Friday, December 31, 2010

UConn's Win Streak

Even the many basketball fans who hate the women's game know that the Connecticut Huskies broke the record 88-game winning streak of the UCLA Bruin men and legendary coach John Wooden the other day--which is in part why you hate them. They broke the men's record. And that's probably why you rejoiced when, a few days later, the streak ended at 90 in a 71-59 loss to the Stanford Cardinal.

OK, I hope you can tell that I have my tongue planted firmly in my cheek on this one. I don't know anybody who hates the Connecticut Huskies. Head coach Geno Auriemma, maybe, but the Huskies? No. Still, there's been a certain amount of whining that the Huskies haven't gotten their due, and that it is because--you guessed it--they are women.

I'm referring to an Op Ed in yesterday's StarTrib written by "digital producer/editorial writer" Susan Hogan, who says that "dismissive reactions to UConn's record say much about continuing gender disparities in sports."

Well, somebody's got to say it. Not that gender disparities are entirely a thing of the past. But that Hogan's commentary is nevertheless at least 90 percent hogwash.

• First, her premise is that UConn's record "received scant attention" in the news media and that, "by comparison...(UCLA's) feat saturated the news." Well, for one thing, I suspect that Hogan has no idea whether "UCLA's feat saturated the news" or not. The fact is that you couldn't watch the men's NCAA tournament on television in those days, of which she is probably unaware. And secondly, sure, UConn's record didn't make the Strib's front page but, hey, it's not a local story. And, again, I seriously doubt that may basketball fans are not aware of what the Huskies did.

• Second, Hogan purports to show "continuing gender disparities in sports" by reference to her own career in high school and college. But she never says exactly when that was other than that it was "decades" after he father coached high school sports in the 1940s and that it was after the adoption of Title IX in 1972. "When I two sports were offered to girls.... Boys, on the other hand, could choose from football, basketball, baseball, track and golf."

"It wasn't supposed to be this way," she continues. "Title IX...prohibited sexual discrimination in federally funded educational programs. So while the UCLA men's basketball team was winning its way into the record books, women were fighting for the chance to attend medical schools, law schools and play sports--opportunities routinely denied them."

Well, UCLA set its record 42 years ago, in 1968. Hogan writes as if the opportunity to play sports was "routinely denied" to her and are still "routinely denied" today. Neither of which is true. Hogan herself played sports in high school--though she only had two sports to choose from--and she "played varsity sports in college."

What's more, she goes on to write that "since Title IX...several Minnesota women have soared to wide acclaim," including skier Lindsay Vonn and basketball player Lindsay Whalen. Her own evidence, then, disproves her generalized claim that women's sports receive "scant" and "dismissive" media coverage.

Generally, her presentation of gender discrimination in sports is utterly hyperbolic and completely outdated--pre-dating, in fact, even her own personal experience as an athlete.

• Third, she claims that not only was coverage "scant," but what coverage there was was "dismissive," that journalists and others "belittled" UConn's achievement. She provides but two examples, which she fails to attribute by name--saying only that they were written by "one sportwriter" and "another writer." A Google search shows that the first writer was Samuel Chi of Real Clear Sports (dot com) who said simply that UCLA would continue to hold the men's record while UConn would hold the women's record. The second was by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports who said that "these are two different sports."

Whether either of these comments is "dismissive" of "belittling" or not is surely in the eye of the beholder. But more to the point, do two such comments indicate a general air of dismissal such as Hogan wants to claim exists? What Wetzel, in fact, asks is whether UConn's achievement "should be taken down a peg because it didn't come against the same level of competition" and whether UConn will "be surpassing UCLA's record." The answer to both questions, he says, is No.

She goes on to quote two other journalists, whom she does identify by name. One, Laura Pappano, wrote, "That a women's team may overtake a record held by a men's team merely reflects the fact that athletic dominance doesn't have a gender," which quote contradicts Hogan's two main arguments, above. And finally she quotes Mike Bombach of USA Today, who wrote, "Not to give them credit is just shameful chauvinism." Well, USA Today reaches a vastly larger audience than Real Clear Sports, which contradicts Hogan's argument that the mainstream was "dismissive." In fact the mainstream, represented by USA Today, was supportive and the allegedly "dismissive" comments came from the periphery.

In viewing all of the above and coming to the conclusion that the media coverage was "scant" and "dismissive," Hogan is living in the past and unable to see girls' and women's sports as they exist today except through her own personal filter.

• Finally, Hogan attributes gender "disparities" in sports to a lack of media coverage. And, by the way, the only current disparity she claims is the "scant" and "dismissive" media coverage, though she never quite gets around to acknowledging that the days when girls had but two sports to choose from and boys five is in the past. But the fact is that observers of the sporting scene who are vastly more knowledgeable than Hogan would argue that "scant" media coverage is reflective of the relative level of interest in men's versus women's sports.

Christine Brennan wrote in another USA Today column: "There's no doubt that college men's basketball has more interest than the women's game. TV ratings, attendance figures and revenue bear that out." The media, in other words, follows the fans, not the other way around as Hogan would have it.

My own personal experience is that, indeed, fans of girl's and women's basketball are hungry for news. More visitors to this Web blog read my posts on girl's basketball than read my other posts. Sure, that's because they aren't seeing as much coverage in the mainstream media as they do for the boys and men.

But when I go to a Gopher game, there are 14,000 people there--for the men. For the women, more like 3,000. And when I went to the high school state tournament last year, there were 6,000 at the final and 37,000 across 4 days. For the boys, the numbers were 11,000 and 65,000. Media coverage reflects this reality.

I've probably seen about 3 times more girls and women's basketball games over the past decade than boys and men's. I'm sympathtic, OK? But, shaming fans into following girls and women's basketball, as Hogan tries to do, is simply not going to work.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Greatest Coaches

Recently I blasted off about the so-called Big Ten Icons. But, was it ever thus? Now the Sporting News has come out with a list of the 50 greatest coaches of all-time, though they refer to the list as the Top 50 Coaches.

But like most such lists, they mean the top 50 that a fellow who is alive today can think of without having to do any boring research. And so, they've got 21 football coaches, 14 basketball coaches, 10 baseball managers and 5 hockey coaches, and not a single coach from any other sport.

What's worse is that they've only got 7 coaches from pre-1950 and 43 since then. All of their top 3 and 4 of their top 6 peaked in the 1960s. That's not right and it's not fair. So I thought I would correct the situation with my top 50. And not just "coaches," in the narrow sense of the word, but "leaders" in the broader sense of the word. You'll se what I mean.

Top 50 Sports Leaders (Sporting News ranking in parentheses)

1. Knute Rockne (10)--made Notre Dame football into Notre Dame football
2. Branch Rickey (-)--built "the boys of summer" and broke the color line
3. John Wooden (1)
4. Vince Lombardi (2)--helped establish the "winning is everything" culture
5. Amos Alonzo Stagg (40)--invented modern collegiate athletics
6. Casey Stengel (9)
7. Red Auerbach (6)
8. Tom Landry (18) and Tex Schramm (-)--made the Cowboys America's team
9. Scotty Bowman (7)
10. Bear Bryant (3)

11. Rube Foster (-)--invented the Negro Baseball Leagues
12. Dr. James A. Naismith (-)--invented the game of basketball
13. Herb Brooks (50)--architect of the greatest moment in American sport
14. John McGraw (25)
15. Albert Spalding (-)--economic sponsor of 19C MLB, made it America's National Pastime more than anyone
16. Abe Saperstein (-)--founded the Harlem Globetrotters
17. Bill Walsh (26)--invented the West Coast offense
18. Connie Mack (28)
19. Adolph Rupp (21)--2nd greatest college basketball coach ever, but a racist bastard
20. Phil Jackson (4)

