in Twins history occured when billionaire owner Carl Pohlad laid off or dismissed employees during the 1994-1995 work stoppage.

Bilionaire owners in billion-dollar industries shouldn't sacrifice five-figure employees during tough times. Most sports employees work ridiculous hours for relatively low pay. They shouldn't take the brunt of economic downturns.

-I can't tell if it's the sunshine or the good company down here, but I just can't get too worked up about the Twins' most notable injuries. And I'm not talking about Michael Cuddyer's mystery wart.

My information is that Justin Morneau is fine, in a medical sense, and only needs to become comfortable with playing baseball and facing live pitching again. I predict he'll be in the opening day lineup.

Joe Mauer getting shots in his surgically-repaired knee doesn't concern me, because Nick Blackburn, who has undergone similar procedures, say the shots work wonders. Also, while I don't expect Mauer to miss any time in April, the last time he did miss time in April, he won the MVP award.

As for Joe Nathan, he's throwing harder coming off Tommy John surgery than he ever has before at this juncture of spring training. If you want to be concerned about an injury, worry that Nathan is such a hard worker that he might not know how to take it easy when he should.

-The Wild continues to be my favorite Minnesota winter sports team. While the Wolves embarrass themselves and the Gopher basketball team underachieves, the Wild are overachieving, given their talent level and injuries. I don't know if Todd Richards is a brilliant tactician, but his guys play for him, which is more important.

 -My hockey people tell me that while the Gopher hockey team has been underwhelming for much of this season, this is a team that could surprise in the postseason. Kent Patterson gives them stable goaltending, and a group of young, talented players seems to be getting better as the season progresses.

That would be a great sign for Don Lucia and his program, if his team could actually overachieve for the first time in years.

-Upcoming: I'll run Sunday Sports Talk from the press box in Fort Myers, starting 10 a.m. on Sunday. Partner Tom Pelissero will be in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. We hope to have on Twins' general manager Bill Smith and 1500espn Timberwolves writer Dana Wessel, and we'll hit the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers basketball and Wild. And maybe even NASCAR. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

Big(?) Game Tonight at The Barn

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 10, 2011 - 4:57 PM

Here's what I hope happens tonight at the Barn:

I hope the Gophers play hard. All of them, not just Blake Hoffarber and Chip Armelin.

I hope Armelin starts at point guard, although I don't think Tubby Smith agrees with me. His loss.

I hope Trevor Mbakwe makes more contact with the Illinois front line than he has with ex-girlfriends who have restraining orders against him.

I hope Ralph Sampson steps foot in the paint.

I hope Rodney Williams offers evidence that he's in the arena.

I hope Tubby Smith does not again link his players' softness with the hardship of having to walk across the street  - in the cold! - to lift weights. I'm sure Bud Grant would emphathize.

I hope the Gophers don't completely collapse, and miss the NCAA Tournament. (I like going to the NCAA Tournament.)

I hope this team has more than false hope to offer the rest of the way.

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Should the Twins trade Francisco Liriano? Yes and no.

No, they shouldn't trade him just to trade him. He's their best pitcher, and by some statistical measures he was an elite pitcher in the American League last year. No contender should trade its best pitcher unless it receives equal value, and receiving equal value for Liriano would be difficult right now.

That's the way a fan, or a writer invested in this season, would think.

Here's the way the Twins are thinking:

Liriano is valuable. He's more valuable today than he has been since 2006. By next season, if he pitches decently this year, he will be expensive. By next season, when he is a year away from free agency, he may be difficult to trade for value. Most important, he is a constant injury risk.

So while anyone focused on this season would not want to see Liriano traded, anyone worried about the long-term health of the franchise might want to move Liriano, for value, before he flops or gets hurt again or fails in more big games, damaging his value to the teams that might be interested in trading for him.

It's a tough call, which means the Twins won't trade him just to trade him, but might be willing to trade him if they receive excellent value - say, a power arm for the bullpen and a top pitching prospect.

As with any trade rumor/speculation/report, what really matters is what they would get in return. I wouldn't call for the Twins to trade Joe Mauer, but if the deal happened to be Mauer for Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, I'd be all for it.

Last year, I called for the Twins to trade Delmon Young for an ace. I was accused of being mean to Young. Not at all. I was paying him quite a compliment: That he had improved his value to the point where he could be exchanged for an ace like Zack Greinke. Trades are only insults if you trade someone just to be rid of them.

Trading Liriano just to be rid of him would be foolish. Trading him for good value would just be sound management.

Looking back on the Johan Santana scenario, the Twins wound up making the worst possible decision - they traded Santana for detritus and lost his services for the '98 season.

