Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gopher women shock Creighton with late rally, but let's be honest, the defense stunk

There was not 1 but 2 heartstoppers on Sunday. The Vikes, of course.

But almost as exciting was the Gopher women's shocking come-from-behind, victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat 88-81 2 OT win over the Creighton Bluejays.

Phase 1: Gophers are worse than terrible

Creighton led 38-18 late in the 1st half, 38-23 at the half, and 52-33 with 10:07 left in the game. Minnesota had been worse than terrible to that point. On offense, the Gophers were totally discombobulated, repeatedly putting it up into the Bluejays' defense, often into double teams. Fans were heard to say, "That's a tough shot,"  and then, "Oh, that's a tough shot, too," and, "Oh man, that's a really tough shot." Needless to say, they made only 30 percent of those really tough shots.

But the Gophers' defense was even worse, much worse. Creighton's shooters were as open as Minnesota's were not, and so they made 14-of-26, or 54 percent. The Gophers switched at the very sight of a pick, resulting in repeated match-up problems in the post, where Rachel Banham (5-9) and Sari Noga (5-10) and Shayne Mullaney (5-10) and Leah Cotton (5-8) repeatedly ended up guarding the Blue Jays' Alyssa Kamphaus (6-3) and Sarah Nelson (6-0).

And Nelson was allowed to back down to the rim on the low block, dribbling the ball two-three-four-five-six and even eight times, and help would never arrive. Where, at what level, boys, girls, men, women, is a post player allowed to dribble the ball six and eight times in the paint, and a double team never arrives? I've never seen such a thing. No wonder Nelson ended up as the Blue Jays' leading scorer with 19.

Then at 2:52 of the 1st, Banham took the ball to the rim, where she tried to split 2 tall defenders. She went to the floor with a crack that was heard throughout the Barn, and she didn't get up as Creighton took the ball downcourt. Finally at 2:37 timeout was called with the result that Rachel was helped off the court, looking pretty shaky. I assumed that she would not be back.

Well, she was back. But the Gophers' performance did not improve, and halfway through the 2nd half they were still down by 19 at 52-33, and had shown no signs whatsoever of being able to mount a rally.

Phase 2: Rachel Banham does her best impression of Superwoman

Banham finished the 1st half with 6 points on 3-of-8 shooting. And she made just 1-of-3 FG in the 1st 10 minutes of the 2nd. And not only that, but it was her turnover that led to a Marissa Janning 3 to put the Blue Jays ahead by that 52-33 score.

Then, suddenly, imperceptibly at first, it became the Rachel Banham show. First came a steal and a 2 inside of 8 minutes. 35 seconds later it was a 2 + 1 from Kayla Hirt, then 2 steals followed by 3 buckets within 55 seconds, then finally a J to tie it up at 43 seconds remaining.

The hits just kept on coming in OT as Banham added another 15 points to her total for a career high of 39. In the 1st OT her 9 points gave Minnesota a 69-61 lead with 2 minutes remaining. But now it was Creighton's turn for a comeback, as the Gophers continued to ignore the Blue Jays' 3 point shooters. Jordan Garrison tied it up at 72 at 0:08 from 35 feet.

In the 2nd OT Banham added 6 more and Minnesota again took the lead. This time Creighton was unable to rally.

Sidebar: Marissa Janning versus Shayne Mullaney...and Rachel Banham

I love Shayne Mullaney, as you know, and she had a decent game overall. 8 points on 4-of-13 shooting, 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 turnovers is 44 minutes. But my goodness, can Creighton freshman Marissa Janning (from Watertown, MN) play! 18 points on 7-of-10 FG, 7 boards, 4 assists, 2 turnovers in 36 minutes.

And of course, there was another Minnesota guard on the floor though she's not a freshman like Mullaney and Janning. But she, too, can play the game of basketball a little bit. Banham finished with those 39 points on 13-of-25 FG and 13-of-13 FT, 5 steals, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.

But still...

Minnesota won. But if they play 30 minutes in the Big 10 like they did today, they're not going to come back to win. The defense in particular was absolutely horrible. I mean, they've got to fight over the top of a pick now and again, and stop passively accepting those mismatches in the paint. And they've got to get out on the 3-point shooters. They did neither one today, and that is not a good omen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chanhassan, St. Paul Johnson, Tartan win boys holiday games

I saw 3 games today and each one had a winner and a loser. Chanhassan roared back from behind to defeat Henry Sibley 60-54, St. Paul Johnson survived winless Andover 69-64, and Tartan pulled away from Rogers late 71-64.

The best ballplayer I saw, surprisingly, was junior wing Connor Wilkie of Andover, and several other fellows stood out by virtue of being big or young or both. They were Johnson sophomore guard Jalen Mobley, Chanhassan sophomore forward Joey Witthus, Rogers sophomore 6-7 post Cole Murray, and Tartan 6-8 junior post Brody Jackson.

Chanhassan Storm 60 Henry Sibley Warriors 54

I call the Augsburg Twin Cities Orthopedics Holiday Classic the Shadow Tournament. Hopkins, Duluth East and St. Paul Johnson are all but a shadow of their great teams of recent years. Chanhassan, too, is rebuilding. (And, hey, can a 6-team tournament really be called a Classic?)

Only Henry Sibley among the 6 teams in the tournament is improved over the past year or two. They came into the game at 6-2 with losses at Chanhassan and Prior Lake and with wins at Plainview-Elgin-Millville, St. Thomas and Burnsville, and over Johnson 73-63 Thursday night at Augsburg.

Still there were 3 losses to the Chanhassan Storm between last year and this, and maybe that gave Chanhassan to confidence to Storm back from a 49-41 deficit in the last 5 minutes. Until then, Sibley looked like a totally new team, despite the fact that most of the faces on the court were familiar.

In the 1st half, Sibley used the 3 ball, making 5-of-9, 3 of the makes by Zach Haas, and a stout on-ball defense to lead 24-19.

The 2nd was a half of surge and counter-surge. The Storm scored the 1st 7 points, but Sibley responded with an 11-point run to lead 38-30 at 12:00. Chanhassan came back to within 41-38 when Sibley ripped off another 5 points, 4 of them by diminutive point guard Julius Johnson, to lead 49-41 at 5:00.

And then the wheels came off. Sibley's on-ball defenders may have gotten tired, I don't know, but suddenly Chanhassan's ball-handlers were roaming free and finding passing lanes into the low block that had been shut off all night long. Frank Ragnow scored down low, then Derrick Row scored in transition, and Witthus scored from point-blank range. Then the killer: Ragnow scored again and drew the foul. He missed the throw but Row put it back in off the offensive glass for a 4-point possession and a 51-49 lead. Witthus then hit all 3 FT, then Row and then Jared Lea scored in transition.

The Storm made 7 straight shots while Sibley was missing 8-of-9. It was a 15-0 run and 19-5 to the final buzzer.

Chanhassan finished with an eye-popping 25-for-44 (57 percent) from the field. Once they stopped turning the ball over, it was off to the races. Sibley made just 15-of-46 (33 percent) but 7 of the 15 FG were 3-pointers and Sibley also got to the FT line twice as often as Chanhassan. But it was all for naught when it allowed Chanhassan to go into a layup drill in the last 5.

