Fred Hoiberg, the Timberwolves assistant general manager, is a big booster of 33-year-old Butler coach Brad Stevens, whom Hoiberg watched last week and who now has the Bulldogs in the national championship game against Duke.

"I actually was out in Salt Lake City when Butler beat Syracuse in the regional semifinal and then they went on to beat Kansas State in the final to make it into the Final Four," said Hoiberg, who has been scouting potential Wolves draft choices.

"I can't tell you how great of a job Stevens has done with that team. To beat [Syracuse's] Jim Boeheim, a Hall of Fame coach, and then to go and beat Frank Martin's [Kansas State] team, who played as hard as any team in the country. Then beat [Michigan State coach] Tom Izzo, another guy that's been to the Final Four numerous times, in another close game. He's just done a masterful job with that Butler team.

"And what a great story for them, to be playing in their back yard in Indianapolis and to have a chance to win a national championship."

Looking back to the Sweet 16 victory over West Region top seed Syracuse, Hoiberg pointed to the Bulldogs' ability to win despite the tremendous athletes on the Orange.

"They defend, I think that's the big thing," said Hoiberg, who spent his first four NBA seasons with the Indiana Pacers before joining the Bulls and finally the Wolves. "They did a great job of staying in between their man and the basket and did a great job against some bigger players, putting smaller guys on them and fronting them and really taking them out of what they wanted to do. ... [Stevens] has done a great job with those guys just putting in a simple defensive plan of staying in between the man and the basket, and then they do a great job of rebounding the ball and getting it out and going on the other end."

Forward Gordon Hayward, an NBA prospect, has been the guy carrying the Bulldogs this season, but Hoiberg added, "You look at what they do, everybody's accepted their role on that team, they've got good guard play and the big thing ... if you go on the other end and defend, you're going to have a chance to win each and every night, and that's what they've done."

Indeed, the Bulldogs have won 25 games in a row. They were 11th in the preseason Associated Press poll but went through a stretch of four losses in nine games in November and December, a stretch that began with an 82-73 loss to the Gophers in Anaheim, Calif.

As for Duke, which was ranked ninth in the preseason poll, Hoiberg points out the experience factor in the Blue Devils' favor, with three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. Duke won the regular-season and postseason championships in one of college basketball's best conferences (the ACC), and Hoiberg believes the team is at the peak of its game right now.

"I thought they played their best game of the season [against West Virginia], making 13 three-pointers, and if they're making shots I just think they're too deep and too talented -- especially a couple of the key Butler players, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, there's a chance they may not play [Monday] or at least they won't be 100 percent," Hoiberg said. "So, if Duke goes out and plays their game and if they're making shots, I think they're going to be tough to beat.

"They're a team that makes a lot of plays. They do a really nice job of penetrating and kicking to the open man, it's a very unselfish team."

And like Butler, Duke is very well-coached, Hoiberg said: "Obviously [Mike] Krzyzewski is as good a coach as anybody in the world, and Brad Stevens, I think, is the best up-and-coming young coach."

Yes, my close personal friend Krzyzewski will be going for his fourth national championship after coaching the U. S. Olympic team to a gold medal. I believe because of both his and his players' experience, Coach K's team will win this game.

Delay helped ballpark

Visiting with Twins President Dave St. Peter about Target Field, he said the long delay in getting the Legislature to pass a baseball stadium bill might have been a blessing in disguise, because it created a situation where the Twins could take advantage by studying all the other stadiums built over that time and not make the same mistakes.

The Twins have cut off 2010 season ticket sales at 24,500, and they already have a season ticket waiting list for 2011 of more than 200.

The big reason the Twins scheduled the Gophers baseball game and the two exhibition games with the Cardinals was for a dry run to make sure everything went right at Target Field. However, as it turned out, players said after playing the two games that it is going to take them many games to get comfortable with their new home after they were used to playing at the Metrodome. "I expect [coach] Jerry White is going to hit hundreds of balls to me against the Target Field right field fence because it will play so much different than the Metrodome baggie," right fielder Michael Cuddyer said.

The Twins paid the Cardinals more than $500,000 to play the two games here.

Longtime Twins outfielder Jacque Jones got standing ovations both Friday and Saturday from the near-capacity crowds at Target Field. Saturday, Jones went 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored, and then he headed for Class AAA Rochester, where he aims to prove he is ready to play for the Twins again. "This is a great opportunity," said Jones, who was out of the major leagues last year after hitting .147 in 42 big-league games in 2008.

The Twins' three big-name acquisitions this offseason all had good performances in spring training. Jim Thome, hit .364 and J.J. Hardy hit .381, and while Orlando Hudson hit only .235, he and Hardy provided the team with great play in the middle of the infield.


Timberwolves executives are negotiating with Target Corp. to extend the naming rights on Target Center, which expire next year. The word is that the team is paid about $1 million for the naming rights. The big question is whether Target keeps the naming rights for both the Wolves' arena and Target Field.

Carlos Gomez, the Twins outfielder traded to Milwaukee for Hardy, hit .301 for the Brewers this spring as the regular center fielder and is expected to bat second.

Cory Joseph, the brother of Gophers basketball guard Devoe Joseph who is being recruited by many teams including the Gophers, sparked his Findlay Prep (Nevada) team to its second consecutive ESPN National High School Invitational championship played in Baltimore with 32 points Friday and 17 Saturday, only days after he played in the McDonald's All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. •