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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Today's Local Power Rankings, my irrelevant, transparent device for commenting on the local sports teams:
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.
A reader suggested this name for Minnesota athletic director, and it's an interesting one:
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.
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.
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.
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 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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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