7 players scored in double figures, 4 for the Storm, but it was Sibley's Adam Heussner who led all scorers with 15.

Tartan 71 Rogers 64

The #7-ranked Titans moved to 6-1 with a 71-64 home win over 3-6 but stubborn Rogers in its own holiday tournament. It was tied at 12 and Tartan led 16-14 midway through the 1st half when the Titans ripped off an 18-6 run. Jackson scored 3 times in the run and Kharie Kirkland twice and suddenly Tartan led 30-18. The Royals Luke Pecka hit a pair of 3s to keep it respectable, 35-26, at the half. Tartan made 16-of-34 FG, Rogers just 10-of-28.

But Rogers came back and it was only a charging call against Sam Spilles negating a 2-pointer that enabled Tartan to stay ahead at 37-35. Jackson, who drew the charge, then scored off the offensive glass. Over the next 6 minutes, 5 different players scored for Tartan and the lead was back up to 12, at 49-37. Rogers got within 6 at 49-43 but Jackson and Tommy Hansen scored 10 Tartan points and it was again 12 at 59-47 at 4:00.

As usual, the better shooting team won. Tartan finished in the 47 percent range, Rogers closer to 37. 4 Tartan players scored in double figures led by Hansen's 14. Kirkland, Teddy Klingsporn and Jackson added 12. Ryan Gelle scored 17 for Rogers, Pecka 13 off the bench, and Spilles and Cullen Loughlin 11 each.

A sidebar was the battle of the 6-8 Jackson for Tartan versus 6-7 sophomore post Cole Murray of Rogers. Jackson got much the better of it, outscoring Murray 12-7 and out-rebounding him 10-3. Jackson is bigger and vastly more imposing on the defensive end but Murray, a lefty, showed better moves to the hoop, at least in the 2nd half. (He was scoreless in the 1st.)

St. Paul Johnson 71 Andover 64

This was a terrifically entertaining game, mainly due to Johnson's high octane transition style of play. It doesn't matter if you score or miss or turn in over. If Johnson gets possession on the defensive end, it's going to be down under its offensive glass in about 5 seconds. But Andover hung tough, despite 29 turnovers. I didn't look until after the game and I was shocked to find that the Huskies remain winless on the year. They did not look like a winless club.

In the 1st half the game was tied at 4, 11, 13, 15, 30 and 44--the latter coming on a Robert Chattard bucket for Johnson at the buzzer. The largest leads of the half, 30-24, 27-22, 23-19, were Andover's.

Johnson took its 1st lead of the 2nd half at 50-48 at 13:57 during a string of 3 straight transition buckets by Pierre Conwell (2 FG) and Mobley (1 plus 2 assists). Soon it was 56-48, then 59-51. But Andover fought back to take the lead 61-60 at 2:38 on a 2 +1 on a back door cut by Jake McNallan with an assist to Cameron Wold.

For once Johnson milked the clock and moved the ball around before Mobley took the ball right up the gut to the rim for 2. Andover then turned it over on 5 of its next 6 possessions, thought a 3 by Wilkie made it a 1-possession game at 0:32. Johnson made 5-of-7 throws and Mobley scored on another drive to the rim to make the final 69-64. (I've seen the final reported as 66-64 but that is wrong.)

Mobley and Conwell are the catalysts for Johnson's high octane game, and they led the way with 23 and 14 points, while Lazerik Gilbert added 11. Johnson coach Vern Simmons plays a bunch of guys, and they all know what to do and where to be. Mobley is the heir apparent to guards-extraordinaire Estan Tyler and Marcus Marshall.

But Andover's Connor Wilkie was the most impressive player on the court. He's a good, strong wing who does everything--pops the 3, takes it inside, strong with the ball and passes the ball. hits the boards. If you can't get out to see him this year or next at Andover, watch for him at a D2 school near you. He led all scorers with 23.

The Twin Cities Orthopedic + Tartan All-Stars Friday (3 games)

C- Brody Jackson, Tartan, junior
F- Connor  Wilkie, Andover, junior
F- Pierre Conwell, Johnson, junior
G- Jalen Mobley, Johnson, sophomore
G- Xavier Hall, Tartan, senior

2nd Team

F- Joey Witthus, Chanhassan, sophomore
F- Kharie Kirkland, Tartan, senior
F- Zach Haas, Sibley, senior
G- Ryan Gelle, Rogers, senior
G- Sedrick Clark, Johnson, sophomore

3rd Team

C- Frank Ragnow, Chanhassan, junior
F- Quashingm Smith-Pugh, Johnson, senior
F- Tommy Hansen, Tartan, junior
G- Teddy Klingsporn, Tartan, senior
G- Julius Johnson, Sibley, senior


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kevin, Ricky, Wolves all going backward

Perhaps the high point of the Minnesota Timberwolves' season came on December 17 when Ricky Rubio returned from an ACL tear and 9 months of inactivity to lead the Wolves over Dallas 114-106 in OT. Kevin Love missed that game due to, well, he had injured his thumb the previous game and was listed a day to day. In the end, he sat out not due to his thumb but because of the flu. It was the start of a wacky period of ball for the Wolves.

The Wolves were 11-9 when Rickey came back, and you'll remember that Love missed the 1st couple of weeks of the season. The win over the Mavericks in Rubio's 2012 debut, without Love, raised hopes that Minnesota was ready to become a good NBA team. The playoffs were pretty much assured. They'd hung in there without their 2 big guns. Now, who could stop them?

Well, Orlando. Miami. The Knicks. Houston. Just to name 4.

Of course, the fact is they've yet to have Love and Rubio both available for 2 consecutive games. But when they've had the both of 'em, they've lost 2 of 3. Overall, they're 2-4 since Ricky returned, good for 13-13 overall. They've dropped from 6th place in the West into a tie for 8th, 9th and 10th and, most likely, dropped out of the playoffs, as of today.

Rickey has played in 5 of 6 games since he returned. He is averaging 18 minutes, 4 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, a steal and 2 turnovers. He has made 5-of-21 FG attempts, or 24 percent.

In the same period, Love had played in 4 games, and is averaging 17 points, 14 boards, 2 assists, 1.5 steals, a block and 4 turnovers. He has made 24-of-64 FGA, or 37 percent.

That compare unfavorably with 21 ppg before Rickey's return though his other stats are about the same before and after. Surprisingly his 37 percent shooting over the past 4 games is better than his season percentage of 36. This compares with his career average of 45 percent. Well, hand and eye problems will do that to you, I guess.

In 3 of their 4 recent losses, they've led in the 4th quarter. They've looked like the Wolves of old in getting outscored 57-28 down the stretch of those 3 games. In 2 of the 3, the opponent had a "go to" guy and we didn't. Carmelo Anthony scored 19 4th quarter points for the Knicks the other night, while James Harden scored 13 tonight. Orlando had 4 of 'em--Glen Davis and J.J. Redick scored 3 buckets each, Arron Afflalo and Gustavo Ayon 2 each.

For Minnesota, only J.J. Barea has scored as many points in 3 games as Anthony or Harden did in 1. Barea scored 19 points in the 4th quarter of the 3 losses. Other T-Wolves include:

• Shved 8 points
• Cunningham 6
• Derrick Williams, A. J. Kirilenko and Rubio 5
• Ridnour 3
• Love 2

This is for 3 quarters of basketball, with the game on the line.