21 (tie). Mike Krzyzewski (19) and Dean Smith 8)
22. Toe Blake (37)
23. Eddie Robinson (23)
24. Bill Veeck (-)
25. Harry Wright (-)--built 1st pro baseball team, Cincinnati Red Stockings, among others
26. Cap Anson (-)--more than anyone, established the color line in MLB in 19C
27. Bob Johnson (-)--Badger Bob, won NCAA and NHL titles
28 (tie). Geno Auriemma (42) and Pat Summitt (11)
29. (tie). George Halas (14) and Curly Lambeau (-)
30. (tie). Bob Devaney (-) and Tom Osborne (34)

31. Frank Chance (-)--baseball's Peerless Leader in the 1900s
32. Paul Brown (12)--reinvented pro football in the 1950s
33. Bobby Knight (16)
34. Phog Allen (-)--early Kansas basketball coach
35. Fielding Yost (-)--early Michigan football coach
36. Angelo Dundee (-)--greatest boxing trainer
37. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (-)--greatest horse racing trainer
38 (tie). Art and Dan Rooney (-)--what NFL owners should be
39 (tie). Lou Holtz (-), Frank Leahy (-) and Ara Parseghian (44)--Notre Dame national champs after Rockne
40 (tie). Woody Hayes (27) and Bud Wilkinson (29)--great coaches of '50s and '60s

41. Pat Riley (30)
42. Anson Dorrance (-)--underrated at #42, look 'im up
43. Leo Durocher (-)--I dunno if "nice guys finish last," but jerks certainly finished 1st, in his case
44. Dan Gable (-)--underrated at #44, look 'im up
45 (tie). Ned Hanlon (-) and Frank Selee (-)--great baseball managers of the 1890s
46. Bob Douglas (-)--created the New York Rens basketball team
47. Earl "Red" Blaik (-)
48. Earl Weaver (-)--SN preferred Joe McCarthy (22, which is OK), Joe Torre (32, which I get) and Bobby Cox (46, which I get, but just don't happen to agree with) but also Walter Alston (35), Sparky Anderson (38), Tony LaRussa (41), and Tommy Lasorda (48) all of whom I do not get over the Earl of Weaver
49 (tie). Bo Schembechler (36) and Joe Paterno (13)
50. Harvey Penick (-)--the greatest golf teacher of 'em all


OK, I cheated. So sue me. With ties, I got 60 sports leaders into my Top 50. And where the Sporting News had just 7 of them from before 1950, I've got 23 of 'em. And while they had nobody other than baseball, basketball, football and hockey coaches, I've got people from the boxing, golf, horse racing, soccer and wrestling worlds. Isn't that better?

Among the people I rated and they didn't, the following are the worst oversights, meaning fellows who met their own criteria--they were baseball, basketball, football and hockey "coaches" in the narrow sense of the word and even coached within the time frame (the 20C) that the Sporting News covered--but the Sporting News simply booted 'em.

27. Badger Bob Johnson
30. Bob Devaney
34. Phog Allen
35. Fielding Yost
39. Frank Leahy and Lou Holtz
43. Leo Durocher
47. Red Blaik
48. Earl Weaver

Here are the fellows whom the SN rated in their top 50 and I didn't.

5. Don Shula
15. Chuck Noll
17. Joe Gibbs
20. Bill Belichek--boy, do we ever love the modern NFL coach
22. Joe McCarthy
24. Bobby Bowden
31. Pete Newell--better than Phog Allen? really?
32. Joe Torre
33. Bill Parcells
35. Walter Alston
38. Sparky Anderson--I'd rather have Bill McKechnie and Billy Southworth
39. Al Arbour
41. Tony LaRussa--way too many modern-day MLB managers (more below)
43. Dick Irvin--2-and-8 in Stanley Cup finals, sorry
45. Chuck Daly
46. Bobby Cox
47. Hank Iba
48. Tommy Lasorda
49. Greg Popovich

The next few guys I wish I could have gotten into the top 50 or 60 or whatever were none of these guys except one, including baseball managers Joe McCarthy, Bill McKechnie and Billy Southworth.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Now, the (Gopher and Big Ten) Men

The Gopher men wrapped up their pre-season a day after the women, and the Big Ten overall has the same number of non-conference games remaining for both (5). The men wrap up their regular season schedules on March 6 and hold the Big Ten tournament March 10-13, while the women finish regular season play on February 27 and hold their post-season tournament March 3-6. The point being that the men play an 18 game conference schedule, and the women 16.

As for the Gophers: If you had said 2 months ago that the Minnesota men could be 11-1 and rated #17 in the nation at this point in time, you would have said, "I'll take it." Every time. And yet, here they are, 11-1 and rated #17 in the nation and the Gopher faithful are not happy. Aside from 2 upset wins in Puerto Rico--over #8 North Carolina and over West Virginia--the season consists primarily of too-close contests with a bunch of nobodies:

Siena by 9 at home, Cornell by 5 at home, Akron by 8 at home, and South Dakota State by 12 at home in a game that was closer than that.

And don't forget the loss to 8-4 Virginia, at home.

All in all, the analysis is that this is not a good shooting team, nor does it have a good perimeter defense. The Gophers have out-shot their rivals, overall, 47 percent to 39 percent. But from 3-point-land, it is the opponents who have out-shot the Gophers, 37 percent to 35. And it cannot be denied that the Gophers are a truly dreadful FT shooting team at 62 percent.

The final tune-up was pretty typical. Minnesota shot 48 percent to South Dakota State's 38 percent, but from beyond the arc it was 31 percent (Gophers) to 30 (Jackrabbits). And from the FT line the Gophers made just 16-of-26 (62 percent). At about the 6:30 mark, the Gophers were 8-for-18 and the score was tied at 64-64. Fortunately they made 8-of-8 down the stretch to pull away to the win.

Despite the whining, there they are, 11-1 and #17 in the nation. I'll take it. But where will they be come March?

1. Ohio State 16-2, 29-2, #2

You gotta be good to be lucky and these guys are both. The Buckeyes' not-quite-full-round-robin conference schedule does not contain a game at Michigan State this year. But seriously, these guys are good. They're out-shooting their opponents 49-40 percent and out-scoring them 81-55. They've out-rebounded their rivals 38-31 and have committed 100 fewer turnovers.

Freshman Jared Sullinger is scoring 17.5 points per game with 10 rebounds. David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas all scored in double figures--and, all but Buford shoot 46 percent or better. Dallas Lauderdale comes of the bench to shoot 64 percent with a team-high 2-and-a-half blocks and a team-2nd best 5 boards.

Oakland probably seems like a strange barometer for the Buckeyes or any Big Ten team, but just consider: The Golden Grizzlies lost at Michigan by 18, at Purdue by 15, at Illinois by 9 and at Michigan State by 1. They lost at Ohio State by 29. (They won at then-#7 Tennessee.)

2. Michigan State 14-4, 22-8, #14

At 8-4, the Spartans' non-conference record is 9th-best in the Big Ten. And the latest, 67-55 against #17 Texas at home, was not what you'd call a "good loss," though the other 3--at UConn, at #1 Duke and at #8 Syracuse could be so classified. But, hey, they've 5 of their top 6 players back from last year's Final Four team--Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious and Delvin Roe. That they're not the pre-season fave in the Big Ten is only testimony to the monster that Ohio State has become. The predicted 4 conference losses is the absolute rock bottom for these guys. It's just a shame they only play the Buckeyes once, at Columbus, on Feb. 15. Advantage (unfair): Buckeyes.

3. Minnesota 12-6, 23-7, #12

It says here that, sure, the Gophers are a mediocre defensive team, not a great shooting team and a terrible FT shooting team. And, that they play down to their opponents--as well as, up. The North Carolina and West Virginia games are indicative of the Gophers' ability, not the Virginia game. 4 guys are scoring in double figures--Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe, Devoe Joseph and Ralph Sampson--and 6 are scoring 7 or more. To some this indicates the lack of a go-to scorer, and there's some truth to that. But it also means that Big Ten defenses won't be able to focus on anybody, so anybody can get hot. And the Gophers' schedule is not the worst. In a strange quirk, they open at Wisconsin, then don't play the Badgers again in regular season. And they don't have to go to Illinois. Go Gophers!

