Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Big Game October-November 2010

October-November All-Stars

Kevin Love, Timberwolves, Player of the Month
Rachel Banham, Lakeville North girls
Michael Beasley, Timberwolves
Blake Hoffarber, Gopher men
Trevor Mbakwe, Gopher men


Aubrey Davis, Eden Prairie girls
China Antoine, Gopher women
Kiara Buford, Gopher women
Leah Cotton, Gopher women
Anthony Tucker, Winona State men


Angie Jetvig, Moorhead State women
Ralph Sampson, Gopher men
Katie Loberg, Gopher women
Alyssa Smith, MN West women
Andy Burns, St. John's men

Coach of the Month

1. Tubby Smith, Gopher men, Coach of the Month
2. Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins girls
3. Mike Leaf, Winona State men
4. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas men
5. Mike Fury, Minnesota West (JC) women
6. Mike Durbin, St. Ben's women
7. Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North girls
8. Chris Carr, Eden Prairie girls
9. Rich Glas, Concordia (Moorhead) men
10. Pam Borton, Gopher women

Team of the Month

1. Hopkins girls 2-0
2. Lakeville North girls 2-0
3. Gopher men 8-1 including exhibitions
4. Eden Prairie girls 1-0
5. Winona State men 6-1 including exhibitions
6. St. Thomas men 5-0
7. Minnesota West (JC) women 5-2
8 (tie). Mankato State men (5-1 including exhibitions) and women (3-1)
9 (tie). St. Olaf men (4-0) and women (3-1)
10. Gopher women 6-3 including exhibitions

Game of the Month

1. Minnesota Gopher men 72 North Carolina 67
2. Minnesota Gopher men 74 West Virginia 70
3. Wisconsin-Stevens Point women 72 St. Thomas 67 in 1st game at Anderson Athletic Center
4. Minnesota Timberwolves 112 New York Knicks 103 as Love goes 31/31
5. Minnesota Gopher men 93 Western Kentucky 77
6. Hopkins girls 72 White Bear Lake 40
7. Lakeville North girls 68 Osseo 47
8. Minnesota Gopher men 78 Winona State 72
9. Minnesota Timberwolves 98 Sacramento Kings 89
10. Eden Prairie girls 77 Prior Lake 58

History in the Making

1. Kevin Love's 31/31 game against NY Knicks
2. Gopher men knock off North Carolina and West Virginia, attain #15 ranking (best since 1982)
3. Minnesota Lynx win #1 pick in 2011 draft (Mya Moore sweepstakes)
4. 1st intercollegiate basketball at St. Thomas' Anderson Athletic and Rec Center
5. Mike Beasley's 42 pt game (followed by 35)

The Big Game, and Player and Coach of the Day

11/30--Eden Prairie girls 77 Prior Lake 58. The Eagles were in mid-season form, and new coach Chris Carr has transfer Aubrey Davis and the returning members of the team all on the same page, if that was a concern. Player of the Day: Aubrey Davis, Eden Prairie, hit 3 3s in the 1st 9 minutes, and 13 1st half points to lead the Eagles. Her final totals were 15 points, 3 steals, 2 boards, 2 assists and a block. Coach of the Day: Chris Carr, Eden Prairie girls. I wrote a full report of this game for my buddy Kevin Anderson, you can read it at kjasr.com.

11/29--Virginia men 87 Minnesota Gophers 79. On Monday morning, you're 6-0 and #15 in the nation, your highest rating in 28 years. On Monday evening, you're just fodder for the ACC in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and for a 3-3 ACC squad at that. The Cavaliers hit 10-of-13 3's and burned the Gopher defense for 58 2nd half points. Minnesota led 22-9 early, but Virginia out-scored the Gophers 26-6 over a 10 minute period of the 2nd half to lead 68-54. The closest the Gophers got after that was at 73-67. Player of the Day: Anthony Tucker, Winona State men, is a prime candidate for NSIC player of the year. Tonight he showed why with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in just 18 minutes as the Warriors hammered Clarke College 111-66. Coach of the Day: Kevin Schlagel and St. Cloud State also won easily, 88-54 over St. Scholastica for the Huskies' 1st win of the season.

Moorhead State men 68
Gustavus Adolphus 57. The D2 Dragons lost at D3 Concordia (Moorhead) earlier in the week, and they weren't going to let it happen again, not at home. So Moorhead pulled away from a 53-55 deficit at 9:55, outscoring Gustavus 15-2 the rest of the way. That's right, 2 points in 9:55. Andy Burns, St. John's 35 pts, 4 reb, 8 asts, 0 turnovers in 90-97 win at the University of Chicago. Chad Walthall, Moorhead State men, now 3-1 in his 1st year at the helm.

11/27--Lakeville North girls and Rachel Banham 68 Banham's future U of M teammate Mikayla Bailey and Osseo 47 at Pat Paterson Memorial, Hamline University. Yesterday no less than 15 girls scored for Lakeville North, led by sophomore F Simone Kolander with 14. She's Chad Kolander's daughter and the Panthers' next superstar. Player of the Day: But for now, Banham is the star, and today she out-scored her future teammate a decisive 27-4 to lead her team to the win. Coach of the Day: Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North girls.

11/26--Hopkins girls 72 White Bear Lake 40. 13 different girls scored for the Royals as they dismantled the defending state runners-up. And, yes, Alexis Foley played for the Bears, apparently not hurt as rumors had it. Player of the Day: Jenna Dockter, Eastview girls 21 pts in 60-41 shellacking of Centennial. Coach of the Day: Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins girls.

11/24--Gopher men 84
North Dakota State 65. Gophers closed the 1st half on a 20-3 run to get to 42-26, then led by as much as 22 at 8 81-59.
Blake Hoffarber did it again for the Gopher men with 24 points and 4 assists, and Kevin Love did it again for the Timberwolves with 32 points and 22 rebounds. The Wolves, for the record, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, never trailing until inside of 1 minute...in OT! Tubby Smith, Gopher men.

11/23--Concordia (Moorhead) men 83
Moorhead State 78. The Cobbers came back from 10 points down with a 24-9 run over the final 6:31. Angie Jetvig and the Moorhead State women fared better, beating Mayville State 98-72 as Jetvig got career highs in points (25) and rebounds (16). Rich Glas, Concordia (Moorhead) men

11/22--Oklahoma City Thunder 117
Minnesota Timberwolves 107. It was a game of runs, and Oklahoma City got the last one. The Wolves roared back from a 77-59 deficit in the 3rd, to a 101-95 lead in the 4th, but couldn't make it stand up. The Thunder closed on a 22-6 run as the Wolves missed 10-of-their-last-13 shots with 3 turnovers. Kevin Love, Wolves 24 pts, 17 boards. Dan Kosmoski, St. Olaf men, moved to 3-0 with an 82-38 thrashing of Martin Luther.

11/21--Gopher men 74 West Virginia 70 for the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. There were 9 lead changes and 10 ties. Blake Hoffarber hit a game-winning 3, putting the Gophers ahead 73-70 at 1:31. Trevor Mbakwe, Gopher men 16 pts, 7 reb today, 46 pts, 26 reb in the 3 tournament games, named tournament MVP. Tubby Smith, Gopher men.

Gopher women 76
UW Milwaukee 53. The Gophers dominated, running out to a 37-20 half-time lead. They shot 52 percent from the field, and assisted on 25 of 30 FG. The amazing 5-foot-3 China Antoine, Gopher women, finished with 17 points, 11 assists, 6 boards, a block and a steal. After hitting 6-of-7 3's the other day, today she made 5-of-6. Mike Durbin, St. Ben's women, won 2 games down at Emory U. in Atlanta to go 3-0 for the 1st time since 2004.

11/19--Gopher men 72 North Carolina 67. The Tar Heels' last lead was at 23-22 late in the 1st half. The last 3 times the Tar Heels tied it up (at 24-24, 27-27 and 41-41), Blake Hoffarber hit a 3 every time. And when Carolina got within 3 (at 62-59), Hoffarber hit a pair of FT and Minnesota built its biggest lead of the night at 10 points at 69-59. Blake Hoffarber, Gopher men 20 pts. Tubby Smith, Gopher men.

11/18--Minnesota Gopher men 93 Western Kentucky 77. Forget about Tubby's platoon-ball. 5 starters played an average of 34 minutes and all 5 scored in double figures. 5 guys came off the bench for an average of 6 minutes and just scored in double figures (10 points) collectively. The Gophers shot 62.5 percent to the Hilltoppers' 37.5 percent, and a good thing, too, as Western got 8 more offensive boards, 4 fewer turnovers and 16 more shots.
Ralph Sampson, Gopher men. 22 pts, 8 reb, 7 blks. Kerri Stockwell, Hamline women. Lost at #6 Wisconsin-Stevens Point 88-69 in her 2nd game as Pipers coach.