I guess they need some reps with Kevin and Ricky out there, or something. But right now, they're not as good of a team as they were before Ricky came back. With the exception of Barea, everybody is pulling a disappearing act in the 4th quarter, which is not how you win in the NBA.





Monday, December 24, 2012

Northern Sun at Holiday Break


The Northern Sun Conference is on holiday. About 1/4 of the way through the conference season one might say that:

• The men's race is wide open with 7 teams at 4-1and 2 more at 3-2.

• Upper Iowa is the big surprise among the men. Forecast to finish in 7th place in the South, UI is tied for the lead at 4-1.

• The Augustana women are the only undefeated team at 5-0 and are the only team with the potential of having a dominant type of season. And they're doing it with balance. Not a single Augie woman is among the league leaders in any statistical category.

• St. Cloud is the big surprise among the women, Minnesota-Crookston the big disappointment so far.

The Men

North

Moorhead and St. Cloud were picked at 1-2 in the North and they are, but tied also with Bemidji and Northern. 

• Moorhead is led by pre-season PoY pick Alex Novak with 13.5 ppg and 90 boards, and by "newcomer" Anthony Tucker. Tucker, the former Minnetonka, Iowa and Winona State star, is leading the league in scoring at 21.5 and minutes at 36, while adding 4.5 assists.

• St. Cloud is led by Theo Rothstein at 18.5 ppg and Shaun Jensen at 16 with 6 assists.

• Bemidji is led by Dermaine Crockrell with 16 ppg.

• Bemidji is at Moorhead on Jan. 5 while South 1st place (tied) Mankato State is at St. Cloud on the Jan. 18.

• Top players to date have been Novak, Tucker, Jensen, Rothsten, and Alex Dorr of Mary.

South

Mankato and Augustana are 4-1, along with surprising Upper Iowa.

• Perennial doormat Upper Iowa is led by Tucker Wettstein with 14 ppg.

• Augustana is led by Cameron McCaffrey, who leads the South with 21 ppg.

• Mankato is led by newcomers Jarvis Williams, a senior guard and transfer from UW-Green Bay (14 ppg), Assem Marei, a 6-9 sophomore forward from Cairo, Egypt (14 ppg) and Zach Monaghan, a senior guard and transfer from South Dakota State (14 ppgs, 6 assists, 2 steals). 

• Mankato is at Augustana on Jan. 4.

• Top players are Monaghan, McCaffrey, Wettstein, Isaiah Thomas and Claytion Vette, pre-season PoY who has 18 points and 9 boards per game.

The Women

North

• St. Cloud State has returned to its former prominence, sitting alone in 1st place in the North at 4-1. Sophomore forward Jessica Benson from Grand Meadow, MN, has been the key, increasing her output from 10 ppg to 16t, while guards Sam Price, Nicole Anderson, Amanda Wagner and Rachel Moen come after you in waves.

• Pre-seasoin favorites Mary and UMD are not out of it at 3-2, but Mary's front line has not been as dominant as expected and pre-seaon PoY Katrina Newman has gotten off to a slow start (14 points, 3 steals).

• Top players have been Price, Hannah Rutten of UMD, guard Ali Collins of Mary, Carly Boag of Minot State, and Megan Strese of Moorhead.

South

• Augustana is 5-0 despite not having anyone among the league leaders in any categotry. Guard Alex Feeney, pre-season PoY, leads the team in scoring at 14.

• Like the Mankato men, the women have returned to prominence at 4-1. Junior forward Ali Wilkinson is doing everything from scoring 19 ppg to grabbing 9 boards and 3 steals per game.

• Along with Feeney and Wilkinson, top players include Becca Friestleben and Katie Wolff of Winona, 
Annika Whiting of Concordia, and Whitney Kieffer of Upper Iowa. 

• Wayne (3-2) also has nice balance with a league-high 5 players among the league leaders.

PoY Candidates

Here I'm talking about Minnesota Hoops' year-end awards. Who from the NSIC has a shot?

• Novak and Tucker of Moorhead, and Monaghan of Mankato.

• Wilkinson of Mankato among the women..

ToY Candidates

Whoever wins, including the post- as well as the season. Right now Augustana is the most dominant but they, of course, are not a Minnesota team. So how about the Mankato men and women, both who are having breakout seasons after a secretive near-.500 year in 2012.

CoY Candidates

Right now it's Mankato coaches Matt Marganhaler and Emilee Thiessen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Apple Valley boys 73 Hopkins 64; Tyus Jones hurt

So, Stew and I made the long drive to Apple Valley to see Tyus Jones, and we did. For 6 minutes of the 1st half. He hit the deck at about 12:25 and seemed to have tweaked an ankle. He stayed in the game, but just briefly. During a timeout about 30 seconds later, Jones came out of the game and he never returned. (Later reports said his problem was back spasms. It sure looked like an ankle.)

At the time it was already Hopkins 15 Apple Valley 7. By the time the Eagles knew what hit them, it was 32-16, with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the half. Apple Valley closed out the half on a 17-10 run to get within 42-33. Still, a Hopkins victory seemed all but inevitable.

It was not to be. Led by guard Dustin Fronk, the Eagles just kept pecking away and pecking away. The got within 7 at 44-37, within 6 at 48-42, within 5 at 51-46 and tied it up at 54-all with 5:25 still on the clock. Finally they took their 1st lead since 2-0 at 57-54 on a spectacular steal and coast-to-coast 2 + 1 by Fronk at 4:46. Hopkins got within 61-59, but Apple Valley made 11-of-13 FT down the stretch.

The Eagles closed the game on a remarkable 57-32 run, without Tyus Jones. But they had Dustin Fronk and with help from Dennis Austin, Harry Sonie and others, it was enough. Austin and Sonie finished with 18 and 15 points, respectively, but it was junior reserve Robert Tobroxen who tied things up at 54 with a bucket off the offensive glass--his only bucket of the night. And 6-10 freshman Brock Bertram impressed with 8 points and 8 boards.

The bottom line was that Hopkins had a terrible night shooting the ball. They started out hitting 6-of-13 shots for that 15-7 lead. Their next 6 buckets came on 19 shots, but still they led 32-16. They finished the half making 2-of-10 for a total of 14-of-42. The 2nd half was worse, at 7-of-24, for a total of 21-for-66 (32 percent). After that 6-of-13 start, the Royals shot 15-of-53 (28 percent).

The Eagles, meanwhile, shot 13-for-25 in the 1st half and 11-of-27 in the 2nd. The problem in the 1st was turnovers--14 of them. In the 2nd half, there were only 3. Fronk hit 3-of-4 shots in the 1st half for 9 points. In the 2nd he made just 4-of-8 FG but also 7-of-8 FT for 18 points. Overall he scored 27 with 6 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals.

If the 2nd half belonged to Fronk, the 1st belonged to Kamali Chambers, who did a note-perfect impression of big brother Siyani, last year's Mr. Basketball. He scored 9 points on 3-of-7 shooting with 5 boards, 2 assists and a steal. And he stood out even in Hopkins' super-sticky man-to-man defense, which frustrated the Eagles at every turn--through the 5 minute mark of the 1st half. After that, not so much.