4. Purdue 12-6, 23-7, #14

The Boilermakers miss Robbie Hummel something fierce, otherwise they're up there with Ohio State. Still, nobody's got a 1-2 punch like JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Both are scoring more than 19 ppg and they're collecting 14 boards between them. Moore leads the team in assists and steals. Depth is a problem, however, and coach Matt Painter has auditioned 6 different players for the other 3 starting slots.

5. Illinois 11-7, 10-3, #21

The Illini feature one of the Big Ten's most dynamic players in Demetri McCamey (16 points and 7 assists), and D. J.Richardson, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale also score in double figures, and the shooting percentages are solid all the way to the end of the bench. It's only a testimony to the toughness of the Big Ten that they're slotting in at #5.

6. Wisconsin 10-8, 19-10

Ditto Wisconsin with Jon Leuer (20 points and 7 boards) and Jordan Taylor (15 points and 5 assists). But the Badgers' depth is questionable. Minnesota high school grads Mike Brusewicz and Jared Berggren need to step it up a bit. But the only losses are at UNLV and Notre Dame at home. The signature win thus far is at Boston College by 10. The Gophers open at Wisconsin and that is tough enough as openers go.

7. Northwestern 7-11, 16-12

Progress is being made under coach Bill Carmody. Their top 3 are almost as good as anybody's: John Shurna with 23 points, 5 boards and 3 assists; and guards Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson each score 15 points apiece as Crawford adds 5 boards and Thompson 5 assists. But after that the cupboard remains a little bit bare. Still, the Wildcats already have a signature win over Georgia Tech by 20 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. More recently, they lost at St. John's by 16, and open conference play at Purdue and with Michigan State at home.

8. Michigan 7-11, 17-13

The Wolverines have lost only at #9 Syracuse and at UTEP but beat Clemson by 9 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And only guards Darius Morris (16) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (12) score in double figures.

9. Indiana 5-13, 14-17

The time is c0ming, and soon, when the Hoosiers and coach Tom Crean will be a powerhouse once again. But not quite, not this year, as the non-conference schedule concluded with shocking home losses to Northern Iowa and Colorado. They also lost at Boston College, unlike conference rival Wisconsin. Christian Watford (18) and Verdell Jones III (12) score in double figures.

10. Penn State 4-14, 11-18

Penn State appeared on the road to respectability a couple years ago, but now seem to be slipping backward. Guard Talor Battle is still a stud, with 21 points, 5 boards and 3 assists, but other than Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones, the rest of the supporting cast is shooting below 40 percent. The final tune-up, a 10-point homecourt loss to Maine, bodes poorly.

11. Iowa 3-15, 10-20

The Hawkeyes, too, will return to respectability but not in 2011, as losses to South Dakota State, 5-8 Long Beach State, and 6-6 Wake Forest will attest. Leading scorer Matt Gatens is at 11.7 ppg and 38 percent from the floor.

Big Ten Tournament

#6 Wisconsin over #11 Iowa
#7 Northwestern over #10 Penn State
#8 Michigan over #9 Indiana

#1 Ohio State over #8 Michigan
#2 Michigan State over #7 Northwestern
#3 Minnesota over #6 Wisconsin
#5 Illinois over #4 Purdue

#1 Ohio State over #5 Illinois
#3 Minnesota over #2 Michigan State--who said lightning doesn't strike twice

#1 Ohio State over #3 Minnesota

NCAA Tournament

Ohio State 32-2, #1 seed 5 wins, national runner-up 37-3
Michigan State 23-8, #3 seed, Elite Eight 26-9
Minnesota 25-8, #4 seed, Sweet Sixteen 27-9
Purdue 23-8, #5 seed 1 win 24-9
Illinois 22-11, #7 seed 2 wins 24-12
Wisconsin 20-11, #8 seed 2 wins 22-12

All-Big Ten

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue, sr., Player of the Year
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, fr.
E'Twaun Moore, Purdue, sr.
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State, sr.
Demetri McCamey, Illinois, sr.

2nd Team

John Shurna, Northwestern, jr.
Talor Battle, Penn State, sr.
Jon Leuer, Wisconsin, sr.
David Lightly, Ohio State, sr.
Durrell Summers, Michigan State, sr.

3rd Team

Jon Diebler, Ohio State, sr.
Draymond Green, Michigan State, jr.
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin, jr.
Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota, sr.
Christian Watford, Indiana, soph.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Big Ten Women Wrapping Up Non-Conference Season

The Minnesota Gopher women wrapped up non-conference play with another uninspired win--but a win--last night, 82-74 over 4-and-8 Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks were within 73-68 at 1:30 and 78-74 at 0:19 before a Katie Loberg 2 + 1 iced it for the home team.

The Gophers finished up 8-and-5. The losses included:

• The good--75-79 to 10-1 Wisconsin-Green Bay while shooting 54 percent from the field

• The bad--68-75 at 4-5 Alabama A&M while shooting 63 percent from the charity stripe

• And the ugly--56-103 at #2 Baylor

The wins featured the same.

• I saw one of the good ones, 73-63 over the 6-5 Pitt Panthers, and there was also a 63-58 win over 7-4 Virginia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Prettiest of all, perhaps, was a 71-67 win vs. 7-6 North Carolina State In Reno, NV, in which Leah Cotton scored 25 points.

• The bad--97-81 to 7-5 Dayton at the Barn

• Last night's win was ugly, an 8-pointer despite shooting 54 percent, as the Gophers committed an all-too-typical 24 turnovers.

More broadly speaking, there's been a lot of good things that have happened--specifically, the emergence of Cotton, Kristen Dockery and Katie Loberg. Cotton is 2nd on the team in scoring at 16 ppg and shooting 50 percent, compared to 3 points and 25 percent shooting a year ago. Dockery is playing more minutes per game (22) than she played all of last year (18), and is scoring 6 ppg on 56 percent shooting. Loberg is the 3rd leading scorer and rebounder at 10 and 4 and is shooting 58 percent from the field. Last year she scored 2 ppg on 35 percent shooting.

As a team, the Gophers are shooting 46 percent from the field, one of the better figures among Big Ten teams, and they're out-rebounding their opponents 39-34.

But the Gophers are losing the possession game. Opponents have 14 more offensive rebounds than the Gophers, and Minnesota has a whopping 60 more turnovers than their opponents. So opponents have launched 10 more FG attempts per game than the Gophers, and so that 46 percent FG percentage has resulted in 13 less actual FG than the opponents. Assists are almost dead even at 15 per game for each side.

But it's those turnovers, 20 per game, that really stand out. There were 26 in the home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay, 20 in the shocking loss at Alabama A&M, 24 last night against Northern Arizona.

Still, the future would seem to promise improvement with the emergence of the sophomores (Cotton and Loberg) and the freshman class (Kionna Kellogg, Sari Noga and Micaella Riche) already contributing (7 points in 30 minutes per game). Congrats also to coach Pam Borton as last night's win made her the winningest Gopher women's coach ever with 173 wins.

But a .500 record (8-8) would have to be considered a moral victory in a Big Ten season that opens next Thursday, Dec. 30 at Illinois, then continues with Indiana and Iowa at home on Jan. 2 and Jan. 5.

The schedule, for the record, is fairly neutral. The Gophers will be playing Illinois and Penn State just once each, and obviously you wouldn't mind playing them twice. In particular, we don't get Penn State at home. On the other hand, we don't have to play Ohio State and Purdue twice either, and specifically we won't get a virtually automatic loss in Columbus.

The Big Ten

If not the Gophers who, then, will contend for the Big Ten title? Well, right now the non-conference records are as follows.

#14 Iowa 12-1
#12 Michigan State 12-1
Northwestern 11-2
#13 Ohio State 8-2 with Duquesne and Bethune-Cookman remaining
Penn State 10-3 with Bucknell remaining on the schedule
Purdue 8-3 with Western Illinois remaining
Minnesota 8-5
Michigan 7-5
Indiana 6-6
Illinois 5-7 with California still to go
Wisconsin 5-7

But here's how it will look going into the Big Ten tournament come March.

