Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Big Game January 2010

Look below for The Big Game for each day of January 2010. But, first, the summary.

History in the Making January 2010
What people will still be talking about 25 years from now

1. Lindsay Whalen coming home to the Lynx
2. St. Thomas men win a record 32 straight MIAC games
3. Kevin Noreen breaks boys high school career scoring record, well, unofficially
4. Macalester contends for MIAC women's title 5 years after its program was suspended for lack of enough players
5. Gopher men and women both headed for the back door

Top 5 Games

1. St. Thomas men 77 St. Mary's 68, 32nd straight MIAC win, 1/11
2. Gustavus men 56 St. Thomas 51, ending Tommies' win streak, 1/13
3. Macalester women 73 Gustavus 61, Lady Scots' turnaround continues, 1/4
4. Minnesota Transitions boys 81 Mpls. Roosevelt 51, Kevin Noreen scores 39 to set unofficial boys career scoring record
5. Hopkins boys 83 Robbinsdale Cooper 75, best high school game of the month, 1/29


1. Kevin Noreen, Minnesota Transitions, Most Valuable Minnesotan
2. Ann Baltzer, Macalester
3. Rachel Banham, Lakeville North
4. Jenna Smith, Illinois (formerly Bloomington Kennedy), who ate the Gopher women alive twice
5. Estan Tyler, St. Paul Johnson

Team of the Month

1. St. Thomas men
2. Lakeville North girls
3. Macalester women
4. St. Paul Johnson boys
5. Minnesota-Crookston women

Coach of the Month

1. Ellen Thompson, Macalester women, Most Valuable Coach
2. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas men
3. Vern Simmons, St. Paul Johnson boys
4. Matt Marganthaler, Minnesota State Mankato men
5. Faith Patterson, DeLaSalle girls

The Big Game and Most Valuable Minnesotans (MVM)
And the Most Valuable Minnesota Coach (MVC)

1/31 Minnesota Timberwolves 112 New York Knicks 91. The Wolves went big, and won big. Love and Big Al combined for 47 points and 22 boards. MVM: Jenna Smith, Illinois (formerly Bloomington Kennedy) 18/14 rebounds. MVC: Kurt Rambis, Timberwolves.

1/30 St. Thomas women 76 Macalester 75 (OT). The Tommies avenge an earlier loss to the Lady Scots, whom they knock into 4th place in the MIAC race. MVM: Rachel Booth, St. Thomas 24/9 rebounds/7 blocks. MVC: Matt Marganthaler, Minnesota State Mankato men.

1/29 Hopkins boys 83 Robbinsdale Cooper 78. #2AAAA) over #4AAAA. MVM: Joe Coleman, Hopkins 33. MVC: Paul Fessler, Concordia (St. Paul) women.

1/28 DeLaSalle girls 71 Benilde-St. Margaret's 65. The 17-0, #1AAA Islanders keep rolling for new coach Faith Patterson. MVM: Julia Dysthe, White Bear Lake 26. MVC: Faith Patterson, DeLaSalle.

1/27 St. Mary's men 78 Gustavus 75. The Gusties lose for the 3rd time in 5 games since their big win over St. Thomas. MVM: Will Wright, St. Mary's 18. MVC: Todd Landrum, St. Mary's.

1/26 Barnum girls 69 Braham 66. Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota 19/7 rebounds/4 steals, including 11 points inside of 5:00.Tim Gleason, Maple Grove girls.

1/25 Minnesota Transitions 81 Mpls. Roosevelt 51. Kevin Noreen, Transitions 39. Noreen unofficially breaks Cody Schilling's boys' career high school record. David Mielke, St. Croix Lutheran girls. (NOTE: Morris Area boys [13-0. #2AA] at New London-Spicer [15-1, #1AA], ppd. weather)

1/24 New Orleans Saints 31 Minnesota Vikings 28 (OT). Fumbles, fumbles, fumbles. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin (formerly Benilde-St. Margaret's) 20/6 assists/3 steals, with 18 of his 20 points coming after 2:00 of the second half. Brad Childress, Vikings.

1/23 Augustana men 83 Minnesota State-Mankato 76, and Mary women 67 Concordia (St. Paul) 66. Both of the NSIC's first-place teams lost out in the Dakotas to the heroics of Augies' Cody Schilling and Mary's Shaunna Knife. Ann Baltzer, Macalester 24. Ellen Thompson, Macalester women.

1/22 Edina girls 65 Minnetonka 59 and Lakeville North girls 60 Burnsville 52. #1 and #2AAAA remain unbeaten but in 2 of their closest games yet. Burnsville held Rachel Banham to 1 point and led by 2 at the half. Cassie Rochel, Lakeville North 24. Clayton Hargrove, Eden Prairie girls.

1/21 Rocori boys 55 at St. Cloud Tech 53. Tech loses it 2nd straight since being rated #1AAAA. Brett Ervin, Eden Prairie 19. David Flom, Eden Prairie.

1/20 Carleton men 60 Gustavus 55. The Gusties have lost twice since busting up St. Thomas' big win streak. Mary Wilkowski, Hamline 30/7 rebounds/3 steals. Jessica Rahman, Concordia (Moorhead) women.

1/19 Sauk Centre girls 63 New London-Spicer 58. #1AA Sauk is 50-4 over the past 2-and-a-half years with all 4 losses to #2 NLS. Mainstreeters guard Kali Peschel led all scorers with 22. Aubrey Davis, Bloomington Kennedy 25. Scott Bergman, Sauk Centre.

1/18 Gustavus women 66 St. Ben' s 63. The Bennies fell behind 13-2 and 41-23 at the half, then got within 3 at 2:48 and 1 at 0:05 but it was too late. First place Gustavus is 8-1 in the MIAC, while St. Ben's has lost 3 straight after an 8-0 start. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves 29 assists. Madeline "Mickey" Haller, Gustavus.

1/17 Minnesota Vikings 34 Dallas Cowboys 3. Drew Pearson, that last one was for you. No hoops worth talkin' about. Brett Favre and Brad Childress, Vikings.

