Thursday, December 31, 2009

"1" Is the Number at Best Buy Holiday Classic

"1" was the number at Augsburg's Si Melby Hall Wednesday night (December 30, 2009), as the #1 4A Hopkins boys (7-0) took on #1 3A St. Paul Johnson (8-0) in the finals of the 1st annual Best Buy Holiday Classic basketball tournament. That had to make this the #1 game between now and March and probably beyond, since the two teams will play in different classes come play-off time.

In the end it was the Johnson Governors and coach Vern Simmons surprising Hopkins (and me) by out-running the perennially powerful Royals 86-78 for a fast-paced, entertaining and hard-fought victory. I was surprised a second time to find afterwards that MaxPreps had had the Governors rated ahead of the Royals going into the BestBuy tournament. Smart guys. But I doubt that there were many in the sizable crowd, which included Gopher coach Tubby Smith, who were not surprised by the outcome.

But the fact is the Governors were quicker and deeper and better than the Royals, and used a pair of big runs early in each half to win. Hopkins led only twice, once early at 8-6. From there Johnson went on a 13-4 run that they then extended to 20-10 for a 26-18 lead at 8:30 of the first half.

The Royals fought back to tie at 29, then took only their second lead of the night at 44-42 early in the second half. Th Governors responded again with a 16-3 run to lead 58-49 at 12:05. Still, Hopkins would not go away and fought back to within one at 64-63 and 66-65 but the Royals never caught up and Johnson made 9-of-13 free throws inside of two minutes to secure the win.

People say that Johnson is small with two 6-5 guys. And, of the five players who scored in double figures for the Governors, all but 6-4 forward Jordan Pluff are listed as guards. But the fact is that Hopkins goes 6-5, 6-5, 6-3 across their putative starting front line, and 6-5 D. J. Peterson is a guard. So Johnson gave up almost nothing in size, and what little they gave up they more than made up for in quickness, scrappiness and fearlessness.

If it's just raw size that you want, that's the visitors from Christian Faith Center Academy in North Carolina at 6-9, 6-8, 6-6, 6-6, and the Royals had already dispatched them the night before. So if you want to compete with Hopkins (or anybody), quickness may get you more than size.

My unofficial rebounding numbers, which I had at 42-42, bear that out. On the Governors' end, Hopkins had 24 defensive and Johnson 15 offensive rebounds, and on the other end, Hopkins had 18 offensive and Johnson 27 defensive rebounds. Both teams really got after it on the offensive glass, but as these numbers show, there were also six more misses on the Hopkins end and that, my friends, is the old ball game.

But first, about that pace. At 11:10 of the second half, Peterson scored for Hopkins. At 11:06, Johnson's Estan Tyler was fouled while driving the far baseline. A minute-and-a-half later, at 9:30, Demitri Conwell scored for the Governors, with an assist from Anthony Lee. At 9:24, Hopkins' Zach Stahl scored on the other end. And, yet, playing at the kind of pace, I had the turnovers at Johnson 12 and Hopkins 10. So, there were a few turnovers that led to some transition offense, but mostly the pace was being forced off of the defensive glass and even after made baskets.

Hopkins took the early 8-6 lead by getting the ball to Marvin Singleton inside. Singleton scored 3 of the Royals' first 4 and 4 of their first 6. Singleton finished the first half with 14 points, but scored only 4 in the second as Hopkins seemed to stop looking inside.

Johnson came back with that first, confidence-building 20-10 rush, and showed that they can score a lot of different ways. Out of 9 baskets, 3 came off the offensive glass, 2 in transition and 1 on the 3. Tyler had a 3, 2 put-backs and an assist during the rush and 6 other Governors scored.

It was more of the same after Hopkins came back to lead 44-42--four free throws, then a pretty baseline drive by Anthony Lee. Then, transition lay-ups by by Roosevelt Scott and Lee, the former coming off a made Hopkins basket, sandwiched around a throw by Marcus Marshall also coming out of a transition rush. Finally Scott hit a 3 ball and Tyler a 2 to force a Royals' timeout.

Hopkins responded with a 14-6 run to get within one, as they looked inside to Singleton for a couple of buckets. But Johnson then scored on 4 straight possessions and 6-of-8 to force the free throw shooting contest.

Tyler led Johnson with 20 points, whereupon the tournament committee ratified the obvious by naming him MVP. Lee, with 10, and Donte Warlick, with 6, were also instrumental in protecting the ball and getting Johnson into their offensive sets. Jordan Pluff and Roosevelt Scott played big inside and scored 16 and 12.

Singleton and Joe Coleman led Hopkins with 18 each, but Singleton was not much of a factor after the 4:00 mark of the first half. Coleman, who scored 43 in the Royals' season opener and came in averaging 28, got off just 9 shots. So it appears that Johnson took away a couple of Hopkins' preferred options on offense. The Royals' other guards, Peterson and sophomore Siyani Chambers, added 22, while Jeremiah Tolbert, freshman Riley Dearring and sophomore Zach Stahl, who play more on the inside, added 19 among them.

So Hopkins had nice scoring balance. Except that nobody could hit the 3 ball. If you're one of those folks who are inclined to celebrate the Royals' loss, it really came down to 2-for-16 shooting from behind the arc. Whether that is easily addressed remains to be seen, but Hopkins and Johnson matched up pretty much dead even other than that.

On 2s, for example, Johnson made an unofficial 28-of-53 and Hopkins 25-of-51.

Faith Academy 78 Henry Sibley 74

Sibley pretty much had this 3rd place match-up in the bag, leading 59-52 at the 3:36 mark, when 7-foot Jake Kreuser fouled out. Faith scored the last 7 points of regulation and the first 4 of overtime and Sibley never got within 3 points again. Kreuser scored 13 and 6-8 Mike Rostampour added 10 and both were very impressive against and equally tall opponent. Kreuser in particular has come miles from the awkward sophomore I last saw. He has increased his strength and, especially, his agility. From the waist down he's terrific. If there's a problem it might be the hands. Rostampour's only problem is that his one-handed jumper didn't go down. Whether that was unique to tonight's game or a recurring problem, I don't know, but it's an awkward little shot. Still, both will be playing D1 ball at Lafayette and Valpo. Both will do well.

The real news was Sibley's new guard tandem of Jordan Jackson, a transfer from St. Paul Como Park, and sophomore Dante Grant. Jackson vastly outplayed the Faith guards and in scoring a game-high 30 points while Grant added 11.

But, no, the real news was Faith 8th grader Andrew Wiggins. Some Minnesotans have heard that Apple Valley's Tyus Jones may be the best 8th grader in the country, but anybody in the crowd last night knows different. Besides, I'm told that Jones has "8th grade legs." The 6-6 Wiggins, meanwhile, doesn't have 8th grade anything. His dad, Mitch, was a first round NBA draft pick in 1984 and played 6 NBA seasons. His mom ran track in the 1984 Olympics. Wiggins led Faith with 22.

Chicago Julian 72 Milwaukee Marshall 51

Julian hammered Marshall 72-51 for 5th place as senior guard Walter Lemon, Jr., scored 20 for the winners. He's rated the #21 player in Chicago-land,so you'll be hearing more from him. Still, while the best guards of the day--Tyler of Johnson, and Coleman of Hopkins--are juniors, Lemon's got nothing on the completely unheralded Jackson of Henry Sibley among senior guards who took the court at Si Melby yesterday. Jackson may have put himself into the running for a D1 scholarship with last night's performance.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fillies at the First Turn

I've spent the first one-third of the 2009-2010 basketball season focused on the high school girls, mostly the better AAAA teams. I've seen 8 teams that have been ranked among the AAAA top 10 at one time or another and, arguably, 12 of the current top 20. I've also seen about half of the top 50 rated girls in the state, since they're concentrated to some degree among the large metro schools. Here are my ratings going into the second (conference) and third (play-offs) seasons.

