Monday, September 26, 2011

Tubby, Tubby, Tubby

I haven't written about Tubby Smith and the Gopher men in awhile. I don't want to pile on. I mean, the '11 Gophers collapsed down the stretch. One can make the argument that it wasn't Tubby's fault. Point guard Al Nolen gets hurt just about the time back-up Devoe pulls a Stephon Marbury and decides he's gotta be da man. This bein' part of a team stuff is such a drag.... Of course, Tubby took a lot of heat for not keepin' Devoe happy, as if....

But enough of that. Devoe is all about the past, and I'm all about the future here.

Gopher Recruiting Not Going Well?

And now the word out on the discussion boards is that Gopher recruiting among the 2012s and 2013s is not going well. About the time the word goes out that the Gophers are courting some top 100 stud or other, some killjoy will post a link to the kid's profile on ESPN or wherever that lists the 13 schools the kid is actually considering, and the Gophers are not one of them.

A consensus is emerging that the best the Gophers can do is 3-star kids, like Wally Ellenson. I mean, no offense to Wally, but he is the lone Gopher commit for 2012. He's from Rice Lake, WI, and, of course, he's a 3-star guy whom the Badgers didn't offer. The Gophers are also among the top contenders for Matt Thomas of Onalaska, WI, guard Matt Thomas. So far he's been offered by Iowa State, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin-Green Bay. No Badgers, no Hawkeyes, no Big 10, and so the Gophers are in the running.

Then there's Nick Fuller of Sun Prairie, WI. I think I'm seeing a pattern here. A 2013, Fuller has offers from Butler, Marquette, Northern Iowa, Creighton, Dayton and the Gophers, and all indications are the Gophers are in the running.

But when the Big 10 comes knocking, the Gophers don't fare so well. 7-foot post Adam Woodbury, an Iowan, is staying home to play for the Hawkeyes.

Still it appears that the Gophers remain in the running for a couple of highly-regarded big men, A.J. Hammons of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and Phillip Nolan of Milwaukee Riverside. Both are scheduled to visit the U, but on the other hand they are rumored to favor Purdue or Dayton (Hammons) or Clemson or Oregon (Nolan). Another big guy, Chad Rykhoek from Texas, expressed interest in Minnesota (and about a dozen more schools at that time) but eventually chose Baylor. Nick Banyard, a 6-8 power forward, also a Texan, chose New Mexico over Minnesota and others.

Andrew White of Chester, VA, was the hot rumor more recently. The 6-6 small forward is rated #57 among the 2013s, and the recruiting grapevine had him interested in Minnesota and a host of other schools. Then came word that he'll be visiting Kansas, Texas and Louisville.

In short, it's late enough in the recruiting season to be thinking that 2012 is not going to pan out, but it's way to early to worry about 2013. It's probably nothing that a little success on the court couldn't fix. And Gopher recruits from 2008, 2009 and 2011 will have everything to do with that.

So How About 2011-2012?

The class of 2008 was rated #23 nationally, but of course Joseph, Paul Carter and Devron Bostick are no longer around. Ralph Sampson and Colt Iverson are, however, and Tubby has to be hoping for improvement from the 2 big guys in their senior seasons.

The 2009s were rated #24 but Royce White and Justin Cobbs are gone, gone, gone. Rod ney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe are still here, however, and Mbakwe, at least, will be a national top 10 type of performer based on his play for the U.S. national 17Us this past summer. Just today he was named 2nd team all-American by the Blue Ribbon Yearbook. Williams has as of yet not come close to fulfilling the initial expectations.

Still those 4--Sampson, Iverson, Mbakwe and Williams--plus Mo Walker make up one of the Big 10s deepest and best front lines, so don't forget that the Gophers have the potential to make some noise in the Big 10. No, really.

But Who Plays the Point?

The question marks going forward are the same ones that destroyed the 2011 season--is there a guard who can run the offense, protect the ball and get it to the big guys where they can score? Perhaps there is, but the ultimate answer to that question will be the biggest factor in establishing once and for all whether Tubby is a top-tier recruiter and coach or not.

There's quantity, in other words, but the quality remains to be seen. The contenders are, in alpha order:

• Maverick Ahanmisi. Not highly recruited out of high school, Maverick played more minutes last year than could have been anticipated and recorded highs of 7 points and 6 assists after Nolan's and Joseph's misfortunes. Still, he has the look of an OK backup more than a Big 10/BCS starter.

• Chip Armelin. A great athlete, not so much of a polished hoops player. Still he scored in double figures against Big 10 powers Ohio State and Michigan State, and I would expect him to be a significant contributor off the bench this year. But he's clearly more of a shooting/scoring guard than a ball-handler and distributor.

• Andre Hollins. The 2011 Tennessee Mr. Basketball scored 23.5 ppg for a 30-7 state semi-finalist, and scored 46 points against a nationally-ranked opponent. He is thought to be the better of the 2 Hollins,' and if that's true then it is not unlikely that Andre and Austin will be on the floor together a fair amount this season. And if that's so, I would think Austin is the 1 and Andre the 2, but if Andre is out there with Armelin or Joe Coleman, say, then Andre is probably the ball-handler.

• Austin Hollins. Scored 19 ppg for a 24-9 team as a senior in high school. And like all of Tubby's guards, he got a lot more minutes last year than expected, posting highs of 5 assists and 5 rebounds, and scoring in double figures a couple of times. In short, he's a legit D1 guy and will contribute this coming year. Whether as a starter, well, who knows?

• Julian Welch. Here is the wild card for the Gophers' prospects in 2011-2012. Is this guy the true point guard that Tubby is looking for? Or just another back-up type? Not highly recruited out of high school, Welch had nevertheless scored 25 ppg and won 2nd team all-metro honors (Sacramento). He played his (redshirt) freshman year at UC-Davis, scoring 8 ppg and being named Big West conference freshman of the year and mid-major all-American. He transferred to Yuba City CC for his sophomore year and scored 19 points with 5 assists per game. Now 4 full years out of high school, perhaps his maturity gives him a leg up on these other guys, and perhaps his ability does, too. I mean, Big West freshman of the year? Pretty impressive, if you ask me. At least one pre-season forecast has the Gophers finishing 4th in the Big 10 with Welch projected as the starting point guard.