11/17--Gopher women 73 Pittsburgh 63. The Gophers played with an aggressive, confident and spirited style that Pam Borton's teams haven't shown in several years. China Antoine, Gopher women 18 pts, 5 asts, 3 reb, 2 stls, 0 turnovers. Pam Borton, Gopher women. I shipped my full report over to my buddy Kevin Anderson's Web site. You can read it at http://www.kjasr.com/ or click on Kevin Anderson's Blog over on the right hand side of this page.

11/16--St. Thomas men 76 Concordia-St. Paul 72. The Tommies continued their recent tradition of an early season win at a D2 opponent. This time they led most of the way, by as many as 11, but hung on at the end. Shooting 53 percent overall, 50 percent from behind the arc and 85 percent from the charity stripe didn't hurt. Anders Halvorsen, St. Thomas 14 pts, 7 boards. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas.

11/15--Wisconsin-Stevens Point women 72 St. Thomas 67. The Tommies led most of the way, but the #6 Pointers finished the game on an 11-3 run. FT (11-of-23) and turnovers (20) hurt the Tommies, and Point scored off 2 turnovers to take their 1st lead of the 2nd half at 67-64. The Tommies then missed 5-of-6 FT down the stretch. This was the 1st intercollegiate ballgame ever at the Tommies' sparkling new $52 million Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center. Blake Hoffarber did it all (16 pts, 6 board, 7 assists, 3 stls) as the Gopher men averted an upset at the hands of Siena 76-69. Annette Wiles, Minnesota-Duluth women.

11/14--Wisconsin-Green Bay women 79 Minnesota Gophers 75. Katie Loberg went down with a knee injury and it looked serious. She did not play vs. Pitt but she's now said to be day-to-day. The Gophers trailed by 16 with 8:42 to go, and stormed back to make a game of it as Kiara Buford and Leah Cotton combined for 45 points. Kevin Love, Timberwolves 22 pts, 17 reb. Brad Bigler, Southwest Minnesota State men.

11/13--Gopher women 79 Northern Illinois 58. Pam Borton's Gophers steadlily pulled away from the Huskies, leading by as many as 12 in the first half and 42-30 at the half. Then, pulling out to 2nd half leads of 14, 15, 16, 18, 20 and, finally, 21 points, the largest lead coming as the final score. Kiara Buford, Gopher women 22 pts, 4 stls. Pam Borton, Gopher women.

11/12--Gopher men hang on to beat Wofford 69-55, while Timberwolves come roaring back from a 75-55 3rd quarter deficit to beat the New York Knicks 112-103 as Michael Beasley and Kevin Love combined for 66 points (Beasley 77 points in 2 nights). Kevin Love, Wolves 31 pts, 31 reb, the 1st 30-30 game in the NBA since Moses Malone in 1982. Kurt Rambis, Timberwolves.

11/10--Timberwolves 98 Sacramento Kings 89. The Wolves were overdue, breaking a 17 game road losing streak going back to last year. The Wolves out-scored the Kings 34-21 the rest of the way after trailing 68-64 with 5:07 remaining in the 3rd. Michael Beasley, Timberwolves, 17 1st quarter points as the Wolves jumped out to 10-2 and 22-17 leads, then 9, 8 and 7 pts in the ensuing 3 quarters for a career-high total of 42 pts. Kurt Rambis, Timberwolves.

11/9--LA Lakers 99 Timberwolves 94. If T-Wolves and Kevin Love played the rest of their schedule this tough, they'd have a couple more wins. Telfair replaced the injured Ridnour in the starting lineup and added 13 points and 9 assists. Still, the Wolves fall to 1-7. Kevin Love, Timberwolves 23 pts, 24 reb. Kurt Rambis, Timberwolves

11/8--Gopher men 78 Winona State 72. It was pretty ugly, the Warriors out-scoring the Gophers 28-15 down the stretch to make a game of it. Anthony Tucker, Winona State 24 pts, 5 assists, 3 steals. Mike Leaf, Winona State men.

11/7--Gopher women 90 Minnesota-Crookston 58. Jineen Williams, Concordia-St. Paul, 23 pts in 101-59 loss at Iowa. Mike Roysland, Minnesota-Crookston women.

11/6--Bemidji State men 87 Wisconsin-Superior 72. Anthony Brant, Mankato State 14 pts, 8 assists. Matt Bowen, Bemidji State men.

11/5--Minnesota West (Junior College) women 70 Madison Tech 68. Lady Jays shock defending national JC champs, with 3 starters back. Alyssa Smith, MN West 17 pts, 9 reb, 5 stls. Mike Fury, MN West women.

11/4--Wisconsin women 82 Winona State 53. Andrea Walsh, Mankato State 14 pts, 4 reb. Mike Curfman, Bemidji State women.

11/3--Gopher women 75 Southwest Minnesota State 48. Gophers put it away with 20-5 run to start the 2nd half. Katie Loberg 17 pts 10 reb. Pam Borton, Gopher women.

11/2--Lynx win WNBA draft lottery, meaning they will get to pick Maya Moore with the 1st pick in the 2011 draft. Blake Hoffarber, Gopher men 20 pts. Tubby Smith, Gopher men.

10/31--South Dakota State women 83 St. Cloud State 62 (exhibition).

10/30--Memphis Grizzlies 109 Timberwolves 89. Ouch. Down 34-19 after 1, the Wolves were never in this one. Former Wolf for a day, now Grizzlie, O.J. Mayo 29 pts

10/29--Timberwolves 96 Milwaukee Bucks 85. 22-8 run to end the 2nd was the difference. Michael Beasley, Wolves 21 pts. Kurt Rambis, Wolves

10/28--Jamestown women 80 Bemidji State 75 (overtime) (exhibition). Bridget Schuneman, Jamestown (Centennial HS) 12 pts, 13 reb

10/27--Sacramento Kings 117 Timberwolves 116. This is one they coulda/shoulda won, playing at home against a team whose best player, Tyreke Evans, was out. Coach Kurt Rambis sat the Wolves' best player Kevin Love for the final 9 minutes of the game. Luke Ridnour, Wolves 20 pts, 6 assists

Mikayla Bailey 1st Gopher Women's Recruit for 2012; Doolittle to Iowa

2012 could be a crucial class for the Gophers, as 4 seniors will be leaving the program that year--Kiara Buford, the Masteys and Jackie Voigt. And yet 2012 is not regarded as a particularly strong Minnesota high school class. All the buzz of late has been directed toward 2013.

So it's a bit of a shock that the Gophers' 1st 2012 is the #21 rated player in the gPrep ratings found at www.gprep.net (then click "Ratings").

EDIT 12-1-10: Not to mention, it is a complete shock to hear Bailey say that Borton and the Gophers told her that she was the only 2012 they (the Gophers) were after. Four seniors (Buford, the Mastey twins, and Voigt) will graduate in 2012. Is Borton really going to sit on 3 scholarships for a year? Granted, the 2013s are very highly regarded. But, is it just me who thinks the 2012s are pretty good, too? Bailey plays summer ball for North Tartan, and her summer teammate Marissa Janning (of Watertown-Mayer) has been more highly regarded, not to mention Tessa Cichy of Hill-Murray. These are just the guards. But more to the point, a freshman class of Bailey only means a roster of just 10 players. Chances are the Gophers will end up plugging a gap on an emergency basis with a junior college player. Why not stock up now on a known commodity like Jackie Johnson of Eden Prairie?

Of course, maybe Mikayla Bailey misspoke or misunderstood whatever Borton told her. If so, never mind. END OF EDIT.

This is not by any means to say that gPrep ratings are the be-all and end-all. One might just as easily disagree with them, but they're well-informed and easily accessible. By contrast, the national ratings only go a few players deep among Minnesotans, and Kevin Anderson only updates his ratings once a year. His most current rating of the 2012s is based on play in the 2008-2009 season, when they were just freshmen.

So gPrep it is. Here are the top guards in the class of 2012 as rated by gPrep on 10-4-10.