AAAA Top 10 and Contenders

1. Lakeville North Panthers (10-0). Tongues were sent a-wagging at a newspaper article in which the Lakeville girls proclaimed their goal of being the best team ever in Minnesota girls ball. It seems a little premature, not to mention foolhardly. Such claims are sure to be used against them in every locker room in the Lake Conference. I saw the Panthers out-score Eastview 29-4 in the second half of one game last year, then lose to the Lightning in the section final. Lakeville needs to show it can excel consistently before talking much more than it already has. Still, having the #1 rated players among the 2010s (6-4 post and Wisconsin Badger recruit Cassie Rochel) and 2011s (point guard Rachel Banham, a Minnesota Gopher recruit), would seem to be a pretty good start toward a state championship. And given the travails that most of the other contenders have experienced already this season, they're the prohibitive favorite. They wrapped up the "first season" by winning 3 games down in Rochester by an average of 78-24.

2. Edina Hornets (10-0). Point guard Katybeth Biewen, a sophomore, and swing man Taylor Young, a senior, lead the Hornets, but Grace Veker and Jamie Bresnahan are solid, too, especially on defense. Young was prone to passivity in the past but she's been much more aggressive this year. Biewen, a first-year starter, has been aggressive on both ends of the court from the get-go. I saw her get 11 steals against Hill-Murray. The Hornets wrapped up 2009 by beating highly rated White Bear Lake with surprising ease, 64-48

3. Eden Prairie Eagles (8-2). Eden Prairie looked unbeatable early on, then lost 2 games by a total of 3 points at the Hopkins holiday tournament. The Eagles run like the wind and out-score people. Slow 'em down and you've got a chance. 6-3 sophomore post Jackie Johnson is a stronger version of Cassie Rochel, but she needs to stay out of foul trouble because the Eagles are lacking in depth.

4. White Bear Lake Bears (9-2). The Bears have the best mix of inside and out, and starting five and bench strength this side of Lakeville North. But they may lack the go-to, superstar player that the truly great teams have. Their losses are to the last two AAAA unbeatens, and the facts that Edina beat them by 9 more points than Lakeville North did is interesting.

5. Eastview Lightning (7-3). Started slowly, losing to Eden Prairie and White Bear Lake early on. Then, they impressed by surviving the cut-throat bracket at the Dick's Sporting Goods tournament in Hopkins, only to get clobbered by the host Royals by 21 in the final. The catch is that point guard Haley Thomforde missed that game with an ankle injury. When Thomforde is at full speed, the Lightning's 4 and 5-guard sets run like a top and Eastview always seems to get the shot they want.

6. Chaska Hawks (7-1). Chaska won the second best holiday tournament at Hill-Murray, though it took a 2OT effort in the semis to get past Centennial. Still, the Hawks probably have the best 3-deep bona fide frontcourt among the elite teams, and they're one of the few that aren't going to throw a 4-man guard set at you. They man-handled a good Prior Lake team in the final.

7. Bloomington Kennedy (8-2). The Eagles took a pair of surprising losses to Prior Lake and Rochester Lourdes after a great start. They're a lot like Chaska in that they'd be a lot better if basketball was played 4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5, and junior point guard Aubrey Davis is the real deal.

8. Hopkins Royals (7-5). Just when you think the Royals are really down, they get point guard Brianna Williams back and win 3 straight at the Dick's Sporting Goods tournament. Of course, it's also true that the lower bracket at Dick's came in with a record of 16-17 while the upper bracket was at 24-4, and it's also true that Eastview's Haley Thomforde wasn't able to play in the final. Still, Williams makes the Royals a whole new team and there is substantial size and strength inside with Hana Potter and Tori Joranson.

9. Maple Grove Crimson (7-2). Like Eden Prairie, Maple Grove came into the Dick's Classic unbeaten and left with 2 losses--and, in their case, despite beating the other unbeaten themselves. So, will the real Crimson please stand up? Senior post Julie Kruse had a great tournament, but guards Stephanie Davidson, Ellen Edison and Jen Field only had one great game. The loss to 6-4 Osseo especially hurts because they're a fellow resident of Section 5AAAA.

10. Centennial Cougars (6-4). The defending state runners-up are also Section 5AAAA residents and have what looks like an easy choice for Ms. Basketball finalist in Megan Waytashek, who scored 86 points in 3 Hill-Murray tournament games. Other than point guard Kahla Becken, however, Waytashek doesn't have a lot of help.

Honorable Mention. In alpha order, the following teams could cause trouble at least for the second 5, whether in sectional or state tournament play: Burnsville (5-1), Mpls. South (4-4), Minnetonka (7-3), Mounds View (7-2), Osseo (6-4) and Rosemount (8-1).

Classes AAA, AA and A

I have not seen most of these teams but based on what I've read and heard, there are clear favorites in each class. In AAA, it is DeLaSalle under new coach Faith Patterson, especially now that Benilde-St. Margaret's has taken its first loss. In AA, it's New London-Spicer, and in A it's still Barnum.

Ms. Basketball

Among girls I've seen this year--and, now, in any class--5 top Ms. Basketball contenders are:

Suriya McGuire, Mpls. Roosevelt
Hana Potter, Hopkins
Haley Thomforde, Eastview
Megan Waytashek, Centennial
Taylor Young, Edina

Among girls I haven't seen this year (but I've seen all of them last year and over the summer), based on what I've heard, the top 5 contenders are:

Angela Christianson, Alexandria
Ameshia Kearney, Mpls. South
Katrina Newman, Barnum
Sari Noga, Parkers Prairie
Cassie Rochel, Lakeville North

If I had to pick just 5 today it would be (again, in alpha order) Newman, Noga, Rochel, Thomford and Waytashek. And Ms. Basketball as of today would be Waytashek, who passes up Noga and Rochel based on her (Waytashek's) 67 points against Chaska and Hill-Murray in the Cougars' final two games at Hill-Murray.

Coach of the Year

The early favorite for Coach of the Year is Mike Dreier of AA #1 and perennially powerful, machine-like and fun to watch New London-Spicer.

Behind Mike are Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North in AAAA; Eric Lindner, Worthington in AAA; and Mike Kelly, Cedar Mountain in A. Hawley's Bill Gottenborg rounds out a Top 5.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Northern Sun Takes a Break

Like the MIAC, the Northern Sun takes a break from conference action during the second half of December, and so we know that the NSIC will enter the new year with the Minnesota State-Mankato men and the Concordia women holding down first place in their respective divisions.

Mav Men

Among the men, the Mavericks are the only remaining unbeaten at 3-0. Seniors Travis Nelson, a 6-11 center, and Jefferson Mason, a 6-6 guard who played his high school ball at Armstrong, are leading the way with 33 points per game between them. Mason leads the team in rebounding with 9 per game, while Nelson also contributes a team-high 2 blocks per outing.

St. Cloud State, Winona State and surprising Upper Iowa share second place at 3-1. The Warriors guard tandem of David Johnson, the 6-2 senior from Hayfield, and Ben Fisher lead the conference with 23.9 points and 7.9 assists, respectively. Winona rebounded from an 88-87 overtime loss at Bemidji last Friday night by blasting Minnesota-Duluth 120-78 on Saturday. Johnson scored 35 points while Fisher had 12 points and 14 assists, and the Warriors tied the school record for points in a game.

Meanwhile, Anthony Moody of Mary is doing it all--leading his team with 17 points, 5-and-a-half rebounds and 3-and-a-half assists, while playing a league-high of 36 minutes per game.

Mankato, Winona and St. Cloud State all appear in the second ten of the national D2 rankings. The next really big game on the NSIC men's schedule has Mankato at Winona on Saturday, January 9.

Among the Women

Meanwhile, the Concordia women holds first place at 4-0 after surprising previously unbeaten Minnesota State-Moorhead at Moorhead on Saturday night, 77-65. Augustana and Mankato State but a half-game back at 3-0.

The Bears are led by Jineen Williams with 16 points and 4 assists per game, while Jennie Noreen, sophomore guard from Albany, has wasted no time in becoming the Mavs go-to player with 16.8 ppg while shooting .552 from the floor (.475 from behind the 3 point line) and adding 2 steals per game. Moorhead is led by inside players Alison Nash-Gerlach and Meghan Rettke, seniors from Roseville and Hutchinson, respectively, with 28 points and 19 rebounds between them. The early favorite for MVP honors, however, would be Jheri Booker, Minnesota-Duluth, with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals.