More About Recruiting

While visiting, I looked up the recruiting ratings back to 2003, like I did recently for the Gopher women. But while Pam Borton's crew has rated surprisingly well in recruiting compared to the rest of the Big 10, the men have not. Only twice in 9 years have the Gophers been rated among the top 25 to 30 schools in the country (discussed above).

By comparison, here are the results for the rest of the Big 10.

1. Ohio State. Rated 6 of 9 years, and 5 of them in the top 10. Their current roster includes kids from the #5, #3 and #10 classes in the country.

2. Michigan State. Rated 7 of 9, 5 of them in the 2nd ten and the other 2 in the 20s. No top 10 classes. Still, their current roster includes kids from the #11, #21 and #22 classes.

3. Indiana. #4, #9, #11 and #27 (2011) in the last 9 years. That #11 and #27 are on the current roster.

4. Illinois. Rated in the top 20 4 times in 9 years, and their current roster includes #11, #13 and #14.

5. Purdue. Rated only twice but that includes a #6 in 2007.

6. Minnesota has those #23 and #24 classes though, again, several key recruits did not stay put.

7. Iowa. One #25 and that was 7 years ago.

8-11. Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin no rated recruiting classes.

Okay, But How About 2012

Recruiting the 2012s is not a done deal but look out! As of today, it looks like the 2012s could bring the Big 10 back to the top of the heap in college basketball. These kids will not be on Big 10 rosters this coming year of 2011-2012, however.

1. Indiana has the #16-17-48 and 131 recruits.

10. Michigan has the #34 recruit Glen Robinson III, yes, son of the former Purdue all-American, among others.

12. Michigan State has #80-82 and 84.

19. Iowa grabbed #96 Adam Woodbury, the 7-footer from Sioux Falls whom the Gophers had coveted.

24. Purdue got #45 and #150.

Again, it looks like 2012 will be something of a bust for Tubby and the Gophers, but 2013--hey, wait 'til next year!

Jackie Johnson, Shayne Mullaney Commit to Minnesota Gophers

EDIT 9/26/11:

On Sept. 17 I wrote that the Gophers 2012 recruiting class--at that time, consisting of Mikayla Bailey and Shayne Mullaney--was not rated among the nation's best by HoopGurlz. It was the very next day that Mullaney's high school teammate at Eden Prairie and the #1 rated 2012 in Minnesota, Jackie Johnson, verballed the Gophers.

Johnson is rated #100 nationally by HoopGurlz, so they'll notice, but don't hold your breath for this to get the Gophers into the top 25 or 30 recruiting classes. It's probably not going to happen. But, hey, that's HoopGurlz. What is truly maddening is the negativity on the Gophers forum, GopherHole, where apparently some girl from Texas or Florida or New York would be preferred to the #1 girl in the home state.

Well, I've been critical of Pam Borton's recruiting, as some of you know. But the past couple of years she's returned to her roots--or, rather, the U's roots--which is getting the best Minnesota kids. And as of next year you'll have Rachel Banham, Kayla Hirt, Johnson, Mullaney and Bailey running the raised floor at the Barn, and I think that's just fine. Win, lose or draw, it's the right way to build a University of Minnesota program. Not to say that a 1st division finish in the Big 10 isn't desired, it is. Another finish near the bottom, as in 2010 and 2011, and I'll be at the head of the line calling for a coaching change.

But as of today, things are looking up. Nothing against some really great kids and great basketball players who have come to the U from points further removed, but shortly we will be represented by the best that Minnesota has to offer. I'll take my chances with that.


Well, here's something to celebrate! Shayne Mullaney, 5-8 Eden Prairie high school guard in the class of 2012, has committed to the Minnesota Gophers.

Mullaney has quietly worked her way upward in the rankings of Minnesota's 2012s. Her talents somewhat hidden on a team that has always boasted several great guards (Aubrey Davis, Morgan Van Riper-Rose, the year before that it was Karin Gibson), a year ago she was rated somewhere in the middle of the second 10. Now she's rated #9 on gPrep. In a couple of weeks she'll be rated higher than that as gPrep responds to her new "market" evaluation (i.e. her committing to a BCS school, something only 2 girls ahead of her in the rankings have already done).

Let's not mince words. This is a great get for Pam Borton. Some time ago, I wrote that she should sign 4 girls from among Minnesota's 2012s. My second choice was:

"#7. Shayne Mullaney, just 5-8, a combo G from Eden Prairie. Not rated this highly by most but, hey, have you seen her play? A very creative guard with excellent ball-handling skills. Oh, and a terrific shooter. She shot 58 percent this past year. Granted, she gets to the rim with her creativity but, what, you're going to hold that against her?"

Still, I am shocked that it actually happened. Borton has a history of eschewing Minnesota guards. Yes, of course, there's Rachel Banham to the contrary. But there's also Kamille Wahlin, Brittney Chambers, Alyssa Karel, Courtney Boylan, etc. etc., on the other side. And if Mullaney reminds me of anybody, it's Wahlin. Both were their team's primary ballhandlers, but both could also score pretty much at will. Mullaney can get to the rim, while Wahlin usually stopped and popped from 8 to 10 feet when she penetrated the outer defense. That, of course, reflects Mullaney's slightly greater size and significantly greater strength. But both could also hit the 3--as her 58 percentage suggests, Mullaney's a little better.

I'm not sayin' Mullaney will be a better college player than Wahlin. Mullaney is better in almost every tangible area. But what really sets them apart from other high schools guards is that both are among the cleverest playmakers I've seen since Lindsay Whalen (include Karel in that club). But Wahlin was the best and it's that creativity that has made her an all-Big Ten player. Will Mullaney bring as much of the intangibles to the Gophers? Who knows. But the good news is she is battle tested in a way that Wahlin was not--playing against the best competition Minnesota has to offer in AAAA, including the Hopkins juggernaut of 2011. Against the Royals' frenetic pace, Mullaney was the best player on the court for Eden Prairie. She was the one who continued to do the things she always does despite things speeding up a notch or two. So she has less downside than Wahlin had going into her freshman year.