1. Tessa Cichy, Hill-Murray
3. Marissa Janning, Watertown-Mayer
4. Whitney Tinjum, Chisago Lakes, G-F
5. Kali Peschel, Sauk Centre
6. Brittney Scherber, Bloomington Jefferson
7. Alexis Foley, White Bear Lake
8. Jen Hill, St. Paul Central
9. Riley Nordgaard, Canby
12. Shayne Mullaney, Eden Prarie
13. Amie Tunheim, Orono
14. Katybeth Biewen, Edina
15. Maria Adanane, Mpls. Southwest
16. Sydney Coffey, Hopkins, G-F
20. Whitney Olson, Cambridge
21. Mikayla Bailey, Osseo

Now, does this make Bailey a bad choice for the Gophers? No. I always thought she was underrated by gPrep and the fact that she plays for the leading girls club, North Tartan, would seem to validate that. But, more to the point, she's a certain type of player. North Tartan program director Bill Larson, who knows a thing or two about girls basketball, was quoted on the Gopher Web site saying, "Mikayla Bailey is definitely a defensive stopper that you are going to want on the floor from beginning to the end of the game. Mikayla is ready for battle every game and brings great energy."

This makes sense. Everybody knows that Pam Borton has been a defense-first recruiter. Whether you agree with it or not, Bailey is her kind of kid. And maybe Bailey is the one girl among the 2012s whom Borton feels will complement offense-first 2011 guard Rachel Banham, rated #18 in the country by HoopGurlz, who is expected to be the Gophers' best guard since, well, you-know-who.

Still, let's be honest. This is a shocker. Her #21 rating is all about offense where Bailey hasn't established herself as an elite guard. Among 2012s, if you're looking to move the ball, you're thinking Mullaney and Scherber and Biewen. If you want scoring, you're thinking Janning and Tinjum and Peschel and Foley and Adanane before you're thinking Bailey.

But the more I think about this, the better it looks. Bailey could be the perfect complement to Banham.

But now, while we're at it, let's quick sign up Jackie Johnson, #2 on gPrep's list of 2012s, okay? The good news is Johnson seems unlikely to end up at Iowa because, in other recruiting news, the Hawks have just announced the signing of 6-3 post Beth Doolittle of Hill-Murray.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Lakeville North--A Third Look

Among all of the basketball championships that will be contested this year, the girls AAAA is the toughest to handicap. That's because there are 3 teams that in any normal year would be a heavy favorite to win it all. But this is no normal year, nor are there likely to be any more normal years for awhile--or, as long as the "new" MSHSL transfer (or, anti-transfer) rule lasts. In theory, the transfer rule was going to level the playing field and provide for more parity in high school sports. In practice, it is having exactly the opposite effect. More on this later.

But for now, the 3 super-teams, in alpha order, are Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Lakeville North.

Eden Prairie Eagles

The Eagles' claim to fame is pretty simple. Center Jackie Johnson and guards Aubrey Davis, Shayne Mullaney and Morgan Van Riper-Rose are all rated among the top 13 girls in their class. (Johnson and Mullaney are juniors, Davis and Van Riper-Rose are seniors. The seniors will be playing college ball at Mankato State [Davis] and Denver [Van Riper-Rose].)

The Eagles were 21-7 a year ago, tied for 2nd in the "old" Lake Conference at 12-4, and were rated as high as 3rd among AAAA teams at year's-end according to one rating service. Unbeaten state champion Lakeville North was their nemesis in the conference, beating the Eagles 74-60 and 84-60. Eden Prairie defeated Hopkins at home in a December non-conference tussle, 81-55.

Chaska ousted the Eagles from post-season play, 72-57 in the section semi-finals after the 2 had split a pair of regular season games. Chaska dominated the Eagles inside in the sectional. Johnson held her own, individually, with 13 points, but no other front-court player scored for Eden Prairie, while Chaska's front line of Degler, Tisch and Evangelista, all seniors at the time, combined for 33 points. The Eagles' back-court out-scored Chaska 44-39 as Van Riper-Rose scored 24 (and despite 29 points by the Hawks' Brooke Brown).

Davis, Mullaney and Van Riper-Rose will be on the court most of the time for the Eagles, and senior guard Taylor Uhl is their top sub. So, Eden Prairie will continue to be a guard-oriented team in 2010-2011. But the front-court will be improved, thanks to the development of junior forward Becca Sparkman. Not to mention Johnson's increasing strength and maturity, Jackie having been one of the top 3 players in the AAU summer season just past.

In most years, a line-up featuring 4 top 13s plus Sparkman and Uhl would be a very strong contender for a state championship. But 2010-2011 is not most years. Along with front-court depth, the Eagles will have to show that 7 or 8 elite girls can compete with 13 to 15 such girls, which is how deep Hopkins and Lakeville North are going this year. Being a guard-oriented team, Eden Prairie loves to put on the defensive pressure and get out in transition. But the Hopkins and North pressure defenses will be something special because both have the rare ability to keep fresh legs in the game--and not just 2 platoons' worth of fresh legs, but 3 if needed. It seems likely that EP may run out of gas against the Royals and Panthers, as would any opponent.

Fortunately for the Eagles, they won't face either of their elite opponents in post-season until state tournament time, and most likely not until the semi-finals as the Eagles, Royals and Panthers figure to be the top 3 seeds in some order or other.

The Eagles will have some adjustments to make this year, however. Guard Davis has just transferred in from Bloomington Kennedy, so chemistry between her and the girls who are returning will be key. Then there's a new coach in Chris Carr, the former Timberwolf and head of the Twin Cities youth basketball club 43 Hoops. And finally, there's also a new conference, as Eden Prairie has moved from the "old" Lake consisting mostly of Dakota County schools, now the South Suburban, to the "Classic" Lake of Hopkins, Edina, Wayzata, Minnetonka and Armstrong. It's a tougher conference, to be sure, but with just 6 teams and only 10 conference games. So they'll be spreading their wings and playing more non-conference foes from Prior Lake to Bemidji, and from Stillwater to Orono. But, more to the point, they will play Hopkins twice in the conference, so the pecking order between the 2 of them will be established by the time they face each other at the Target Center.

Hopkins Royals

The Royals, by their standards, have had a few down years now, but this year Hopkins seems poised to return to the top--or at least the top 3--of Minnesota girls AAAA basketball. Last year was an especial disappointment at 19-9. In 2009, they were 26-3 and rated as high as #1 before losing to Mpls. South and Tayler Hill in the section final, 59-45. This was an instant replay of 2008, when the Royals went 26-3 with a #1 rating--but lost to South in the sectionals, 51-42. They were just 18-10 in 2007.

You have to go all the way back to 2004, 2005 and 2006 to find the kind of years the Royals expect under coach Brian Cosgriff--3 straight state championship game appearances, 2 state championships in 2004 and 2006 sandwiched around an OT loss to Kennedy, 44-38 in 2005.

Anything less than a championship game appearance will be a disappointment in 2010-2011, that's for sure, because the Royals have amassed an awesome roster of talent, 15 girls deep or more. At least, 13 girls scored in their 2010-2011 opener against defending state runners-up White Bear Lake, a 72-40 Royals win. A mere 12 girls scored in the 2nd game, an 85-39 rout of Blaine.

• Sophomore Nia Coffey (Richard's daughter) is rated #1 in the state in her class by gPrep.
• 8th graders T'Aire Starks (a transfer from Mpls. North) and Sam Trammel are both rated among the top 4 in their age group.
• Senior Brianna Williams is rated #7 among the 2011s, and was the Royals' leading scorer in those 1st 2 outings with 23 points. Williams is going to play college ball at North Dakota.
• Junior Sydney Coffey (Richard's other daughter) is rated #13 in her class, who also scored 23 points in the last weekend's games. She has verballed to Marist.
• And there are 5 other girls rated among the top 40 in their age group. And Taylor Anderson, another sophomore, is not among them, and yet she was next in scoring over the weekend with 19 points.

About That Transfer Rule

My buddy Kevin Anderson of kjasr.com (no relation to Taylor) says that you could split their squad down the middle, and you'd have 2 top 10 teams, and I'm sure he's right. And for this you can thank the MSHSL's recent transfer rule. It was meant to even the playing field a little bit, but has had exactly the opposite effect. Here's why. Previously, kids (boys or girls) could transfer schools at any time. Now, in order to maintain eligibility, they cannot transfer after the 1st day in the 9th grade.

Well, it used to be that kids would test themselves in the 9th and 10th grades. If they thought they were D1 material and needed tougher competition or more exposure, then they might think about transferring. The number of kids who would find themselves on the horns of such a dilemma would, however, be small and most of them would say, The hell with it.

Now, they've got to decide what they wanna do when they grow up while they're still in the 8th grade. At which point in their lives, of course, they've really got no clue whether they're D1 potential or need more exposure than they can get in their home school district or not. But it's easy, from that perspective, to imagine that, yeah, there's a problem or an opportunity if they just take the appropriate action, which is to enroll someplace where they're sure to get a top-shelf high school basketball experience. Such as, Hopkins.