1/16 St. Thomas men 70 St. John's 69 (OT) and St. Thomas women 66 St. Benedict's 65. The luck of the Irish. Sarina Baker, DeLaSalle 38. Matt Marganthaler, Minnesota State-Mankato.

1/15 Minnesota State Mankato women 79 Concordia (St. Paul) 76. Defending national champs (now 5-3) knock off previously unbeaten (in the NSIC) Concordia. Jacob Thomas, Columbia Heights 47. Matt Nilsen, Edina girls.

1/14 Minnesota women 74 Purdue 47. But for a Penn State win at Iowa, the Gophers would have 2nd place in the Big Ten all to themselves. Kiara Buford, Minnesota 18/4 assists/4 steals. Pam Borton, Minnesota.

1/13 Gustavus men 56 St. Thomas 51. In the battle of MIAC unbeatens, the Gusties scored the game's last 7 points to bust the Tommies brand new record consecutive win streak. Seth Anderson, Gustavus 17, 8 of them inside of 6:00. Mark Hanson, Gustavus.

1/12 Lakeville North girls 58 Eastview 43. The Panthers' big two, Cassie Rochel and Rachel Banham, led the way with 17 and 16 points. Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx. Roger Griffith, Lynx Executive VP.

1/11 St. Thomas men 77 St. Mary's 68. The Tommies won a record 32nd straight MIAC victory. Tyler Nicolai, St. Thomas 16/5 assists/3 steals. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas.

1/10 Illinois women 64 Minnesota 62. The Gophers blew 2nd half leads of 41-26 and 50-40, turning the ball over on 7 of their final 21 possessions. There were 26 turnovers in all, including an eye-popping 12 from their posts. Jenna Smith, Illinois (formerly Bloomington Kennedy) 26/11 rebounds. No coach's award today.

1/9 Minnesota men 73 Ohio State 62. The Gophers made 11-of-21 FG and out-scored the Buckeyes 41-29 in the second half. Blake Hoffarber, Gopher men 27. Tubby Smith, Minnesota men.

1/8 Mpls. North boys 66 Hopkins 63. The #1AAAA Royals go down for the second time in as many weeks. C. J. Erickson 3/2 blocks and Ben Fisher 5/1 assist inside of 2:00, Winona State men. Vern Simmons, St. Paul Johnson boys.

1/7 Minnesota women 73 Northwestern 65. The Gophers came from way back (37-21) again, out-scoring Northwestern 52-28 the rest of the way. Kiara Buford, Minnesota 22. Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins girls.

1/6 Macalester women 75 at Concordia (Moorhead) 57. The Scots continued their improbable run as post Ann Baltzer made 8-for-8 FG, and the Scots shot 67 percent in the 2nd half. Ann Baltzer, Mac 18. Mike Durbin, St. Ben's.

1/5 Purdue men 79 Minnesota 60. The Gophers wasted 19 offensive rebounds, shooting 31 percent from the field. Rachel Banham, Lakeville North girls 28. Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North girls.

1/4 Macalester women 73 at Gustavus Adolphus 61. Macalester, whose program was suspended in 2005 due to a lack of healthy players, continued its resurgence and moved into 2nd place in the MIAC. Jessica Rene, Mac 18. Ellen Thompson, Mac.

1/3 Minnesota women 72 Iowa 69 (OT). The Gophers came back from 10 points down in the 1st, and 5 points down with 5:00 to go. Kiara Buford, Minnesota 21/10 rebounds/4 steals. Mike Roysland, Minnesota-Crookston women.

1/2 Minnesota-Crookston women 88 Minnesota State Mankato 74. UMC, which as recently as 2007 suffered a winless 0-27 season, shocked the defending national champs. Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota Gopher men 24. Tubby Smith, Minnesota men.

1/1 Orlando 106 at Minnesota Timberwolves 94. The Wolves opened 2010 with a 3rd straight defeat. Jonny Flynn, Wolves 23/4 assists. No coach's award.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kevin Noreen About to Break Cody Schilling's Career Record

Kevin Noreen scored 39 points tonight in Minnesota Transitions' 81-51 win over Mpls. Roosevelt, giving him an unofficial 3,429 points for his high school career. That's one more than Cody Schilling scored in his storied career at Ellsworth High School. It is expected that the MSHSL will throw out five or six games that MTC and Noreen played two and three years ago, however, because those opponents were not sanctioned members of the association.

That could cost Noreen, oh, let's say, 150 points? Well, he's got 11 regular season games left. Noreen would only have to score 14 or 15 points per game to get the record even if the Wolves were to flame out in the playoffs, which is unlikely. They're 13-3 and rated #2 in Class A. It's also unlikely he'll only score 14 or 15 points per game the rest of the way, as he's averaging about twice that at the moment.

So the question is not whether he'll score 3,429 points against MSHSL opponents or not. Rather, it's the question that keeps popping up on the discussion boards, it's the question about the legitimacy of his record, considering the caliber of those opponents.

Well, it says here that that argument represents willful ignorance. The folks who make the argument are never actually going to research it and, when presented with the facts, they change the subject. But the subject was and is the caliber of MTS' opponents during Noreen's career. And here are the facts.

During Schilling's last 4 years at Ellsworth (2004-2008), the Panthers played 46 Class A teams and 11 teams above their class (4 in Class AA, 6 in AAA and 1 in AAAA) in the regular season. During Noreen's last four years at MTC (2006-2010), the Wolves played 47 Class A teams and 33 teams above their class (21 in AA, 7 in AAA and 5 in AAAA).

Some reply that, well, sure, but look who those teams are! Here are some of the teams MTS beat over the years: Ascension Academy (ranked #155 one year, according to one rating service [QRF]), Bethany Academy (#147 at their worst), ECHO Charter (#169), Four Directions Charter (#104), Great River (#126), Hmong Academy (#129), MN Academy for the Deaf (#152), Ogilvie (#124), PACT Charter (#114) and Spectrum Charter (#135).