Still, Mullaney was only my #2 choice on the Gopher wish list a year ago. My #1 choice is still out there. That would be Mullaney's high school teammate, Jackie Johnson. A vastly better high school player than, say, Katie Loberg, just to name one, I get that that doesn't guarantee anything in college. But Johnson is highly skilled and works as hard as anybody on the court. Sign Johnson and the Gophers will have a homegrown nucleus (Banham, Hirt, Mullaney, Johnson) that clearly could contend in the Big Ten. In my opinion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Week That Was (Hint: Whalen, Rubio, Jackie Johnson, Augustus, Humphries and More)

This isn't even basketball season and yet it's been a hell of a week. The big stories are summarized at the top, then a longer commentary on some of them follows below.

1. The Lynx absolutely demolished the Phoenix Mercury in game 1 of the Western Division Finals. Did anybody expect this, I mean, seriously? By "this," I mean 95-67. The Lynx took a 15-3 lead and the Mercury never got closer than 6.

2. The NBA announced the cancellation of pre-season camps and much of the pre-season. Here are the Wolves, all spiffed up with Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio and, most importantly, new coach Rick Adelman and right now there's no place to go.

3. Jackie Johnson verballed the Minnesota Gopher women. Which is good news, as Johnson is the #1 rated Minnesotan in the class of 2011.

4. Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus didn't win the WNBA MVP award. Well, no surprise there, though I myself would have voted for Lindsay if I had a vote (and I should).

5. Kansas wanted Kris Humphries until they found out he was "a big jerk." It's in a new book, so it must be true.

Lynx 95 Phoenix 67

Pre-game hype focused on the match-up of Diana Taurasi of Phoenix, the WNBA's leading scorer at 21 ppg, and the Lynx' Seimone Augustus, the Lynx' top scorer and the league's #9, who would be guarding Taurasi. Well, Taurasi ended up with 22 points to Seimone's 21, but she was 1-for-6 in the 1st quarter and most of her points came after the game had been decided.

Of course, it's true that Seimone's 21 came mostly after the game was decided. From 15-3, the Lynx extended their 1st period lead to 28-11 with Maya Moore scoring 13 points. She finished with 15, Taj Franklin-McWilliams and Candice Wiggins (of the bench) with 14 and Rebekah Brunson with 13 and 13 boards. The Lynx out-rebounded Phoenix 42-26 and shot 50 percent to the Mercury's 35.7.

I said that the series will return to the Target Center on Tuesday after a Sunday game in Phoenix. This, of course, will not happen if the 2nd game is anything like the 1st. But don't count the Mercury out. They can and will score more than 67 points on Sunday. The Lynx will likely need another 95 to complete a sweep.

Wolves: Nowhere to Go

The cancellations to date--plus any further cancellations such as the regular season--will serve as cover for the uncomfortable fact that erstwhile franchise-saver Ricky Rubio is not ready for prime time. He was a total non-factor in Spain's recent run to the world championship. Spain hammered France 98-85 in the final as starting guards Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon combined for 44 points, 7 assists, 5 boards and 4 steals (all by Calderon). Rubio played 7 minutes with no points or shots, 2 boards, an assist, a steal, a turnover and 4 fouls. France guard Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs scored 26 with 5 each of boards, assists and turnovers.

Still, Wolves fans should be anxious to see a Rick Adelman-led team show some significant improvement, as Adelman's teams always do in their 1st year. But how? With Kevin Love not a question mark but Rubio unready, improvement will have to come from Luke Ridnour at the point. No? Michael Beasley? Doubtful. Darko Milicic or Brad Miller in the post? Well, Miller, maybe? Wes Johnson as a reliable perimeter scorer? Possibly. Derrick Williams? In his rookie season? No, the improvement will come from the coach himself, running a sensible offense (that is, one that makes sense to the players themselves) and enabling them to play something more akin to what they understand to be the game of basketball. But doing that, they will go exactly as far as their natural talents can take them, and that is a question mark. It's Kevin Love and the Four Question Marks and it still might be 96 tears before it gets any better.

Gopher Women: A Good Get

Adding Jackie Johnson to the fold takes some of the sting away for the girls (Taylor Hill, Cassie Rochel, et al) who didn't want to have anything to do with the Minnesota Gophers. Rochel, especially, the top post of the past couple of years who played at Lakeville North and now plays at Wisconsin, as Johnson is also a post, at least in high school. She's just 6-2 to Rochel's 6-4 but time will tell which is the better college player.

But comparisons aside, Johnson adds some credibility to what had been considered a weak 2012 class heretofore consisting of guards Shayne Mullaney (like Johnson, from Eden Prairie) and Mikayla Bailey of Osseo. The latter 2 are rated only the #9 and #19 prospects in their class by one rating ( Personally, I think Mullaney will be just fine as a running mate to Rachel Banham, both of them being combo guards (passers and scorers in about equal measure) at heart. Add Kayla Hirt of Bemidji (like Banham, a freshman this fall) and Pam Borton has added 5 very tough kids to her roster. I think they'll enjoy some success before they're done. The onus for that is mostly on Banham, but Johnson adds a little bit of size along with the credibility.

Tamika Catchings WNBA MVP

Catchings is a good choice ahead of Tina Charles, who seems to have been favored if only because of a WNBA record for double-doubles this year. But the fact is that Sylvia Fowles is a better basketball player and a better athlete and a better post than Charles. How could Charles be the MVP if she's not the best at her position? Case closed. For the record, Lindsay finished 5th and Seimone 8th. It would be a misnomer to say they split the Lynx vote, however. Give Lindsay all of Seimone's votes and she still only moves up to 4th.

Can't complain too much about it, considering the Lynx stole a Rookie of the Year award (Maya Moore over San Antonio's Danielle Adams; Adams was better in the recent playoff series between the 2 though Moore, of course, came up big against Phoenix last night). Cheryl Reeve for Coach of the Year was an absolute no-brainer, and the way she rallied her troops for the 3rd San Antonio game and the 1st Phoenix game fairly screams Coach of the Year.

Still, Lindsay has moved into front-runner status for 2011-2012 Minnesota Player of the Year. There's a long way to go and plenty of contenders, but Lindsay has thrown down the gauntlet with her performance this year. I'm okay with Catchings, Fowles and Charles, but how the hell did Lindsay finish behind Sue Bird, point guard for the Seattle Storm?