And so, the Royals come to have 15 kids or more who are obvious varsity basketball prospects where most other schools have 7 or 8 and backfill from there. Now, let's be honest. How many of Hopkins' top 15 do not live in the Hopkins district? I don't know. And how many transferred in for 9th grade for exactly the reasons I just mentioned? I don't know that, either. That would be a nice little test of my theory but I'm not gonna bug a bunch of kids to satisfy my curiosity. But the one thing I know is that since the MSHSL transfer (or, anti-transfer) rule went into effect, Hopkins and Lakeville North have amassed rosters that have been unheard of in Minnesota basketball history until now.

Okay, end of digression and back to our regularly scheduled content.

More On the Hopkins Royals

The fact is that other than Brianna Williams, all of the Royals' top-ranked players are younger, and the 5 girls who start the games on the floor are not as highly-rated as Eden Prairie's top 5. Then there's the fact that Hopkins' front-court is really not very big--again, not, at least, among the more highly regarded of them. 5 of their top 15 girls may be seniors, and yet the Royals are probably not going to peak until 2013 when Nia Coffey, Anderson, Erin O'Toole and Shackleford are seniors and Starks and Trammel sophomores. That's not to say they're not going to have a lot of success in 2011 and 2012 but rather it is simply to say, Look out in 2013!

Lakeville North Panthers

That leaves the defending state champions, who certainly deserve to be something more than an afterthought after their 32-0 state championship season of last year. Hey, they're 3rd in alphabetical order! That's all I'm sayin' here!

And you'd also have to say that they match up against Eden Prairie's top-shelf talent with point guard extraordinaire Rachel Banham, rated the #1 senior in the state; 6-2 Apiew Ojulu, rated #6 among the 2011s, inside; and guard Taylor Stewart (#10 among the sophomores).

Plus, they match up against Hopkins' depth, having had 15 girls score in their 1st game, an 88-12 shellacking of the suddenly very overmatched Polars from Mpls. North. Among the rest are:

• Senior guards Hannah Hughes and Jaya Perkins, tied at #40 among the seniors
• Junior "big" McKenzie Hoelmenn, rated #23 in her class
• Sophomore Simone Kolander, Chad's daughter. She is as yet unranked in her class, but appears to be the next to come out of the Panthers' star-making machinery.
• And, again, another 8 girls scored against North, but only another 1 (Lindsay McCuddin) against Osseo in the Panthers' 2nd game.

But if anybody can match up against Hopkins in terms of depth, this is that team. And Banham is a game-breaking talent. But, of course, when she's on the bench, the Panthers will miss her more than the Royals will miss any of their top 5. Or will they? Hopkins was pretty terrible last year while Brianna Williams was out with a knee injury. When she came back, they became a whole new team. So maybe she and Banham are equally missed when they need a breather.

The good news here is that North and Hopkins will square off next Saturday at Hopkins in the Breakdown Tip-Off tournament, so we'll get a feel for all of that early on. Bottom line, however, is that if North is going to win another state championship, now would be the time because once Banham is gone, the Panthers are unlikely to be this good and Hopkins is just gonna be getting better for the foreseeable future.

So Cut to the Chase Already, What's Going to Happen?

I think North will beat Hopkins next Saturday, and I think Hopkins and EP will split their regular season games. Hopkins will also beat EP on its home court in the finals of the Dick's Sporting Goods tournament in late December. North plays in the somewhat easier Suburban South conference, so if they beat Hopkins next Saturday they'll head into post-season at 26-0. Hopkins always plays an impossibly tough schedule and it just got tougher with the addition of EP to the Classic Lake. I see the Royals tying for the Classic Lake title at 6-2 and heading into the post-season at 24-3. And I see EP also going 6-2 in the Classic Lake in their 1st season as a member, and finishing the regular season at 21-5 with losses at Lakeville North, Hopkins (Dick's Christmas Tournament) and Benilde-SM.

As noted above, the 3 are in different sections. EP has the toughest section to contend with, with Edina and Prior Lake being solid threats. Lakeville North really has only Eastview as a challenger, while Hopkins shouldn't have any difficulty in 6AAAA with Minnetonka and Wayzata representing the toughest competition.

In the state tournament, the seedings will reflect the team's losses. Lakeville North 0 or 1, Hopkins 3ish, and Eden Prairie 5ish. Earlier, in my 2010-2011 Season Preview, I picked EP to go all the way. I now think that's wrong. The reason being, EP can compete with North and Hopkins, but not the 2 of them, not back-to-back, on Friday and Saturday nights. 40 minutes of hell, maybe. But 80 minutes of hell against teams (Hopkins and North) that have the depth to keep fresh legs in the game? I don't think so.

So either EP beats Hopkins on Friday and loses to Lakeville North on Saturday. Or Hopkins beats EP and Lakeville North. By the time they get to the state finals, the Panthers could be on a 63-game winning streak. The fact is they'll be overdue to lose one, whether or not the pressure of such a streak affects their play. And why not against the best prepared opponent they'll face all year?

Either way, the 1st string all-state team includes, at a minimum, Banham and Johnson, while A. Davis, Mullaney, Ojulu, Van Riper-Rose and B. Williams get at least 3rd team recognition.

The Final Word

1. Hopkins 30-3 Classic Lake co-champ, Section 6AAAA champ, State AAAA champ
2. Lakeville North 31-1 South Suburban champ, Section 3AAAA champ, State AAAA runner-up
3. Eden Prairie 26-6 Classic Lake co-champ, Section 2AAAA champ, State AAAA 3rd place
4. White Bear Lake 22-9 Suburban East co-champ, Section 4AAAA champ, State AAAA 4th place

White Bear is not the 4th best team this year, but it's to their credit that they've upped their schedule to parity with the elite schools. The point is that the next best after the Big Three are all in Sections 2, 3 and 6.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

2010-2011 Season Preview

In the book, Stew and I call the current era (from 1997 to the present) the "second golden age of Minnesota basketball." The first, for the record, came in the late 1940s and 1950s when George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakes were understood to be the greatest player and the greatest team in the world.

The second, many people guess, must have something to do with the return of the NBA to the area. But, no.

The point is that Minnesota has more kids--boys and girls--playing youth basketball than almost any state in the union. As a result, upwards of 100 Minnesotans a year are playing basketball at the college level and, as a further result, many of them with great success, individually and for their team. The Gopher men played in the 1997 Final Four, the women in 2004. The Winona State men (twice) and Mankato State women won national D2 championships, the Gustavus men were runners-up in 2003. When the NCAA named its all-time (25 year) women's all-America teams, Kasey Morlock of Stewartville (and North Dakota State) and Jessica Beachy of Staples and Concordia (Moorhead) were among the top 5 in their respective divisions.

Khalid El-Amin led Connecticut to a D1 NCAA title. Coco and Kelly Miller won the Hickok Belt as America's top amateur athletes while at Georgia. Kris Humphries and Joel Pryzbilla play in the NBA, and a number of Minnesota natives in the WNBA. And so on.

Still Golden?

The question now, however, is whether Minnesota is still golden? There's no question that Minnesota's three signature programs--the Timberwolves, and the Gopher men and Gopher women--have declined in recent years, though it's also true that all 3 look to be improved for 2010-2011. Time will tell if they rise to the gold level or not. But here are 10 teams who are most likely to succeed in 2010-2011.

Most Likely to Succeed

1. Hopkins boys. With 5 state titles in the past 9 years, there can be no doubt that coach Kenny Novak, Jr.'s Royals are the state's #1 basketball program. Led by Gopher recruit Joe Coleman, they're prohibitive favorites to make it 6 of 10 next March. Forecast: 31-0, 3rd straight MSHSL Class AAAA championship.

2. Winona State men. The Warriors, now featuring former Minnetonka Skipper and Iowa Hawkeye Anthony Tucker, are the pre-season favorite in the NSIC. And coach Mike Leaf provides a steady hand at the helm, so the 2006 and 2008 national champs are poised to make some noise again next March. Forecast: 18-4, 1st place NSIC, 21-4 regular season, 6 post-season wins, 27-5.

3. St. Thomas men and women. The #9-rated Tommies' men go for their 6th straight MIAC regular season title under head coach Steve Fritz, now 564-243 (.692) in 30 years. Fritz will rely on a trio of senior guards, 2010 MIAC player of the year and pre-season all-American Tyler Nicolai (Hopkins), Teddy Archer (DeLaSalle) and 2010 all-conference honoree Alex Healy (White Bear Lake). Forecast: 19-1 in the MIAC, 22-3 for the regular season, 3 post-season wins, 25-4 overall.