To which, any reasonable person, would want to know, how about Ellsworth? How about Edgerton (#129), Lincoln HI (#142), Martin County West (#112), Minneota (#111), Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Odin (#131), Red Rock Central (#154), Round Lake-Brewster (#148), Russel-Tyler-Ruthton (#140), Southwest Star Concept (#118) and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (#102).

That's 10 opponents rated lower than #100 at some time over the 4 years for MTS (not necessarily so every time they played, of course) versus, you guess it, 11 for Ellsworth. If you average out the QRF ratings for every opponent from every years, Ellsworth's opponents average #80. MTS' average, er, ah, #80. If MTS didn't play anybody, then neither did Ellsworth.

Emblematic of the whole debate is the fact that critics sometimes jump on certain games where MTC has run up the score on fellow charter schools--a 156-33 win over ECHO Charter in the fall of 2007, for example. The parallel point here would be that Ellsworth played and beat ECHO about a year earlier 101-40. How does the fact that Ellsworth didn't beat this woefully weak opponent as badly as MTC make the Panthers' schedule any better?

On the other side of the coin, Ellsworth's toughest opponents of 2004-2008 would appear to be Mankato East (#1, #20 and #29AAA in 3 different years), Marshall (#16, #17 and #20AAA), Blue Earth (#18, #34 and #43AA), Fairmont (#20AA), Rochester Mayo (#14AAAA) and Southwest MN Christian (#17 and #25A). MTS' would appear to be Cedar Mountain-Comfrey (#20A), Columbia Heights (#9AAA), Crosby-Ironton (#6AA), Kittson County Central (#17A), Mpls. Henry (#16AAA), Mpls. Roosevelt (#20AA), Minnehaha Academy (#3 and #4AA), Minnetonka (#10AAAA), Park Christian (#4 and #9A), Rocori (#4AAA), Southwest Christian (#12, #14, #18 and #22A), Spring Grove (#18A), Staples-Motley (#9AA) and Warren-Oslo-Alvorado (#25A).

That's 19 top 25 ranked teams for MTC and 10 for Ellsworth. MTC has the edge in Class A, 10-2, and among larger schools, 9-8.

It's easy enough to anticipate, by the way, that somebody will jump on the fact that I've referenced 80 different MTC opponents (47 in Class A and 33 higher) and only 57 for Ellsworth (46 and 11). See, Noreen needed more games to get the record! No. I don't know how many games the 2 of them played before 9th grade, but from 9th grade on Schilling's team played 127 games while Noreen's, as of last night, had played 107. It's just that Ellsworth played a more consistent list of opponents, twice a year, home and home, year after year. Schedules are a lot more fluid among metro charter schools and metro schools generally, who very rapidly up- or down-grade their schedules depending on their own abilities.

So, as a guesstimate, Schilling scored 3, 428 points in 127+ games, or something a bit less than 27 ppg. For Noreen, it's 3,429 in 107+ games, and no more than 32 ppg, probably less. Oh. And on any given night, he was 3 times more likely to be facing a Class AA, AAA and AAAA opponent.

To some, this may not roll up into convincing evidence that MTC played tougher opponents than Ellsworth did. To them I recommend a refresher in Logic 101.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Let's Play Two! Hamline at Macalester

One of the great stories of this basketball season has to be the Macalester Lady Scots, who claimed a share of 1st place in the MIAC Saturday with a 74-48 rout of the Hamline Pipers.

The folks at Macalester are sick to death of hearing about the dire straits into which their program had fallen. Still, in order to truly appreciate this Lady Scots team, you have to know that in 2005 its predecessors were unable even to play out their schedule for want of enough healthy women to don the blue and orange. And this wasn't something that just happened overnight, either. By the time the 2004-2005 season was suspended, the Lady Scots were 16-72 for the 21st century.

Meanwhile, St. Thomas alumna--captain, in fact, of the Tommies 1991 national champions--and assistant coach Ellen Thompson had been passed over for the Tommies head coaching job. Instead of the best job in the conference, she ended up with arguably the worst, or at least the most challenging, at Macalester. The 2005-2006 season also was suspended, and play only resumed in 2006-2007.

Yet, here we are 5 years later. The Scots have improved every year under Thompson and now are 11-2 in the MIAC. The Tommies are 8-5. Hammering St. Thomas 60-41 on January 2 had to be one of the sweetest wins Thompson will ever know.

Four senior starters--post Ann Baltzer, guards Eartha Bell and Danielle Johnson, and forward Trina PaStarr--share with Thompson the credit for the Scots' remarkable about face. PaStarr has at times over the years carried her teammates. Last year she scored 15 ppg to climb into 9th place on the Lady Scots all-time scoring list, and was also the #12 all-time rebounder. She is now 6th in scoring and 5th on the boards. This year, however, Baltzer has really blossomed, and leads the Scots in scoring at 15 ppg with PaStarr 2nd at about 12.5. PaStarr leads in rebounding 115-111.

Today, PaStarr got into early foul trouble and the Scots didn't bat an eye, pounding the ball down into the post to Baltzer, who finished up with a game-high 24 points. PaStarr scored 8 points in 19 minutes, with most of both coming after the game had long since been decided.

Meanwhile, Bell and Johnson move the ball--and themselves and their teammates--around the court with alacrity, while also taking great care of the basketball. As a result, Macalester ripped Hamline's lackadaisical defense to shreds today while committing the ridiculously low total of 6 turnovers. As a group they spread the floor, they move with and without the ball, they create passing lanes in every direction. And, if that's the case, then why not throw it closer to the basket, especially when Baltzer and PaStarr have proven so adapt at taking up favorable positions in the paint.

The piece de resistance for the Scots, however, is the sophomore guard duo of Jessica and Shannon Rene from Eau Claire Memorial. The 5-7 twins do everything that Bell and Johnson do, plus they shoot the 3 like mad. After today, they account for 57 of Macalester's 85 3s, and both have been MIAC player of the week in January in recognition of their sharpshooting.