The big game coming back from the holiday break looks to be Mankato State at Moorhead State on Saturday, January 3.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cardinals and Scots Movin' Up

"Three" was the theme in the MIAC, at least until tonight (Wednesday, December 9, 2009). After three rounds of play, three men's teams were off to a better than .500 start and three women's teams remained undefeated. In each case, the leaders include a couple of perennial powers and a surprise, and both of the surprise teams were scheduled to face off against their perennial oppressors.

Cardinal Men Take Flight

On the men's side, the surprise is St. Mary's. The Cardinals haven't had a winning record in the MIAC since 2000, and the past two years they've won 9 games and lost 41 overall. But junior guards Lukas Holland and Will Wright are both scoring more than 18 points per game and freshman Chris Palmer, who hails from my alma mater in Faribault Bethlehem Academy, is coming off the bench to kick in 12 points and 7 boards. Coach Todd Landrum, in his second year at St. Mary's, didn't recruit his dynamic guard duo but he's clearly got this team playing with spirit and confidence--no more so than in a recent 80-77 loss at Gustavus Adolphus.

Gustavus led St. Mary's 47-24 at half-time, but the Cardinals stormed back within 76-75 on a Palmer bucket on a Wright assist at 0:21. St. Mary's ran out of time, but the result raised more than a few eyebrows around the MIAC.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals' scheduled visit to St. Thomas was postponed tonight due to the weather, so we'll have to wait until January 11 to find out just how "for real" St. Mary's really is.

Scots Women Back on the Map

Among the women, the surprise team is Macalester, whose season was suspended after 6 games in 2005 due to a lack of healthy players. Coach Ellen Thompson, captain of St. Thomas' 1991 national champions, was brought in to rebuild the Scots' program, and that's just what she's done. Led by (now) seniors, Ann Baltzer, Eartha Bell, Danielle Johnson and Trina PaStarr, Macalester has improved its record every year that Thompson and the senior class have been on board.

It's true, of course, that the biggest games thus far have featured not Macalester but Concordia (Moorhead). The Cobbers shocked pre-season championship fave St. Thomas 63-45 on opening night, then turned around and lost at Gustavus 66-61. It's also true, however, that those games now have been overshadowed by tonight's visit of perennially powerful St. Ben's to the up-and-coming Scots.

And for the moment, the Scots will have to content themselves with sole possession of 3rd place in the MIAC (3-1) after a 75-65 home court loss to the Bennies. The game was last tied at 19 before the Blazers ran out to a 42-27 half-time lead. It was still 73-57 St. Ben's at 1:28. Heather Gillund, a 6-1 junior post from Blaine, led the way for the Blazers with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals. St. Ben's remains tied for first place in the MIAC with Gustavus Adolphus.

Gustavus Remains Adolphus

The Gustavus men and women both remain unbeaten at 4-0 after both defeated Augsburg tonight. The women, playing at home, trounced the Auggies 80-39, dashing out to leads of 8-0, 23-7 and 38-14 at the half. 6-2 freshman post Abby Rothenbuehler from Mankato West led the way with 19 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

The men, playing on the road, needed an overtime to avoid the upset, 77-72. Gustavus led early 18-8, but only 24-23 at the half. Augsburg took its first lead since 4-2 at 28-26 and eventually led 54-47 at 5:38. Gustavus didn't lead in the second half after 35-34 but tied the score at 61 with just 11 ticks left on the clock. In overtime, it was all Gustavus. Sophomore guard Seth Anderson came off the bench to score 18 points.

A Long Way to Go

After tonight, only three more conference games remain to be played before next January 2. Still, it's probably not too early to say that it seems unlikely that upstarts Macalester or St. Mary's will be able to wrestle an MIAC championship away from the perennial powers Gustavus, St. Ben's and St. Thomas. Those would represent upsets of historic proportions. But it's probably not too early to make coaches Landrum and Thompson the front-runners for coach of the year honors in the MIAC.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Get 'Em Next Year

It's that time of year again when the thoughts and hopes of Timberwolves fans begin turning toward next year. It's December. And optimism is running high.

I know. I shouldn't joke. The Wolves have already taken care of that.

Still, the season is barely a month old and the Timberwolves are in good shape. We mean, of course, in the only race that matters for the Wolves of 2009-2010, that is the NBA draft sweepstakes. As of today, at 3-17, they're in second place. With the return of Kevin Love from a broken wrist, of course, the Wolves are at risk of dropping in the standings, judging by their 1-1 record and Love's 29 points and 21 rebounds in two games back.

So let's split the difference between 3-17 (.150) and 1-1 (.500) and go out on a limb here, and say that the Wolves play .325 ball the rest of the way. That's another 20 wins for a final record of 23-59 (.280). That's one win less than last year, and one more than two years ago, and those records (24 and 22 wins) tied for the sixth and third worst in the NBA, respectively. Over the past 3 years, 23 wins would have been tied for fourth, tied for fifth and second in the NBA draft sweepstakes. Right now, a .280 winning percentage would only move them up (or, rather, down) a couple of spots from second to fourth place in the preliminary draft lineup.

So, for the moment, let's say that the Wolves have the fourth draft pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Of course, that's assuming something less than the worst, because more often than not, the Wolves have picked below their preliminary position. And, in 20 years of NBA drafts, most of which the Wolves have spent among the lottery participants, Minnesota has never improved its position. But since we're speculating anyway, let's stick with fourth place.

First, of course, would be better. The mock drafts are almost unanimous (17 out of 20 that I checked) in slotting Kentucky freshman 6-4 point guard John Wall as the #1 pick. Early indications are that he'll be better than most of the top point guard picks in recent drafts, such as, er, Jonny Flynn (#6, Minnesota, 2009), O.J. Mayo (#3, Minnesota, 2008), Mike Conley (#4, Memphis, 2007), Randy Foye (#7, Boston, 2006) and Raymond Felton (#5, Charlotte, 2005). Three of these five have ties to the Wolves, which speaks to their ineptitude over the years in finding the right point guard to run the show.

On the other hand, you can't expect Wall to be better than Chris Paul (#4, New Orleans, 2005), of course, or Deron Williams (#3, Utah, 2005), and it's too early to tell, but Wall may not quite be the equal of Derrick Rose (#1, Chicago, 2008) and Tyreke Evans (#4, Sacramento, 2009). Still, Wall is thought to be closer to these guys than to the Flynns, Mayos and Foyes.

Okay, now forget about Wall, because there's no reason to think the Wolves are going to get a crack at him. Nor are the Wolves going to get a crack at Georgia Tech 6-9 forward Derrick Favors with a #4 pick. Favors, who reminds observers of Josh Smith and Blake Griffin, is pretty widely regarded as the likely #2 pick.

By the time you get down to #3, much less #4, the consensus pretty much dissolves, and three players stand out, or not. And, here's where the Wolves' history as bad talent evaluators and of bad draft picks is worrisome. If there are three players regarded as next best, one is probably going to exceed expectations, one is going to meet expectations, and one is going to bomb out. Which is which, and which one are the Wolves going to pick? The options would appear to be:

• Ed Davis is a 6-10 power forward, now a freshman at North Carolina. He's described as "polished" and a player "who can do a lot of things in the paint.... Think Chris Webber/Rasheed Wallace."

• Greg Monroe is also a 6-10 power forward and a freshman (Georgetown). He's "smooth with a a variety of skills (though) jumping is not one of them."

• Donatas Motiejunas is a 7-foot Lithuanian power forward, a "silky smooth ball handler, good passer, (with) a nearly flawless release on his jumper.... More athletic than Nowitzki or Bargnani," according to one mock draft. He "may be one of the best players in the NBA."

In addition to identifying the right guy (or, even just the wrong guy), the other problem is that the "best available athlete" when the Wolves' pick comes up plays a position where the Wolves already have a pretty good ballplayer in Love. What the Wolves really need is a guy who can just flat-out fill it up from the perimeter, with the "j" or on the drive or, preferably, both. Who could that player be?