1. Ohio State 13-3, 23-5, #7

All-American Jantel Lavender scores 25 points on 58 percent shooting, and adds 10 boards. Samantha Prahalis, Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson also score in double figures, though Prahalis' 31 percent shooting thus far is a worry and the depth isn't what it's been. Still, the Buckeyes won't go undefeated in the conference, but 3 losses is pretty much rock bottom. 15-1 wouldn't be a surprise.

2. Iowa 12-4, 23-6, #15

The Hawkeyes are, of course, Gophers South with Kachine Alexander (14 points, 9 boards, 2 steals) and Kamille Wahlin (12 points, 3 assists) among their top contributors. Iowa has 2 common opponents with the Gophers--they beat Southern by 24, we beat 'em by 15; and they hammered Virginia Tech by 29, we won by 5. Iowa's schedule is a mixed bag--no games at Michigan and Indiana, nor do they get Northwestern or Purdue at home.

3. Michigan State 11-5, 22-7, #21

The Spartans lost to Baylor by 26, we lost to them by 47. They beat Dayton by 12, we lost by 16. But we beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee by 13, the Spartans beat 'em by just 7. But, hey, they're 12-1 with good wins at #15 Florida State 72-64, and 71-57 over #17 Texas. Senior Kalisha Keane has emerged as their leader with 16 ppg on 46 percent shooting, versus last year's 7.5 points and 39 percent. The Spartans do NOT play at Northwestern or Purdue, nor do they get Indiana and Penn State at home.

4. Northwestern 9-7, 20-9

OK, are the Wildcats for real? I mean, here's a team that won 31 games while losing 124 (10-80 in the Big Ten) from 2004 to 2009. Until last season, they hadn't had a winning campaign in 13years. But, yeah, they're for real. An 18-15 record a year ago included twice as many Big Ten wins as the previous year, plus a pair of NIT wins in March. Now in his 3rd season as head coach, Joe McKeown has brought respectability more quickly than anyone could have predicted.

Of course, even more credit for the turnaround has to go to 6-5 center Amy Jaeschke, a returning 1st team all-Big Ten selection who is now scoring 24 ppg with 9 rebounds on 57 percent shooting. Other returning starters include Kendall Hackney, Beth Marshall and Brittany Orban, and all 3 are scoring in double figures for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats beat Northern Arizona by 18, versus the Gophers 8 point margin over the Lumberjacks. And like most Big Ten teams, the schedule is pretty neutral--they're deprived of the opportunity to lose at Iowa, and also of the chance to beat Indiana and Michigan. Nor dpo they play Michigan State. Northwestern is for real and the 1st winning record in conference games in a blue moon would seem to be in order.

5. Purdue 8-8, 17-11

On paper the Boilermakers are a mess, with 11 different women starting at least 1 game. But, hey, their only losses are to #7 Texas A&M, #16 Notre Dame and #22 Maryland, though it's true the A)&M loss was of the monumental variety (100-55). And they've been distracted by Drey Mingo's meningitis and the resulting cancellation of a trip to a tournament in Mexico. Mingo, the team's 3rd leading scorer, is now back in the lineup and so I'll guess that Purdue will do what it always seems to do when it is in rebuilding mode, which is play in the vicinity of .500 in the conference.

6. Penn State 7-9, 18-12

The Lady Lions are 10-3 but lost to Drexel, at home, on Tuesday night 84-73. Thank goodness there's another tune-up against Bucknell next week. By way of comparison with our Gophers, the Lions beat Dayton by 5 (we lost by 16) and lost to Wisconsin-Green Bay by 5 (we lost by 4). Penn State can score with Maggie Lucas, Alex Bentley, Zhaque Gray and Mia Nickson all averaging in double figures. But they can give up the points, too--107 to Dayton, 113 to Boston College, 84 to Drexel, and so on. Penn State plays Iowa and Michigan State just once, and that can't be bad. But they play Indiana and Wisconsin once, and that can't be good.

7. Minnesota 6-10, 14-15
8. Michigan 6-10, 13-15
9. Indiana 6-10, 12-16
10. Wisconsin 6-10, 11-17

Distinguishing among the also-rans is desperate work, though I can tell you that Wisconsin struggled early on without the services of point guard Alyssa Karel, a Cretin-Derham grad, and then forward Lin Zastrow. Not only that, but the Badgers played by far the Big Ten's toughest non-conference schedule. They lost to Wisconsin-Green Bay by 26 (the Gophers lost to UWGB by 4), and they beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee by 16. The Gophers defeated UWM by 13. And when they traveled to #5 Duke, the Badgers lost by just 59-51. Karel leads the Badgers with 14 ppg and 2 assists, while Tara Steinbauer (of Bloomington Kennedy) is 3rd in scoring at 11 ppg and leads with 7 rebounds.

Michigan has stubbornly refused to jell under coach Kevin Borseth but a 68-55 win last night over #24 Boston College says that maybe they're getting there. Of course, just 4 nights previous they were demolished 67-48 by 5-5 Detroit. Will the real Wolverines please stand up? Guards Kate Thompson (Wayzata) and Courtney Boylan (Chaska) come off the bench for Michigan, and score about 10 points between them on about 40 percent shooting.

The Hoosiers have been about as erratic as the other Big Ten also-rans, losing to Florida Gulf Coast and Toledo and Miami (OH) while beating #24 Nebraska 67-61. Jori Davis scores 17 ppg but on just 37 percent shooting, while Georgie Jones, formerly of St. Paul Central and Marquette, has finally gained her eligibility. She joined the Hoosier's starting lineup just last week and has scored 13.5 ppg with 6 boards in 2 games to date. Other than Jones (59 percent), the Hoosiers are not a good shooting team.

11. Illinois 4-12, 9-19

Is Illinois really a last place team? I mean, they beat Cal Poly 104-63, this being the same Cal Poly whom the Gophers beat 66-52. But on the other hand, the Illini lost to N.C. State 73-57 at home, whereas we knocked off the Wolfpack 71-67 in Raleigh. Karisma Penn is Illinois' leader with 17 ppg, 9.5 rebounds and 51 percent shooting. But everybody else is scoring in single digits and shooting in the low 40s at best.

Big Ten Tournament

OK, a little optimism.

#6 Penn State over #11 Illinois
#7 Minnesota over #10 Wisconsin
#9 Indiana over #8 Michigan

#1 Ohio State over #9 Indiana
#7 Minnesota over #2 Iowa
#3 Michigan State over #6 Penn State
#5 Purdue over #4 Northwestern

#1 Ohio State over #5 Purdue
#7 Minnesota over #3 Michigan State

#1 Ohio State over #7 Minnesota

All-Big Ten

Jantel Lavander, Ohio State, C, Player of the Year
Amy Jaeschke, Northwestern, C
Sam Prahalis, Ohio State, G
Jamie Printy, Iowa, F
Alex Bentley, Penn State, G

Maggie Lucas, Penn State, G
Kachine Alexander, Iowa, G
Kalisha Keane, Michigan State, F
Morgan Johnson, Iowa, C
Karisma Penn, Illinois, F

Kamille Wahlin, Iowa, G
Tayler Hill, Ohio State, G
Brittany Rayburn, Purdue, G
Kiara Buford, Minnesota, G
Alyssa Karel, Wisconsin, G

Coach of the Year--Joe McKeown, Northwestern

The Future

I see the Gophers getting to 17-16, and thus getting a bid to the NIT. Let's say they win a pair to finish 19-17. You may have thought 6-10 in the Big Ten a bit pessimistic, but 19-17 overall would have to be an optimistic forecast.

Still, the future looks better yet. Only China Antoine and Kristen Dockery will complete their eligibility this year. And God bless them both. Antoine was a nobody when recruited, but has been the Gophers' best player from time to time and a solid contributor at all times over the past 2 years, except when turning the ball over (3 times a game thus far in 2010-2011). Dockery has finally overcome the injuries that kept her on the sideline for 4 years, and she has been a revelation.