And, he pretty much disappeared in the 2nd half, scoring just 3 points and none after the 9 minute mark. And that is exactly when Fronk too over.


Norm Grow (1940-2012)

Tonight I'm going to be watching Tyus Jones, called by many the greatest Minnesota schoolboy basketball player ever.

This morning I learned that Norm Grow, called by many during his career at Foley High School (class of 1958) the greatest Minnesota schoolboy basketball player ever to that time, had passed away on Saturday.

The 6-5 do-everything player set state records for scoring in a game (70 vs. Holdingford in January 1958), season and career (2,852 points)--records that stood for 47 and 33 years, respectively.

I also remember some 30-35 years ago when Paul McDonald of Chisholm was thought to have set a career rebounding record. Many years later when McDonald's "record" was broken, it was discovered that in fact he had never held it. Norm Grow did, and they hadn't even recorded rebounds his 1st 2 years with the Foley varsity. Grow remains the #5 Minnesota career rebounder today based on just 3 of his 5 years of high school play.

More importantly, Grow's Foley team had a lot of success. His 8th grade team (1954) won its 1st District 19 title ever before losing to Willmar in the Region 5 semis 57-48. Willmar then defeated Mpls. Patrick Henry 60-49 to advance to the state tournament.

Two years later his sophomore team returned to the Region 5 tournament, losing to St. Louis Park 68-59 as Grow scored 39 of Foley's 59 points.

In 1957 Willmar again knocked Foley out of the Region 5 tournament 50-37, holding Grow to just 12 points. Willmar then lost to 2-time state champion (1956-1957) Mpls. Roosevelt 63-59 in the region final.

In Grow's senior year Foley lost to Monticello in District 19.

So Grow never got to play on the state's biggest stage, the state tournament. But of course they played in the toughest region in the state. The Minneapolis City Conference long had been the state's toughest conference and, indeed, Mpls. Washburn and then Roosevelt won state titles in Grow's 9th, 10th and 11th grade seasons. But on top of that, the Lake Conference was emerging at this time and was well on its way to displacing Minneapolis as the state's best. Hopkins had won the state title in 1952 and 1953, Wayzata would win in 1959, and St. Louis Park, Minnetonka and Edina would win 5 more over the next decade. Then on top of that, Willmar had things going during the 1950s as well, making it to the state tournament in 1954 and 1958. You might remember Paul Van Den Einde, who played for Willmar in the 1983 state tournament. Well, that was Paul's dad who out-scored Grow 13-12 in that 1957 Region 5 game.

Sure, Grow's scoring records now have all been eclipsed. Well, not all. His career scoring record stood for 33 years. By comparison, the current record-holder is Kevin Noreen, who scored more than 4,000 points in a career that ended 3 years ago in 2010. Well, his record will stand for about 3 years because it is certain to be broken very soon by Anders Broman of Lakeview Christian. Someone, in turn, will break Broman's record in a lot less than 33 years, ya think?

This isn't meant to make more of Grow's records than what they are. Grow went on to the University of Minnesota with great expectations. This was the first golden age of Minnesota basketball. Williams Arena would be filled to the rafters for the state tournament, and Minnesota high school kids still recently had led Hamline to 3 national championships and had played featured roles with the 7-time professional champion Minnesota Lakers. Ron Johnson and Jon Hagen and then Grow broke the career scoring record in 3 consecutive seasons in 1956, 1957 and 1958.

But while Johnson won all-America honors as a Minnesota Gopher, Grow never was a starting player in college, and by the time Grow's career had ended they were saying that Minnesota high school ball was below par, that Minnesota didn't produce Big Ten caliber players. Minnesota would soon begin going out-of-state to recruit players like Lou Hudson and Archie Clark.

But while his Gopher career wasn't quite what was expected, Grow by all accounts grew up to live a good and productive life as a member of the Twin Cities and Minnesota communities. He is survived by his wife, 4 children and 12 grandchildren. "He would love to be remembered more so as a devoted husband, father and grandfather" than as a high school basketball star, said his oldest son, Derrick Grow.

Still, this was the golden age of Minnesota high school basketball, and Grow was unequivocally one of the golden boys. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hopkins

It is never news when Hopkins wins. Hopkins has been in the news this year, then, with an unwanted regularity. Paradoxically, this is not to say that Hopkins--boys or girls--have been losing...much. The girls are 8-0 and, though there've been a couple of close calls. they're out-scoring their opponents by an average of 65-46. The boys are 4-1 with a surprising loss to Tartan (88-85), but they're out-scoring their opponents by an average of 80-64.

And yet, as I said, they've been in the news for something other than winning a little more than usual.

Da Boys

There is of course that loss to Tartan. And there are two 11-point wins, closer than Hopkins is accustomed to--73-62 over Centennial and 85-74 over Lakeville South--especially considering that neither of these 2 is rated.

And Tuesday night it is possible--I won't say likely, but certainly possible--that the Royals will drop to 4-2, as they'll travel to pre-season #1 Apple Valley, where they'll face the best player in Minnesota in Tyus Jones. (The best player in Minnesota is supposed to play for Hopkins, after all!). But of course Apple Valley has also already suffered a surprising loss this fall, 72-70 to Park Center, and is no longer rated #1. So maybe this game is a toss-up, maybe the home court makes the Eagles the favorite, maybe Tyus Jones makes 'em the favorite but, again, it doesn't matter who's favored, it matters who wins.

Look at the Hopkins starting lineup. There's no Mr. Basketball here--no Kris Huphries, no Blake Hoffarber, no Royce White, no Joe Coleman, no Siyani Chambers. But, wait, there is junior Kamali Chambers who may yet become the player his brother was. And now that I think of it, Amir Coffey, who is already the favorite for Mr. Basketball 2016. Chambers scored 15 ppg, Jake Wright 14, Nick Johnson 13, Coffey 12 and Jamal Davis 12. Suddenly, balance is the word in Hopkins.

So, despite the early loss and the close calls and the lack of an obvious, dominant, Mr. Basketball type of player right now today, let's at least wait until Tuesday to declare that the Hopkins dynasty is dead. And whose to say that Wednesday morning mayn't dawn with the Royals very much among the Class AAAA contenders.

Da Girls

Da girls will be AAAA contenders, and even AAAA favorites, no matter what. But there's been a bit of "what," as in WTF, so far this year. I mean specifically the loss of sophomore guards Viria Livingston and T. T. Starks to ACL injuries just 2 weeks apart in December. Starks is widely regarded as the best in her class with Livingston generally rated top 3 or top 5 at worst.

And there's those close calls--one, a 65-61 win over Kennedy, even came before Livingston and Starks went down. The 2nd, a 69-62 win over Lakeville North, came after. But there's also an impressive 47-25 win over #1AA rated Providence since the 2 went down.

Senior forward and Ms. Basketball contender Nia Coffey is leading with 14 points and 9 boards per game. Forward Mikaala Shackleford, coming back from an ACL herself, isn't lighting it up yet but she never was a big scorer. Her 2.5 steals per game suggest that her mibility is OK. The post is shared by the O'Tooles, senior Erin and junior Molly, who combine to take 9 boards per game. The guards are now senior Taylor Anderson and 9th grader Nia Hollie, who combine for 6 assists and 5 steals.