Lindsay 14 ppg, 51 percent shooting, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 boards, 3 steals (team 27-7)
Bird 15 ppg, 45 percent, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 boards, 1 steal (21-13)

Humphries "A Big Jerk"

So says former Jayhawk Keith Langford in Beyond the Phog: Untold Stories from Kansas Basketball's Most Dominant Decade. Coach Roy Williams wanted Humphries but after Kris visited the Lawrence, Kansas, school, his team said, "Coach, you can't bring this guy in." "No one on the team liked (him)." Langford wrote. "He was arrogant."

I wonder if his Gopher teammates would argue the point?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lynx Find Balance and Bliss in 85-67 Rout of San Antonio

Admit it. The Lynx gave ya a scare with that performance down in San Antone the other night. Well, the Lynx played game #3 like the smart, poised, confident, veteran team that they are, rather than the young and inexperienced playoff team that they also are, or were up until tonight. The result was an 85-67 win and a berth in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Mercury.

Everybody said (well, Cheryl Reeve said it, and I said it in my most recent posts) that the Lynx needed to achieve better balance--they needed to get more production inside and from their bench--if they were to defeat the San Antonio Silver Stars in the 3rd and final game of their playoff series. And the Lynx did that in spades Tuesday night.

Even as San Antone busted out to a 12-4 lead at about the 6 minute mark, the Lynx were mostly intent on getting Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekah Brunson and Maya Moore involved in the offense. And they didn't panic despite the Stars' quick start. By the time the Lynx had tied it up at 12-all at about the 4 minute mark the scoring was Brunson 6 and Taj 6.

Ten minutes later, with 4 minutes remaining in the half, it was 40-25 and the Lynx were on one of their patented runs at 36-13. By half-time the Stars had clawed their way back to 44-37, but the Lynx had vastly more balanced scoring than in recent games--Seimone Augustus had 12, Maya Moore 9, Brunson and Taj 8 and Jessica Adair 7. That's 23 points in one half from their inside players, more than they scored in the 1st 2 full games of this series, and that's also a turnaround of 10 points from Sunday's half-time score down in San Antone. Lindsay Whalen, meanwhile, hadn't scored.

But the best was yet to come as the Lynx won the 3rd quarter 22-20 and the 4th 19-11 for the final score of 85-67.

So I thought the Lynx needed more scoring inside--they got it, and they won. One for me. On the other hand, I thought the Lynx would need a better performance from their bench. And, yes, they got it, but by a very slim margin, and the bottom line is that the Stars' bench out-scored the Lynx' 24-14 and yet the Lynx won going away.

Third, I thought the Lynx would have to win the possession game and they did that. Two for me. The Lynx got off 65 FG attempts to San Antonio's 55. The offensive boards were 12-3 Minnesota. The edge on turnovers was small but still to the Lynx' advantage, 16-14.

Finally, I said that Whalen would have to win the match-up at point guard with fellow veteran Becky Hammon. Well, it didn't happen and yet the Lynx won. Hammon scored 15 points with 5 assists, 3 steals and a block. Whalen scored just 4 points and added 4 steals. The turnovers were 4 for Hammon and 2 for Whay.

When all is said and done, the Stars gave the Lynx what they needed--a tough playoff experience, one that should prove invaluable as the playoffs progress. The Stars also gave the Phoenix Mercury an invaluable lesson in how to beat the Lynx, as if the Mercury don't already know. The 3-point shot certainly was a weapon that the Stars used to hurt the Lynx badly, and it was a weapon that the Mercury used to beat up on the Lynx at times during the regular season. So one question for the semi-final series is, Can the Lynx stop Phoenix' multi-talented scorers, especially WNBA scoring champion Diana Taurasi, especially when they let it fly from beyond the 3-point line?

But there's time enough to worry about that. Right now, let's just say the the Lynx came up with an inspired performance, keyed by a game plan that they probably hadn't executed in a month. That they DID execute it to near perfection under pressure is quite an achievement.

Only 1 WNBA Quarter-Final Series Still Playing

The Minnesota Lynx meet the San Antonio Silver Stars tonight at Target Center with the 4th and final WNBA semi-final berth at stake.

Phoenix completed an unexpected comeback last night, beating Seattle 77-75 in Seattle to gain the Western finals for the 3rd straight year and 4th out of 5. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever advanced in the East, more or less as expected.

The Mercury win at Seattle provides a cautionary tale for the Lynx. The #2-seeded Storm hammered Phoenix 80-61 in their 1st game. Not only had the Storm beaten the Mercury 11 times in their last 12 meetings, but the Storm had defending regular season and playoff MVP Lauren Jackson back from injuries. Sure, Jackson was still running closer to half rather than full-speed but her 13 points and 6 boards were a welcome indicator that Seattle was ready to play playoff basketball.

Well, Phoenix won the 2nd game down at Phoenix 92-83 as Diana Taurasi and Candace Dupree combined for 55 points. But, hey, the series would be back in Seattle for the 3rd and deciding game. And sure enough, Seattle stormed to a 26-9 lead early in the 2nd quarter. But it was Phoenix who did the storming after that, getting within 39-30 at the half and tying it up at 48 in the 3rd. Neither team led by more than 3 the rest of the way, and it was tied up again at 75 on a Sue Bird jump shot for Seattle at 15 seconds. But Dupree's put-back at 1.9 seconds put Phoenix back into the WNBA semis, and Seattle into an unexpected date with the off-season.

Like Seattle, the Lynx entered their series with San Antone as a solid favorite. But after a nip-and-tuck win in game 1 and a decisive defeat in game 2, the Lynx can be seen as beatable. Yes, they've still defeated the Stars 6-of-the-last-7, but the Stars have to be feeling confident going into game 3. It is they who have their key, injured player, Danielle Adams, back. By analogy (with Phoenix-Seattle), that would play to the Lynx' advantage. But on the court, Adams has helped to neutralize Rebakah Brunson, at least in terms of scoring, and has helped to force with Lynx to score mostly from the perimeter. More inside presence tonight might be a pre-requisite for a Lynx win. The better analogy may be Jackson's inability to push Seattle to a win, though in her case the scoring was there but the rebounding and D were lacking. For Brunson and the Lynx, it's been the other way around.