Along with Dock, Leah Cotton and Katie Loberg are much improved as sophomores. The juniors, Kiara Buford, Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigt are still pretty much the players they were a year ago, though it's true that Buford has raised her scoring average from 13 to 16 and her shooting percentage from 40 to 48. But it's also true that as she's tried to assert herself, her turnovers are up from 2 to 4.

And, as noted, the freshman class has shown promise, while point guard Rachel Banham will be joining the program next year as the Gophers' highest rated recruit since the ill-fated class of 2008. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, rather let's leave it with a final summary for 2011:

May the freshman class improve as much as last year's freshman class has improved. And may everybody cut down on their turnovers. If all of that happens, the upside could possibly be a winning record (at about 19-17). But there's no more upside than that and a lot more downside. Frankly, a 1st round loss in the Big Ten tournament, a final record of 14-16, and no NIT bid would seem more likely than the rosy scenario presented above. There, I said it.

But next year, I guarantee 19 wins. Oops, I got ahead of myself again. Unfortunately, seasons like 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 have that effect.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Northern Sun Joins MIAC on the Sidelines

The Northern Sun wrapped up 2010 play Saturday night, and now begins a 2 week break before resuming activity again on Saturday, January 1. All teams have now played 5 or 6 of 20 (women) or 22 (men) conference games, with the result that:

• Defending league post-season champ and pre-season favorite Wayne State is threatening to run away and hide from the other women's teams. The Wildcats are 6-0 in the conference (7-1 overall) and have out-scored 6 opponents by an average of 73-53. Pre-season player of the year Ashley Arlen leads the way with 16 ppg, while post Mara Hjelle, from Mahtomedi, MN, is averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. Guard Ali Schwartzwald, from North Branch, MN, joins Hjelle in the Wildcats' starting lineup, and is contributing 5 points and 2-and-a-half assists.

• In contrast, the men's race appears to be wide open as Mankato State and surprising UMD are tied at the top at 5-1. The Mavericks from Mankato, defending regular season champions, were placed 3rd in the coach's pre-season poll, and are led by Jefferson Mason, from Cooper, with 16.5 ppg. The Bulldogs have jelled around junior guard Ryan Rasmussen, who scores 16 ppg.

More on the Men

Moorhead, St. Cloud and Winona State, and Concordia-St. Paul are all tied for 3rd behind Mankato and UMD at 3-2. Winona, the pre-season pick, needed a half-court 3 from Anthony Tucker to beat SW State at home on Friday in order to stay above .500. The Warriors thus qualify as the main disappointment thus far, yet they remain in the hunt for a regular season title.

Top individual performers are Tucker at 20 ppg thus far; and St. Cloud's Taylor Witt, the pre-season choice as player of the year, with 18 ppg. Mason is on track to earn 1st team all-conference honors, especially if his Mavs remain atop the standings. The other top performers are Anthony Moody of Mary with 18 points and 2.1 steals per game. And 6-8 soph Alex Novak leads Moorhead with 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while also contributing 11 ppg.

Men's coach of the year so far is Gary Holmquist, now in his 14th year at surprising UMD, who was placed 12th out of 14 teams in the pre-season coach's poll. Mankato coach Matt Marganthaler has also earned a share of 1st place at the holiday break, and he recently won his 200th game as the Mavericks' coach.

More on the Women

Moorhead and Winona share 2nd place behind Wayne State. Selected for 6th place in the pre-season coach's poll, the Dragons are now 4-1 and 7-2 overall behind 6-2 junior Angie Jetvig, from Hawley, MN, who leads her team with 20 ppg, 8 boards and 2 steals per game. Winona was pegged for 4th in the pre-season poll but has now won 4-of-5 in the conference and 9-of-9 overall. The Warriors are led by the inside-outside combo of Michelle McDonald, with 16 points and 8 boards per game, and Katie Wolff, with 14 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.

Women's coach of the year candidates to date include Karla Nelson and Scott Ballard of 2nd place Moorhead and Winona, respectively.

Among the top newcomers are guard Haley Thomforde of Moorhead (from Eastview) with 4 assists and 1.67 steals; and Beth Albertson and Abby Busch (from Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop) of Winona State with 7 ppg apiece.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Boys Breakdown Classic Rescheduled

The date is now Saturday, January 22. The place is still Minnetonka High School. 6 teams originally scheduled to participate have withdrawn due to scheduling conflicts, but 8 match-ups remain. 2 new games matching 4 teams have been added to fill out the schedule.

West Gym

12:30 P.M.: Braham vs. Holy Family 2:15 P.M.: St. Cloud Apollo vs. Eden Prairie 4 P.M.: Waconia vs. Apple Valley 5:45 P.M.: Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Cretin Derham Hall 7:30 P.M.: Minnetonka vs. Lakeville South

East Gym

Noon: Shakopee vs. Orono 1:45 P.M.: Duluth East vs Minnesota Transitions 3:30 P.M.: Henry Sibley vs. Marantha Christian Academy 5:15 P.M.: Buffalo vs. Marshall 7 P.M.: Osseo vs. Hopkins

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Minnesota Gopher men 66 Akron Zips 58

The Minnesota Gopher men eased past a scrappy bunch of Akron Zips 66-58 at Williams Arena Wednesday night. Akron led 32-27 at the half, and 39-38 around the 11:00 mark. But having made 14-of-46 FG up to that point, Minnesota converted 11-of-14 the rest of the way and led by as much as 61-46 at about 4:00. Still the Zips came back within 63-56 at 2:00, but then scored just 1 more time inside of 0:10.

The Gophers got balanced scoring from Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe (13 each), Rodney Williams (12) and Devoe Joseph (11), and out-rebounded the Zips 45-32. But 17 turnovers and 10 missed FT helped keep Akron in the game.

The result left Gopher fans grumbling. Post-game comments on include:

• "This team is going nowhere...."
• "Devoe Joseph (is) very hard to watch," a reference to his 5 turnovers and shoot-1st approach to playing the point
• "Ralph had 2 rebounds in 29 minutes."
• "Gopher basketball is painful to watch."

How is it that a team that can beat North Carolina and West Virginia on a neutral court can beat Siena by 7, Cornell by 5 and Akron by 8?

What's the Prognosis?

Well, 1st, the analyses offered up on GopherHole are not wrong. "The perimeter defense is weak." Too many turnovers. A truly terrible FT shooting percentage.

But, 2nd, let's acknowledge the parity that exists in college hoops and give some credit to Akron. Sure, they're now 4-and-4. With losses to 4 teams with a collective 36 wins and 6 losses. Dayton (7-3) won at Mississippi. Cleveland State is 12-0. Temple (7-2) beat #9 Georgetown 68-65. Akron played smart, poised basketball. The Gophers did not lack for intensity, but Akron matched 'em. The Gophers are big but Akron started 7-foot and 6-8 and brought 6-10 and 6-6 off the bench. Akron gave nothing away. They made the Gophers earn everything.

And, as noted above, Minnesota grabbed 45 boards to Akron's 32. While the Gophers' perimeter D didn't impress, the Zips made just 10-of-31 3s. Only from the FT line did the Gophers play down to their reputation, making 12-of-22. Mbakwe made 3-of-7, bringing his percentage down to 56 for the year. Joseph made 1-of-3, and is at 54 percent for the year. Colt Iverson made 2-of-4 to drop to 56 percent. On the plus side, Mo Walker made 2-of-3 to raise his percentage to 40.

The real question for the Gophers has been depth. The starting 5 or 6, now consisting of Hoffarber, Joseph, Mbakwe, Sampson and Williams--and potentially again including Nolen at some point--is pretty good. Off the bench, Iverson brings strength and experience, though of course it's true that if he were the player that we and he and coach Tubby Smith hoped he'd be, he'd be starting.

And it's true that on Wednesday night, in a tough, competitive ballgame, Tubby saw fit to play his 4 freshmen only 29 minutes among 'em. Walker played well with 4 points, 5 boards and 3 steals in 11 minutes. Maverick Ahanmisi made his only shot, a lay-up off a great hustle steal, but added 2 turnovers in 7 minutes. Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin failed to score in 11 minutes between 'em. The Gophers are going to need more than 29 minutes from the 4 many times this winter, but it's also true that this was just 1 game. For the season, the 4 have averaged 47 minutes and 14 points. Tubby recently called them his best freshman class at Minnesota, and that may be right. They've performed way beyond their reputations coming in.

