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 Wolves coaches

Not a Bloody Sunday

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 19, 2012 - 8:52 PM

Kevin Love is embracing his role, perhaps embracing it better than any Wolves player since Sammy Cassell.

Against a good team, and a good defensive team, Love struggled for three quarters against Philadelphia. Then he won the game. He took over offensively, and he took the ball with a little more than three seconds left and his team down one, drove, drew the foul, hit the free throws and won the game.

As he has improved almost monthly over the last two seasons, Love has erased the reasons for doubting that he can be a superstar.

He's scoring like a superstar. He's rebounding like a superstar. He passes better than most superstars. He's improved defensively. And now he's leading his team.

This was a big victory for the Wolves, who only a handful of days ago looked like they had hit a wall.

Love, Rubio and Pekovich have all exceeded expectations this season. That's quite a compliment to Love, who faced high expectations coming in.

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Covered the Wild game today, and wrote about Chad Rau's crazy day and his game-winning goal for the Monday paper.

I was left with this impression: Mike Yeo is not crazy. Sometimes he sounds a little wacky because he's so talkative and during this losing streak he's been so desperate to change his team's fortunes.

But every time I've been around him, I've liked him, and found him to be honest and blunt. Let's face it, no coach sounds good when his team is losing. This was an impressive win today, though, beating the defending Stanley Cup champs a day after looking like dogs in St. Louis.

I don't see this as a playoff team anymore, but I still believe, despite all of the struggles the last two years, that the braintrust of Leipold, Fletcher and Yeo has a chance to produce a winner in St. Paul sometime soon.

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The reactions to my Joe Mauer column today were predictable. Many emailed to say they liked it. Some even took it to an extreme and attacked Mauer in ways I never would. Some criticized me for writing it, or for the way in which I wrote it.

I appreciate the feedback, and I'll answer a few FAQ's here:

-I don't write headlines. I didn't call him ``Clueless Joe,'' the headline writer did.

-No, I couldn't get anyone to go on the record criticizing Mauer. So I went through the team media guide, counting all of the people I've spoken with about Mauer since last summer. I counted 18 people who are either in key positions or who know Mauer well. Of those 18 people, 15 were either disgusted or confused by Mauer's demeanor. Three defended him, by saying he didn't know how to deal with his ailments or how to explain his predicament to the public.

But the people I've known the longest and trust the most expressed severe disappointment with Mauer, both because he did not seem in a rush to take the field, and because he didn't see anything wrong with his approach.

I think one possible excuse for Mauer could be that he feels he was misled or given poor advice by medical people employed by or used by the Twins, and was worried that playing with pain would cause reinjury. But he's never said that.

Maybe he can't say that.

But for every person who tried to find a way to defend Mauer, a bunch of other people just thought he didn't understand how important he is or how symbolic he is, now that he's a $184-million player.

-Thanks to all the people who wrote to say ``You'll never get another Joe Mauer interview!''

I don't think newspapers do a good job of explaining the different roles of different writers. Beat writers are employed to cover teams, to provide news and analysis. Sometimes they write opinion, but usually it's their job to simply cover the team.

I'm an opinion columnist. It's my job to write opinion, to write bluntly. Not always: I also write features and soft stories and nice columns. But I feel I owe readers my honest opinion, whether that opinion will please my editors or alienate readers or not. After talking with people about Mauer all winter - and in light of conversations I had myself with Mauer - this is a perspective I thought was important for our coverage of the Twins.

True, Joe probaby won't want to talk to me now. That's OK. If I wrote opinions only to endear myself to athletes and coaches, I wouldn't be doing my job.

-No, I don't hate Joe Mauer. I generally like him. I've been covering him since he was in high school. I like his family and friends a lot, although I'm sure they aren't pleased with me right now.

-How do I think he'll do this year? My guess is he'll bounce back and hit .330 and catch about 110 games. He's very capable of doing that for the next five years.

But that won't change the fact that, in my opinion, he did not fulfill the requirements of being a franchise player last summer.

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I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday. I'm heading to spring training this week and will be in Fort Myers for a while. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Today's LPR, plus Cris Carter, and the truth about the Wild and Gophers

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 15, 2012 - 8:58 AM

Today's Local Power Rankings, my irrelevant, transparent device for commenting on the local sports teams:

1. Vacant.

I've ranked the Wolves No. 1 for weeks, but I can't keep them in this spot after a four-game losing streak. They should win tonight against Charlotte, perhaps one of the worst teams in recent NBA history, but then the schedule gets tough again.