Meanwhile, the Tommies women under coach Ruth Sinn have slowly rebuilt after some down years mid-decade. Now they're ready to build on last year's surprising march to the MIAC post-season title with 4 of 5 starters back, including pre-season all-American, Rachel Booth (DeLaSalle). Add to that 2 freshman recruits who many had tabbed as D1 prospects, Taylor Young (Edina) and Maggie Weiers (New Prague)--and who scored 23 points between them in their 1st college game, and you've got a #22-rated squad today, probably better by season's end. Forecast: 19-3, 1st place MIAC, 21-4 regular season, 4 post-season wins, 25-5.

4. Minnesota Gopher men. Hope springs eternal. And, while the Tubby Smith era has not been quite what Gopher fans might initially have envisioned, the Gophers have a lot of experienced talent back from a team that humiliated Purdue 69-42 in last March's Big Ten tournament and has already knocked off North Carolina. Of course, it's also a team that has struggled to beat Winona State and Siena already this year, and it's a team that has lost perhaps its top talent, combo guard Devoe Joseph, to a suspension of indeterminate cause and length. Still, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson and Trevor Mbakwe are a formidable threesome, which is why hope springs eternal. Forecast: 11-7 Big Ten, 21-9 regular season, 4 post-season wins (2 in the Big Ten and 2 in the NCAAs), 25-10.

5. Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Lakeville North girls. In other words, I have no clue who will be the best girls basketball team come March, and my indecision comes not from weakness. Defending state champion Lakeville North is rated #17 in the nation (Hoopgurlz) and brings back Gopher recruit Rachel Banham, rated the #18 senior in the country by one recruiting service. Still, they're anything but a lock against some very tough competition, including Eden Prairie and post Jackie Johnson and Hopkins, who has re-loaded after a down period. Watch for Richard Coffey's daughters among many others for the deep Royals. Forecast: Eden Prairie 25-2 regular season, 5 post-season wins, 30-2 overall. Lakeville North 26-1 regular season, 4 post-season wins, 30-2. Hopkins 24-3 regular season, 4 post-season wins, 28-4.

6. Braham girls. Everybody is back from last year's AA runner-up and the Bombers look like an absolute buzz-saw. Forecast: 26-1 regular season, 6 post-season wins, 32-1 overall.

7. Minnesota Lynx. Add Maya Moore to Augustus and Whalen and Wiggins, et al, and if everybody's healthy, this has the potential to be a WNBA champion. Or, given the franchise's sorry history, the biggest bust of the year. It seems unfortunate to entrust all of this talent to such an inexperienced coach. I'd say she's unproven except that 2010 proved that she's in over her head. Forecast: 21-13 regular season, 2 play-0ff series wins, 26-18 overall.

8. St. Paul Johnson boys. Not quite as deep as last year's super-team, but as long as guard Estan Tyler and coach Vern Simmons are on board, a clear AAA favorite. Forecast: 24-3 regular season, 5 post-season wins, 29-3.

9. Minnesota Gopher women. The Gophers' next gen kids exhibit a confidence and aggressiveness that has been lacking. Four players who didn't contribute last year are begin counted on--Cotton, Dockery, Loberg and Mastey--and each one looks like a new player. Dockery is a particularly good story, having sat out 3 years with leg injuries. Collectively, they look like a big upgrade over last year's seniors Ellis-Milan, Harper, McCoy and Ohm. And, of course, one musn't forget returnees Antoine, Buford and Voigt. Forecast: 9-9 in Big Ten, 18-13 regular season, 2 post-season wins, 20-14 overall. (And, just for the record, if Rachel Banham is half as good as Hoopgurlz says [#18 in the nation], then a return to real golden-ness may lurk in the Gophers' future.)

10. Benilde-St. Margaret's and Hill-Murray girls. These 2 could easily play for the state AAA title again this year. Benilde will miss the floor leadership of Itisha Alexander, but has a terrific front-court back. Hill-Murray has Iowa recruit Beth Doolittle and #1 rated (among the 2012s) Tessa Cichy. Forecast: Benilde repeats: 25-2 regular season and 5 post-season wins, 30-2 overall. Hill-Murray repeats, too, as runner-up. 24-3 regular season, 4 post-season wins, 28-4 overall.

2010 All-Stars

Rachel Banham, Lakeville North girls
Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota Gophers men
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ralph Sampson, Minnesota Gophers men
Rachel Booth, St. Thomas women


China Antoine, Minnesota Gopher women
Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kiara Buford, Minnesota Gopher women
Estan Tyler, St. Paul Johnson boys


Jackie Johnson, Eden Prairie girls
Joe Coleman, Hopkins boys
Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx
Andrew Tucker, Winona State men
Rebekah Dahlman, Braham girls

Honorable Mention and Most Improved (tie): Leah Cotton and Kristen Dockery, Minnesota Gopher women

Top Coaches

1. Tubby Smith, Minnesota Gopher men
2. Mike Leaf, Winona State men
3. Vern Simmons, St. Paul Johnson boys
4. Steve Fritz, St. Thomas men, and Ruth Sinn, St. Thomas women
5. Pam Borton, Minnesota Gopher women
6. Mike Durbin, St. Ben's women
7. Chris Carr, Eden Prairie girls
8. Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins girls, and Kenny Novak, Jr., Hopkins boys
9. Andy Berkvam, Lakeville North girls
10. Paul Fessler, Concordia-St. Paul women

The Year's Best Games

1. Hopkins boys at St. Paul Johnson, January 21. This was the best ballgame of 2009-2010. Lightning probaby isn't going to strike twice. Still, this should be worth seeing. Joe Coleman vs. Estan Tyler, in particular, though Coleman has more help this year.

2. Eden Prairie and Hopkins girls, home and home. At EP February 1, at Hopkins February 28. My high school bias is showing, I guess. And if these 2 meet earlier in the Tip-Off or Dick's tournaments, it might take some of the luster away. But, no. Those tournament games are in December, the rotations won't even be set. By February, pride, conference titles and post-season seeds will be on the line. I figure a split, but EP takes the Lake title.

3. Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State at Gopher men in 3 consecutive home games February 6, 10 and 22. The Gophers need to upset two of the 3 in order to contend in the Big Ten and for national Top 10 honors. They might do it.

4. Augustana and Wayne State at Concordia-St. Paul, January 28 and 29. The top weekend of small college ball that you'll see this year. The visitors are rated #2 and #1 in the NSIC pre-season poll, Concordia #3. This will go a long way to establishing the pecking order in the NSIC, but the truth is Wayne looks like a juggernaut right now.

5. St. Thomas men at Carleton, Gustavus and St. John's, February 9, 12 and 19. The Tommies have packed all of their toughest conference games in the last 10 days of the regular season. Chances are an unbeaten MIAC record will be on the line. Chance are the Tommies will get it.

6. Iowa at Gopher women, January 5. Whose got the better roster of Minnesota kids? Iowa, with Alexander, Draxten and Wallin? Or the Gophers with Buford, Loberg, Mastey and Voigt? Of course, either way, Iowa has more talent when you add in Jamie Printy and Morgan Johnson.

7. St. Cloud State men vs. Winona State men, home and home. At St. Cloud January 8, at Winona February 4. Winona is #1 and St. Cloud #2 in the NSIC pre-season poll, and guards Anthony Tucker and Forrest Witt figure to be 1 and 2 in Player of the Year voting. I figure a split but Winona wins the title and Tucker player of the year honors.

8. Hopkins boys vs. Minnetonka, home and home, at Tonka February 8, at Hopkins February 25. Tonka and new coach Tom Dasovich figure to up the states in what is Minnesota's best boys hoops rivalry already. I figure Hopkins sweeps this year.

9. Ohio State at Gopher women, February 13. Say hello to Tayler Hill. The Buckeyes are going for the 6th straight Big Ten regular season title. The Gophers always seem to play the Buckeyes close at the Barn, and this should be no exception. Still, Ohio State by a few and Hill might be the difference-maker.

10. St. Ben's vs. St. Thomas, home and home, at St. Ben's January 22, at St. Thomas February 19. MIAC title is probably decided by these 2 games. I figure the Tommies sweep.

Friday, November 26, 2010

High School Girls 2010-2011 Preview with 2nd Thoughts

Some of you have read through this already, but I see that I really missed on a couple kids--i.e. Michelle Young and Whitney Tinjum, so I've corrected for that.