Nevertheless, the key match-up is Lindsay Whalen vs. the Stars' veteran 1 Becky Hammon. Whalen has handled Hammon all year, except the other night in San Antone. A reversal there would be an even bigger pre-req to a Lynx win than Brunson's re-emergence on the offensive end.

But the bottom line is that the team with the better FG percentage will win. Last Friday it was the Lynx; Sunday it was the Stars. Who's it gonna be tonight?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Silver Stars Turn the Tables on the Lynx

After 6 straight losses to the Minnesota Lynx, the San Antonio Silver Stars turned the tables Sunday night, and how. The Stars beat the Lynx 84-75 in a game that wasn't as close as it sounds, and evened their playoff series at 1 game apiece. The 3rd and final game will be played Tuesday night at the Target Center.

San Antone took early leads of 7-2, 13-8 and 17-12. The Lynx tied it up at 18 and 20, but quickly found themselves down 31-20 as the Stars ripped off an 11-0 run during which the Lynx went 0-for-8 with 2 turnovers. They fought back within 40-37 at the half as Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Monica Wright scored the final points of the half.

The Lynx got within 40-39, but the Stars scored another 13 straight as the Lynx went 0-for-7 with 2 more turnovers. The Stars also blocked 3 Lynx shots during their 2 big runs. From there it was a game of hide and seek in which the Lynx never found a way to get back into it. The closes was 77-69 with barely more than a minute remaining.

So, from a micro perspective, the Stars did to the Lynx what the Lynx have been doing to everybody else the past couple of months--and that is, ripping off 2 runs worth a 24-0 advantage. Macro, well, both teams shot poorly in the Lynx' victory on Thursday night, and the Lynx continued to do so and San Antone did not. The Lynx shot 30-for-76 (39.5 percent) while the Stars made 28-of-65 FG (43 percent). Well, that's not much of a difference. But unlike Thursday, it was San Antone that got to the FT line, 29 times to the Lynx' 15, and they out-scored the Lynx 22-11 on FT.

Meanwhile, the Lynx won the possession game with a vengeance by out-rebounding San Antone 45-30, including 21-8 on the offensive end, though the turnovers were 16-9 in favor of the Stars. The key match-up between point guards Lindsay Whalen and Becky Hammon went to Hammon this time, 18 points, 6 assists and 2 steals to Whalen's 15, 3 and 1, though the turnovers were Hammon 2 and Whalen 1.

So what do the Lynx have to do to avoid what would be a shocking loss on Tuesday night--shocking, that is, in light of their season's record of stellar play, 27 wins and just 7 losses; but utterly foreseeable in light of San Antonio's inspired effort so far?

1. Shoot better.
2. Get a little better scoring from the supporting cast of Rebekah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who are scoring 4 ppg each, and from the bench that scored more than 30 points on numerous occasions throughout the season but has scored only 21 in the 2 games of this series combined.
3. Win the possession game, but win it on turnovers as well as offensive boards.

There. That's been the Lynx' formula. They need to get back to it. San Antone has shown the skill and resolve to keep them from doing it. Tuesday night will be an intense battle of wills between 2 very solid clubs.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

2012 Women's Recruiting Rankings Out; Gophers Not Mentioned

The HoopGurlz 2012 recruiting ratings are out (published on the top 20 at this time. And Purdue is the only Big 10 team mentioned, and the Boilermakers are rated #10. "The strength of this class," they say, "is not individually-based; it is a collection of 4-star players who all complement each other...."

In other words, there's a post, there's a wing, there's a point guard, there's a shooter. Joslyn Massey from Michigan, April Wilson from Kentucky, Taylor Manuel from Missouri, and Hayden Hamby from Alabama are the 4. They won't be on the Boilers' roster this-coming season, these are (again) the class of 2012 coming out of high school.

While reading up on the 2012s, I took a quick review of HoopGurlz' ratings of the Big 10 classes back to 2008--2008 now being seniors in college, assuming they've come straight through without injuries, redshirts, etc. etc. Here's a composite of their rankings of the 2008s through 2011s who for the most part make up the school's rosters today.

1. Ohio State. No surprise here. All 4 of the Buckeyes recruiting classes are ranked in the top 30 at #17 (2011), #19 (2010), #29 (2009) and #25. I used a point system based on 50--#1 gets 50 points, #50 gets 1 point--and the Buckeyes add up to 114 points on that basis. It's best class, according to Hoopgurlz, is it's incoming freshmen.

2. Minnesota. OK, you can get up off the floor now. That's right, Minnesota, all 4 of whose recruiting classes from 2008 to 2011 were rated at #23 (2011), #46 (2010), #34 (2009) and #16 (2008). That #16 are now seniors--Kiara Buford, Jackie Voigt and Brianna and Nicole Mastey. To say the 2008s have been a disappointment is, of course, a gross understatement. But Gopher fans probably believe in their hearts that the talent is still there, so who knows. With the #5 point guard nationally in the class of 2011 coming in to take charge, maybe if everybody gets better....

The 2010s, rated #34, include Kionna Kellogg, Shonte Clay, Sari Noga and Micaella Riche, who have the potential to be better than the 2008s unless the 2008s indeed pick it up in their senior year.

The 2009s, rated #46, include Katie Loberg, Leah Cotton and Amber Dvorak--the 1st 2 juniors while Dvorak is officially a redshirt sophomore.

The 2011s, rated #23, are Rachel Banham and Kayla Hirt.

The 2012s, for the record, are as yet unrated (HoopGurlz will eventually rate a top 60 and it is this rating that the Gophers have been in for all of the past 4 years. Only Ohio State and Purdue have done the same. But the 2012s, as you will recall, are Shayne Mullaney and Mikayla Bailey. Nothing that Jackie Johnson couldn't boost up into the top 40 again.

3. Purdue, with a #46, #41, #21 and #20, and now of course that #10 for next year. Nice trendline.

4. Illinois based mostly on a #3-rated class in 2009, one which seems unlikely to fulfill such a lofty prediction.

5. Iowa based mostly on 2011's #12-rated class led by Samantha Logic, the #10-rated player in the country in her class.

6. Northwestern who is coming on like gangbusters with a "close" rating last year (2010) and #14 this year. Northwestern's freshman class includes a 6-5 post, a 6-2 wing and a point guard from the Canadian national 17U team. Then the sister of the highly-regarded 6-2 wing is also transferring in. So look out.