The bench features senior Alexis Garcia (2 assists per game) and Aislinn Cornell, and 9th graders Ashley Bates and K'Aezha Wubben. But the Royals' margin of error has gotten thinner, that's for sure--their ability to cope with fouls or adjust to bad match-ups or absorb another injury.

So let's be honest. There isn't a team in the state that wouldn't take their chances with Coffey and Anderson and a 90 percent Shackleford and whomever else shows up healthy, willing and able. Hopkins will be fine. We only hope that eventually the same is true of Livingston and Starks.

But looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, the playing time that the 9th graders are getting--Hollie, Bates and Wubben--is only going to make the Royals tougher and tougher. These 3 plus Livingston and Starks as juniors and seniors in 2015 could still be Hopkins' best team ever. No, wait, don't say that!

But it is true that the injuries make it at least plausible that somebody might come up with an upset in 2013. Before Livingston and Starks went down, it was pretty much unimaginable that the Royals would not repeat. Now, if you're a gamblin' man, you can at least put 'em on the board. Call it 1-to-3. For the boys 3-to-1.

Ricky's Back

After 280 days on the sidelines, and with his team trailing 28-18, Ricky Rubio returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves lineup Saturday night with 1:47 left in the 1st period. In the next 7:31 of the 1st half, Rubio threw 3 or 4 of those passes that only he can throw, scored 4 points with 4 assists, and the Wolves roared back to a 54-45 half-time lead.

With Kevin Love out with a new hand injury, the Wolves had looked totally out of sync for most of the 1st quarter. Rubio made and makes the Wolves a different team--a better team, obviously--even without Love. "When he has the ball in his hands, I'm a lot better coach," Minnesota's Rick Adelman said.

In the 2nd half, the Wolves pulled out to as much as a 70-55 lead (on a 52-27 run) when it was Dallas' turn to get it together. Minnesota still led 93-85 with 6:08 to go, but Dallas was moving the ball effectively and getting good looks, while on the other end, Dallas' quickness was forcing the Wolves to take (and make) some very tough shots. But Dallas finally caught up at 97-96 on a Derek Fisher 3 + 1, as Shawn Marion got away with pushing Rubio into the shooter. Minnesota tied it up at 98, 100 and, finally, at 102 on a Nicola Pekovic layup from Rubio at 0:49.6.

Rubio, limited to 18 minutes by his doctors, sat out the OT, but a couple of fast-break buckets (Shved from Kirilenko off the opening tip, and a Kirilenko 2 + 1 from Pekovic) helped the Wolves to a 10-point margin and they never trailed in OT. The final was 114-106.

For Rubio, there were 8 points on 1-of-4 shooting; 9 assists, almost every one of them a memorably pretty play; 4 boards, 3 steals and 2 turnovers.

The difference, really, was Minnesota's big guys, who out-scored Dallas 59-44. Minnesota scored 50 points in the paint to the Mavs' 36. But the Wolves went through long stretches where they simply couldn't guard the quicker Mavericks, especially against a small lineup in the 4th quarter. The 2nd difference in the game was when Derek Fisher and Vince Carter fouled out late in the 4th quarter. It was the loss of their 3-point shooting that doomed the Mavs.

Prospectus

Now the vigil is on for Kevin Love, but it is said he would have "tried" to play last night but was actually scratched due to the flu. So, assuming he is "day to day" at worst, the Wolves' prospects are very very good. They've now survived the pre-Love, pre-Rubio portion of the schedule at 12-9 and with 4 straight wins, good for 6th place in the West--that is, the 1st playoff appearance since 2004.
35-26 the rest of the way would make Minnesota 47-35 overall (.573), probably good for 6th place and a 1st round match-up with a division champ not named Oklahoma City (L.A. Clippers or San Antone?) and a probably 1st round loss.

The fact is the Wolves guards remain small and slow, as Dallas showed last night at times. Small and slow, but smart.

So, then the focus moves to 2013-2014. Can the Wolves stay healthy? Can they (i.e. can Kevin Love) stay happy? If so, home court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs becomes the realistic goal.

But for now, yeah, I know. One day at a time. Let's get Love back, let's keep Ricky healthy. Let's keep AK47 healthy. The margin for error remains small.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shayne Mullaney

EDIT; Today 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting with 3 boards and 3 assists. A superstar is born.

AND NOW RETURNING YOU TO OUR PREVIOUSLY PROGRAMMED PROGRAMMING:

I admit it. I love Shayne Mullaney. I am thrilled to see her contributing as a Minnesota Gopher. Here's what I wrote about her back on February 15, 2012:

"Which brings us to Shayne Mullaney. Never all that highly regarded, one service had her #18 in her class as a sophomore and has moved her all the way up to #7, which means there are 6 girls who, in theory, are better than she is. Why didn't we recruit them?

Well, we did in the case of Jackie Johnson. But as to the other 5, let's be honest. gPrep booted it. Mullaney is the cream of the crop among 2012 guards. Like Banham, she is a scorer. But she is also stronger with the ball than Banham, and a better passer. If Pam is smart enough to make Shayne the #1 ball-handler, then Banham will be free to do what she does best, and that is look to score."

Then on September 12, 2012:

"So how to deploy Rachel Banham is an open question. Leah Cotton, the senior, is probably the 1st option as a running mate, though her 35 percent shooting and propensity for turnovers is a problem. As a practical matter, that leaves freshmen Mikayla Bailey and Shayne Mullaney as possibilities. My personal opinion is that Mullaney is a better ball-handler and passer than Banham. I would give her the ball and play Banham at the 2 spot and see what happens."

This is from more than a year ago:


'Then there's Shayne Mullaney, 5-8, from Eden Prairie. Some who've criticized the signing of Bailey are also lukewarm on Mullaney. Well, I remember when she was rated as about the #17 or #18 sophomore in the state and Tessa Cichy was #1. Now Mullaney is the #5 senior guard and Cichy #6. So this has been a volatile class.

But I think of Mullaney as a poor man's Rachel Banham, which is to say a combo guard who can handle the ball, set up the offense, set up your scorers and...oh, yes, not incidentally...put the ball in the hole herself. She was a 58 percent shooter as a junior. And, sure, she shot a lot of lay-ups but you're going to hold that against her? She can penetrate. But she can also pop the 3.

So if you're a Gopher fan, get used to the idea of Shayne Mullaney as a significant competitor to the Gopher program. There's a lot of guards in the Gophers' present and future, but nobody else (except Mikayla Bailey, of course) is positioned to run with Rachel Banham for 3 years. Think of her finally, then, as the 2nd coming of Shannon Schonrock, if you like."

And even further back than that, I wrote:

"In 2012, Mikayla Bailey and Shayne Mullaney have verballed. They're not as highly rated as Banham and Kayla Hirt in 2011 but Mullaney, at least, looks to me to have the skills to complement Banham quite nicely."

Finally on May 28, 2012, I rated Mullaney as #4 in her class, but with Marissa Janning #1.