• Well, unfortunately, that guy has a broken back. That would be Evan Turner, 6-7 small forward and freshman at Ohio State, who reminds folks of Paul Pierce.

• Then there's Willie Warren, 6-4 off guard at Oklahoma. "He can shake and bake and create his own shot," but at 6-4 "he cannot attack the rim" in the NBA. "If he develops an ability to pass he could become one of the top prospects." That doesn't sound like the man.

• And the third option on the perimeter is thought to be Devin Ebanks, a 6-8 small forward at West Virginia, who is described as a "high flyer..... He can hammer from anywhere (but) he cannot do much else."

The good news is there's a long way to go and these draft prospects will do more to sort themselves out, as perhaps Turner has already done--i.e. sorted himself out. But right now, if the Wolves don't have the first or second choice in the 2010 NBA draft, it looks like it again will be a tricky affair. Of course, a free agent signing could also overshadow the Wolves' draft pick, which would be a first. Later on we'll speculate about that, and you can assume that we'll drop names like Joe Johnson, Luke Ridnour, David Lee and Travis Outlaw. LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dewayne Wade, not so much.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dahl-mania Hits East Lansing at Last

It's not every day that Isaiah Dahlman is the story line for a Michigan State Spartans basketball game. The former Minnesota high school superstar has had a disappointing ride at MSU, playing in just 66 of the Spartans' 116 games over the past 3+ seasons, and averaging under 8 minutes and just over 2 points in those 66 games. More was expected of the state's all-time top high school scorer at the time of his graduation from Braham High (since eclipsed by Cody Schilling of Ellsworth).

But it's not every day that the Spartans go up against the Wofford Terriers or any team whose star is the brother of an MSU player. But the Terriers are indeed led by Isaiah's younger brother Noah who leads Wofford in scoring (18 ppg), minutes (28) and rebounds (7 rpg), and who shoots 59 percent from the field, none of which Isaiah has ever done in four years in East Lansing.

But of course the Spartans are top ten and play in the Big Ten, while Wofford is, well, they're the Terriers and they lose to people like Appalachian State, Chattanooga and Western Carolina in the Southern Conference.

Still, modesty never having been much of a burden to me, I can say (and my hoops fanatics friends can corroborate) that it was always obvious to me that Noah would be the better college player. Why it wasn't obvious to anybody else, I don't know. But Isaiah was the skinny 6-7 scorer who took it to the rim and put it in the hole. As a senior he was 6-7 and maybe 165 pounds. Now he's listed at 195. Either way, I'm sorry, he's not getting to the rim in the Big Ten. Noah, meanwhile, was a year younger, an inch shorter and 30 pounds heavier (now, 25). Mostly, it was his good fortune that the role of scoring star on his high school team was already taken when he got there. So he learned to use his muscle and to do other things, things that his older brother was never asked to do.

The result of all of that is that if the roles were reversed--if Noah were at Michigan State, say, or Minnesota, and Isaiah were at Wofford--well, in that scenario they'd both be stars. As it is, only one of them gets to play that role anymore.

On the other hand, Isaiah is going to shower up tomorrow night with a W under his, er, well, with a W, and Noah isn't. The Spartans have lost 2 out of 3 after a 4-0 start, and they've fallen from #2 to #9 in the polls. They're ticked off, and they're going to take it out on Noah and his Terriers, brother or no. 87-55 feels about right. But it says here that Noah gets into double figures at maybe 12 points while, assuming MSU coach Tom Izzo honors his ever-patient senior with a shot at his brother--which might mean doubling his season's average of 6 minutes per game--then might Isaiah get half of that, or 6 points. Even that would probably salve the disappointment of riding the pine for the better part of these past 4 years.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bostick, Mbakwe, White and the U of M

Much has been made of Devron Bostick, Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White's absence from the lineup of Tubby Smith's Minnesota Gophers. Mostly, the focus is on how their absence affects the team's chances for success in 2009-2010.

That, of course, is the wrong question.

Still, let's pause to say that, for the most part, the impact of their absence has been vastly overstated. One early report said that the loss of Mbakwe alone would relegate the Gophers from a third place team in the Big Ten to sixth. This, of course, is nonsense. No one player is going to have that sort of an impact on the Gophers' success. Maybe in the days of the Iron Five (1973 or 1986, take your pick), but not when Tubby is already rotating 10 guys.

The Gophers are essentially two platoons worth of guys who can match up a lot of different ways, and maybe wear somebody out now and again, and go cold at the most inopportune times. After a 4-0 start, they've lost three in a row while shooting 33, 39 and 43 percent. And, in the latter case, tied at 53 at Miami, Fla., Minnesota failed to score from the 2:52 mark until just 26 seconds remained in the game and the Gophers trailed 61-53.

I am not down on Tubby's Gophers. Miami is 7-0. I said in my season preview that the Gophers are a 20-10 team, and I still believe they're a 20-10 team. All I'm saying is bring back Bostick, Mbakwe and White, and they're still a 20-10 team.

But my real point is that doing what's best for the Gopher basketball team isn't even on the radar, and shouldn't be. Doing what's best for the kids is important. But what matters most to those who call the shots, and should--though they've been fairly tight-lipped about it--is doing what's best for the University of Minnesota, and the public. The U is a public institution and a corporate citizen. It has an obligation to support good public values. And it has a reputation to protect, one that has been tarnished by its basketball program so many times in the past that a substantial dollop of extra care and caution is warranted.

Some say it all began with Bill Musselman, but I remember the Gophers' starting point guard, a Minnesota kid, getting booted off the team in December 1964 for sending a buddy into class to take a test under his name. That team went on to finish second in the Big Ten and #7/8 in the national polls.

But, yes, all hell broke loose under Musselman. The intense, win-at-all-costs, bullying fellow that he was, he intimidated the U administration into looking the other way, and illegal inducements were handed out to the players like Halloween candy. As a result, the Gophers' trip to the 1972 NCAA tournament later was voided by the NCAA. Also, in 1973, Musselman's Gophers got into a bit of a brawl with the Ohio State Buckeyes at Williams Arena. Several Gophers were suspended in the aftermath, and an Iron Five guys played almost every minute of every game throughout the rest of the season, and won a tainted Big Ten title.

Musselman left town in 1975 just ahead of NCAA sanctions, saying, "The (NCAA) investigation is of the university, not a single individual. And I am no longer a member of the University of Minnesota."

Jim Dutcher moved in as Gopher coach in 1975. His 1976-1977 team was probably Minnesota's greatest ever. Because of Musselman's transgressions, however, the NCAA lists the Gophers' record that year not as 24-3, as it appeared at the time, but as 0-27. Still, his 1982 team won Minnesota's only untainted Big Ten title since 1937. But, then, on January 23, 1986, after a dramatic 67-65 win at Wisconsin, three Gopher players were picked up by Madison, WI, police for raping an 18-year old woman. The three never played for the Gophers again, though they were acquitted of the rape charge. When Dutcher failed to quietly accept a decision to forfeit the Gophers' next game, he was asked to resign and he did. Missing the three players, a second Iron Five remained, but this time the Gophers won only one more game the rest of the way.

He was replaced by Clem Haskins, and by now everyone knows that Clem also left the U under a cloud. Clem orchestrated an elaborate academic fraud--well, okay, it wasn't so elaborate but, again, the administration had determined that it would look the other way--in order to keep All-American guard Bobby Jackson eligible. It (the scheme) was successful, and so were Clem's Gophers, earning the U's only men's Final Four appearance ever. But, of course, like the 1972 NCAA tournament appearance, this one also never happened because it too was vacated by the NCAA when the scheme finally became public in 1999.

This is not a record of which Minnesotans can be proud and, as a result, the basketball program, the athletic program and the U administration have to aspire to a higher standard of conduct than other schools. If this frustrates efforts to compete on the basketball court, well, we've got Haskins and Musselman and some of their peers and superiors to thank for that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2008 Season Recap

There have now been four basketball seasons completed since Minnesota Hoops was published. I've recapped 2006, 2007 and 2009, but neglected to recap 2008. So here goes.