The Gophers got absolutely flayed on GopherHole after the Virginia loss, and many said they were "shocked" and "surprised" by the loss, as if we should have expected an unbeaten season after the wins in Puerto Rico. I got flayed myself for suggesting that the loss wasn't that big of a surprise because the Gophers are probably something all the lines of a 20-10 team.

That was based on their losing another non-conference game, probably at St. Joe's, but one can now predict that they probably oughta beat South Dakota State to finish the non-conference season at 11-1. Still, it comes down to what they'll be able to do in the Big 10, where they could plausibly be underdogs for 4 of their 1st 5 games: at Wisconsin, at #9 Michigan State, at #2 Ohio State, and against #9 Purdue at the Barn. Say they win 2 of the 1st 5, they've still got 4 more games against rated opponents and 6 more road games.

It's unlikely, in short, that the conference record will be any better than 11-7. Still, 11-7 would make 'em better than 20-10--but rather 22-8 overall and keep 'em in the top 25, and get 'em probably 4th place and a #5-6 seed for the NCAA, better if they could win a couple games in the Big 10 tournament. But if the win total is not 22, it's a lot more likely to be 21 than 23.

And why might they win 20 or 21 instead of 22 or 23? Well, because of poor FT shooting and because they're gonna get lit up from 3-point land by at least a couple-3 Big 10 teams and because Devoe Joseph will turn it over. Oh, yeah, and because their opponents are gonna bring a pretty good caliber of ball at 'em. But wouldn't 22 wins and 2 more in the Big 10 tournament and 2 more in the NCAA make this the best Gopher basketball season since 1997? Yeah, it sure would. Enjoy it while you can.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MIAC: Them That's Got

The MIAC is on holiday with no conference games from now through January 3. The men have played just 3 or 4 (out of 20) conference games, the women 4 or 5 (out of 22). But it's not too early to say that "them that's got shall get and them that's not shall lose (so the Bible says, though it still is news.)" Here are your .500 teams at the holiday break.


St. Thomas 4-0, 8-0, #7 nationally, defending regular season champ, pre-season favorite
Gustavus 4-0, 6-2, last team other than St. Thomas to win outright regular season title
Carleton 3-0, 3-3, defending playoff champ
St. John's 2-1, 6-2, pre-season #2
St. Mary's 2-1, 4-1

MIAC Women

St. Thomas 4-0, 8-0, defending playoff champ, pre-season favorite
Concordia (Moorhead) 3-0, 5-0, 3rd last year at 17-5
St. Ben's 3-1, 6-1, regular season champs 8 of the past 9 years
Gustavus 3-1, 4-3, defending regular season co-champ at 18-4
St. Mary's 2-1, 4-2

Among the men, St. Thomas is in fact seeking a record-tying 7th straight regular season title (Hamline won 7 from 1946-47 to 1952-53). But the ranks of the unbeaten will be diminished (I guarantee it) early in 2011 as the Tommies host Carleton and then Gustavus, back-to-back, on Wednesday, January 5 and Saturday, January 8.

Among the women, the going also gets tough starting January 8 as Gustavus travels to St. Thomas and Concordia to St. Ben's.

The Surprises

That's not to say there haven't been some small surprises so far. Among the men, Augsburg was rated #5 in the pre-season coach's poll but has stumbled out of the gate at 1-3 (5-3 overall). But 2 of the losses were to Carleton (56-52) and St. Thomas (65-61), but those were followed by an upset loss at Hamline (102-98).

Among the women, Snelling Avenue rivals Hamline and Macalester were a combined 26-18 a year ago but have started out 1-6 between them.

But on the plus side, you may have noticed St. Mary's at 2-1 in both the men's and women's standings. The women have won just 22 games while losing 86 over the past 5 years. The men have lost 150 games while winning 50 over the past decade, and have not had a winning record since 2000.

St. Mary's Cardinals

So, are the Cardinals for real? The men, in a word, Yes. The women: Frankly, we're in wait-and-see mode.

The men have improved each year under coach Todd Landrum, now in his 3rd season in Winona. He was fortunate to inherit guards Lukas Holland and Will Wright, who as freshmen in 2007-08 scored 13 and 17 points per game, respectively. In 2008-09, that increased to 16 and 19. And last year, as juniors, the two scored 14 and 18 points per game.

Last year, Landrum added forward Chris Palmer to the mix. As a freshman, the Faribault Bethlehem Academy grad averaged 14 points and 8 boards.

This year the Cardinals' Big 3 are scoring 18 (Wright), 17.5 (Palmer) and 15 points per game. Palmer already has a 38 point game vs. Bethel and is the current MIAC player of the week.

Still, much will depend on the supporting cast which is essentially Michael Burfiend, Pat Freeman and Gary Seifert. The 3 are all playing 17 to 22 minutes and scoring about 5 points per game, while Freeman (from Champlin Park) is the #2 rebounder behind Palmer's 9 with about 5 per game. (Burfiend is from Lewiston-Altura, MN, HS.)

Unfortunately, the Cardinals came up short in their toughest MIAC test to date, a 73-64 home court loss to Augsburg. And they'll get Carleton, St. Thomas, St. John's and Augsburg, all on the road, before the end of January. So we'll find out how much Landrum and his Cardinals have improved pretty quick. But a #5 or #6 finish and a first-ever trip to the MIAC post-season is not out of reach despite a tough January schedule.

The women started with a pair of road wins before losing to Bethel and Concordia. The Concordia loss was a particular jolt of reality as the Cobbers held St. Mary's to a 19.6 FG shooting percentage on their own home court. And, make no mistake, shooting remains a concern. Last year the Cards shot just 38 percent while giving up 43 percent. This year, the Cards' percent is down to 35 percent (and down from 30 percent to 27 percent from 3-point land).

But the defense appears to have improved, as opponents are shooting just 31 percent so far. St. Mary's is still getting beaten off the boards but by a margin of just 1 board versus 4 last year. And after being out-scored an average of 62-56 last year, the Cards are averaging 58 this year while giving up 56.

Improvement was expected, of course, with 4 returning starters, though the coach's poll only foresaw a rise from last place (tied for 11th and 12th) to 9th. After all, 3 of the returnees are seniors who've had little success in the past, and none of the 4 is shooting over 40 percent from the field. The improvement, then, has been among the role players. Last year only 3 Cards scored more than 4 points a game.

This year, in addition to starters Jess Miller (from Chaska) (11 points), Cherie Kulig (10 points) and Jess Thone (from Woodbury) (8 points), you've got 2 players scoring 6 points and 2 more scoring 5. And 6 + 6 + 5 + 5 may not seem like much, but compared to 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 it adds up to exactly the 6 extra points the Cards are scoring this year. These valuable role players are senior Kim Kaminski and sophomore Jamie Stefely (6 points), and junior Brittany Begrowicz and freshman Courtney Eurele (from Litchfield) (5 points each).

Still, the poor shooting and the lack of an obvious go-to shooter bodes poorly looking forward. Still the Cards appear to be improving their roster and their performance, albeit slowly, under coach Mandy Pearson.

Individual Stories

Interesting things are happening at St. Thomas, were pre-season player of the year choices Tyler Nicolai and Rachel Booth have not even been the best players on their own teams or even at their own positions. Guard Alex Healy is out-shooting Nicolai 53 to 46 percent (39 to 34 from 3-point land) and out-scoring him 14 points to 12. The 3rd returning starter at guard, Teddy Archer is struggling at 33 percent and 3 points per game while junior guard Peter Leslie is finally finding his groove, shooting 64 percent and scoring 8 points.

Two years ago, Booth was the post-season MVP in the Division 2 NSIC. Last year she did the same at St. Thomas while scoring 17 ppg (2nd in the MIAC) with 9 rebounds (#1 in the conference). So far this year she's been eclipsed by freshman post Maggie Weiers (from New Prague). Playing just 17 minutes, Weiers is shooting 56 percent and scoring a team-high 9 points per game. Booth is playing 22 minutes, shooting 46 percent and scoring 8.6 ppg.