"4. Shayne Mullaney, Eden Prairie, point guard. Another Gopher recruit from EP. It will be interesting to compare her progress at the next level with Janning's. I've always been a big Mullaney supporter. She is very creative, a great scorer, has great court sense. But was she really the guard that Borton wanted, or will Janning be a more productive collegian?"

MIAC Goes on Holiday Break

The MIAC has concluded conference play for 2012. A few non-conference games remain, but otherwise action will renew in January 2013. They've played about 1/4 of the conference schedule. Here's what you've missed.

1. St. Thomas remains unbeatable...er, unbeaten. No, make that unbeatable.

I mean, who's gonna beat the men? They're 4-0 and tied for 1st with Augsburg. They're #1 in both offense and defense, out-scoring opponents by a ridiculous 87-62. They outshoot 'em 53 percent to 46, and out-rebound 'em by 10. Will DeBerg leads in scoring with 14 ppg, while Connor Nord comes off the bench to add 10.

But it is their team defense--and especially the defense of Tommy Hannon and John Nance--that is a thing of real beauty. The Tommies wear you down, going 10 deep in the season thus far.

And, who's gonna beat the women? They're 4-0 and 2nd behind 5-0 Gustavus. They're only #3 on offense and #2 on defense but at 65-54 they lead the MIAC women on margin of victory. Like the men, they lead the MIAC in FG percentage, and they outshoot the opponents 45 percent to 36. They are, however, not a great rebounding team, but of course all-conference post Maggie Weiers is out.

They beat then #1 UW-Stevens Point 73-70 with both Weiers and all-conference forward Taylor Young out, and their only loss is on the road to then #1 Calvin 78-72. New starters Jenna Dockter, a guard, and forward Anna Smith join Weiers and Young in scoring double figures on average, and they use their depth to wear people down. 10 Tommies average double figures in minutes played.

2 more conference championship looks all but inevitable. The only question is how far the 2 Tommie teams can go nationally. The Final Four is a reasonable goal for both.

2. Gustavus and Macalester women, and Augsburg, St. John's and St. Olaf men surprise. Among the women, the Gusties and the Scots lost a lot of talent, including in the Gusties' case coach Mickey Haller. So the coaches picked 'em 4th (which is low for the Gusties) and 11th, respectively, in their pre-season poll. Instead, the Gusties make the turn in 1st place (5-0) and the Scots in 5th (3-2). Abby Rothenbuehler leads Gustavus with 14 points and 9 boards, while Julia Dysthe is scoring 13. Coach Laurie Kelly would be the Coach of the Year as of today. Macalester is led by Kyanna Jones with a ridiculous 13 points, 7 boards, 3 assists and 4 steals.

Among the men, the coaches had St. Olaf #7 and Hamline #9, and I must admit to having had Augsburg #9 myself. Instead the Olies are 2-1 (4th), Hamline 2-2 (5th) and Augsburg 4-0 (tied for 1st). For St. Olaf, 3 new starters are scoring in double figures: Connor Gunderson at 17.5, Sterling Nielsen at 13, and Riley Aeikens at 12. In the Johnnies' case, it's Seth Marx (11 ppg) and Mitchell Kuck (10).

In Augsburg's case, I was not aware that Dan Kornbaum had joined the Auggies when I picked them for 8th. Kornbaum, from Little Falls, had started his college career at UMD. His grandpa is Ron Johnson from New Prague and an all-American at the U of M. Kornbaum is currently 4th in MIAC scoring (17 ppg) and 2nd in boards (9) and blocks (2). He would be the PoY as of today.

3. St. Olaf women and Gustavus men disappoint. 

With guard Mackenzie Wolter and forwards Nikki Frogner, Erin Haglund and Elise Raney back, much was expected of the Olies. The coaches had 'em 4th, I had 'em 3rd. Instead they're 1-3 in 9th. Newcomer Kim Cerjan, coming off the bench, suddenly is their leader in minutes (27) and scoring (13). Frogner is at 12 ppg and 7 boards. But Wolter and Raney are down from 13 and 11 ppg last year to 7 and 6 so far this.

The perennially powerful Gusties men are currently 1-3 and in 8th place. They lost a ton of talent and, honestly, I had 'em 7th in my pre-season ranking, but the coaches had 'em 2nd. Jim Hill and Ben Biewen score 17 and 16 points, respectively, but they're giving up 75 points a game.

4. If I had it to do all over again....

Among the men, I had St. Thomas, Concordia and Hamline 1-2-3. Today I would have the Tommies 1, Augsburg 2 and Concordia 3. P.S. I had Carleton, Bethel and Macalester through 6th and therefore in the playoffs. Now I'll replace Bethel and Macalester with St. John's and St. Olaf.

Among the women I had St. Thomas, Concordia and St. Mary's. Now I'll say St. Thomas, Gustavus and Concordia. St. Mary's still makes the playoffs. But I also had Carleton and St. Olaf. Now I'll say Carleton and St. Ben's.

5. What to look for...

The Augsburg men visit St. Thomas on Saturday afternoon January 5, so you'll get an early feel for whether anybody can compete with the Tommies.

Oddly enough the Tommie women are 4-0 with 4 home games so far and have not played 1st place Gustavus. They travel to St. Peter to face the Gusties on Wednesday, January 9. So here again, maybe we'll see then whether anybody is going to push the Tommie women.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Boys Early Rankings

The AP rankings are now out for the boys. This is not them. This is my early season top 10ishness.

AAAA

1. Apple Valley. Pretty much unanimous, everybody's got Tyus Jones and company on top, though in truth it should be pretty much wide open this year in AAAA.

2. Hopkins. It's kinda fashionable to have the Royals down in 3rd or 4th or 5th this year, but I say wait and see.

3. Osseo. It's kinda fashionable to have the defending state champs down around 5th or so, but I say wait and see.

4. Eden Prairie
5. Edina
6. Park Center
7. Minnetonka
8. Roseville
9. Wayzata
10. Prior Lake

State Tournament: Apple Valley (section 3), Hopkins (6), Osseo (5) and Roseville (4) should be the seeds. Apple Valley and Hopkins meet in the final.

AAA

1. DeLaSalle. Unlike AAAA, this is not wide open. The Islanders should be a shoo-in this time around.

2. Waconia. Your guess is as good as mine as to 2nd place, however.
3. St. Paul Johnson
4. Blake
5. Grand Rapids
6. Mpls. Washburn
7. Holy Angels
8. Austin
9. Willmar
10. Rocori

State Tournament: DeLaSalle, Waconia, Johnson and Blake should be the top seeds. The Islanders and Waconia meet in the finals.

AA


1. Litchfield is pretty much unanimous but anyone who says this isn't wide open is fooling themselves.

2. Fairmont
3. Melrose
4. Pelican Rapids
5. St. Peter
6. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
7. Rochester Lourdes
8. Annandale
9. Braham
10. Minnehaha

State tournament: I thought the MSHSL had said no to seeding A and AA, but the brackets shown on the MSHSL Web site right now show seeding. So therefore Litch, Fairmont, Pelican and St. Pete should be the seeds. I'll pick PEM to surprise somebody (for lack of a better candidate, let's say St. Pete) and join Litch, Fairmont and Pelican in the semis. Litch avenges its loss to PEM in last year's finals in this year's semis, while Fairmont also makes the finals for the 1st time ever.