2008 Season Recap

#1 Story: Winona State wins 2nd national title in 3 years

The Winona State men started the 2007-2008 season inauspiciously enough, with an 83-82 overtime loss to D3 St. Thomas that ended a 36-game home winning streak. Four months later, the Warriors found themselves trailing Augusta State 53-37 with 17:25 remaining in the D2 title game. But Jonte Flowers scored 25 2nd half points and Winona State came back to win their 2nd national title in 3 years by a score of 87-76. Senior center John Smith was named national D2 player of the year for the 2nd straight year, as the Warriors’ ran their 3 year record to 105-6.

#2: St. Paul Central repeats as girls AAAA champion

After losing to Mpls. South and guard Tayler Hill in the Twin City game, defending state champ St. Paul Central came into the state final as a decided underdog. Yet, Central took an early 14-6 lead against South. But the Tigers roared back to a 19-18 half-time lead, and opened up a 33-24 lead at 13:23. Central stormed back to tie at 34, and it remained tight through 44-all. At 1:00, Kyana Johnson scored her only 2 points of the night to give Central the lead for good. Reserve guard Cyonna West held Hill to a career low of 9 points. The final was 49-44.

#3: Jordan’s Brittney Chambers explodes for 47

Chambers electrified girls hoops fans with a historic 47 point effort against favored Crookston in the semi-final, leading the Jaguars to a an upset 79-74 win in the highest scoring game in girls tournament history. But Chambers and Jordan had nothing left to give on Saturday afternoon (after the Friday night semi) and fell to underdog Albany in the final, 62-50. Ironically, the 47 points broke the tournament single game scoring record of 45 set by Albany’s Kelly Skalicky in 1981.

#4: Minnetonka takes boys AAAA title

For the second consecutive year, Hopkins was derailed by Minnetonka in Section 6AAAA—this 74-71 score in overtime. But unlike 2007, the Skippers (25-3) themselves made it to the state tournament. In the final, Henry Sibley shocked Minnetonka by running out to 12-0, 30-9 and 33-11 leads. But an Andy Burns 3 at the buzzer brought the Skippers within 33-20, and the second half was all Minnetonka. They took the lead at 43-42 on back-to-back steals leading to a breakaway stuff by C. J. Erickson and a 3 by Anthony Tucker. The final was 68-59 as Tucker led ‘Tonka with 27 points.

#5: Minnesota Gopher women contend for Big Ten title, but fade down the stretch

Led by junior all-Big Ten guard Emily Fox, the Gopher women surprised their fans by contending for the Big Ten title. Iowa tied Ohio State for the Big Ten title at 13-5, and the difference between the Hawkeyes and the 11-7 Gophers was 2 Iowa wins by 3 and 2 points, the latter in overtime. Poor shooting haunted the Gophers all year, however, and the Gophers finished 20-12. In the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota made 1 of its first 23 shots and lost to Michigan State 56-51. In the NCAAs Texas did the honors 72-55 as the Gophers shot 5 of 28 (17.5 percent) in the first half.

2007-2008 Minnesota Hoops Awards

Top Hoopsters

1. John Smith, Winona State men

2. Cody Schilling, Ellsworth boys

3. Emily Fox, Minnesota Gopher women

4. Tayler Hill, Mpls. South girls

5. Brittney Chambers, Jordan girls

Coach of the Year

1. Paul Fessler, Concordia (St. Paul) women

2. Mike Leaf, Winona State men

3. Willie Taylor, St. Paul Central girls

4. David Smart, Ada girls

5. Fred Kindschy, Hayfield girls

Top Teams

1. Winona State men 38-1

2. St. Paul Central girls 28-4

3. Minnetonka boys 28-3

4. Concordia (St. Paul) women 29-4

5. Minnesota Gopher women 20-12

Game of the Year

1. Brittney Chambers scores a record 47 points as Jordan surprises #1 ranked Crookston 79-74 in AA semi-finals in highest scoring game in girls tournament history

2. St. Thomas surprises Winona State 83-82 in OT, ending the Warriors’ 36 game home winning streak

3. Minnetonka won the rubber match over Hopkins 74-71 in OT in the section 6AAAA boys final, en route to its 3rd state high school basketball championship

4. The Minnesota Gopher men upset Indiana 59-58 in the Big Ten tournament, as Blake Hoffarber hits the buzzer-beater after catching a three-quarter court pass from Travis Busch

5. New London-Spicer edges Maple River 50-49 on a put-back by Wade Powers, who then blocks Maple River’s final shot at the buzzer

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gopher women 65 North Dakota State 37

I thought I should go see the Gopher women before I shoot off my mouth about them again, and so I did that.

But I was also prepared to lament North Dakota State's struggles, and so I'm going to do that, too. The Bison won 5 NCAA titles back in the day, and were runners-up 3 other times. Stewartville, MN, native and NDSU grad Kasey Morlock turned up a couple years ago among the NCAA's official all-time Division 2 all-stars. Coach Amy Ruley won 671 games in 29 seasons. As recently as 2007, the Bison soundly beat the Gophers, 62-48, at Williams Arena. And, just to prove it wasn't a fluke, they stayed within 68-65 of Minnesota the following year, also at the Barn.

All of that had to be a lot of fun. And, now? Well, how much fun can it be, really, being just another D1 mid-major Cinderella-wannabe in a cold Vermillion? Certainly the Bison didn't have much fun last night, getting off just 35 field goal attempts while committing precisely as many turnovers, 19 of them on Gopher steals. On the offensive end, at least, they spent most of the night struggling just to connect on a few passes and to maintain possession of the ball, even out beyond the three-point arc, sometimes even in the backcourt.

On defense, they too often found Gophers between them and the basket they were supposed to defend, especially when the Gophers were able to get into transition. The result was a lot of reaching, resulting in 24 personal fouls and 3 Bison fouling out. The Gophers showed their usual weakness, making just 29 percent of their own field goal attempts. When was the last time a team, any team at any level, shot 29 percent and won by more than 25 points? But Minnesota did just that in part with their defense, but also by getting to the free throw line for 36 attempts, and by making 27 of them.

The Bison, in a word: Slow. In 3 more words: Lack ball-handling skills. The Gophers, with a couple exceptions I'll mention below, aren't quick, either, and yet they easily out-quicked NDSU.

Both teams started slowly. It was still 0-0 at 16:14, when Ashley Ellis-Milan hit 2 free throws for the Gophers. NDSU never led. Twelve minutes later it was 23-8 when the Bison mounted their first run of the night, getting within 26-21 late in the first half. The Gophers pulled away again to a 10-point lead at 33-23 early in the second half when NDSU hit back-to-back threes to get within 33-29. From there it was all Minnesota as an 18-0 run made it 51-29 at 8:23. The final score was the largest margin of the night.

China Antoine kicked off the big run with a 3 off of an offensive rebound and assist by AEM. She followed that with 3 steals in under a minute-and-a-half, and then hit another 3 at 9:45. I was wrong about Antoine, thinking she was another Kay Sylva. No, she has the best combination of skills and instincts of anybody on the Gophers' roster. At 5-foot-3, that isn't always going to get it done, but she can play. She finished with 9 points and 4 steals, making 3-of-5 shots from long-range. She's got to learn not to take the ball to the rim, however. She was 0-for-5 on 2 pointers.

I wasn't wrong about Leah Cotton, because I hadn't said anything about her. But I'm surprised. She's quick, she has good basketball instincts and, most importantly, she gets to the rim and creates her own shot better than any Gopher since Lindsay Whalen. As a result, she shot 10 free throws, making 9 of them en route to scoring a team-high 15 points. I am also surprised at her size. From the second deck, she doesn't look much bigger than Antoine. She's listed at 5-8 but I don't think so.

