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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Picking games

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 6, 2012 - 1:48 PM

So, I picked the Giants to beat the Patriots. I wrote a column explaining my reasoning, and even won a mythical case of mythical beer from my mythical radio co-host, Tom Pelissero.

So, I was right. Right?

Well, kinda.

I thought the Giants would handle the Patriots a bit more easily than they actually did. My pick was Giants 28, Patriots 17 (or something close to that, it's radio, I don't take notes). I thought the Giants would have an easier time making big plays against the Patriots, but Bill Belichick took away most deep throws, turning the game into a grind.

If I had picked the game wrong, I couldn't comment on the unpredictability of sports. It would sound like a copout. But picking the game correctly reminded me of the reaction when I picked another Giants team to win.

In Super Bowl XXV, I picked the Giants to beat the favored Bills, by one point. I wound up being exactly correct. Back then, with fewer people able to publicly make their picks (no facebook, twitter, or comments sections in newspaper websites - or newspaper websites) making a public pick was a bigger deal.

So when I turned out to be right, I had a lot of people treating me like I could actually pick games successfully whenever I wanted to.

Which is silly. At best, game picks are educated guesses, and they are educated guesses that can be proved wrong by an injury, a tipped pass, a special teams play, a penalty.

If Wes Welker had made that catch last night, the Patriots probably would have won the Super Bowl. If Tom Brady hadn't taken a safety early in the game, the Patriots might have won the Super Bowl. There were dozens of plays determined by centimeters that could have turned the game in New England's favor.

So my advice on picking games is to never to bet money (or beer) you can't afford to lose, and never to believe anyone who tells you they know who's going to win. Especially players and coaches. I can't tell you how many times I've had a player, coach or manager tell me privately that they were certain of victory. Then, after they lost, they didn't bring that up ever again.

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I think Kevin Love's two-game suspension is just about right. It's serious enough to correct his behaviour but doesn't ruin the season, or even the month, for him and his team.

The stomping of Luis Scola was ugly and absolutely wrong, but the behaviour I'd like to see Love correct is his whining about calls while the ball heads to the other end of the court. He's an effort player. He should be an effort player all the time.

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Congratulations again to Matt Birk for winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and thanks to Matt for spending so much time last week talking to me, for a newspaper column and on my radio show.

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Eli Manning is a classy dude. Did you see him run onto the field to celebrate with teammates? Most Super Bowl winning quarterbacks look to the heavens or wave their finger or isolate themselves.

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I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday afternoon. 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.

 

Beasley at the 2? Or at the 6?

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 31, 2012 - 5:37 PM

I'm at the X tonight, writing about the Wild resuming its schedule and Marek Zidlicky complaining about Mike Yeo. Congratulations to colleague Michael Russo for breaking the story. We'll both have much more on this developing situation throughout the night and in tomorrow's paper.

Right now I'm sitting next to Michael and he's wearing all kinds of brown. Brown loafers with lighter-brown shoes with some kind of brown-check pattern, all of which mesh nicely with his brown jacket and pink shirt.

So, I'm jealous.

Fashion aside, I wanted to touch on something I tweeted last night while watching the Wolves dominate Houston.

I've always thought that Michael Beasley's best role would be as a Microwave-style sixth man who could come in with the second unit, jack up shots and be pulled if the opposing coach started running plays to victimize his defensive weaknesses.

But maybe the easiest solutions are the best. Maybe Beasley, a gifted shooter and driver who also can be a gifted passer when he wants to be, is the Wolves' solution at shooting guard.

No, he's not a perfect fit. He's not very good defensively, he sometimes shoots too much and holds the ball too long, and he's not really a guard.

But I'd rather have Beasley as an oversized shooting guard who can dominate opposing shooting guards on offense and give the Wolves another primary offensive option, than keep seeing Wes Johnson stumble around.

Beasley, despite his size, is a better ballhandler than Johnson. And he's a better passer. And if last night was any indication, he's learned that in Rick Adelman's offense, if you move the ball there will be plenty of quality shots for everyone.

Beasley's a likeable guy. Watch the way he interacts with Kevin Love and his other teammates. They're fond of him. And he is too talented for the Wolves not to explore just how good their lineup can be when he's playing correctly.

Having Adelman in place simplifies a lot of personnel decisions for the Wolves. If someone like Darko or Beasley can't perform well in this offense, with Rubio passing and Love spreading the floor with his three-point shooting, then the Wolves won't have to have any regrets getting rid of those guys.

But I think Beasley could find a niche here, soon.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday, and Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon at the studio for a change this Sunday. I have a special guest planned, and we'll do our last NFL pick and speak with ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert.

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.

 

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