I picked the Wolves to win 26-28 games this season, and I still think that's about right. They're still the most entertaining team in town, but those who thought they were bound for the playoffs might have been ignoring the fact that most of the roster is a mess.

They have three worthy NBA starters right now - Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nik Pekovic - and two were drafted by Kevin McHale. There are too many talented but unreliable players on this team, from Michael Beasley to Anthony Randolph to Wes Johnson to Martell Webster.

David Kahn likes long and athletic guys, but he has had trouble acquiring long and athletic guys who know how to play basketball.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Not playing games has elevated the Vikings above all the teams currently losing games.

My reason for elevating the Vikings today: Clarifying roles in the front office, with Rick Spielman running the show and able ot retain righthand man George Paton, should make this a better organization. And while the Vikings have lots of needs, I think Christian Ponder will show marked improvement in his second season, and I think the Vikings' ability to draft high in a talented draft should dramatically upgrade the talent on the roster.

3. Gopher hockey

Yes, they got swept in Denver, and yes, there are signs that this could be another disappointing Lucia squad, but they still have a chance to make a postseason run, which puts them ahead most local teams.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

See above, under ``Vacant.''

5. Minnesota Twins

They will be better this year than they were last year. They are almost guaranteed to be healthier, to catch the ball better, and to have a better bullpen. Will they contend? I doubt it. But they should be respectable, which would be an upgrade.

6. Gopher basketball

When I watch the Gophers outplay Wisconsin and Ohio State for long stretches, I see a team with plenty of talent that doesn't always play hard, doesn't always play smart, and is often hamstrung by Tubby Smith's substitutions. Subbing in five players when the players on the court are having success is just silly.

7. Gopher football

Ran into Jerry Kill at the Gopher basketball game. He says he's healthy, and he sounded fired up. That's all I've got.

8. Minnesota Wild

This team doesn't score enough goals. It doesn't score enough goals because it lacks talent. That was my assessment entering the season and it's proven true. This franchise is still digging out of the Doug Risebrough era.

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A reader suggested this name for Minnesota athletic director, and it's an interesting one:

Darrin Nelson.

Nelson has Twin Cities ties from his days as a Viking. He's worked as an assistant AD at Stanford, the rare school capable of combining high academics, ethics and winning sports teams. He's currently an assistant AD at the University of California, Irvine.

I don't know if he's the best candidate out there, but he's a smart, experienced man.

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Cris Carter is right. Randy Moss, even if physically capable of making a comeback, has hit the wall that all diva receivers hit: He's not good enough to make up for the headaches he may cause.

I'll be writing more about this in the near future.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn from 6-8 tonight, spending the first half doing ``Talking Twins'' with Phil Mackey.

I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk (10-noon) from the Golf Show at Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday, with Tom Linnemann co-hosting. Come by and we'll fix your slice. Or not.

Have to admit, watching Phil whip Tiger at Pebble Beach has made me want to play golf again, which is bad news for people who own houses along the right side of the fairway at any course I may visit this year.

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Wolves reach a milestone

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 7, 2012 - 10:54 PM
The Wolves' victory Tuesday night improved their record to 13-12, marking the first time they've been over .500 this late in the season since 2007 and the first time they've been 13-12 through 25 games since 2005-2006.
To me, there were two keys to the game: Ricky Rubio's passing and defense, and Nik Pekovic's dominant inside play.
My column for the Wednesday paper focussed on Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, and how talented the Wolves would be if they had drafted him instead of Wes Johnson. But on this night, Pekovic's physical play and defense hassled Cousins into a 3-for-13 shooting performance.
Before the game, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said that Pekovic is his starting center. It will be interesting to see whether Darko Milicic pouts, or, if he does, whether anybody will be able to tell.
What's fascinating is watching the way Wolves coach Rick Adelman uses his roster. Tuesday night, with Kevin Love suspended, Adelman started Derrick Williams (14 points, 8 rebounds) and used Anthony Tolliver for 22 minutes for defensive purposes.
Adelman didnt' play Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster or Wayne Elllington. Ellington is a better player than Wes Johnson, but Adelman is obviously giving Johnson every opportunity to prove he deserves to be in the NBA.
With Love out, Pekovic became a big part of the offense, shooting 12 times and producing 23 points. Predictably, Michael Beasley took 21 shots in 31 minutes to produce 17 points. Now, 17 points and 14 looks impressive, but he went 7-for-21 from the field. He's maddening.
More stuff, courtesy of the Timberwolves' PR staff:
-Rubio finished with 14 assists, tying a season high. He had eight in the first quarter. He was plus-11 on the night and is a team-leading plus-95 on the season. He also finished with five steals, the 14th time this season he's had three or more.
-Pekovic has had four double-doubles in the last two weeks. The Wolves are 4-1 with him in the starting lineup and 6-2 when he plays more than 20 minutes.
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I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday and every weekday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
 

Weekly LPR, plus Super Bowl stories

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 3, 2012 - 6:09 PM

I've covered seven Super Bowls, and I'm ambivalent about missing them these days.