And, yet, despite all of the Scots' many skills, it never felt as though they were hammering Hamline as badly as, well, what turned out to be 74-48. The Pipers have but one senior on their roster, and she didn't play. Hamline's bigs, Jessica Englund, Tromesa May and Mary Wilkowski played quite well. Englund opened the game guarding PaStarr and arguably got the best of the match-up with 11 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks to PaStarr's 8, 3 and 1. Baltzer, of course, scored almost at will inside--well, except that Wilkowski blocked 3 of her shots, added 5 assists and 3 steals and out-rebounded Baltzer 7-6. May added 6 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks in just 17 minutes.

But the fact is the Piper guards were seriously over-matched, and another year of experience isn't going to get the job done. Hamline struggled to find any offensive rhythm, while the Scots were and are a well-oiled machine. Freshman guard Ayana Hicks is not starting for Hamline right now, but could be part of an upgrade starting next fall.

Macalester started fast, hitting on their first 4 shots. By the 16:16 mark, Baltzer had 7 of the Scots' 9 points plus 2 rebounds and a steal. And yet, the game was tied at 16 at about 11:00. The game was decided over those next 11:00, however, as Hamline hit just 4 of its next 17 shots and trailed 40-28 at the half. The Pipers then turned the ball over on their first 4 possessions of the second half and suddenly it was 49-28. Hamline scored its first field goal of the 2nd half at 11:14 with the score 56-31.

The Shoe Moves to the Other Foot

In the 2nd game of the doubleheader it was Hamline running out to a 45-28 half-time lead en route to an easy 84-57 victory. Like the Macalester women, the Pipers did it in part with long-range shooting, hitting 12-of-17 3s. Brandon Rieg shot a remarkable 5-for-5 from downtown, especially considering his year-to-date totals of 4-for-20. Dan Andersen almost matched Rieg with 4-for-4, and Ray Brown shot 2-for-2 on the 3ball.

This is the same Ray Brown who led Richfield to the state AAA final in 2005 and started his college career at Bradley. He's a Piper now and is 2nd in the MIAC in scoring at 17.2 ppg. Mr. Inside to Brown's Mr. Outside is Carl Hipp, who is 3rd in the conference at 16.9 ppg. The Pipers didn't need much from Hipp today and he responded with 5 points on 2-of-5 shooting. Seriously, Hipp is mobile, gets vertical, and has nice hands on the catch. He might not be much at geometry, however, as he had trouble early today finding the right angle off the glass and so the offense found other ways to score. Brown is a man among boys. His passes tend to reach their targets much faster than anybody else's. But he sometimes forgets himself and goes 1-on-2 or 1-on-3, and good things don't always happen.

But if you're looking for good things not always happening, Macalester remains the place to be in the men's division. The loss dropped the Scots men to 0-12. That could change soon, however, as Macalester has a lovely new arena in the Leonard Center and a new coach in Tim Whittle. All Whittle has done previously is help Washington University in St. Louis to 2 national titles and a 112-30 record over 5 seasons as the top assistant.

Watch for a bunch of freshman to play a lot of minutes for Macalester next year. Sounds a lot like the Lady Scots of 2007. Macalester fans hope so.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Al Nolen's Academic Troubles A Lot Like 50 Years Ago

It's hard to picture our college sports heroes in a classroom. Everything about the college game is so professional in its appearance, and the players are so tremendously skilled. But, it's true, they've got to go to class and they've got to get passing grades, thereby maintaining their eligibility. It's unfortunate that Gophers guard Al Nolen wasn't able to do that, but he is in excellent company. A good many college athletes have been tripped up by events in that other part of their lives.

Fifty years ago John Kundla became only the Gophers' 6th basketball coach. Like most coaches, he inherited a program with some room for improvement, as Minnesota had won 17 and lost 26 games under out-going coach Ozzie Cowles over the previous 2 seasons. Kundla's hopes for improvement, and those of Gopher fans, rested to a large degree on the shoulders of 6-8 forward Ray Cronk, already locally famous for leading Bemidji High School to the state tournament in 1956, 1957 and 1958. Minnesota improved from 5-9 and 9th place in the Big Ten in 1958-1959 to 8-6 and 3rd place in Kundla's first year, and even better things were forecast for 1960-1961.

Midway through the 1960-1961 season, his junior year, Cronk was declared academically ineligible, and the Gophers were able to win just 20 games while losing 27 this season and the next.

Beginning in 1961, Kundla began to supplement the Gophers' usual supply of Minnesota talent by bringing in some ringers from around the country--Lou Hudson, Archie Clark and Don Yates--and the 1963-1964 Gophers won 10 conference games, the most in a decade. Hopes were sky-high for 1964-1965.

But on December 15, 1964, it was announced that former Duluth Central star Terry Kunze, the Gophers' point guard, was suspended from the team for the 1965 calendar year due to academic problems. (He would, in fact, never return to the team.) Minnesota lost a pair of games to highly-rated Michigan and settled for 2nd place.

Still, expectations for 1965-1966 remained high until Yates was declared academically ineligible just before the first game. Then, All-American Hudson broke his wrist in the 4th game. The Gophers defeated arch-nemesis Michigan but slumped to a 7-7 record in the conference, good only for 5th place.

"The Kundla era," we wrote in Minnesota Hoops, will always be remembered for the entrance of the Gophers into the national recruiting market and for the team's successful integration. Arguably, it was Kundla's leadership that provided for foundation for the Gophers' Big Ten titles of 1972 and 1982. But his own squads never quite put it together. Hudson's injury was a factor....(but) the academic problems of Cronk, Kunze and Yates were perhaps more critical in keeping the Gophers from delivering on their considerable potential."

The Minnesota Historical Society Press asked Kundla to read our manuscript, which he very generously did. The back cover features Kundla's comment that the book presents "some interesting behind-the-scenes stories--all with no punches pulled." I always thought he was talking about our analysis of the impact of those academic problems on his and the U's record.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lindsay Whalen Finally Coming Home to the Lynx

You have undoubtedly heard by now that the Minnesota Lynx today acquired the services of point guard Lindsay Whalen. What they gave up and what else they got could hardly matter less. What matters is that they finally got "the only individual player who would ever matter" to the success of the Lynx here in Minnesota, as I wrote back in 2004.