A

1. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, until somebody proves otherwise.
2. Lakeview Christian
3. Maranatha
4. Dawson-Boyd
5. Faribault Bethlehem Academy
6. Sleepy Eye St. Mary's 
7. Prairie Seeds
8. Mountain Lake
9. Heritage
10. MCCRAY

State tournament: BBE, Lakeview, Maranatha and DB are the seeds. BBE and Lakeview play in the final.

All-State

Tyus Jones, Apple Valley
Anders Broman, Lakeview
Rashad Vaughan, Cooper
Reid Travis, DeLaSalle
Ian Theissen, Osseo

2nd

Quintin Hooker, Park Center
Alex Illikainen, Grand Rapids
Kebu Johnson, Blake
Riley Dearring, Minnetonka
Jamil Davis, Hopkins

3rd

Graham Woodward, Edina
Carson Shanks, Prior Lake
Jarvis Johnson, DeLaSalle
Joe Aase, Austin
Reggie Lynch, Edina


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Changes to state high school tournament

The MSHSL today (December 6) adopted changes to the scheduling and location of the state high school basketball tournament. The changes were necessitated by conflicts at the various possible locations, specifically the booking of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff at the Target Center late in March, when the boys tournament has taken place in recent years.

Other conflicts prevent Williams Arena from picking up the slack.

But Target and Williams will both continue to host games in both tournaments.

First, the boys and girls will flip-flop in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The boys will go 1st, then the girls. The girls will be up 1st again in 2017 and 2018.

Second, the boys tournament (by going 1st for 3 years) may not need any further adjustments.

Third, the girls may have to open at Target Center on Tuesday, the only day the Target is available to the high schools the last week of March. The tournament will conclude, then, at Williams and Mariucci Arenas at the U of M.

The MSHSL had discussed some more radical changes, like 1st round games at Greater Minnesota locations and a Final Four in the Metro area. The boys coaches association strongly opposed that. All in all, the changes are fairly minor. Brian Cosgriff, Hopkins girls coach, said the MSHSL had done the best that they could from a very tough position.

More Bad News for Gopher Women

Kenisha Bell has de-verballed the Gophers.

Says Minnesota is still on her list, but....

The Mighty 2013s have come and gone and Nia Coffey, Rebekah Dahlman and Tyseanna Johnson are going to Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Iowa State.

The next litmus test for Gopher coaches would have to be Carlie Wagner, Nia Hollie and Jazmyn Martin. #1 2014, 2016, 2017.

And Kenisha Bell. But experience suggests she is already lost.

There's not an obvious #1 2015. I recently elevated Maddie Guebert to #1 over T. T. Starks based on current high school play. This is not to say that Starks might not have more college potential. But OTOH Starks tore her ACL the other night, joining Hopkins running mate and 2015 Viria Livingston who is already on the sideline with an ACL.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gopher women hold old-timers game of sorts

A lot has changed since the last time Rachel Banham squared off against Morgan Van Riper-Rose. Jackie Johnson and Shayne Mullaney were on Van Riper-Rose's side, for one thing. Now they're hangin' with Banham. And, not at all coincidentally, Van Riper-Rose's team won last time. It was Eden Prairie 49 Lakeville North 32 in the state Class AAAA semi-final, as Mullaney scored 14 points, and Banham, Johnson and Van Riper-Rose ( can I just say Rose from now on, please?) each scored 10.

Rose and friends may have gotten the last laugh, but Banham laughed best. EP went on to lose the 2011 final to Hopkins 67-45, while Lakeville North had blitzed everybody en route to a state title and an undefeated 32-0 season the year before.

But all of that is ancient history now--at least, to the participants. To me, it seems like yesterday. Be that as it may, Banham got another laugh, er, laugher (get it?) tonight, beating Rose's new team, Denver U., in a game that must have felt like all those Lakeville North blowouts from 2010, 74-51. Banham scored 21 points, Mullaney 9 and Johnson 1, while Rose had a tough night for Denver, hitting 3-of-13 shots, 0-for-5 in the 1st half, for 7 points.

Banham out-scored Rose 15-0 in the 1st half and Minnesota led 41-27. For the game, Banham had those 21 points plus 7 rebounds, 7 assists, zero turnovers and 4 steals. Even better, the Gophers inside game showed up as Riche scored 19 and Kellogg 9 and the 2 combined for 13 boards. Kayla Hirt added 9 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and a steal. Minnesota scored 42 points in the paint, the Pioneers 12.

Another one for the old times was averted when Brianna Tisch failed to make the trip with Denver for tonight's game. She's still listed on the Pioneers' season roster, but has not yet played this year. I don't know if she's hurt or what. But, Tisch and her Chaska teammates lost to Lakeville North in that 2010 tournament, 76-46 in the semis, after beating Eden Prairie in the section semis, 72-57.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Heisman conspiracy theory: Hype 7 Reality 0

I see that the Heisman Trophy people, whoever they are, have invited 3 players to the Heisman ceremony. Let's see. There's a linebacker and 2 quarterbacks. 10 of the last 11 Heisman winners are QBs. So this year's winner will be...drum roll, please...

Either Johnny Football (sometimes known as Johnny Manziell of Texas A&M) or Collin Klein of Kansas State.

Johnny Football? Or Collin? Seriously? Ya think Heisman voters might just prefer Johnny Football to Collin the quarterback? Especially considering that Johnny Football threw for more than 3400 yards this year, Collin 2400? And Johnny Football threw 24 TD passes, Collin 22?

Seriously. This Heisman winner is no well-kept secret. I give you: JOHNNY FOOTBALL.

But here's the problem. So Johnny Football threw for 3400 yards? 15 D1 QBs threw for more. Nick Florence of Baylor and Geno Smith of West Virginia threw for over 4000 against fundamentally the same opposition (Big 12) as Johnny Football.

And Johnny threw for 24 TDs? Well, that's how many QBs threw for more. 24 QBs threw more than 24 TD passes. Smith threw 40, Seth Doege of Texas Tech threw 38, also against a Big 12 schedule. Johnny only three 8 interceptions? Smith threw 6, A. J. McCarron threw 3. Oh, but, wait, that wasn't against that tough Big 12 schedule, no, that was against the weaklings of the SEC.

So, c'mon, seriously. Johnny Football is the best QB in college football?

Johnny Football QB rating 156 Yards 3419 TDs 24 Int 8
Collin Klein QB rating 156 Yards 2490 TDs 22 Int 7

Geno Smith QB rating 165 Yards 4004 TDs 40 Int 6
Nick Florence QB rating 155 Yards 4121 TD 31 Int 13
Aaron Murray, Ga Rating 172 Yards 3466 TD 31 Int 8
Seth Doege QB Rating 157 Yards 3934 TD 38 Int 14

What this says is 1) somebody up there wants Johnny Football to win the Heisman Trophy, the hell with the fact that there are a good 6-8 QBs who are more deserving, especially Geno Smith, so 2) they arranged to have an obviously inferior QB, Collin Klein, hyped as 1 of the top 2, so as to make Johnny Football look good, despite the fact that there are a good dozen QBs who are more deserving than Collin.