I hate the pack journalism and inane questions. I also hate not being in the eye of the storm, at the game that commands everyone's attention.

Two favorite Super Bowl coverage memories:

1. At my first Super Bowl, SB XXIV, the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice 49ers blew out the John Elway Broncos 55-10. You might think that the game was boring, but it wasn't, not for me. I was fascinated at the precision of the 49ers. A friend of mine was the 49ers' pool reporter that week, and he told me on Friday, `If you could watch them practice, you'd know why they're so good.'

Also, it was my first Super Bowl, my first big trip on an expense account. Eating New Orleans cooking and drinking Abita beer was a blast, although I learned that following such a diet by eating the chocolate mint on the Hyatt pillow was like lighting a match near a munitions factory.

Also: I remember being in a French Quarter bar with a bunch of writers late at night, and hearing someone yell, `The Doctor is in the house!'' And he was. Dr. J walked in, acting and being treated like royalty.

2. My favorite Super Bowl in terms of coverage was XLI, when the Colts beat the Bears in Miami. The game wasn't very inspiring, and if the Bears hadn't busted a coverage and allowed Reggie Wayne to get open for a free touchdown, who knows what would have happened? Maybe Peyton Manning wouild have joined Dan Marino as all-time great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I was able to spend time with Rochester native Tom Moore. Moore had recruited Tony Dungy to the University of Minnesota and now was Dungy's offensive coordinator and Manning's personal mentor. Seeing Moore, such an anonymous yet influential figure, sitting at the back tables of the media scrums, refusing to call attention to himself, made me admire the man even more than I had previously.

Time with Moore was one reason covering that Super Bowl was worthwhile. Another: By some quirk of late deadlines and pure luck, I wound speaking with Manning alone at his locker long after the game, and he started talking about the difficulty of playing with a wet football. It had rained early in the game.

Manning explained that he had prepared for rain. During breaks in practice, he would make his longtime center, Jeff Saturday, dunk footballs into a full bucket, so they could get used to snapping a wet football.

When I finished speaking with Peyton, I ran into his father, Archie, outside the lockerroom, and told him the story. ``Wet ball drills, huh?'' Archie said. ``He really does think of everything.''

I never would have had those conversations with Moore or the Mannings if the Star Tribune hadn't sent me to the Super Bowl.

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On to this week's highly irrevelant, completely subjective and yet mildly annoying Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Didn't like the way they let the Pacers push them around. Hate the fact that the starting lineup features one guy who shouldn't be in the starting lineup (Luke Ridnour) and two who might not belong in the NBA (Wes Johnson and Darko Milicic.) But even in defeat I find this team interesting and entertaining.

It will be interesting, at this point, to see what Rick Adelman does with his lineup, and how Rubio reacts to teams that have been able to thoroughly scout him. His steals are down lately.

By the way, I rank the Wolves ahead of other teams not because of their place in the standings, but because of their combination improvement/likeability/promise/entertainment value.

2. Gophers hockey

They finally swept an opponent last weekend, and have this weekend off. What will be interesting is to see how the new athletic director will react if the Gophers flop in the postseason again. It would be tough for a new AD to fire Don Lucia. It would also be tough for a new AD to be overly impressed with Lucia if his team flames out again.

3. Minnesota Wild

I covered the team on Tuesday, and that was one of the most gut-wrenching days a coach or an organization can have: First a highly-paid veteran rips the coach, then the team blows a three-goal third-period lead and doesn't even salvage a point.

The Wild came back to win in Colorado on Thursday, more proof that fans probably invest more emotion in outomes than do players, who have been winning and losing games all their lives.

4. Gophers basketball

The Wild is still in eighth place in the West; the Gophers may have fallen out of the prospective NCAA bracket with their loss at Iowa. Most people in my business have analyzed the end of the game; i say when you score three points in the first 10 minutes of a game, you should have been thrown off the floor long before time ran out.