Zoe Harper had a great game with 8 points, 9 boards and 3 steals in just 16 minutes. She uses her body effectively to create space in the paint. Brittany McCoy helped Antoine, Cotton and Kiara Buford to harass the Bison guards, and matched Antoine's 4 steals. Ellis-Milan made just 2-of-10 shots but had a team-high 3 assists, and she plays hard. Brianna Mastey contributed 3 points, 4 boards and a team-high 2 blocks. It was great to see Kristen Dockery come into the game, too. She's got a great athletic-looking body, and she responded with an assist, a turnover and a steal in just 2 minutes of play.

Katie Ohm's shooting slump continued, however. She was 0-for-3 from the field, all 3s, and even missed both of her free throw attempts. And, when she's not scoring, she's not contributing. She doesn't play a lot of defense and was exposed last night as a poor passer. It's not so much that she throws the ball away, it's the failure to see and to deliver passes to open players that is a much bigger issue. B. Mastey still looks a little bit lost out there, and Katie Loberg, too.

Bottom line: I don't care if the Gophers shot 50 percent and scored 90 points per game in the Subway Classic (2 games). With their history, I'm afraid that the team that shot 29 percent against the Bison last night is the real Gophers. When you shoot like that, good shot selection becomes key and the Gophers don't show that either. They threw up too many 3s that had no chance of going in and, on too many 2 point shots, getting fouled was the only way the Gophers were going to score. NDSU cooperated. Other teams won't. And, Antoine and Cotton showed particularly poor shot judgment. Sometimes you just say, hey, they're scorers. In the context of this team, it could be a problem.

Still, forgetting the Ws and the Ls, Antoine and Cotton will make this year's Gophers more watchable than they've been since, well, you-know-who. In 2010-2011 they'll be your starting guards and, with a year of seasoning, they could be the best guard tandem the Gophers have had since Whalen and whomever. Pretty high praise for a couple of players who were widely regarded as marginal recruits.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Utah 60 Gopher women 59 (November 17)

I suppose the Gopher women should be congratulated for staying within 1 of a quality opponent on the road. The Gophers had 8 fewer TO than Utah and, as a result, got off 10 more FGA than Utah did. McCoy, Ellis-Milan and Antoine shot 13-for-24. Antoine, the in-coming transfer, showed that she can play at this level, scoring 10 points with a couple of steals. Ellis-Milan led with 9 rebounds and McCoy with 4 assists.

Thats the good news.

The bad news is that aside from McCoy, Antoine and AEM, the rest of the Gophers shot 7-for-38 (18 percent). Jackie Voigt shot 3-of-14 including 2-of-10 3s. The Gophers led 24-20 at 2:50 of the 1st half but were out-scored 8-2 the rest of the half and 13-6 to start the second to fall behind 41-32, their largest deficit. They never led after 24-22.

After that the Gophers had the ball and an opportunity to tie 5 times, but went 0-for-5 in converting those opportunities. The Gophers trailed 43-40 at 9:15 when Voigt missed a 3. At 8:54, 21 seconds later, still trailing 43-40, Voigt missed another 3. After falling behind by 7 at 50-43 and 52-45, the Gophers scrambled back within 54-52 when, at 2:30, McCoy was called for an offensive foul. Trailing 55-52 at 1:57, Voigt missed (you guessed it) a 3. Finally, trailing 58-56 at 0:20, Voigt turned it over. The final was not as close as it sounds as the Gophers hit a 3 at 0:03 to get within 60-59.

Ohm and Harper, who along with McCoy and AEM, represent the senior class, shot 1 for 9. Ohm's 1-for-6 probably explains why Voigt took all of those 3s. And sophomore Kiara Buford, who led the Gophers in the 1st half with 9 points, failed to score in the 2nd. The Gophers finished shooting 32 percent and had assists on 9 of 20 buckets (Utah had assists on 12 of 21).

Tonight, at least, the essential character of this Gopher team would seem to be pretty similar to that of recent years. Again, I suppose a 1 point loss on the road to a good opponent could be taken as a sign of encouragement, but given the that the Gophers' problems are the same ones that have sabotaged other recent seasons, I am not encouraged.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009-2010 Season Preview

It seems like only yesterday that the Mankato State women won the NCAA D2 national title, Tayler Hill became the most prolific scorer in Minnesota high school history, and--count 'em--three boys teams won state high school championships with undefeated records.

But Hill now wears an Ohio State uniform, and has already scored 28 points in her first two games as a Buckeye. Two of Minnesota's top boys' players, Royce White and Rod Williams, have moved on to Minnesota. White is not currently playing due to legal difficulties, however, while Williams is wowing the Gopher faithful with 31 points and tremendous leaping ability through three games. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves' will be rebuilding without the help of long-time executive Kevin McHale; and the Gopher women will be without #7 all-time scorer Emily Fox.

Change is in the air, and why not? In about six weeks, we'll be entering into a new decade of Minnesota basketball, and we can only hope it has the excitement of the decade of 2000-2009.

Tubby's Turn?

Hope, of course, springs eternal, and the focus of that hope for Minnesota basketball fans, initially at least, is the #18 rated Gopher men under coach Tubby Smith. Now in his third year at the U, Tubby has assembled a deep, deep roster--even with three players, including White, on suspension as the season gets underway. Not only that but most of this troops now have had at least a year's experience in Tubby's system. Last year, as the season wore on, it was increasingly a case of "as goes Lawrence Westbrook, so go the Gophers." This coming year, more of Tubby's troops should be ready to step up when match-ups call for it: Not just returning starters Damian Johnson, Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III, but also sophomore Devoe Joseph and the freshman Williams seem ready to do so.

In short, Tubby, his players and Gopher faithful all see the Maroon and Gold as a team that should still be standing and making some noise come March. A Big Ten title or a Final Four is probably too much to ask, but this should easily be the best Gopher team since that that bittersweet season of 1996-97. It says here the U goes 20-10 in the regular season, 11-7 in the Big Ten, and wins a couple in the Big Ten tournament. That adds up to a #6 seed and a couple more wins in the Big Dance.

The Lottery Life

On the other end of the spectrum, the only question for the Timberwolves is how bad? It will be bad, but how bad? Right now the Wolves are 1-10 with a ten game losing streak and no relief in sight. Al Jefferson's knee isn't 100 percent. And, the point guard the Wolves didn't pick in the draft, Brandon Jennings, has already had a 55-point night for the Bucks, while Jonny Flynn is overmatched every night and Ricky Rubio stayed in Italy rather than play for this team.

One almost expects to look courtside and see Jimmy Rodgers calling the shots. It says here that the Wolves will be lucky to win the 15 games that Rodgers' crew won in 1991-92. They'll have another crack at the NBA's draft lottery come next spring, but the fact is that evaluating and drafting the best available talent has never been the Wolves' forte, either.

Up for Grabs

With the exception of the Mpls. South girls, all of the 2009 state high school champions were predominantly senior teams. Three South starters return, the most of any of the eight champions, but Tayler Hill is not among them. So all of the 2010 titles would seem to be very much for grabs.

Still, it says here that the Hopkins, Benilde-St. Margaret's and Ellsworth boys, who combined for seven state titles in eleven state finals appearances during the decade of the '00s, will emerge next March as state champions. They'll be pushed by Henry Sibley, Minnetonka, Tartan; St. Paul Johnson, New Prague; and Minnesota Transitions, among others. In AA, Crosby-Ironton, New London-Spicer and Plainview-Elgin-Millville will contend. Kevin Noreen of Transitions and Cole Olstad of Plainview-E-M would seem to be the best bets for Mr. Basketball honors.

Among the girls, Lakeville North and Barnum are the favorites among the largest and smallest schools. In between, two Mpls. schools, North and Roosevelt, looked last spring like the prohibitive favorites. But several North players transferred out, and Roosevelt point guard Shakila Boler hurt her knee for a second time. If Boler can play, Roosevelt can contend. If not, New London-Spicer becomes the favorite. In AAA, DeLaSalle, Worthington and Benilde-St. Margaret's now look stronger than North. Gopher recruit Sari Noga of Parkers Prairie has the look of a Ms. Basketball.

The More Things Change....