1. Eden Prairie--was #2 previously but added Aubrey Davis from Kennedy
2. Lakeville North--very, very difficult not to go with Rachel Banham, but there it is
3. Hopkins--moves up from #5 with the addition of T.T. Starks from Mpls. North
4. Prior Lake
5. Edina--this is higher than you've got 'em but Katybeth Biewen is better than you think
6. Eastview--Alex Beckman the latest super guard
7. Bloomington Kennedy--down from #4
8. White Bear Lake--still has Alexis Foley, except I hear she's hurt right now
9. Woodbury
10. Wayzata--Grossfeld and Timmerman are a terrific inside duo, but what about the guards?
11. Osseo
12. Centennial
13. Maple Grove
14. Minnetonka
15. North St. Paul


1. Benilde-St. Margaret's--all the way from #3 with roster losses at DLS and North
2. Hill-Murray
3. St. Michael-Albertville--not sure who is good enough to be #3 anymore, why not SMA?
4. Red Wing--ditto, beside Tesha Buck is terrific
5. Princeton--still has Mariah Clarin
6. Orono
7. DeLaSalle--will still compete but down from #2
8. Richfield--Jessica January leads the way
9. Holy Angels--much improved
10. Worthington
11. Waconia--lotta guesswork the rest of the way
12. Mankato West
13. Sartell
14. Big Lake
15. New Prague


1. Braham
2. St. Peter--up from #3 with the addition of Alyssa Kerkhoff
3. Providence
4. Pequot Lakes
5. Hawley
6. St. Croix Lutheran
7. Watertown-Mayer
8. Sauk Centre
9. Esko
10. New London-Spicer


1. Maranatha Christian--have you seen Onye Osemenam?
2. Barnum--will miss Katrina Newman, all the way down to #2
3. Minneota
4. Goodhue
5. Martin Luther
6. Northern Freeze
7. Sebeka
8. Parkers Prairie
9. Canby
10. Buffalo Lake-Hector

1st Team All-State

Rachel Banham, Lakeville North
Jackie Johnson, Eden Prairie, jr.
Rebekah Dahlman, Braham, soph.
Michelle Young, Woodbury
Alexis Foley, White Bear Lake

2nd Team

Tessa Cichy, Hill-Murray, jr.
Ellen Edison, Maple Grove
Katybeth Biewen, Edina, jr.
Apiew Ojulu, Lakeville North
Shayne Mullaney, Eden Prairie, jr.

3rd Team

Marissa Janning, Watertown-Mayer, jr.
Kadidja Shumpert, Benilde-St. Margaret's, jr.
Kali Peschel, Sauk Centre, jr.
Whitney Tinjum, Chisago Lakes, jr.
Tyseanna Johnson, DeLaSalle, soph.

Honorable Mention

Martha Alwal, Worthington
Olivia Antilla, Benilde-St. Margaret's, jr.
Kayla Becken, Centennial
Morgan Van Riper-Rose, Eden Prairie
Mariah Clarin, Princeton

Mariah Grossfeld, Wayzata, jr.
Lenah (Allina) Starr, DeLaSalle, soph.
Aubrey Davis, Eden Prairie
Sattoria Rule, Mpls. South
Jade Martin, Kennedy, soph.

Jamie Bresnahan, Edina
T.T. Starks, Hopkins, 8th
Megan Stuart, Roseville
Tesha Buck, Red Wing, soph.
Kenisha Bell, Kennedy, fr.

High School Boys 2010-2011 Preview

I didn't pick the 2011 favorites in last spring's wrap-up, so here goes.


1. Hopkins
2. Apple Valley
3. Osseo
4. Lakeville South
5. Eastview
6. Chaska
7. Cretin
8. Tartan
9. Henry Sibley
10. Eden Prairie


1. St. Paul Johnson
2. Benilde-St. Margaret's
3. DeLaSalle
4. Orono
5. Waconia


1. Plainview-EM
2. Braham
3. Windom
4. Waterville-EM
5. New London-Spicer


1. Sebeka
2. Ellsworth
3. Minnesota Transitions
4. Belgrade-BE
5. Springfield
6. Chisholm
8. Rushford-Pete
9. Cass Lake-Bena
10. Maranatha


Joe Coleman, Hopkins
Estan Tyler, St. Paul Johnson
Cole Olstad, Plainview-EM
Marvin Singleton, Hopkins
Tyus Jones, Apple Valley, fr.


Tyler Vaughan, Braham
Jordan Smith, Orono
Casey Schilling, Ellsworth, jr.
Tom Schalk, Apple Valley
Isaiah Zierden, Benilde, jr.


Jake White, Chaska
Shelby Moats, Waconia
Kyle Noreen, MN Transitions
Jonah Travis, DeLaSalle
John Clark, Sebeka

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Minnesota's Historic Boys Class of 2014

Wow. This has never happened before in 50 years. 3 Minnesota kids are among the top 14-rated boys, nationally, in the class of 2014, according to ESPN. Class of 2014 makes them freshmen today so, who knows, a lot can happen. But clearly there's some potential there.

Tyus Jones, the point guard from Apple Valley, is rated #3 nationally. That puts him generally in the company of maybe Mark Olberding, Randy Breuer and Khalid El-Amin, but actually I doubt if any of them was rated quite that high.

Ian Theisen, the coach's kid from Osseo, is already 6-8 and a good 200 pounds-plus. I've heard some folks say he'll grow another 2-3 inches and get up to 250 before he's done. He's rated #12, and again that's nationally.

And Reed Travis is a 6-2 swingman who plays at DeLaSalle. He's rated #14.

And then there's Stephon Sharp, also rated in the top 100 according to ESPN, but pretty much unknown here in the Gopher state. That's probably because he plays for Hopkins, the only place in the state where a top 100 freshman might not be able to get playing time.

We'll take a l0ok at these kids ASAP and offer our advice to Tubby Smith, like everybody else.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gopher Men, Women Diverge

The Gopher men followed their upset win over #8 North Carolina with a 74-70 win over West Virginia, a Final Four team just 8 months ago, to win the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They are now 5-0, and surely have earned a spot in the Top 25 rankings, maybe even as high as the Top 10.

The women followed up a couple of solid performances against Pitt and Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a truly dreadful defensive effort in a 97-81 loss to a Dayton team that came to Williams Arena with an 0-2 record. So, for the 2nd straight week, the Gophers settled for 2nd place in their own tournament, and drop to 3-2 overall.

Gopher Men Do It Again

Against Carolina, the Gophers led most of the way, though the Tar Heels tied it up at 24-24, 27-27 and 41-41. All three times, Blake Hoffarber put the Gophers back out in front with a 3 pointer. Tonight, Minnesota and West Virginia were tied at 70 when Hoffarber hit a 3 with just 1:31 left to go. The Mountaineers never caught up.

Hoffarber scored 48 points to lead the Gophers in Puerto Rico, and made the biggest shots. Still, it was Trevor Mbakwe who walked away with the tournament MVP award. He was a model of consistency, scoring 46 points and gathering up 26 boards. Al Nolen had a nice tournament, too, scoring 36 points, including 17 against West Virginia on an unlikely 11-of-12 FT, with 11 assists and 5 steals.

Consistency was not otherwise the Gophers' strong suit. Ralph Sampson strted out big, with 22 pts, 8 boards and 7 blocks against Western Kentucky, but then contributed just 14 points and 11 boards in the next 2 games. For Rodney Williams, it was the same--17 points and 7 boards in round 1, then just 7 and 5 over the next 2 games. Colt Iverson went the other way, starting out with 4 points, 0 reb, and 4 fouls in just 8 minutes, but then getting 22 points and 19 boards the rest of the way.

Chip Armelin came up big against West Virginia, too, with 7 points, 4 boards and 2 assists in 14 minutes. He totalled 10 points for the 3 games, while Austin Hollins added 8 and Mo Walker 7.

What was most surprising was Tubby's rotations in the Thursday opening round. The 5 starters played an average of 34 minutes, while the 5 bench guys played just 6. Tubby went back to a more normal rotation in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, with the starting 5 averaging 29 and 26 minutes. In the final, Iverson played 28 minutes off the bench, the same as Sampson and Williams combined, as each was caught committing personal fouls early and often.

It is beyond obvious that this was Breakthrough Week for the previously unrated Gophers, who now look to stay unbeaten for awhile. North Dakota State (this Wednesday), Virginia, Cornell, St. Joe's, Eastern Kentucky, Akron and South Dakota State remain on the non-conference schedule, only St. Joe's away from the friendly confines, as they say.

The Big Ten schedule is not quite so forgiving, opening December 28 and 31 at Wisconsin (2-1, unrated) and Michigan State (2-0, #2). If that sounds like a daunting task, well, the Yahoo! User Rankings this morning have the Gophers at #1 and the Spartans at #7.

Just 2 days ago I predicted that the Gophers would go 11-7 in the Big Ten, 21-9 for the regular season, and 25-10 when all was said and done. I'm not going to change that but I initially thought that was a little bullish, now I'd say it's the middle of their potential range.