Meanwhile, the Tommies even more highly-regarded frosh, Taylor Young from Edina, is playing 20 minutes, shooting 39 percent and scoring 8 ppg.

So the leading player of the year candidates are no longer from St. Thomas. Here are the top players so far.

All-MIAC Men (as of 12-15)

Aaron Burtzel, St. John's .689 FG%, 5.75 assists, 8 reb, player of the month
Alex Healy, St. Thomas 14 ppg
Jeremy Sutherland, Carleton 12 ppg, 5.2 assists
Chris Palmer, St. Mary's 19 ppg, 9 reb, .667 3-pt FG%
Eric Hipp, Hamline 16 ppg, 10 reb

All-MIAC Women (as of 12-15)

Laura Kalbfell, St. Kate's 20 ppg, 11 reb, player of the month
Mary Wilkowski, Hamline 20 ppg
Mackenzie Wolter, St. Olaf 12 ppg, 2.5 steals, 3 assists
Amy Stifter, St. Ben's 16 ppg
Erica Nord, Concordia 14 ppg

Coaches of the Month--Todd Landrum and Mandy Pearson, St. Mary's

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Naismith's Original 13 Rules Auctioned Off

You may have seen an item in today's Strib: The original 13 rules of basketball, as handwritten by Dr. James A. Naismith in 1892, were auctioned off for $4 million, with the proceeds going to charity (the Naismith Foundation, as it happens).

The brief goes on to say that Naismith invented basketball as a game for “boys of a Massachusetts YMCA,” which is completely inaccurate, and that the rules were written when Naismith was a “physical education instructor,” which is not wrong but hardly right either.

Naismith was a phys ed instructor at the YMCA International Training School at Springfield, MA (now Springfield University), but he trained other phys ed instructors, not members of the general public. The Training School was the first school to train physical educators anywhere in the world; their grads were employed initially by Ys but later by colleges as well. Ray Kaighn played in the 1st “demonstration game” that Naismith staged and became coach and athletic director at Hamline. Max Exner was Naismith’s roommate at the time and became coach and athletic director at Carleton. And Louis J. Cooke had trained at Springfield earlier and knew Naismith. He came to Minneapolis as physical director of the Minneapolis Y in 1896 but moved to the U of M in 1897 and was its basketball coach through 1922.

Naismith invented basketball so that Ys throughout the country could offer it to their customers as something they could do during the winter months when they could not go outdoors. Some “Massachusetts boys” may have been among those who played, but the game was not invented for them alone.

I suppose this sounds like a nit. I would say not. The brief instead shows that the writer had no concept of the world as it existed at the time, when athletics was generally lacking institutional supports and the Y, more than anybody, filled that gap. It would be several years before even the colleges would do so and 20-30 years before the high schools stepped up to the plate.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Ten Icons

Maybe you've seen the promo, Big Ten Icons, sponsored by the college athletic conference. They're naming the top 50 student-athletes, and as of this week they're down from #50 (Iowa wrestler Tom Brands) to #10 (Indiana hoopster Isaiah Thomas).

The problem with lists like this is that they purport to be for "all-time" but end up being heavily weighted toward more recent names. What they really mean is the top 50 that people today might remember. So, through #10, you've got 37 who were prominent since 1950 and 4 from before (George Halas, Bronko Nagurski, John Wooden and Otto Graham). Then there's the fact that many of them became household names not for playing sports in college, in the Big Ten, but for what they did later. Halas is a particular case in point. Not only is he best known as the founder and "papa" of the Chicago Bears, he wasn't even particularly prominent as a player. Wooden, by contrast, is best known as the Wizard of Westwood, but the fact is he was one of the best college basketball players in American before WWII.

Then there's the fact that 23 of the top 41 are football players and 10 basketball players, leaving just 8 from other sports. Not to mention that several of the Big Ten Icons never played in the Big Ten. I mean Penn State grads of the '70s and '80s like Jack Ham, Curt Warner and Lavar Arrington. The Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1990. And, finally, some may quibble about just 2 of the top 41 being women.

EDIT: Not to mention, the program is called Big Ten Icons. Not Big Ten Student-Athlete Icons, but Big Ten Icons. Now, who thinks of the Big Ten and doesn't think of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler and Bobby Knight? When you dig deep into Big Ten history, who doesn't come up with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Doc Meanwell and Fielding Yost? Of course, the same could be said everywhere. College sports is a coach's game, and the greatest icons tend to be coaches. Or just, "Ohio State halfbacks" from Vic Janowicz and Howard Cassady to Archie Griffin and Eddie George, or Ohio State football or Michigan football or Indiana basketball, for that matter.

Of course, some of these issues will be more easily forgiven depending on how they (the Big Ten Network, sponsors of the promo) do with the top 9 yet to come. I don't agree with many of the existing choices, including some of those mentioned above, but taking them at face value, here is what the final 9 choices should be.

9. John Havlicek, Ohio State basketball
8. Nile Kinnick, Iowa football, died in WWII, Iowa stadium is named after him
7. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State basketball
6. Archie Griffin, Ohio State football, still the only 2-time Heisman Trophy winner
5. Dick Butkus, Illinois, football
4. Dan Gable, Iowa, wrestling, probably the greatest American wrestler who ever lived
3. Magic Johnson, Michigan State basketball
2. Red Grange, Illinois, football, the most famous gridder in America pre-WWII
1. Jesse Owens, Ohio State, track, star of 1936 Olympics

But even if the Big Ten Network picks these 9 in this order, I will still insist that Bob Richards, Eddie Tolan, Willie Heston and Neil Snow, Lou Boudreau, Lou Groza, Walter Eckersall, Jim Parker, Rick Mount and Gary Hall belong on the list ahead of Arrington, Halas, Chuck Long, Warner, Ham, Quinn Buckner and others.


Assuming for the moment that I've guessed the final 9 correctly, then the basketball part of the list looks like this.

3. Magic Johnson, Michigan State
7. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
9. John Havlicek, Ohio State
10. Isaiah Thomas, Indiana
12. John Wooden, Purdue
17. Steve Alford, Indiana
27. Glen Rice, Michigan
28. Quinn Buckner, Indiana
29. Cazzie Russell, Michigan
32. Scott May, Indiana
35. Glen Robinson, Purdue
38. Calbert Cheaney, Indiana

Well, I think that Chris Webber would be a lock to make the Top 50, but now that means he'll be top 9. And how can you rank Glen Robinson and Calbert Cheaney and not Jimmy Jackson? I have no idea which of my top 9 they would bump out of there, because neither of them is better than Red Grange or Dick Butkus or Jerry Lucas.

But more to the point, this list does a huge disservice to the history of Big Ten basketball. Any fair reading of college basketball history would have to raise these names, and Big Ten Icons doesn't (or, at least, hasn't):

Chris Steinmetz, Wisconsin 1905
John Schommer, Chicago 1909
Branch McCracken, Indiana 1930
Jimmy Hull, Ohio State 1939
Gene Englund, Wisconsin 1941
Andy Phillip, Illinois 1943
Don Schlundt, Indiana 1955
Terry Dischinger, Purdue 1962
Rick Mount, Purdue 1970

And so, among all of the names mentioned above, here is my all-time all-Big Ten basketball stars.