7. Penn State but that's based entirely on the 2009s, now their junior class.

8. Michigan State, believe it or not, though at least the 2009, 2010 and 2011 classes have all been mentioned, but never as a highly-rated class.

9. Wisconsin got a couple of mentions in 2009 and 2010.

10 and 11. Indiana and Michigan have received no mentions of any kind through the past 4--now 5--years.

If recruiting were an exact science, then the Big 10 standings should look just like this list. But of course you come a cropper right away there at #2 in trying to do that. The Gophers #2? That would be a shocker. The 2008s would have to turn into world-beaters in their last shot. And who's to say that Kiara Buford, with a great new point guard, couldn't score 20 points a game and cut her turnovers in half?

But it seems more likely that the pre-season dope will run something like this. #1 will be Ohio State, same as their recruiting ratings. Then will come Iowa (#5), Michigan State (#8) and maybe Purdue (#3). After that it's a crap shoot, which means that nobody knows if the Big 10 has even 5 NCAA tournament caliber teams.

Given their recruiting results over the past 4 years, the Gophers should have as good a shot at #5 as anybody. Expecting as much means that you think Rachel Banham is a game-changer and, again, maybe Kiara Buford will really blossom after all. That and then Katie Loberg and Jackie Voigt will be better in supporting roles, and ditto Brianna Mastey or perhaps Kionna Kellogg proves to be a diamond in the rough that was the 2010s.

The pressure, of course, should be on Pam Borton and not on Rachel Banham or Kiara Buford. But I'll put it on all 3 and say, hey, the talent is there. 5th place ought to be the least that Gopher fans will accept for 2012.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lynx Dodge a Bullet

There were themes galore, last night. But the big one was this: The Lynx dodged a bullet last night, edging the San Antonio Silver Stars 66-65 in the opener of a hoped-for drive to the WNBA title. In so doing (Theme #2), they made coach Cheryl Reeves look like a world-class prognosticator on the day that she also was named WNBA coach of the year.

Reeve had spent the past few days saying that the Lynx were not focused on the fact that they'd beaten the Stars in all 4 of their meetings this year. Rather, they were focused on the fact that each of the 4 games had been close and hard-fought. Of course, that was a lie. The Lynx beat the Stars by 1 and 2 points, it's true, in their 1st 2 meetings. But they won more easily, by 10 and 11, after that.

But (Theme #3) the fact is the Stars are a different team with rookie forward Danielle Adams in the lineup. The Lynx have now beaten the Stars by 1 point, 2 and now 1 again with Adams at full strength, and by 10 and 11 after Adams got hurt but before she got herself fully into fighting trim again. And on the very day that Maya Moore was named WNBA rookie of the year, Adams made a strong case that they got the wrong woman.

Adams out-scored Moore 16-10 and out-rebounded her 4-3, while Moore had a pair of turnovers and Adams none. Moore also missed 3-of-4 FT in the 4th quarter, including a pair with 37 seconds remaining.

But the marquee match-up (Theme #4) was veteran point guards Becky Hammon and Lindsay Whalen, and the Lynx took this one. Whalen led all scorers with 20 (to Hammon's 16), and chalked by 5 assists (to Hammon's 2). But the biggest number was probably 4--Whalen had 4 steals to Hammon's none, and the 4th clinched the win with 4 (there's that number again) seconds remaining in the game and the Stars still with the ball and a chance to win.

The Lynx started out cold, making just 10 of 30 shots in the 1st half and trailing 16-11 at the quarter and 35-32 at intermission. The Stars led by as much as 8 at 14-6, though the Lynx came back for their only leads of the 1st half at 26-25 and 30-28. But San Antone scored 7 straight points before Alexis Hornbuckle closed the half with a pair of FT.

Fortunately the Stars were also cold at 13-of-35. But, amazingly, they were 6-of-20 on 2-pointers and 7-of-15 on 3s. Meanwhile, the Lynx had made just 1-of-5 3-pointers but had out-scored the Stars 11-2 from the charity stripe. Whalen led everybody at half-time with 12 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.

The game was nip and tuck throughout the 2nd half. The Lynx largest lead was still just 2 points at 57-55 at 6:48 of the 4th, but suddenly it was 60-55 at 5:23 and the Lynx appeared to be on their way (or Whay). But, no. San Antone went ahead 65-64 on a Hammon 3 at 1:10, but Seimone Augustus hit a mid-range jumper at 0:53 to put the Lynx back in front, and neither team scored after that.

The Lynx shot a respectable 15-of-33 in the 2nd half while the Stars made just 12-of-31. The Lynx could have/should have pulled away with those extra FG and a 10-5 edge in FTA, but the Lynx made just 4-of-10 throws and San Antone 4-of-5.

On balance, the Lynx 27-7 (or, now, 28-7) record would seem to reflect the fact that everything fell into place for them--i.e. no injuries--while the Stars' 18-16 is in no way reflective of the caliber of team they are right now. A win in San Antone on Sunday, despite a 6-game winning streak against the Stars, would hardly seem assured, nor even a win at home on Tuesday. And the same might be said of defending WNBA champion Seattle--that they're a much better team than their 21-13 record would indicate. In fact, 2010 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson remains at less than 100 percent, and yet the Storm thrashed the Phoenix Mercury 80-61 last night and held the league's leading scorer, Diana Taurasi, to just 11 points.

The Lynx, in short, are not going to find a WNBA title to be a cakewalk. Surely, they expected as much. And, so, while we fans might be distressed by the difficulty of win #1, well, again, nobody said it was going to be easy. Did they?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome, Rick Adelman

As a blogger, I like having something new to say. But in this case, all I can say is, Ditto.

Most of the Twin Cities press, among many others, is saying that Rick Adelman was the right man to coach the young and struggling Minnesota Timberwolves. Ditto.

As Kevin Love has said, the Wolves need a great coach and now they've got one. Ditto.

Some have even noted what a surprise this is, given the Wolves and David Kahn's sorry record in hiring coaches, and also given that Adelman commands a real salary, probably somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million. Ditto.

Ditto, ditto, ditto. Me, too. Great hire.