We now know that they should have either traded him a year earlier, when he would have had more value, or carried him into the season, knowing they could move him at the deadline - or allow him to help them win the division, enjoy having him pitch in Game 1 of the playoffs, and then collect the draft picks.

Investigating deals for Liriano is only logical. The Twins have six starters, plus Kyle Gibson on the cusp of the big leagues.

It all depends on what they would get in return.

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The Wild is becoming a fun team to watch. Which is strange for me to say, because generally I prefer hockey teams with star power and spectacular scoring.

The Wild, though, is becoming one of those teams that is easy to like because of its grit, depth and teamwork.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has told me he believes this team will make the playoffs because while it lacks star power, it can offer four solid lines and good goaltending. And teamwork.

This team has surged because it is playing better than the sum of its parts. Fletcher says Mikko Koivu remains his best player, but Brent Burns might be his most talented player, and Cal Clutterbuck might be his most emblematic - a gritty, hard-hitting player who contributes scoring.

This team has already exceeded my expectations. And, as Fletcher says, if this team gets into the playoffs and Backstrom is hot, it could give any team trouble.

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Upcoming: I'm on 1500espn from noon-2 on Friday, with Strib hockey writer Michael Russo as my co-host. We'll have on Strib writer Phil Miller to talk Gophers football and Jerry Sloan's retirement - Phil covered Jerry for years on the Jazz beat before repairing to Minnesota.

Michael is also lining up a hockey guest - I believe Matt Cullen. We'll also take calls.

Sunday, Brad Lane and I will run our last Sunday Sports Talk together. With Brad shifting to program director of the station, Tom Pelissero will be my co-host starting on Feb. 20, when we'll broadcast from Twins spring training in Fort Myers.

My Twitter name is Souhanstrib. You should follow me. It's very entertaining, since I really don't know what I'm doing.

 

I'm not going to use Love's name in a headline pun

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 13, 2011 - 10:01 PM

Basketball...

It was a nice night of basketball in the Twin Cities.

How often do we get to say that?

The Gophers won a game they pretty much had to win, and did it while actually scoring a few points, beating Purdue 70-67 at The Barn.

I was in attendance as the Wolves beat the Wizards, and Kevin Love scored 35 points with 11 rebounds, four assists and just one turnover.

After the game, I asked him how often the Wolves ran a play for him.

``They really don’t,’’ Love said.

He wasn’t complaining. ``I really just take what the defense gives me,’’ he said.

Which seems to be an awful lot these days.

While I was talking to Love, marveling at his production in a system that rarely intentionally features him, Wolves’ PR man Mark Rosenberg pointed out a stat of which I was previously unaware:

According to NBA.com’s ratings, Love is the most efficient player in the league.

Who wouldn’t want to be atop this Top 10:

1. Love

2. Pau Gasol.

3. LeBron James

4. Amar’e Stoudemire

5. Blake Griffin

6. Dwight Howard

7. Dirk Nowitzki

8. Chris Paul

9. Kevin Durant

10. Dwyane Wade

Efficiency is the best measure for Love, too, because he shoots well, passes well and rebounds like crazy.

While O.J. Mayo has become a bench player for Memphis, Love has become the Wolves’ best player.

Of the NBA efficiency rating, Love said something like, ``That’s good stuff.’’

I wrote about it the other day, and I’ll say it again: Ignore the record, which is meaningless. The Wolves have two budding stars in Love and Michael Beasley, and that puts them light years ahead of where they were last year.

The more I’m around Beasley, the more I like him. He didn’t play Thursday because of a sprained ankle, but he cheered his teammates from behind the bench all night, and got into a fake fight with Pekovic after the final whistle, with Pekovic dragging him off the court in a headlock.

You can tell Beasley’s teammates like him, and the guy has otherworldly skills.

Give this team a true starting point guard that would allow Luke Ridnour to become a backup, get rid of Jonny Flynn, who shoves the team into reverse every time he takes the court, and this could be a competitive team next year.

--------------------------------------

I understand that Gophers fans wanted to see Trevor Mbakwe enter the game against Purdue. I understand that he's a wonderful college player.

But giving him a standing ovation for violating the terms of a restraining order and putting his career and his team in jeopardy? What's wrong with you people?

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Upcoming: I"ll be on 1500espn at 2:40 Friday, and hosting Sunday Morning Sports Talk 10-noon on Sunday. I’ll also be attending Wild games on Friday and Sunday while preparing an overdue column about that confusing team in St. Paul.