Gopher Women Do It Again, Too

Similarly, I had the Gopher women at 9-9, 18-13 and 20-14. After yesterday's letdown against Dayton, that remains bullish for the young Gophers. I did not see the game but the box score shows starters Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigt playing 9 and 13 minutes, respectively, with no hint of foul trouble. Kristen Dockery and China Antoine played 16 and 17. So coach Pam Borton seems to have had a problem with some of the individual performances, and why not? The Gophers were out-rebounded 43-29 and allowed the Flyers to shoot 57 percent in running out to a 54-33 half-time lead.

If this team cannot really even compete with, much less defeat Wisconsin-Green Bay and Dayton on their home court, it's hard to see a way to 20 wins.

On the plus side, Kiara Buford has emerged as the go-to player on this team, with 18 points and 3 assists per game. China Antoine is the unquestioned leader, however, with 10 points, 7 assists and 3 steals. Leah Cotton has played well off the bench with 13 points and 3 assists. Brianna Mastey is vastly improved with 9 points and 5 boards. Jackie Voigt remains offensively challenged but is a solid defender and leads the way with 8 rebounds per game. Kristen Dockery is a Cinderella story, emerging after nothing by injuries for 4 years. She is at 6 points and 6 rebounds.

Still, the anticipated return of Katie Loberg will be a big boost. Her 8.5 points per game are sorely missed.

But regardless of the individual numbers, which in isolation aren't bad, this is a woefully inconsistent team whose defensive lapses will be exploited mercilessly by Big Ten opponents as they were yesterday by the Dayton Flyers, who had already lost to Penn State and Michigan State by a total of 17 points. The Flyers scored 62 points in East Lansing and 97 at the Barn. Ouch.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gopher Women Handle Northern Illinois

The Gopher women met their first Division I foe of the year, and can take some satisfaction from easily dispatching the Huskies 79-58. But, let's be honest, this is an opponent that was 10-19 last year and has already lost its only exhibition game to a D2 opponent, Wisconsin-Parkside, 69-63, at home. Whatever cachet the Huskies brought to Williams Arena was in the person of new coach Kathi Bennett of the Wisconsin Bennett coaching dynasty, fresh from a stint as a Wisconsin assistant.

The folks in DeKalb will want to be patient with Kathi.

Still, like I said, the Gophers showed some positive signs in their first real ball game of 2010-2011, though 26 turnovers was not one of them. Nor was allowing the Huskies to come back from a 23-11 1st half deficit to within 32-30 at 1:45.

But certainly one of the encouraging signs was the Gophers' response to this rally, as they scored the final 10 points of the 1st half to lead at intermission 42-30. In the second half, the Gophers methodically increased their lead to 14, 15, 16, 18, 20 and finally 21 points at 79-58, the final score.

Here is how coach Pam Borton distributed the minutes:

Center--Loberg 23 Riche 11 Dockery 4 Dvorak 2
Big Forward--Voigt 30 Kellogg 9 Clay 1
Small Forward--B. Mastey 24 Buford 14 N. Mastey 2
Point Guard--Antoine 29 Cotton 11
Off Guard--Buford 19 Noga 11 Cotton 10

The only non-starter to play 20 minutes was sophomore guard Leah Cotton who, along with sophomore post Katie Loberg, is among the Gophers' most improved players. In 21 minutes, Cotton scored 16 points with 6 assists. Loberg scored 15 points with 6 boards and 3 blocks.

Still, the stars were the Gophers' starting guards China Antoine and Kiara Buford. In 62 minutes between them, Buford led the way with 22 points while Antoine contributed a team-high 7 assists with just 1 turnover. She was just about the only Gopher who didn't suffer from an attack of fumble-itis from time to time, a problem the Gophers will have to address if they are to improve on last year's disappointing 13-17 record.

Among the 4 freshmen (or, 5 counting redshirt freshman post Amber Dvorak), Canadian "big" Michaella Riche seems the most ready to contribute, as she did with 5 points and 3 boards today in 11 minutes. Sari Noga also contributed 5 points in 11 minutes. Kionna Kellogg had 2 points and 4 turnovers in 9 minutes. Clay and Dvorak played just 3 minutes between them and neither scored.

Meanwhile, senior post Kristen Dockery, who has had nothing but injury problems for 3 long years, contributed 1 point, 2 boards, 2 assists and a block in just 4 minutes and certainly has the skills to contribute. But the fact that she played just 4 minutes despite the fact that they were 4 solid minutes, suggests that maybe she is not physically able to stay on the court. We will have to see.

On balance, the Gophers' starting 5 looks able to compete in the Big Ten if they can protect the ball. But Cotton, Riche and Noga will be their depth--along with, hope against hope, a healthy Dockery--and none can be termed a proven commodity by any stretch of the imagination. Much will depend on them. Based on today's performance, there's reason for hope.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Badger men rout Mankato State 93-59

The Minnesota Badgers...er, no, the Wisconsin Gophers...no, the Wisconsin Badgers, that's it, the Wisconsin Badgers clobbered the visiting Mankato State Mavericks 93-59 Wednesday night.

But forgive my confusion, as the Badgers gave their best impersonation of a Minnesota club. Orono High School grad Jon Leuer led the way for the Badgers with 25 pts, 11 reb and 2 blocked shots. Benilde-St. Margaret grad Jordan Taylor followed with 20 pts and 5 assists. And Henry Sibley grad Mike Brusewitz and Jared Berggren, late of Princeton, MN, High, followed with 9 and 8 pts apiece. Yes, that adds up to exactly two-thirds of the Badger points, 62 out of 93, scored by a quartet of former Minnesota high school stars.

And the 4 did it at crunch time. The Badgers ripped off 5 9-0 runs during the course of the game to pull away from the Mavs, the 5 runs ending with the Badgers ahead 16-4 at 14:16 of the 1st half, 29-13 at 8:32, 38-15 at 6:07, 50-20 at 0:27, and 66-27 early in the second half. Their largest lead would eventually reach 40 points at 77-37, 85-45 and 87-47. The Minnesota 4 scored 36 of Wisconsin's 45 points during those 5 decisive runs.

Leuer led the Badgers with 7 of the 1st 9 points, and 4 of the 4th 9. Taylor scored 5 of 9 in both the 2nd and 3rd runs, while Berggren led the way in the 5th and final 9-0 run, also with 5 points.

It boiled down to shooting. Wisconsin shot 58.5 percent from the field and 66 percent on 2-point FG. Mankato State shot 33 percent and just 32 percent from 2-point range.

Jefferson Mason, formerly of Cooper High, was the only Mav in double figures at 20 points, and added team highs of 9 boards and 2 steals. Despite the loss, Mavs coach Matt Marganthaler is an impressive 124-34 over the last 5 years and a day. Still, he's got to be happy to have the Mav's only D1 exhibition of the past 2 years out of the way.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gopher, Hawkeye Women Open Exhibition Season with Easy Wins

The Minnesota Gopher women opened their exhibition season with an easy 90-58 win over Minnesota-Crookston yesterday afternoon. Leah Cotton (16), Brianna Mastey (14) and Katie Loberg (10) scored in double figures for the Gophers, while Loberg also led the team with 4 blocks and 3 steals. Freshman Kionna Kellogg came off the bench to grab a team-high 9 rebounds, while senior China Antoine led the way with 7 assists.

Among the Gophers freshmen, Kellogg added 6 points and a steal to those 9 boards, but also turned the ball over 4 times in 15 minutes of action. Micaella Rich had 9 points and 4 boards in 11 minutes. Sari Noga scored 8 points in 15 minutes, and Shonte Clay contributed 3 points and 3 boards in just 2 minutes. Red-shirt frosh Amber Dvorak had 1 point and 1 board in 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, as a yardstick for the young Gophers, the arch-rival Iowa Hawkeyes took on a vastly superior exhibition foe in Concordia-St. Paul and prevailed 101-59. Kelly Krei scored 25 for the Hawkeyes, including 6-of-8 from 3 point range. Center Morgan Johnson added 20 points and 11 boards. Kachine Alexander, formerly of Benilde-St. Margaret's, posted a double-double with 13 points and as many rebounds. And point guard Kamille Wahlin, from Crookston, MN, scored 17 points while adding a team-high 8 assists.

Iowa roared out to a 25-5 lead and never looked back, though Concordia got within 36-21, but Krei hit a 3 and Iowa extended its lead to 47-23 and then 52-30 at the half. Jineen Williams led the Bears with 23 points.