Jim Souhan went so far yesterday to say that Adelman will double the Wolves win total into the 30s. OK, now I'm a little uncomfortable. I'm not sure if I can ditto this.

The fact is that Adelman is only the 2nd proven building block for a franchise turnaround. Love, Minnesota's basketball player of the year for 2010-2011 according to a vote among readers of this blog, is of course #1.

The rest is all unknowns. Can Ricky Rubio play in the NBA? Don't know. Will Derrick Williams be a star or a journeyman? Don't know. Will Michael Beasley mature enough to become a night in-night out threat, or will he continue to mix in those half-hearted efforts? Ditto. Even if Beasley does mature, do we have a bona fide shooting guard who can take some of the pressure off of Love and Beasley? Ditto. Are the Wolves going to be improved just enough to get a bunch of useless draft picks in the next few years? Ditto.

But if Glen Taylor's Lynx can turn it around, surely Glen Taylor's Wolves can do it, too. But, by that analogy, the Love and Adelman are the Wolves' Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. Who is going to be their Mya Moore and their Rebekah Brunson? Ditto. No idea. But Adelman at least injects into the equation a modicum of hope--something that Rubio's signing, unfortunately, didn't do after a couple years of mediocre play in Europe. Now at least we can get an accurate reading of how good this roster is, knowing that they're being led by a qualified coach.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lynx Ready for Playoffs; Whalen for MVP

The Minnesota Lynx disposed of the stubborn Chicago Sky 78-69 Thursday night in their penultimate tune-up for the WNBA playoffs, wherein they have the #1 seed and the home court throughout.

The Sky, though already eliminated from the playoff picture, came to play and play hard, and shocked the Lynx with a 19-5 2nd half run to a 53-52 lead just 30 seconds into the 4th quarter. But Lindsay Whalen responded with 3 buckets and 3 assists over the next 6 minutes and the Lynx gradually pulled away.

Seimone Augustus led the scoring with 22 points, but Whalen was the obvious star of the game with 20 points, 10 assists, 7 boards and 2 steals. Maya Moore added 16 points and 7 boards. Sylvia Fowles and Erin Thorn scored 17 points each for the Sky.

In fact, the game started out as a showcase for MVP candidates Fowles and Whalen. Fowles is currently rated #2 in the MVP race and Whalen #8 behind teammate Seimone at #6. Fowles scored Chicago's 1st 5 points and 11 in total in the 1st quarter on 5-of-7 shooting, and she added 3 rebounds. Whalen picked up her 2nd foul at 1:45 of the 1st, but before she sat down she scored 8 points on 4-for-4 shooting with 3 assists.

I mean, this is the Lindsay and Seimone show. Moore, not to mention Rebekah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, are admirable role players--all-star caliber players, all three--but in a supporting role. So, with Whalen on the bench with those 2 fouls, the Sky scored 7 straight points to get within 30-26 at 5:34 of the 2nd. Lindsay checked back in and over the next 3 minutes found Taj (twice), Moore and Seimone for open shots, which they knocked down, for a 41-32 lead.

She then opened the 3rd with a reverse lay-up off a baseline drive and another assist to Seimone, and the Lynx were up 47-34. Another driving lay-up made it 49-42, and it was 49-44 when Lindsay took a seat on the bench again. The Sky rallied to within 52-50 after 3, then took their 1st lead since 11-10 on a 3 by Epiphanny Prince. Whalen checked back in and once again the Lynx took control of the ball, the tempo and, ultimately, the game.

After her stellar 1st half of work Fowles, on the other hand, disappeared. She made 6-of-9 FG in the 1st half, just 1-of-4 in the 2nd. And Chicago's other bigs, Carolyn Swords and Michelle Snow, also punished the Lynx' out-sized interior defense with 5-of-9 shooting. I mean, let's be honest, if there's a weakness on this team, interior defense would be it with its 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 starting front line. And so the Sky's big 3 out-scored Brunson, Taj and Jessica Adair 29-11. And yet, at crunch time, Fowles was not a factor.

Rather, Chicago became guard-oriented as the game wore on. Erin Thorn was terrific on offense, hitting 4-of-7 from 3-point-land. Her understudy, rookie Courtney Vandersloot doubled Thorn's assist total 4-2 but made just 2-of-10 shots, 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Prince made just 3-of-12 with no assists. Advantage Whalen and the Lynx.

Chicago's bench was also more productive than the Lynx' by 18 points to 12 and 6 assists to 1. The Lynx' bench did out-rebound Chicago's 13-10. Candice Wiggins, so effective for most of the season and especially the past 4-6 weeks, scored 5 points but with no assists and 2 turnovers. The Lynx out-scored the Sky by 2 with Wiggins on the court for 18 minutes, and by 16 with Whalen on the court for 28 minutes.

The biggest Lynx, Amber Harris, was out with a concussion, and I'm not aware that there's been any announcement of when she'll return. It's hard to say she was missed, considering that the Lynx shut down Fowles in the 2nd half, anyway, but it would be good to have the additional size available for the playoffs.

San Antonio and the Playoffs

Oh, yes, the playoffs. The Lynx now have just 1 regular season game remaining at Phoenix on Sunday night. They've drawn the San Antonio Silver Stars for the playoffs, which open at the Target Center on Friday September 16. A Sunday (September 18) game at San Antonio follows with the rubber match, if necessary, back at the Target Center on Tuesday September 20.

The good news is, well, two-fold. The Lynx swept the Stars in 4 games this year--OK, two were close (70-69 and 62-60) but the 2 more recent games were decided by 10 and 11 points. And San Antone doesn't seem to be the type of team to beat the Lynx, anyway. They don't have anybody like Sylvia Fowles--well, nobody has anybody like Sylvia Fowles. But the Stars are just not big and strong inside, as evidenced by their 37-31 per game rebounding deficit throughout the year.

That leaves it up to Becky Hammon, the former Lynx who scored 37 points last night on 14-of-19 shooting. But over 4 games, Whalen out-scored Hammon 14 ppg to 10. Hammon had 26 assists to Lindsay's 24, but Hammon also turned it over 18 times to Lindsay's 10.