All-Time All-Big Ten

First Team

Magic Johnson, Michigan State 1979 MVP
Jerry Lucas, Ohio State 1962
Isaiah Thomas, Indiana 1981
John Wooden, Purdue 1932
Cazzie Russell, Michigan 1965

Second Team

John Schommer, Chicago 1909
Don Schlundt, Indiana 1955
Terry Dischinger, Purdue 1962
Chris Webber, Michigan 1993
Rick Mount, Purdue 1970

Third Team

Steve Alford, Indiana 1987
Andy Phillip, Illiniois 1943
Branch McCracken, Indiana 1930
Gene Englund, Wisconsin 1941
Glen Rice, Michigan 1979

EDIT: Finally, the Real Big Ten Icons

1. Ohio State Football
2. Michigan Football
3. Jesse Owens
4. Red Grange
5. Woody Hayes
6. Magic Johnson
7. Indiana Basketball
8. Amos Alonzo Stagg
9. Jack Nicklaus
10. Bobby Knight

11. Dick Butkus
12. Bronko Nagurski
13. Bo Schembechler and Fielding Yost
14. John Wooden
15. Bernie Bierman and Minnesota Football
16. Dan Gable and Iowa Wrestling
17. Bubba Smith
18. Isaiah Thomas
19. Archie Griffin
20. Doc Meanwell

21. Piggy Lambert
22. Herb Brooks
23. Michigan Ice Hockey
24. Purdue Basketball
25. Jerry Lucas
26. Joe Paterno and Penn State Football
27. The Ohio State Halfbacks--Janowicz, Cassady, George
28. Otto Graham
29. Badger Bob Johnson
30. Vivian Stringer

31. Mark Spitz
32. Illinois Football
33. Nile Kinnick
34. John Havlicek
35. Tom Izzo
36. Wisconsin Basketball
37. Branch McCracken
38. Bob Richards
39. Eddie Tolan
40. Alex Karras

41. Joe Raycroft
42. Michigan State Basketball and Michigan State Football
43. Willie Heston and Neil Snow
44. Lou Boudreau
45. Indiana Soccer and Coach Jerry Yeaghley
46. Paul Brown
47. Walter Eckersall
48. Vic Heyliger
49. Tom Harmon
50. Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty

51. Doc Councilman and Indiana Swimming
52. The Purdue QB from Bob Griese and Mike Phipps to Mark Herrman and Drew Brees
53. Fritz Crisler
54. Jim Parker
55. Jay Berwanger
56. Gary Hall
57. Rick Mount
58. Lou Groza
59. Chick Harley
60. Troy Smith

61. Bronco Horvath
62. George Sisler
63. Red Berenson
64. John Schommer
65. Bob Zuppke
66. Wisconsin Ice Hockey
67. Jud Heathcote
68. Bud Foster
69. Elroy Hirsch
70. Michigan Swimming and Ohio State Swimming

71. Penn State Gymnastics
72. Steve Alford
73. Cazzie Russell, Glen Rice and Chris Webber
74. Alan Ameche
75. Kent Benson and Scott May

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Upsets Galore in Girls Breakdown Tip-Off

First, that report I promised about the 2 boys games? Not gonna happen. By the time the DeLaSalle and Minnetonka girls finished up in double OT, I had been at Hopkins High School for 10 hours and was facing a long drive home to a borrowed dog who would be pretty desperate to get out the door.

But as to the girls, it was a historic day. #3AAAA Hopkins demolished the defending state champions and #1AAAA-rated Lakeville North 83-64, and it really wasn't anywhere near that close. Then #2AAAA Eden Prairie was manhandled by #2AAA Hill-Murray 59-45, even after EP had opened the game on a 9-3 run. And #1AAA Benilde lost to Bloomington Kennedy 51-49 on a last-second put-back by Kenisha Bell. In other games:

• #1AA Braham edged #2AA Providence 46-45 on a last-second bucket by Austin Eng.
• Eastview beat Orono 55-41.
• Bloomington Jefferson beat Sauk Centre 52-45.
• White Bear Lake outlasted Red Wing 56-50.
• St. Paul Central pulled away from Maranatha 61-45.
• Maple Grove defeated Prior Lake 52-48.
• Osseo hammered Caledonia in running time 73-33.
• DeLaSalle edged Minnetonka 75-67 in 2OT as Tysseanna Johnson scored 31 points including an NBA 3 to tie the game with :05 left in regulation.

Court 2

I was on Court 2. I'll be writing reports on those 5 games and they'll be published on Kevin Anderson's Web site at, along with his reports of the 6 games on Court 1. The games are all eligible to be included in my post The Big Game.

Here are my all-stars from Court 2, where I saw all 5 girls' games.

C- Rochelle Regnier, White Bear Lake 17 pts, 5 reb
F- Tysseanna Johnson, DeLaSalle 36 pts, 6 reb, 2 blk, a steal
F- Katy Winge, Minnetonka 25 pts, 6 reb, 2 blk, a steal
G- Ellen Edison, Maple Grove 11 pts (all in 2nd half), 3 reb, 3 asts, a steal and a block
G- Lenah (formerly Allina) Starr, DeLaSalle 18 pts, 8 asts, 4 reb, 2 blk

My player of the game was different than those selected by the host, Breakdown Sports, in 3 of the 5 games. We agreed on Regnier and Johnson, but they had Stephanie Davison of Maple Grove over Ellen Edison, Jen'Von'Ta Hill of St. Paul Central rather than my choice of Alexis Long of Maranatha, and they had Mikayla Bailey of Osseo while I had her teammate Janay Morton.

The big news includes: Lenah Starr is much bigger and stronger than before (you may remember her with Mpls. North). Jen'Von'Ta Hill is showing some maturity and restraint vs. driving the ball into the paint every touch in the past. Katy Winge is returning from a serious knee injury and is said to be at 80 percent. After today, better make that 90. And according to my buddy Kevin, "Osseo is Janay Morton's team," period. I agree.

And we saw some super mental toughness yesterday from DeLaSalle, Maple Grove and Minnetonka, while one could hope that Red Wing gets mentally a little tougher as the year goes on.

Meanwhile on Court 1

The really big games were on Court 1. I saw snippets of every game and I've seen the box scores. The Court 1 all-stars:

C- Bethany Doolittle, Hill Murray, took maximum advantage of Jackie Johnson's foul trouble
F- Kali Peschel, Sauk Centre, rumored to be a U of M recruit
G- Kenisha Bell, Bloomington Kennedy
G- Sydney Coffey, Hopkins
G- Rebecca Dahlman, Braham

Dahlman is much bigger and stronger and a little less likely to go 1-on-4. That girl from Sauk Centre is really something Peschel. Eden Prairie and Lakeville North were really, really exposed. EP without Jackie Johnson is very ordinary, but then again, what's with Aubrey Davis scoring 1 point? And the Eagles were without super-sub Taylor Uhl, and that didn't help matters. And other than Rachel Banham, the Panthers are all role players.

Among those not listed among my top 5: Kennedy over Benilde was fun because of the young kids on the floor. Kennedy's Jade Martin and Tonoia Wade are bigger, stronger, more confident. Don't be feeling too sorry for coach Percy Wade and his Kennedy team. But Benilde's freshman point guard Grace Coughlin was the real revelation. Observers wondered why in the world she wasn't on the court at the end. Tessa Cichy's game continues to stagnate, while Corrine McCallum is coming on like gangbusters. Hats of to Erin Herman for developing the supporting cast over there. And Eastview plays with an intensity that is darn near frightening, even higher than Maple Grove's level. If they can't finesse you, they're just as happy to do it with a bludgeon though none of those bludgeons is bigger than 5-11.

Diaper Dandies (Soph. or Younger)

F- Tyseanna Johnson, DeLaSalle, soph.

F- Jade Martin, Kennedy, soph.

G- Kenisha Bell, Kennedy, fr.

G- Lenah Starr, DeLaSalle, soph.

G- Rebekah Dahlman, Braham, soph.

2nd Team

C- Sade Chatman, St. Paul Central, soph.

F- Tesha Buck, Red Wing, soph.

F- Alexis Garcia, Hopkins, soph.

G- Taylor Stewart, Lakeville North, soph.

G- Janay Morton, Osseo, fr.

3rd Team

C- Erin O’Toole, Hopkins, soph.

C- Onye Osemenam, Maranatha, soph.

F- Mikaela Shackleford, Hopkins, soph.

F- Phylllis Webb, Osseo, soph.

F- Claire Thomas, DeLaSalle, soph.

G- Grace Coughlin, Benilde-SM, fr.

G- Taylor Anderson, Hopkins, fr.

G- T.T. Starks, Hopkins, 8th