But the fact is they gave Whalen's old team, the Connecticut Sun, the No. 1 overall pick in the impending 2010 WNBA draft and back-up point guard Renee Montgomery, and got Whalen and the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft. The word out of Hartford is that the Sun will pick UConn post Tina Charles with the No. 1 pick while, as some of you already know, Montgomery too is a UConn grad.

All of this seems to confirm what I wrote in 2006--that the WNBA's basic strategy for success was flawed and foolhardy. The WNBA is not the NBA, and the ticket-buying public remains skeptical in most places of women's professional basketball. In such an environment, it is a possibly fatal error to pass up the opportunity to present fans with players who already have a local following. The Lynx are finally following my directions, and the Sun, too. Whether it's too late for the Lynx to capitalize on Whalen's popularity, well, time will tell.

Continuing below is a short essay I wrote for Minnesota Hoops about the Lynx. As you read it, you'll understand why my co-author, Stew Thornley, was appalled by what I had written and vetoed its inclusion in the book. I mean, it's hardly a proper history. So Stew wrote a proper history and it's a fine history of the Lynx up to the time it was written.

But I was right.

And Now, the Unofficial but True Story of Our WNBA Franchise
Once upon a time, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was young and weak and fragile, insecure in its fan appeal and its prospects for the future. But the league was sure that it could be no stronger than its individual franchises. So the league tried something called the territorial draft, in which the league’s franchises got first dibs on one player each year who hailed from within their market area. It was thanks to this rule that the Minneapolis Lakers were able to load up on players like Vern Mikkelson, Whitey Skoog and Dick Garmaker.

Of course, if you’ve got George Mikan, you can win with anybody. If you don’t, you can lose with anybody. Either way, “anybody” might just as well be a player with a local following. Or so the league reasoned.

How much the territorial draft helped the NBA eventually to prosper is in the eye of the beholder.

Today the Women’s NBA (WNBA) is young and weak and fragile, insecure in its fan appeal and its prospects for the future. But the league has a different idea than the NBA had—its idea is that a strong league makes strong franchises, rather than that strong franchises make a strong league. At one time the league held all of the player contracts, and allocated individual players to the teams “for the good of the league.”

But there is no territorial draft. That, apparently would benefit the mere franchises rather than the league as a whole.

Minnesota’s WNBA franchise, the Minnesota Lynx, arrived on the scene in the league’s third season of 1999.

The franchise history reads as follows: The local WNBA team has survived for six years despite posting a winning record and making the playoffs just twice. Their best record is 18-16 in 2003 and 2004, and their overall winning percentage is .443. And since the novelty of the first year of 1999, the Lynx have never drawn more than about 7,000 fans and change per game, nor ranked above 11th in the league in attendance. If they can survive all of this, then perhaps their future is assured after all.

If, on the other hand, the Lynx ever slink out of town, fans will look back on April 17, 2004, as the day the die was cast. That was the day that the league’s strategy—of putting the good of the league ahead of the goal of strong franchises—was put to the test. That was the day that the only individual player who would ever matter to the Lynx, Gopher superstar Lindsay Whalen, was available in the WNBA draft. The Lynx, sitting on the fifth draft choice, knew that that was not good enough to get Whalen and neither they nor the league could think of a way to make it happen.

And so that was also the day that the Connecticut Sun became Minnesota’s favorite WNBA franchise. Just consider, the largest crowd the Lynx have ever drawn was 14,171 for a game against Orlando on August 20, 1999, as the team fought for a playoff berth in its first year of existence. Since the novelty of that first season wore off, the largest crowd the Lynx have ever drawn was 13, 560 on September 3, 2004, as they again scrambled for a spot in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Sun, with Whalen at point guard, drew 16,227 to the Target Center for a “meaningless,” early-season game on July 14, 2004. Of course, the truth is that whenever Whalen straps on her Nikes, it is the most meaningful of games. And Minnesotans are also sure that had Whalen become a Lynx, it would have been our Minnesota team in the WNBA finals instead of Whalen and the Sun, regardless of what it took to get her into the green and gray.

The Lynx, of course, protested that they would have to give up too much to move up in that fateful draft. Seriously, what would the Lynx’ attendance be these days with Whalen and a .333 winning percentage, versus the reality of no Lindsay and the .471 they have actually posted since she got away? The fact is the Lynx do not even publish their 2005 attendance on their Web site, but if you dig deep you can find out that it dropped by 10 percent over 2004 to an all-time low of 6,670 per game, 12th in the league.

Perhaps a strong league can float all of the boats. Or maybe the NBA had it right, all those years ago. Maybe a league is no better than its franchises. If that’s the case, the WNBA will someday rue the day it made it so very clear to potential (but not quite) fans of its Minnesota franchise that their interests are subservient to a larger purpose.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Gopher Women Continue to Tease/Around the Big Ten

Way back in November, the Gopher women were picked to finish 3rd in the Big Ten, and early on they even received a few votes in the national polls. But 4 non-conference losses featuring some really horrendous shooting--32 percent at Utah, 29 percent against North Dakota State, 33 percent in a really bad home loss to Iowa State--served to lower expectations.

So, now that the Gophers are 4-2 in the Big Ten and have a share of 2nd place, well, what is a person to hope for, really? A realist would point out that Minnesota is 4-0 at home in the Big Ten and 0-2 on the road, and that that would seem to be indicative of something more along the lines of a 9-9 record, not the 12-6 you get if you simply extrapolate from 4-2. But I'm told that a realist is only a pessimist in disguise, that the Gophers are doin' fine, and the road wins will come.

Okay. Fine. I magnanimously agree to wait and see on that one. That's big of me (don't you think?) because I'm only going to have to wait 3 days to see about that, anyway. If road wins are going to come, surely they're going to come this Sunday at Northwestern, whom the Gophers have already beaten 73-65 at the Barn. But that, of course, was a big "tease." Minnesota dominated the Wildcats 43-24 in the 2nd half, which is great. But that means that they sleep-walked through the 1st half, trailing 40-31 at intermission and an alarming 37-21 at 5:51 of the 1st half.