Not to underestimate the Stars. They will present stiff resistance, especially now with rookie all-star forward Danielle Adams back from injury. But the Stars not only get out-rebounded, they shot 42.5 percent, same as their opponents. The Lynx shoot 46 percent and hold their opponents to 41 percent. And San Antone seems a bit prone to turn it over. They will not defeat the Lynx.

And if Lindsay Whalen can consistently out-play people like Becky Hammon and Sylvia Fowles, then she ought to rank well above #8 in the MVP race. In fact, if I had a vote, I'd pencil her in at #1.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Timberwolves Next?

If the Lynx can turn it around, maybe the Timberwolves can, too. Or should I say, maybe the Timberwolves can, too?

Because, frankly, the assertion is questionable. Sure, Kevin Love's emergence as an NBA all-star is 1 building block. And if Rick Adelman is indeed interested in the Wolves' coaching job, and if the Wolves are smart enough to accept their good fortune and offer the guy the job, that's building block number 2. Trust me, he's the guy you want.

But, meanwhile, Michael Beasley shows no signs of maturing just yet, and the 2 new guys are, well, new guys, and it's crazy to expect new guys to be real difference-makers in the NBA. I'm referring here to #2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams--hey, Kevin Love could be gone as a free agent before he's ready to assert himself--and Ricky Rubio.

My main point is to note that Rubio is not exactly ripping it up in Europe right now. Spain is 3-0 in the European championships, though a loss to host Lithuania today is not unlikely. Rubio is the back-up point guard behind Jose Calderon. Here's Ricky's line:

vs. Poland 16 minutes 0/5 FG 2 steals 2 turnovers 0 points
vs. Portugal 18 min 2/4 FG 4 reb 2 assists 1 turnover 1 steal 5 points
vs. Great Britain 21 min 2/5 FG 1 reb 4 assists 0 turnovers 2 steals 4 points

3 games (avg.) 18 min 29% FG (57% 2FG, 0/7 3FG) 2 reb 3 assists 1 turnover 2 steals 3 points

Leading scorers in the Euro tournament are:

1. Tony Parker, France 28
2. Pau Gasol, Spain 23
3. Dirk Nowitzki, Germany 22
4. Antonio Bargnani, Italy 22
5. Luol Deng, Great Britain 21

From the Timberwolves' roster:

Bojan Bogdanovich, Croatia 14 pts 4 reb 1 assist
Nikola Pekovic, Montenegro 11 pts 6 reb

If the NBA season started today, the starting lineup would probably be Darko Milicic, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (unless hurt), Luke Ridnour (ahead of Rubio) and Wes Johnson. The bottom line is, you better hope the Wolves sign a superstar coach because unless I am mistaken this is the same lineup as last year. Right now Ricky Rubio has to go into the category of not-ready-for-prime-time.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Minnesota Land of 10,000 Girl Guards

HoopGurlz, one of the leading if not the THE leading experts on girls basketball in America, has been taking note of Minnesota hoops again.

About a year ago Rachel Banham of North Tartan made a splash on the AAU circuit and emerged as the #18-ranked girl among the 2012s. And so, more recently, the Minnesota Gophers 2012 recruiting class, of which she is the headliner, is rated among the Top 20 recruiting classes in the USA.

Last week the 2013 ratings were updated and 2 Minnesotans appeared among the Top 100--and the top half of the top 100, really. Rebakah Dahlman of Braham is ranked #24 and Nia Coffey of Hopkins, now listed as a forward, is ranked #43.

Now comes word that Kenisha Bell, sophomore-to-be at Bloomington Kennedy who also summers with North Tartan, is ranked #18 among the 2014s. Of course, being #18 among the 2014s only makes her #10 at her position, which is point guard. It's a big year for point guards. But when you look at that list of the Top 25 2014s, the University of Minnesota is 1 of only 2 colleges that has got a commitment from any of them.

HoopGurlz notes that Bell will join fellow North Tartan alumnae Banham, Mikayla Bailey, Shayne Mullaney and Kayla Hirt as a Gopher.

The #18 ranking doesn't make Bell a better prospect than the #24 Dahlman, by the way. The 2013s are supposed to be a super class overall, and so the #24 Dahlman is rated at 95, the #43 Coffey at 94, and the #18 Bell at 93.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Runs #3

Just for the record, the Lynx did it again last night to the lowly (5-25) Washington Mystics. Hey, anybody can do it to the Mystics! Well, not like this. Leading 40-39 early in the 3rd period, the Lynx ripped off 17 points in a row. Game over.

Reserves Monica Wright and Jessica Adair led the run with 7 and 4 points, respectively. Wright added an assist, a rebound and a steal, while Adair added 2 boards, one on each end of the floor. Reserves Candice Wiggins was also on the floor for most of the run, contributing 2 boards and an assist, and Amber Harris for part of it, contributing a steal and a 2.

The bench out-scored Washington's bench 29-14, as it has out-scored pretty much everybody the past six weeks or so. And it was well to do so as Lindsay Whalen was the only Lynx starter to score in double figures with 21 points, plus 5 assists.

While the bench's production was typical, the starting lineup's lack thereof was not. The Lynx also played against type by failing to win the possession game. The Mystics got off 2 extra FGA, though the Lynx had 2 extra offensive rebounds and the turnovers were equal at 17. The Lynx have been winning the possession game by wide margins all year, both off the offensive glass and by protecting the ball. This time they took the old-fashioned expedient of out-shooting their opponent from the field, 56 percent to 36 percent.

In any event, the lead ballooned from 57-40 to a high of 23 at 70-47 before the Lynx coasted to the finish and a 16 point win (73-57).

As a result, the Lynx have now all but clinched the home court advantage throughout the playoffs. OK, they're one win (or Indiana loss) away from same, but with 4 games remaining and 6 straight wins, one additional win can be considered to be a formality. In fact, it should come tonight at Target Center against the New York Liberty.

It was also announced today that Lindsay Whalen is the WNBA's player of the month for August. Here's another thing the Lynx have absolutely dominated. Rebekah Brunson was player of the month for June, and Seimone Augustus for July. The WNBA ranks them just #6 (Augustus), #8 (Whalen) and #12 (Brunson) in the MVP race, however. Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Tamika Catchings rate #1, 2 and 3 this week. The WNBA says that Whalen's game "doesn't have a lot of flash." If that's the case, maybe they can tell us what flash would look like.