Pitino and Smith rankings
ESPN recently put out its early power rankings for the major conferences in college basketball, and it believes that Richard Pitino inherited a much better situation than former Gophers coach Tubby Smith did at Texas Tech.
Seth Greenberg put the Gophers at No. 8 in the early Big Ten rankings, writing that “Pitino inherits a versatile backcourt in Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. … The two guards complement each other well. Andre is capable of knocking down the three-pointer while Austin is one of the better slashing open-court players in the Big Ten. They will be joined by FIU transfer Malik Smith, a 6-2 guard who averaged 14.1 points a game last season and will be eligible immediately. The three-guard lineup will fit well into Pitino’s running, pressing style of play. If the Gophers can get some frontcourt help, they could be a sleeper in the Big Ten.”
Meanwhile Smith’s squad was placed dead last in the Big 12. Fran Fraschilla wrote: “To say that veteran coach Tubby Smith has inherited a rebuilding situation is an understatement. But while he lost promising freshman point guard Josh Gray, essentially four starters return for the Red Raiders.”
Faith in Decker
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he is feeling even better heading into his year second year in Denver, and a lot of his confidence comes from the receivers on his team, including former Gophers standout Eric Decker.
“I do feel better and I think it’s because I have better familiarity with my receivers,” Manning told XM Radio. “When you know how Eric Decker is going to come out of a route or how Demaryius Thomas is going to come out of a break, you should throw the ball with a little more confidence.”
• Two Jerry Kill protégés — Jason Schepler, who played for Kill at Northern Illinois, and MarQueis Gray, who played for Kill with the Gophers — are competing for tight end positions with the 49ers.
• The ESPN Cy Young Predictor, which has accurately picked the Cy Young Award winner in each league over the past two seasons, had Joe Nathan as the second-most likely winner in the American League and fellow former Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano as the seventh-most likely winner in the National League. Nathan began Saturday 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA to go along with 36 saves in 48⅔ innings for Texas. Liriano is 13-5 with a 2.68 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 114 innings for Pittsburgh despite missing the first month of the season.
• Tom Windle, the Gophers pitcher who was a second-round draft pick by the Dodgers, is a sensational 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in 10 games with Class A Great Lakes in the Midwest League.
• Andy Henkemeyer, a former outfielder for Gophers baseball who graduated in 2013, has signed with the St. Paul Saints.
• Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, discussing his Spanish national team’s hopes for the Eurocup this month: “None [of us] has said that we are not going to Slovenia for the gold medal. Last year I followed the team from a distance, with envy, and that experience gives me more strength to fight for a goal [which I consider] achievable.”
• Former Gophers basketball player Dan Coleman signed with Groningen in Holland after playing with Kataja in Finland and Sioux Falls in the NBA Development League last season.
• Friday, the Big Ten Network filmed the entire Gophers football practice, and the network will showcase the practice this Friday.