Among the small colleges, the perennial powers are poised to remain perennial. In the D2 Northern Sun Conference, defending men's tournament champions St. Cloud State are favored in the annual coach's poll, while two-time national champ (2006 and 2008) Winona State was picked as the runner-up. Defending national champion Mankato State is favored to repeat as the women's champion.

In the D3 MIAC, the coaches picked St. Thomas to win both the men's and women's championships despite the fact that, for the first time in 95 years, the Tommies will play their home games off-campus. The Schoenecker Arena has been demolished to make way for a new athletic facility, so the Tommies will play at Gangelhoff Arena, home of D2 Concordia (St. Paul). All-America shooting guard Joe Scott leads the Tommie men, while 6-2 transfer Rachel Booth, who scored 12 ppg last year at D2 St. Cloud State, should be a dominant presence in D3.

Still, the St. Cloud men would seem to have the best opportunity to make some noise next March.

Treading Water

Finally, the Gopher women continue to search for the magic that surrounded the program earlier in the decade, but has eluded them since Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville departed for the WNBA. Now it is the sophomore class of Kiara Buford, Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigt--rather than the seniors, Ashley Ellis-Milan, Brittany McCoy and Katie Ohm--who inspire hope. Third place in the Big Ten, as predicted for them in the coaches' pre-season poll, seems generous. The Gopher women have been notable in recent years for their inability to get any easy baskets in transition, and so they've had to grind it out. The result has been a series of infamous offensive meltdowns in key games.

Still, Buford has scored 20 ppg in the first three games, including exhibitions. If she can consistently get out in transition, the Gophers could surprise. But that seems a lot to ask of one skinny sophomore. And so, 9-9 (in the Big Ten) and 15-14 (overall) could be more like it.

Most Likely to Succeed

Most likely to be making noise next March:

1. Gopher men
2. Barnum girls
3. St. Cloud State men
4. St. Thomas men and women
5. Ellsworth boys

Coaches of the Year:

1. Tubby Smith, Minnesota
2. Kevin Schlagel, St. Cloud State men
3. Steve Fritz and Ruth Sinn, St. Thomas
4. Mike Dreier, New London-Spicer girl
5. Kenny Novak and Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins boys and girls

Players of the Year:

1. Rachel Booth and Joe Scott, St. Thomas
2. Sari Noga, Parkers Prairie
3. Kiara Buford, Minnesota
4. Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota
5. Kevin Noreen, MN Transitions, and Cole Olstad, Plainview-E-M

Games of the Year:

1. Ohio State (January 9), Michigan State (January 23) and Purdue (February 24) at Minnesota men

2. State high school championship Saturday, girls and boys, March 20 and 27, respectively

3. St. Ben's vs. St. Thomas women (at St. Ben's January 16; at St. Thomas February 16)

4. St. Cloud State men vs. Winona State (at St. Cloud December 4, at Winona February 27)

5. Ohio State and Tayler Hill at Minnesota Gopher women February 14

Sunday, April 5, 2009

2009 Season Recap

Story #1--Mankato State women win NCAA D2 title in "track meet"

Mankato State defeated Franklin Pierce 103-94 to win the NCAA D2 national title over Franklin Pierce in what was described in at least one report as a "track meet." The 197 points scored were the most ever in a women's D2 final. Heather Johnson was named tournament MVP, while Alex Andrews and Joanne Noreen also won all-tournament honors. The Mavericks, who were ranked #1 nationally throughout most of the season, won the NSIC regular season title, but they were upset by Concordia (St. Paul) in the NSIC post-season tourney and dropped to #2. Mankato State then won three NCAA central regional games on their home floor, and another three at the Elite Eight in San Antonio, TX. This marks the third national championship won by NSIC teams this school year--Concordia in volleyball, and Minnesota-Duluth in football, along with the Mavs basketball championship.

Story #2--Three boys champions finish undefeated

In twelve years of four-class play, only four of 48 boys state champions have emerged undefeated. But in 2009 alone, three of four champions can claim undefeated records.

In AAAA, Hopkins has been widely acclaimed the greatest Minnesota high school team ever. One poll has them rated #4 in the nation. Yet the Royals only escaped Osseo in the final by a score of 69-59, as Royce White led the way with 20 points.

In AA, Pelican Rapids defeated St. Bernard's 80-68 as Tyden Storrestun scored 34 points and added seven assists.

In A, Granada-Huntley-East Chain won a pair of classic games. In the first round, they edged Minnesota Transitions 64-61 on a three by sophomore Tanner Nawrocki at 0:31. In the final, the Mustangs overcame a ten-point half-time deficit to force overtime, in which they pulled away from two-time defending champion Ellsworth to win 62-54.

Story #3--Tayler Hill breaks records and hearts

Mpls. South guard Tayler Hill set an all-time Minnesota high school scoring record with 3,894 career points, including a record 106 in 2009 girls state tournament. Her South team squelched Centennial's dream of a state title 68-61 as Hill poured in a record-tying 47 points. There was some unfortunate confusion about Hill's career record due to some sloppy record-keeping at South High but the MSHSL ultimately stepped in to clarify her record. Then, Hill broke the hearts of Gopher women's basketball fans by announcing that she will play college ball at Ohio State.

Story #4--St. Thomas men ranked #1 most of the year

The St. Thomas men came through the regular season undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation, then romped through the MIAC post-season tournament and three NCAA D3 games. Ultimately, however, the Tommies were defeated in the Elite Eight by the eventual runners-up, Washington U. (St. Louis) 79-64 to finish 30-1. Joe Scott was named MIAC player of the year, and coach Steve Fritz MIAC coach of the year honors.

Story #5--Gophers are up-and-down in Tubby's second season

The Minnesota Gopher men under coach Tubby Smith started out 12-0 and 16-1 and briefly were rated among the top 20 teams in the nation, but finished up on a 6-10 run. Their stay in the NCAA tournament was brief, ending in a loss to the Texas Longhorns 76-62. But with all but two players back--and local heroes Royce White and John Williams coming in--optimism abounds.

Players of the Year

1. Tayler Hill, Mpls. South
2. Heather Johnson, Mankato State
3. Anne Breland, Rochester CTC
4. Zach Johnson, Carleton
5. Brittany Chambers, Jordan

Team of the Year

1. Mankato State women 32-2, NCAA D2 champions
2. Hopkins boys 31-0, state AAAA champions, perhaps the "best ever"
3. Mpls. South girls 31-2, state AAAA champions
4. St. Thomas men 30-1, MIAC regular and post-season champions
5. Rochester CTC women 34-0, national NJCAA D3 champions

Coach of the Year

1. Pam Gohl, Mankato State women, interim head coach
2. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas men
3. David Smart, Ada-Borup girls
4. Tubby Smith, Minnesota Gopher men
5. Kenny Novak, Jr., Hopkins boys

Games of the Year

1. Mankato State women 103 Franklin Pierce 94, NCAA D2 championship game
2. Granada-Huntley-East Chain 64 Minnesota Transitions 61, boys Class A 1st round
3. Minnesota Gopher women surprise Notre Dame 79-71 at South Bend in NCAA play
4. Minnesota Gopher men beat Louisville, the eventual #1 NCAA seed, 70-64 in December
5. St. Michael-Albertville girls come back from 20-5 deficit to win girls AAA title

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hopkins: Best Ever--Part III

So, are they? Are the 2009 Hopkins Royals the best boys high school basketball team in Minnesota history? Well, it depends on what you mean by "best." Here are two cracks at it.

Time Machine Top Ten

First, here's what I call the Time Machine Top Ten. If all of the great teams over the years could get into the time machine and travel to some neutral time and place, which ones would win? 

1. Hopkins 2009
2. Mpls. North 1996
3. Osseo 2001
4. Hopkins 2005
5. Mpls. Patrick Henry 2000
6. Hopkins 2006
7. Edina 1967
8. Mpls. North 1997
9. Braham 2005
10. Eastview 2005

Top Ten Best at the Time

These, then, are the teams that were most dominant relative to their competitors and under the conditions of the time.