 

 

 

Today's SORT

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 10, 2011 - 1:41 PM

Quick thoughts on a Monday afternoon, awaiting the kickoff of the only college football bowl game that really matters:

-I’m most interested in how Cam Newton handles tonight’s game. The pressure of being the Heisman Trophy winner. The layoff between games. The hectic schedule required of a Heisman winner. The increasing awareness that he could have made money playing for Mississippi State and now he is, of course, trying to win a national title for a school that would never, of course, ever consider paying him.

-I hate college football’s system, but I love college football, and tonight’s matchup is an example of why this can be the most unpredictable and atmospheric sport of all. Auburn and Oregon never play each other, so the matchup is filled with mystery. Cam Newton will never get another chance at a national title. Few of the participants will get another shot at a national title. This is like Game 7 of the World Series, only with both World Series teams graduating or losing most of the players that made a World Series berth possible.

-Love the Oregon uniforms, and that’s not like me. i generally prefer staid, traditional unis, like Alabama and Penn State. To me, simplicity bespeaks class. But these uniforms work for Oregon. They’re named the Ducks, for one thing. They have little tradition of which to speak. They play in a college football outpost and compete with grander programs like USC, UCLA and Washington, and they play an innovative, breakneck style. Most teams would look silly wearing their garish colors and fake wings. For Oregon, it works.

-I think Chip Kelly is the best coach in college football. Others might say Nick Saban, but it’s easier to wake a giant than to build one. If you watch Oregon play, they’re really not all that fast. Or big. They have been coached to play with great skill and pace, in a system that creates huge running lanes and open receivers. I’d take Kelly over anyone.

-I missed on my Saturday NFL picks and nailed my Sunday NFL picks. I thought Dom Capers would find a way to limit Michael Vick, and I feel this is the postseason in which Aaron Rodgers will place himself among the top handful of NFL quarterbacks, if he hadn’t already. I love that Packers coach Mike McCarthy went to a power running game with an obscure back because he knew power running would work against the Eagles’ overrated front.

-I still don’t know why Jim Caldwell called timeout. His timeout late in the Colts-Jets game, as Cris Collinsworth said, gave a rattled young quarterback time to go to the sideline for a pep talk, and allowed the Jets time to realize that Braylon Edwards was matched up one-on-one with a smaller cornerback. I’m always amazed at how even good coaches (Andy Reid, McCarthy, Caldwell, Tubby Smith) can screw up clock management at the end of games. And Rambis, too.

-The Bears are receiving almost a free pass to the NFC title game. We should have known it was their year after the Calvin Johnson call, still the worst call I’ve seen, ever, in sports. You know why it was so bad? Because the officials all knew he had caught the ball and scored a touchdown, but on the field and then after reviewing the play, decided to make an example of Johnson to aggressively enforce a new rule. Also, that call has me trailing Brad Lane by one pick in our Sunday Morning Sports Talk NFL picks. Not that it matters to me. Just thought I’d mention it.

-Quite a week for me. Last Wednesday, my daughter had her wisdom teeth removed. Today, it was my son. Thank god for Tivo, and ice cream.

-The Big Ten Network has been a dramatic success in terms of ratings, but the announcing can be awful. When Talor Battle hit a big shot to beat Michigan State, one of the bozos yelled - in an outburst that I’m sure was in no way premeditated - ``You sunk my battleship!’’ I’m not making that up.

-Anyone else think the Wolves could be 5-10 games better if they had a coach who knew how to run a team in the fourth quarter? Maybe Kurt Rambis is learning on the job. But is he really going to get much better after all these years of learning under Phil Jackson, after all these years of playing for and working as an assistant coach on championship teams? Shouldn’t he know what he’s doing by now?

-Yes, Kevin Love is an All-Star. The guy leads the league in rebounding by about 2.5 a game, and he’s scoring in the 20s. What more can he do?

-I’ll credit the Gophers’ interior defense with taking Ohio State out of its comfort zone and turning the game ugly enough that the Gophers had a chance to win it late. But the most intriguing part of the day was Al Nolen’s assertion that his team should run more, trying to create more easy baskets. I could not agree more, especially since the Gophers seem so unsure of themselves once they set up in half-court. If they didn’t have Mbakwe attacking the offensive boards, they would be even worse offensively.

-Matt Garza to the Cubs? I like it for both teams. The Rays have to be aggressive in trades, so they don’t get stuck with overpaid players killing their payroll and leaving in free agency, and the Cubs have no reason not to spend money on pitching. Especially now that the Brewers have dramatically upgraded their rotation. I can’t ever think of the Cubs without remembering a conversation I had with Andy MacPhail after he took over in Chicago. We were talking in spring training, and he said he didn’t believe in the `C’ word. That was before Bartman. I think he believes in curses now.