5. Minnesota Twins

Nothing new to report here, so I'll repeat myself: I think Terry Ryan made a bunch of sensible, strategic moves to bolster his roster and give this team a chance to compete, but the Twins need Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding if they're going to win this division.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Giants give other NFL teams hope that patience can be rewarded. They stuck with Eli Manning when he sometimes looked lost, and he could give them a second Super Bowl victory on Sunday. They stuck with Tom Coughlin when the tabloids were calling for his firing, and he, like Manning, could win a second Super Bowl in five years. The Giants failed to run the ball as well as they should this year. They patched together an offensive line. They used multiple backs. They had a long-shot receiver (Victor Cruz) become their difference-maker down the stretch.

In other words, you can win in the NFL without setting passing records and being innovative offensively, which is good news for the Vikings.

7. Gophers football

Jerry Kill probably has the perfect personality to appeal to Minnesota high school coaches and recruits. I'm not going to rate his recruiting class, because all that matters is the scores of the games in which these recruits wind up playing.

As for the departure of MInnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, I'll offer a series of thoughts:

1. I never thought he was a big-time athletic director. He was a reactor, not an actor. He often made the decision that was easiest for him, not the one that would lead the department in the right direction. Some people just are No. 1s. It's not his fault; it's the fault of the guy who hired him.

2. Why is it that every time an important sports job comes open in Minnesota, everyone suggests that a Minnesotan be hired? Please. Minnesota should hire the best AD candidate they can find, wherever that person currently resides.

3. Minnesota needs an AD willing to take on lots of big, daunting problems. What do you do with Tubby Smith if he misses the NCAA tournament? What should be done with Williams Arena? How can funds be raised for a basketball practice facility? What happens with Don Lucia if his program flops again?

Minnesota athletics needs a CEO. Mr. Maturi was more like an HR director.

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Upcoming: I'm writing a Super Bowl prediction column for the Sunday paper. Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Hoping for a special guest, plus we'll talk about Tom's season-ending Vikings film work, preview the Super Bowl, do picks along with Tom Linnemann, and check in on the rest of the sports scene.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Wolves-Lakers ... and we actually care

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 29, 2012 - 5:18 PM

I'm at Target Center for Wolves-Lakers tonight. Rick Adelman just spoke, saying that Darko Milicic (illness) will be a game-time decision.

Adelman is concerned about the Lakers' size, so he'd love to have Milicic's mass and six fouls to throw at Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. If Milicic isnj't available, Adelman will have to start Nik Pekovic and probably use Anthony Randolph at center.

An LA reporter reminded Adelman that he interviewed for the Laker job before the Wolves hired him. ``That was a long time ago,'' Adelman said, using coach-speak for ``I'm not really going to say much about that.''

The Lakers have won the last 15 matchups in this ``rivalry,'' winning by more than 12 points a game during that span. Strangely, if the Wolves win tonight, they'll be only a half-game behind the Lakers and will have beaten the Spurs and the Lakers in the same weekend, which, I believe, last happened in 1864.

A few tidbits to warm you up for tonight's game:

-The Wolves' 9-10 record is their best through 19 games since they were 10-9 in 2006-2007.

-Kevin Love has 18 double-doubles, four more than the player with the second-highest total. He ranks fourth in scoring, second in rebounds, tied for first in free-throws made and first in minutes, at 39.5 per game.

-The Lakers' 11-9 record is their worst start after 20 games sicne they were 10-10 in 2005-2006. They've lost four of their last five and seven of eight on the road.

-Bynum is averaging 12.5 rebounds, but just 7.7 over his last three games.

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I keep hearing praise for the almost-six-hour Australian Open Final. When is a six-hour sporting event ever good? I love baseball, and if a game goes past 3:30 I have trouble caring or staying awake.

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Don't know what to think about the Gophers' victory over Illinois last night. I thought it was remarkably sloppy play for both teams, then the Gophers blow a big lead at home and send it to overtime only because Austin Hollins, son of a coach, throws up a two-point shot while down by three with four seconds left...and gets fouled.

To that I say...nice play?

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday with Reusse and Mackey. Thanks to Terry Ryan, Dave St. Peter, Jim Pohlad, Paul Molitor, Josh Willingham and the always-hilarious Ben Revere for coming on Sunday Sports Talk today at the Metrodome.

Next week's Sunday Sports Talk will preview the Super Bowl.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

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