1. Edina 1967
2. Mpls. North 1996
3. Mpls. Edison 1937
4. Edina 1968
5. Hopkins 1952
6. Mpls. Roosevelt 1956
7. Hopkins 2009
8. Mpls. Patrick Henry 1944
9. Melrose 1974
10. White Bear Lake 1984

Bottom line: Hopkins 10 point win over Osseo in the final didn't do enough to establish it as one of the top half dozen most dominant teams in Minnesota history. But if you could transport the 2009 Hopkins roster back to another time and place, they would beat any other team that's ever been assembled. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All-State Sub

To the best of my knowledge, Aaron Anderson of Osseo and Mike Weah of St. Bernard's are just the second and third boys in 97 years of state high school tournament play to win all-tournament honors without starting a single game for his team. 

The first was Loren Stadum, back-up forward for Thief River Falls' 1938 state champs. He wasn't even the first forward off of the Prowlers' bench, but he led Thief with 12 points in their 31-29 championship game win over Mpls. North. 

It all happened because star forward Clark Mickelson badly sprained a knee in a first round 37-29 win over Faribault and future Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith. Mickelson started the Prowlers' semi-final game against Crosby-Ironton but couldn't play and quickly came out of the game. Mel Haugham was Thief's first front-court sub and scored a big bucket at 3:30 to bring the Prowlers back within 25-24. Stadum played a good long spell, too, and scored five points.

Mickelson came back into the game in overtime, however, and scored the game-winning bucket. In those days, overtime was a race to two and both teams had shot two free throws, making one. Thief ran (or, I should say, hobbled) a play for Mickelson, who swished a long set shot to win the game.

Mickelson didn't even dress for the final, and Haugham started in his place. But it was Stadum who mostly battled North's all-state forwards Dick Burk and Dick Hallman. 

Thief surprised by returning to the 1939 state tournament--they had lost all five of their starters, though they returned an all-state sub. Stadum won all-tournament honors a second time, now as the Prowlers' starting center. Thief slipped to sixth place, however. Stadum went on from there to a career as a high school coach.

About Anderson and Weah

Anderson, a 5-10 junior, is Osseo's back-up point behind 5-7 senior D. J. Philips though, through two games, Anderson had played 48 minutes to Philips' 33. Against Hopkins' defensive pressure in the championship, coach Tim Theisen played the two together for a fair stretch of time. Anderson finished with 71 minutes played, 27 points and a team-high seven assists.

St. Bernard's Coach Ed Cassidy brought Weah off the bench in each game for some instant offense and for  a total of 68 minutes of play. He made 4-for-5 field goal attempts in all three games, and he also made 4-for-5 free throws in a first round victory over Triton 67-48. Nine of his 15 field goal attempts were threes, and he made six of those. He scored in double figures every game with 16 against Triton, 13 in a 68-61 semi-final win over Plainview-Elgin-Millville, and ten in an 80-68 championship game defeat at the hands of Pelican Rapids. 

Part-Time Subs

Other players have made all-tournament without starting all of its team's games, but all of these other examples started at least one. Just the previous week Justine Dammerman and Cassie Ziemer of New London-Spicer earned all-tournament honors while starting two of three tournament games. And in 1962 Dave Meisner of Cloquet didn't start for his team in a first round loss to North St. Paul. Meisner started the next two tournament games as Cloquet came back to win the consolation championship. The following year Meisner led his team to the championship final and he made the all-tournament team for a second time. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hopkins: Best Ever? Part II

Some have said that the 2009 Hopkins Royals are the best Minnesota boys high school team ever. Such judgments are in the eye of the beholder, of course. But there is one objective measure, at least, on which the Royals hnow share a place at the top of the list.

Prior to the 2009 state tournament, Mpls. Patrick Henry had more boys state championships than any Minnesota high school, with titles in the single class tournament in 1944 and 1945, and a four-peat in Class AAA of the four class era in 2000-2001-2002 and 2003 for a total of six.

Hopkins, meanwhile, also won back-to-back titles in the single class era in 1952 and 1953. (See below for a post about that team.) More recently the Royals won Class AAAA championships in 2002, 2005 and 2006. And, now, the 2009 title makes for a total of six.

The DeLaSalle Islanders and Mpls. North are next with five MSHSL titles each. DeLaSalle's came in 1985, 1988, 1998-1999 and 2006. DeLaSalle also won ten Catholic state championships between 1927 and 1962, plus a national Catholic championship in 1931. North won their titles in 1980, 1995-1996-1997 and 2003.

Several schools are next with four boys titles each:

Bloomington Jefferson--1976, 1982, 1986 and 1987
Chisholm--1934, 1973, 1975 and 1991
Duluth Central--1950, 1961, 1971 and 1979
Red Wing--1915, 1920, 1922 and 1933
Southwest MN Christian--1999-2000-2001-2002

With its Class AAA title, Mpls. Washburn joins a group of schools with three titles each. Washburn won its three titles in 1955, 1994 and 2009. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hopkins: Best Ever?

Hopkins is Minnesota's best boys high school basketball team ever, or so they said.

The year was 1953, as the Royals became only the third team ever to win back-to-back state championships. In fact, Hopkins came within a few points of the first three-peat, losing to the eventual runner-up Canby 45-43 in the first round in 1951. Two wins and a consolation title followed, and then six more wins and the Lake Conference's first two state titles. Hopkins beat South St. Paul 42-29 and Hibbing 58-49 in the two finals. Forward Dave Tschimperle became only the second boy to earn all-tournament honors three times and also the third to lead the tournament in scoring twice (in 1951 and 1953).

Hopkins' accomplishment was all the more remarkable because they had to come through the toughest region in the state, old Region Five, to do it. From its establishment in 1933 through 1949, only one non-Minneapolis school had ever won a Region Five title and that was Hopkins in 1942 and again in 1948. In 1950 Robbinsdale won it, and then Hopkins came back in 1951 through 1953. Hopkins had become an athletic powerhouse in basketball and football under legendary coach Butsie Maetzold. Maetzold himself had won two state basketball titles at Red Wing in 1920 and 1922, and was all-MIAC all four years at Hamline. At Hopkins, his football teams went 88-6-5 over 18 years. They won ten conference titles, were unbeaten nine times and unscored upon in 1933 and 1937. 

Maetzold's basketball teams went 508-62 over 29 seasons, with 19 conference, five region and two state titles. His 1952-1954 teams had a then-record 65 straight wins, with the two losses that bracketed the streak both coming in overtime. His other star players included brothers Junior ("Spike") and Stewart Skoglund in the early 1940s, both of whom went on to play at Gustavus Adolphus; Virgil Miller of that 1948 state runner-up; and guard Jerry Porter, who won all-tournament honors in the two state championship seasons. 

Mpls. Edison's 1937 state champions had long been regarded as legendary--as the greatest team to have played in the state tournament. But the game had changed dramatically in the years during and after World War II, with the introduction of the fast break, the jump shot and low post play. So, finally, in 1955, at least one newspaper columnist opined that Mpls. Washburn's state champs were the best ever. "What previous champions could do more things well?" he asked, "could beat you so many different ways?" Then, the very next year Mpls. Roosevelt demolished Blue Earth in the state final 101-54, and in 1957 the Teddies repeated as state champs with an unbeaten record, and the consensus was that Roosevelt was "the best ever."

Then in 1961, the same fans and reporters christened Duluth Central the best except, some said, for Hopkins in 1953. The Royals had now surpassed Washburn and Roosevelt in tournament legend. 

Since 1961 the state tournament has seen its first three- and four-peats. The two greatest teams are probably those two that have won three straight state titles at the very highest level. Those would be the Edina Hornets of 1966-1967-1968 and the Mpls. North Polars of 1995-1996-1997. There are, of course, a couple of four-peaters--Southwest Minnesota Christian of Edgerton 1999-2002 in Class A, and Minneapolis Patrick Henry 2000-2003 in Class AAA--but neither played at the very highest level. 

But, now, the Hopkins Royals, rated number four in the nation, are again regarded at least by some as the best high school basketball team ever to come out of the Gopher state.