So, will the real Gophers please stand up?

Clearly, the Gophers are capable of losing at Northwestern, which is not nearly the doormat they've been in recent years. Sure, they're 2-4 in the conference, but 11-6 overall with wins over then-#15 DePaul and at Kansas State, now 2-0 in the Big 12. Still, if road wins are going to come, they probably had better come now. Because the schedule isn't going to be getting any easier.

Whether Big Ten schedule-makers have done well by the Gophers is in the eye of the beholder. Four of the first 6, and 7 of the first 11 conference games are at the friendly confines. Well, that's great if the Gophers sweep at home and steal one on the road, or if a 4-2 (and maybe a 7-4) record builds the team's confidence for a successful stretch drive. On the other hand, we may be cursing the Gophers' draw when they play 5 of their final 7 on the road.

Still, the schedule is not the chief obstacle to success, nor even those opposing teams that want to win as badly as the Gophers do. The chief obstacle to success for the Gophers remains, er, the Gophers themselves.

• Kiara Buford has been stellar in Gopher victories (19 ppg in the conference) and invisible in their defeats (4 ppg).

• Ashley Ellis-Milan is a plugger whose successes (17 pts last night) give Everyman hope. But, midway through her senior year, she still has difficulty passing the ball out of the low post double-team. Prior to last night her Big Ten numbers featured barely more than 2 points (39 total) for every turnover (a team-high 17).

But enough realism. If there's something to celebrate--and, of course, at 4-2 and 11-6, there is--it's the play of guards China Antoine and Brittney McCoy.

• China Antoine joined the Gophers this year as an unknown, 5-foot-3 junior college transfer. Expectations were not high. But, despite Buford's occasional heroics, Antoine has become the Gophers MVP. First, she inveigled her way into the starting lineup. Now, she has gradually replaced McCoy as the 1, the primary ball-handler, thus upgrading the Gophers' ability to protect the ball and get into their offense. But more than that, she is an unholy terror with her on-ball defense. And, she has raised her scoring average from 7 ppg to 14 as a starter while becoming the Gophers' best 3-point shooter. In fact, her percentage from beyond the arc (45 percent) is vastly better than her percentage on 2s (31 percent). If there's a problem with her play, it's those forays into the paint resulting in shots that have little chance of going through the hoop.

• Brittney McCoy, meanwhile, is thriving with Antoine as her running mate because the wing suits her skills better than the point anyway. Her on-ball defense remains solid, but on the wing she can also use her long reach to challenge the passing lanes and get some steals and deflections. The two of them represent a formidable defensive presence against almost any opponent. Shooting the ball continues to be a problem, however, though it's true that her 2-for-2 3s against Northwestern, and 5-for-9 field goals against Iowa were key to those 2 victories. But whether her 9-for-19 shooting over the past 3 games represents real progress remains to be seen.

As well as McCoy has been playing, there is rejoicing that the Gophers won last night without a significant contribution from her. She got into foul trouble and played "only" 29 minutes. Despite her shooting woes, McCoy has been so indispensable that 29 minutes of her time was usually a recipe for disaster.

So, having shown that they can win without a premium contribution from McCoy, the Gophers now need to show that they can win without the same from Buford. Even more importantly, they need to show that they can win on the road in the Big Ten. Despite the recent improvement in their guard play and their current residence in 2nd place in the conference, until they do that, I'm afraid their success must continue to be classified as a "tease."

It's Always Something

Even with the blowout of Purdue, the natives remain restless as Pam Borton's bench keeps getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Katie Ohm and Zoe Harper played 30 minutes, and Leah Cotton, Katie Loberg and Brianna Mastey played 8. It's hard to argue that the game wasn't over when the lead reached 20 at 59-39 at about 7:00 or, if not then, then how about 66-42 at 3:58. And yet, Mastey only checked into the game at about the 1:00 with the Gophers ahead 72-47. That should be a confidence builder.

Around the Big Ten

But for a Penn State comeback at Iowa, the Gophers would have sole possession of 2nd place in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes led the Lady Lions 29-24 at the half, 49-40 at 9:36, and 52-51 at the 5:00 mark. But Penn State closed out the game on a 28-13 run, scoring on 12 of their final 15 possessions. Down 49-40, the Lions scored on 4 straight possessions as guard Alex Bentley hit a 3, got a steal and a breakaway 2, then assisted on a pair of 3s by Tyra Grant. The loss kept the Hawkeyes reeling at 1-5 and in last place in the conference. The Lady Lions are 4-2.

The Wisconsin Badgers shocked Michigan State 48-45, roaring back from a 35-23 deficit at 15:28 at East Lansing. This ought to finally knock the heretofore Teflon Spartans out of the national rankings. They went into the game #20 and 23 in the 2 major polls despite a 2-3 start in the conference. Now they're 2-4, thanks to the Badgers' 25-10 run to close out the game. Reserve Taylor Wurtz scored 16 points, including the game-winning lay-up at 0:52, to give Wisconsin sole possession of 4th place in the Big Ten at 4-3.

Indiana and Michigan also battled inside of 1:00 before the host Hoosiers got the game-winner from Jori Davis at 0:41. Indiana led 39-34 at the half and 52-43 at 11:33. The Wolverines took the lead at 55-54 and again at 60-59 but never led by more than 1 point, and in the end succumbed mostly to Hope Elam's 24 points and 10 boards.