 


 

`Was it worth it?' and other assorted opinions

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 3, 2011 - 1:25 PM

 

A friend posed this question about Brett Favre: Was he worth it?

Was he worth the money? The headaches? Was it the right decision to bring him in for two years, one of which was brilliant but ended in frustration, and the other which never veered from frustration?

Because he just finished the most pathetic season of his career and brought the Vikings crashing to earth, and because he did so while endlessly praising himself and focusing on his career achievements _ because he might be the most self-centered human in an industry filled with self-centered humans _ it’s easy to say that the Vikings should have passed on him before the 2009 season and saved themselves a lot of trouble.

Even though Favre drove me nuts, I have to say that it was worth it, that the Vikings were absolutely right to give this a shot.

Favre almost reached a Super Bowl the Vikings well could have won. He gave us one of the most dramatic and compelling seasons in franchise history. He gave us lots to talk about. And he became a fascinating psychological study, in good times and bad.

I’d do it all again. Sport is entertainment, and the guy frequently entertained.

He's fascinating. Just not always in a good way.

 

------------------------

One of the problems with interviewing athletes is that sometimes they answer. And often, when they speak, they make little sense.

I’m in favor of the Vikings hiring Leslie Frazier, but not for the reason most Viking players give for hiring him: That he played in the NFL.

What a stupid concept. I’d say 98 percent of the players who make it to the NFL should never be considered as NFL head coaches.

The best coach in the NFL, Bill Belichick, didn’t play in the NFL. He was a college lacrosse player. A college lacrosse player! (He played football, too, at Wesleyan, but he was better at lacrosse.)

The second-best coach in the NFL, Andy Reid, didn’t play in the NFL.

Let’s see, Mike Tomlin, who is extremely popular with players, didn’t play in the NFL. He became the youngest head coach ever to win a Super Bowl.

I could go on, but you get the point.

So stop saying you like Frazier because he played in the league. It’s like saying J.R. Rider is qualified to be an NBA coach because he played in the league.

 

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Glad to see the Wild win a few games recently, because if they hadn’t, Todd Richards might be gone by now, and that would be ridiculous.

If you’re going to hire an inexperienced coach to take over what is essentially a rebuilding team, you’d better show a little patience.

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Remember when Gophers women’s basketball mattered? I do. Lindsay Whalen made it a must-watch program.

There may be help on the way. I’ve been watching Rachel Banham play basketball since she was a little girl in Lakeville, and next year she’ll be a freshman at the U.

She played point guard for the Lakeville North team that won the state title last year. She is remarkably skilled and poised, and she plays with great flair. It’s hard to imagine another Whalen resurrecting the program, but Banham at least will be highly entertaining.

(By the way, Banham’s father, Don, works security for Vikings games.)

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A billboard in Detroit on Monday morning displayed this score:

Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 24.

Not that Sparty lives in the past.

Wonder when they’ll put the Alabama score up there?

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My print and radio colleague Patrick Reusse has been making the point that we haven’t shown a great deal of ambition when it comes to finding football coaches around here, that we seem to have standards low enough that we’re willing to accept Jerry Kill and Leslie Frazier - a MAC coach and an interim coach who went 3-3.

Maybe I’m a sucker for a good story, but I like both hires.

Now, Joel Maturi hired Kill because he had no chance at luring a big-name coach to the U, but he may have lucked out with Kill, a real coach who should at least return the Gophers to relevance.

And I don’t hold it against Frazier that he went 3-3 under these circumstances. His quarterbacks were a battered, weary Brett Favre, a perpetually discombobulated Tarvaris Jackson and a rookie out of UAB.

I like both of their back stories. They both grew up poor and worked diligently to climb through the coaching ranks. I’d rather give a chance to someone with that profile than a ``star’’ coach who may have nothing more going for him than name recognition, and who may be looking for nothing more than a bridge to a luxurious retirement.

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One of my favorite bands, the Twin-Cities based Jayhawks, are getting back together, and will play on Jan. 29 at First Avenue.

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Going through security in Detroit today, I saw a nice-looking middle-aged woman patted down - well, actually, it was more of a full-body rub-down - by a TSA agent.

Someday, I want to live in America again.

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Am I the only person in town who thinks that the Wolves are suddenly the most intriguing team in town?

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Upcoming: I’ll be on 1500espn at 2:40 p.m. today through Friday, and I'll be watching the Gophers trying to win their first Big Ten game on Tuesday.

 

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