Gophers renew exhibition rivalry with Winona State

Division I teams aren't supposed to lose to those from Division II, but the Winona State Warriors shocked the Minnesota Gophers in November 2006, costing coach Dan Monson his job. And just last year the Warrior women did exactly the same thing to Pam Borton's team--well, beat 'em, that is, though unlike Monson, Borton is still in charge of her Gopher team.

Still, you can bet Tubby Smith isn't taking anything for granted tonight.

This is not to say the Warriors have the kind of talent that their 2006 and 2008 national champions could put out on the floor. But, on the other hand, guard Anthony Tucker was chuckin' it for the Big Ten Iowa Hawkeyes this time last year. Tonight the Minnetonka grad will be wearing the Warrior blue and, presumably, going head to head with his old Lake Conference rival, Blake Hoffarber from Hopkins.

Another interesting match-up is forwards C. J. Erickson, also a former Minnetonka Skipper, going against Rodney Williams, From Robbinsdale Cooper. And don't underestimate the quickness or ability of the Warriors' senior point guard Ben Fischer. He'll have his hands full of Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, but they'll have their hands full of Ben Fischer, too. Fischer scored 11 points per game last year, while leading the Warriors with 7 assists and 2 steals per game.

Meanwhile, last year's #2 and #6 scorers, Jon Walburg and Joel Armstrong (the latter a Stillwater, MN, boy), come off the bench, as does redshirt freshman Kellen Taylor (from Wayzata). Taylor (14 points) and Armstrong (9 points, 7 boards) led the Warriors in scoring and rebounding, respectively, in their recent 75-60 win over Wisconsin-Eau Claire. When Tubby Smith throws his 2nd unit and his 11th and 12th man out there, the Warriors can match that with outstanding depth of their own.

A Warrior win at Williams Arena would be as shocking as the ones of 2006 and 2009, but on the other hand they say that bad stuff comes in threes.

Are the Timberwolves for Real III?

It's starting to look like, yes, the Timberwolves are for real. And I'm not talking about the 6-2 pre-season Wolves who got Minnesotans thinking about 30 to 40 wins in 2010-2011. No, unfortunately, if the Timberwolves are for real--if they are who we think they are--I'm afraid it's the 1-6 Wolves with their 5 game losing streak in which they have now been out-scored an average of 120-94.

Perhaps the worst of the 5 was last night, when they hit their average, losing 120-94. But this time the loss was to the previously winless Houston. The Rockets ran out to a 26-14 1st quarter lead, then put the game away at 60-37 by half-time.

Luke Ridnour, the star of the Wolves' pre-season, slid even deeper into a recent funk, scoring just 2 points with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. The Wolves were outscored by 11 points when he was on the court.

But that was nothin' compared to Kevin Love, the Wolves' erstwhile "best player." Love totaled a team-high 16 points and 16 rebounds, but his side was down 21 points with him on the court. Then there's last year's off-guard, now coming off the bench, Cory Brewer, who nevertheless was praised by coach Kurt Rambis recently for bringing some energy off the bench. He scored 10, but the Wolves' gave up a staggering 26 points more than they scored when Cory was out there on the court. The Wolves were also -20 when Wayne Ellington, recently deposed by rookie Wesley Johnson as the starting off-guard, was on the court.

Johnson scored just 4 points but was just -6. Darko Milicic scored 7 and was -4, and Michael Beasley scored 15 and went -5. Sebastien Telfair continued to take minutes away from Ridnour, scoring 7 points, but with just 1 assist, and a -8. Nikola Pekovic scored 12 but went -12.

It isn't getting any easier, with a visit to the L.A. Lakers on Tuesday, and 5 of the next 8 games overall are on the road. Still, home contests against the N.Y. Knicks and L.A. Clippers are intermixed. A failure to win those 2 games will be the icing on the cake of am utter collapse since the end of the pre-season. If the Wolves can't beat the Clips at home, a 1-16 record by the end of November is not out of the question, and David Kahn's claim that the Wolves' roster is "vastly better" than the one he inherited will have turned out to be a cruel joke.

And if 1-16 turns out to be what it is, it's not too early to be thinking about a new coach, even if such a move would represent an admission of failure. Because that, after all, is what 1-16 would be, a failure, especially if the W-L record continues to be just the tip of the iceberg, wherein the tip of the iceberg is the W-L record and the rest of the iceberg is the failure to even compete that we've seen over the past 5 games.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are the Timberwolves for Real II?

The Timberwolves went 6-2 in pre-season and everybody wanted to know, Are they for real? Well, now, after a disastrous 1-5 start to the regular season, is it too soon to answer? Hopefully not.

But the signs are not encouraging. First came a 1-point loss at home to a non-playoff team with its best player out, a game in which coach Kurt Rambis sat his best player for the last 9 minutes of play for alleged defensive indifference. As if, in giving up 117 points, Kevin Love was the only fellow who had an off night on the D.

Then came a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks, followed by 3 blowout losses at Memphis, Miami and Orlando. Now, you might not expect a win on such a road trip. But neither do you expect to lose by an average of 122-91.

And it doesn't get much easier. After resuming play Friday night at the Target Center against the Atlanta Hawks, 16 of the next 25 games are also on the road. By the time the Wolves have played a fair balance of home and away, long about mid-February, the season could already be long lost.

What happened? Well, regular season? The other guys are trying? Tougher competition, especially in these last 2 outings, a 129-97 loss at Miami and a 128-86 demolition job at Orlando.

But more specifically, shooting percentage. The Wolves shot darn near 50 percent in the pre-season, despite Cory Brewer's 25 percent funk. Well, now it looks as if everybody is taking lessons from poor Cory, who remains at 27 percent. The Wolves as a whole are at 38. Opponents are at 47. At Miami and Orlando, the numbers were 37 and 33 percent for the Wolves and 58 and 50 for the other guys.

Among Wolves' starters, Luke Ridnour is at a respectable 47.5 percent. Michael Beasley 44, Kevin Love 41 and Darko Milicic 14 percent. Not a typo. 14 percent. Wayne Ellington is at 36 percent and has relinquished his starting spot at the so-called "shooting" guard to, um, Brewer, again, at 27.

Beasley came out strong against his former teammates at Miami, scoring 11 points in 10.5 minutes, but he went down with a left hip contusion and hasn't played since. Rookie Wesley Johnson replaced him in the starting lineup with a 34 percent shooting performance to date.

Off the bench, you've got Pekovic, Koufos and Ager at 50 percent or better, and Telfair at 44, though Anthony Tolliver is at 38 and Lazar Haywood is at 15.

The Wolves are doing OK in the possession game with +4 offensive boards almost offsetting +5 turnovers. But in addition to being outshot, the Wolves are getting just 15 assists a night to their opponents 26. The Wolves' ball movement is resulting in an assist on about 40 percent of FG, while opponents are assisting on over 60 percent of their FG.

Which brings us back to the D. This was supposed to be an improved defense with Milicic and Pekovic in the middle and...well, who exactly is a plus defender otherwise? Certainly, nobody so far. And if Milicic is so great, how, come the Wolves were 2-24 down the stretch with him last year?

David Kahn said last summer that there was no question the Wolves roster was better than the one he inherited when hired as the Wolves' GM. If that's the case--though, of course, reasonable people could differ on that point based on the evidence so far--but if that's the case, then the finger is going to start pointing at coach Kurt Rambis before too long. Oh, wait, it just did. His triangle offense has long been characterized as way too difficult for his inexperienced team. Now it's looking like his defensive schemes aren't exactly taking root, either.

Even assuming that the Wolves can and will play better than they have so far, looking at their schedule, they seem likely to close November at 5-13 at the very best, and December at maybe 8-26. January gets easier and 13-35 seems not out of reach. But these are probably best cases.

So at 13-35 in January, or maybe 10-38, the Target Center is likely to be empty enough, again, to catch Glen Taylor's eye. Kahn is probably here for awhile. But it's not too much to think that a new coach will be on board before the season is half over.

Either that or the 6-2 pre-season Wolves are lurking just beneath the surface, just waiting to break free, or to starting shooting 45 percent, whichever comes first. They key, it seems to me, is Ridnour, at least until Jonny Flynn returns from injury. Ridnour averaged 16 points, 6 assists and 2 turnovers in the 1st 2 games--the win and the close loss. He is hardly the only guy who was overmatched on the road trip, but as the "1" he's the guy who makes things happen, or not. And his numbers say "not"--19 points in 3 games, 6 assists and 7 turnovers. The Wolves assist numbers say they're not getting good shots, and it might be time for Sebastein Telfair to log some more minutes before too long.

The other immediate concern is Beasley's health and the inconsistent play of the Wolves' putative best man, Kevin Love. Somebody's gotta take charge and right now, Kurt Rambis is the only guy doing so, and that ain't workin'.