Ohio State beat Illinois 72-61 to remain unbeaten in the conference at 6-0.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Big Game February 2011

The Big Game

Tuesday, 2/1--Hopkins girls at Eden Prairie; Eden Prairie boys at Hopkins

Wednesday, 2/2--Gopher men at Indiana

Thursday, 2/3--Gopher women at Indiana

Friday, 2/4--St. Cloud State at Winona State, women's and men's doubleheader

Saturday, 2/5--St. Cloud Apollo boys at Bemidji

Sunday, 2/6--Ohio State at Gopher men

Monday, 2/7--Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Hornets

Tuesday, 2/8--Apple Valley boys at Lakeville South

Wednesday, 2/9--Carleton and St. Thomas, home-and-home; St. Thomas men at Carleton; Carleton women at St. Thomas

Thursday, 2/10--Illinois at Gopher men

Friday, 2/11--Braham girls at Minnetonka

Saturday, 2/12--St. Thomas men at Gustavus

Sunday, 2/13--Ohio State at Gopher women

Monday, 2/14--St. Ben's women at Concordia (Moorhead)

Tuesday, 2/15--Benilde-St. Margaret's boys at Columbia Heights

Wednesday, 2/16--L.A. Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves

Thursday, 2/17--Purdue at Gopher women

Friday, 2/18--Eden Prairie girls at Hopkins

Saturday, 2/19--St. Ben's women at St. Thomas

Sunday, 2/20--

Monday, 2/21--

Tuesday, 2/22--Michigan State at Gopher men

Wednesday, 2/23--MIAC women's play-off semi-finals (finals on Friday)

Thursday, 2/24--Plainview-EM boys at Caledonia

Friday, 2/25--Minnesota-Duluth at Winona State, women's and men's doubleheader

Saturday, 2/26--MIAC men's play-off championship game

Sunday, 2/27--Gopher women at Michigan

Monday, 2/28--

Sunday, January 3, 2010


All-Stars so far in the 2009-2010 season.

Players I've Seen

Estan Tyler, St. Paul Johnson boys
Megan Waytashek, Centennial girls
China Antoine, Minnesota Gopher women
Kiara Buford, Minnesota Gopher women
Haley Thomforde, Eastview girls

Players I Have Heard About

Rachel Banham, Lakeville North girls
Trina PaStarr, Macalester women
Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
Damian Johnson, Minnesota Gopher men
Kevin Noreen, Minnesota Transitions boys

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lose and You're Just a Cold Omaha

Minnesotans are raised with a healthy disrespect for Iowa, and why not? Some people like to say that, but for certain cultural amenities like professional sports and the Guthrie and so on, that Minneapolis and St. Paul would be a cold Omaha. Nobody ever says a cold Des Moines, because that's just unthinkable. I mean, Des Moines is already a cold Omaha.

And, then, there's the fact that some of the University of Minnesota's signature victories have come against Iowa's Hawkeyes. The signature football win of my lifetime was not the win over Michigan in 1977 or the Wolverines again in 1985. What did those get us? Berths in the Hall of Fame and Independence Bowls, that what. But a 1960 shellacking of the #1 rated Hawkeyes, 27-10, got us into the Rose Bowl. And then there was the 1983 basketball win--in Iowa City and in triple overtime, no less--that won the Gophers their only untainted Big Ten title since 1937.

So all of this would seem to have created in Gopher sports team a general disinclination to get up for games against the Hawkeyes, and this weekend's basketball games--both men's and women's--could provide a case in point. I hope not.

But, seriously, the Gopher men don't have to beat Iowa in Iowa City today for Gopher fans to know that our team is better. If coach Tubby Smith's charges share your over-confidence, and mine, however, they're pretty clearly headed for a fall.

Meanwhile, the Gopher women haven't shown themselves to be better than anybody in the Big Ten yet. Sure, they beat perennial doormat Penn State, but that was here in the friendly confines of the Barn. And they've had such a terrible time, lately, putting the ball through the hoop that nothing can be taken for granted.

Still, one worries whether the Minnesotans will be properly motivated for the contest. Iowa comes into the Barn on Sunday tied for last place in the Big Ten at 1-2, and with the second-worst overall record at 8-6. (Purdue, to whom the Gophers lost last week, has the worst record at 7-6, but the 8-5 Gophers could take over their position with a loss to the Hawkeyes.) Meanwhile, there are no such worries for Iowa's motivation. In addition to all else, two of the Hawkeyes' best players, Kachine Alexander and Kamille Wahlin, are from here and, oh, yes, didn't get recruited by the hometown university. Of course, Alexander missed the better part of her senior season with a knee injury, while Wahlin got torched by Brittany Chambers for 47 points in the state tournament. Still, all three--Alexander, a junior; Wahlin, a sophomore; and Chambers, a freshman--are averaging in double figures, Chambers at Kansas State, while among the guards whom Gopher coach Pam Borton has recruited, one is doing so.

But enough of that. The Gophers must face the Hawkeyes with the players they have, as certain folks are always reminding me, and the Hawkeyes will face the Gophers with the same--which means, with only 8 women dressing and active. Three key players, including two more Minnesotans, Hannah Draxten and Theairra Taylor, are out for the year with injuries. And, so, as these 2 teams with their talent shortages go at it--and with last place in the Big Ten at stake--the team that comes out with the greater energy and sense of purpose is likely to prevail.

Let's hope that for once it is our Gophers. Otherwise, our natural-born sense of superiority might be a little hard to wear for awhile.

Gopher Women 72 Iowa Hawkeyes 69 (OT)

The Gophers and Hawkeyes exhibited more passion than skill on Sunday afternoon, as the Minnesota women moved to 2-1 in the Big Ten with a 72-69 overtime win. Iowa led 49-41 at 17:38 of the second half, but then scored on only 9 of their last 40 possessions in regulation and overtime, with 12 turnovers including 3 shot clock violations. The Gopher defense had been absolutely torched the second 10:00 of the first half, but frustrated the Hawkeyes down the stretch. I submitted my full report on this game to my friend Kevin J. Anderson's Web site. Click on Kevin Anderson's Blog to the right of this page.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Minnesota Gopher Men 86 Iowa Hawkeyes 74

Well, my fears that the Gopher men might not take Iowa seriously were realized when the Hawkeyes closed out their Saturday matinee on a 25-11 run over the final 8:26.

Okay, seriously? By then, Minnesota was ahead 74-49 and had thoroughly dominated their arch-rival to the south. The Gophers came out pretty fired up, running out to 17-4, 23-7 and 45-20 leads in the first half. After Iowa got within 14 early in the second half, the Gophers ripped off a 20-8 run for that 74-49 lead. It was still 84-62 at 2:21 but then the Gophers finally relaxed. The Hawkeyes' closing surge only made what was a demolition job look to the casual observer like it might have been a close, competitive match-up. It wasn't.

The Gophers initial rush to a 23-7 lead at 12:02 of the first half reflected the efforts of both of coach Tubby Smith's two platooons. The first unit built a 17-4 lead. The Gophers first 5 field goals all came after steals by Damian Johnson, Blake Hoffarber, Michael Westbrook, Al Nolen and Nolen again. By the 15:32 mark, Hoffarber had already made 4-of-4 shots, 3 from 3-point land, for 11 quick points. Then, over the ensuing 2 minutes, the second 5 racked up another 6 steals and Paul Carter added a pair of assists to extend the Gophers' lead to 16 points.

Ten minutes later it was 45-20 Gophers, when the Hawkeyes began their first comeback. By half-time it was 49-32, and at 15:53 of the second half it was 54-41, the closest score since 17-4. But the Gophers responded with their second big run of the day. Hoffarber and Johnson combined for 13 of Minnesota's next 20 points while all 7 Gopher field goals were assisted, two by Devoe Joseph.

Hoffarber finished with 24 points, while Johnson scored 13 and added a team-high 4 blocks and 3 steals. Al Nolen had 4 points and 5 assists. Joseph came off the bench to score 12 points and match Nolen's assist total, and Devron Bostick of the second unit stood out with 8 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.

By game's end, the Hawkeyes had evened up the stat sheet a bit. Minnesota shot 50 percent from the field, Iowa 45, and each team had 12 offensive rebounds. But Iowa couldn't do anything to equalize the Gophers quickness. The Minnesota defense forced 25 turnovers, 17 of them on Gopher steals. Minnesota capitalized for a mind-bending 45 points off turnovers (to Iowa's 16). The Gophers also enjoyed a huge lead in fast break points 24-2.

Just imagine what the Gophers might have done if they had taken the Hawkeyes seriously!

NBA All-Stars As of January 1

Just for fun, I track the performance of individual NBA players strictly on the basis of the numbers in the official box scores. I mean, it's easy enough to track the teams just by looking at the standings. But if you want to forecast what's going to happen between now and May, it helps to know how well or poorly key individuals are playing, not to mention who those key individuals are.

So I score every player in every NBA game. I simply add together their positive contributions (Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) minus their negative accomplishments (Fouls + Turnovers + Blocked Shots Against). But there's a catch. Only the game-high total for each team, plus any game score of 30 or more, counts. So in each NBA game there are at least 2 players who qualify, but you could and sometimes do have as many as 4 or 5. Here are the leaders as of January 1.

Point Guards (1s)

1. Steve Nash, Phoenix 572
2. Chris Paul, New Orleans 571
3. Gilbert Arenas, Washington 558
4. Deron Williams, Utah 499
5. Tyreque Evans, Sacramento 471
6-10. Brandon Jennings, Aaron Brooks, Derrick Rose, Baron Davis, Rajon Rondo

Shooting Guards (2s)

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers 898
2. Dwayne Wade, Miami 871
3. Monta Ellis, Golden State 614
4. Ike Iguodola, Philadelphia 538
5. Joe Johnson, Atlanta 527
6. Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Vince Carter, Trevor Ariza, Kevin Martin

Small Forwards (3s)

1. LeBron James, Cleveland 1,210
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City 860
3. Carmelo Anthony, Denver 813
4. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte 562
5. Luol Deng, Chicago 450
6-10. Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Paul Pierce, Richard Jefferson, Caron Butler

Power Forwards (4s)

1. Chris Bosh, Toronto 977
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas 767
3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio 736
4. Zack Randolph, Memphis 534
5. Carlos Boozer, Utah 523
6-10. Amare Stoudamire, LeMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Antoine Jamison, Marcus Camby

Centers (5s)

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando 661
2. Brooke Lopez, New Jersey 614
3. Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers 547
4. David Lee, New York 516
5. Al Jefferson, Minnesota 418
6-10. Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Al Horford, Joachim Noah

Among the top teams:

1. LA Lakers--Kobe Bryant 1, Andrew Bynum 8, Pau Gasol 8. What's unusual in the Lakers case is that Bynum excelled early while Gasol was injured, and hasn't done squat since Gasol came back. So, apparently, they only need one or the other, but not both, to win. Is Kobe really that good? It sure looks like it.

2. Boston Celtics--Paul Pierce 8, Rajon Rondo 10. And Pierce has been hurt. But, where is Kevin Garnett? Sliding toward retirement? How do the Celtics win without Pierce and without the real KG?

3. Cleveland Cavaliers--LeBron James 1. I guess LeBron is that good.

4. Orlando Magic--Dwight Howard 1, Vince Carter 8. Who knew Carter still had it in him.

5. Dallas Mavericks--Dirk Nowitzki 2. Jason Kidd not even top 10 anymore. I guess Nowitzki is that good.

6. Atlanta Hawks--Joe Johnson 5, Jamal Crawford 6, Al Horford 9. The Hawks' off-guard is the only position in the NBA where the starter and back-up are both top 10.

7. Denver--Carmelo Anthony 3. Chauncey Billups hasn't been a big factor this year.

8. Phoenix--Steve Nash 1, Amare Stoudamire 6. And still only #8 as a team. Still not tough enough for the West?

9. San Antonio--Tim Duncan 3, Richard Jefferson 9. What happened to Tony Parker?

10. Portland--Brandon Roy 7, LaMarcus Aldridge 7.

One of the surprises is the point guards who do not appear on this list--Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker, to name two. There's something of a changing of the guard going on there with Evens, Jennings, Rose and Rondo making the top 10. The up-and-coming-stars would be Brooke Lopez, Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and the young point guards.