And then 3) just to be sure Johnny Football wins, they pick a linebacker as the 3rd contender. A linebacker has never won the Heisman.

Of course, said linebacker is Notre Dame's Mante Te'o. And while no LB has ever won the Heisman, the fact is that 7 of the Fighting Irish have, tying Ohio State for the most Heismans. So conspiracy theory #2 is that the powers that be picked 2 obviously inferior players in order to make Te'o look good.

Stay tuned. I guarantee that whoever wins the Heisman, I'll have a conspiracy theory for you.

December Game of the Day

The top 5 events of the month are in bold italics.

Sat., 12-1--The Girls Breakdown at Hopkins features 13 games (11 girls, 2 boys), from 10 a.m. (Pine Island vs. Park) to 10 p.m., I suppose (OK, 7:30, Hopkins vs. Olathe, KS, NW. Top game perhaps Kennedy vs. its 4th #1 of the young season, Mason City, IA, at 4:15.

Sun., 12-2

Mon., 12-3--Concordia (Moorhead) at St. Thomas, men's and women's doubleheader starting with the women at 5:45. I've got both the Cobbers men and women at #2 behind St. Thomas in the MIAC.

Tues., 12-4--South Dakota State at Minnesota Gopher men. Nate Wolters (22 ppg) and the Jacks return to the Barn.

Wed., 12-5--Denver at Minnesota Gopher women. The women seek to bounce back from a thrashing by Virginia. DU features Minnesotan Morgan Van Riper-Rose at 16 ppg.

Thur., 12-6--Cretin at Prior Lake boys.

Fri., 12-7--Winona State at Mankato State, men's and women's doubleheader. One of the top D2 rivalries in the state.

Sat., 12-8--Boys Breakdown at Minnetonka. 14 games from 11 a.m. (Buffalo vs. Woodbury) til 10 p.m. (OK, 8:30) Armstrong vs. Wayzata. The highlight probably ought to be Apple Valley and Tyus Jones vs. Park Center at 6:45.

Sun., 12-9--Robert Morris at Minnesota Gopher women.

Mon., 12-10--Crosby-Ironton at Perham boys.

Tues., 12-11--Lakeville North vs. Hopkins girls at Target Center.

Wed., 12-12--Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves. Could Ricky Rubio be back by now?

Thur., 12-13--Worthington at Marshall girls.

Fri., 12-14--UMD at Moorhead State, men's and women's doubleheader.

Sat., 12-15--Dallas Mavericks at Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sun., 12-16--

Mon., 12-17--Ada at Hawley girls.

Tues., 12-18--Hopkins at Apple Valley boys.

Wed., 12-19--Hill Murray at Richfield girls.

Thur., 12-20--Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves. Durant, Westbrook and company.

Fri., 12-21--Wisconsin-Steven Point at St. Thomas men.

Sat., 12-22--Marshall at Mankato East girls.

Sun., 12-23--Minnesota Timberwolves at New York Knicks.

Mon., 12-24--

Tues., 12-25--

Wed., 12-26--Boys HS tournament at Southwest State features Mpls. Washburn, Mankato East and more.

Thur., 12-27--Hopkins, St. Paul Johnson and others at Augsburg boys HS tournament.

Fri., 12-28--Boys HS tournament at St. Cloud features Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Osseo, Rocori, Blake and more.

Sat., 12-29--I believe this is the final day of the Dick's Sporting Goods girls tournament at Hopkins. Hopkins, St. Paul Central, Minnetonka, Eden Praire, Osseo and others will play.

Sun., 12-30--Creighton at Minnesota Gopher women. Marissa Janning returns.

Mon., 12-31--Michigan State at Minnesota Gopher men. The Big 10 schedule gets underway.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Big Ten Men

1. Indiana 13-3. Currently rated #1 in the nation and after the Hoosiers manhandled North Carolina, there's no reason to doubt them. How far have the Hoosiers come in their rebuilding effort? I remember when Chris Watford was their best player. Now he's the weakest of their 5 starters but, hey, he's averaging 12 ppg and 8 boards. 7-foot post Cody Zeller is the likely Big 10 PoY. So far he's averaging 16 ppg on 64% shooting, with 8 boards and 2 blocks.

2. Michigan 12-4. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway are the 2 best guards in the conference. If Zeller isn't PoY, then it's one of these guys with 35 ppg between 'em and 7.5 assists for Burke and 6 boards for Hardaway. And forward Glenn Robinson III is doin' OK as well. #3 might be a tad high but the Wolverines have their best team since they was fab.

3. Michigan State 11-5. Not quite the dominant team they have been in recent years but Keith Appling is another elite guard. Plus there's size in Derrick Nix and Adrien Payne. And like the Hoosiers and Wolverines, they can shoot out the lights. Still, they're not playing this well yet, but Tom Izzo remains the best coach in theses here parts, Dusty.

4. Minnesota 10-6. Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe give Minnesota its best frontcourt since Coffey and Burton, or maybe Thompson and McHale. Guard play needs to be "good enough." So far it has been.

5. Ohio State 9-7. I know they're rated #4 and Deshaun Thomas is solid. But they'll need a couple breakouts from the younger guys and I don't know who that would/will be. Plus, they don't shoot it like some of these teams.

6. Illinois 8-8. Off to a terrific start, 8-0 and ranked #22 now. And Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson are the real deal. But is there enough depth, enough size?

7. Nebraska 7-9. A balanced team of good scorers but who do you go to at crunch time?

8. Northwestern 6-10. Guards Reggie Hearn and Dave Soboklewski lead the way, but overall they're not a great offensive team.

9. Iowa 5-11. Gopher fans remember Melsahn Besabe who is now pulling a bit of a disappearing act down in Iowa City. Hawks need him to bounce back into past form. Roy Marble can't do it alone.

10.  Wisconsin 5-11. Minnesotan Jared Berggren is off to a great start of his senior season, But nobody else has stepped it up yet.

11. Purdue 4-12. Rebuilding,

12. Penn State 3-13.  Would love to be rebuilding, instead they're just building. Perennially.

Post-season. Six teams advance to the big dance. Top 2 are threats to get to the Final Four. Indiana is a threat to win it all.

All-Conference

C- Cody Zeller, Indiana
F- DeShawun Thomas, OhioState
F- Rodney Williams, Minnesota
G- Trey Burke, Michigan
G- Tim Hardaway, Michigan

2nd

C- Jared Berggren, Wisconsin
F- Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
G- Keith Appling, Michigan State
G- Brandon Paul, Illiinois
G- Justen Hulls, Indiana

3rd

C- Adrien Payne, Michigan State
F- Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota. A wild card, not playing this well yet, but has the po.
G- Victor Oladipo, Indiana
G- Reggie Hearn, Northwetern
G- D.J. Richardson, Illinois

Monday, November 26, 2012

Big Ten Women

The non-conference season is about halfway done. Enough games have been played to separate the hype from the reality. The polls have Penn State, Purdue, Ohio State and Nebraska as the class of the
conference, and the Big Ten coaches picked the same 4 as contenders.

The reality is that all 4 are overrated.

1. Penn State (13-3) is tough but #6 nationally? I do see them as Big Ten champs. But the truth is that after guards Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas, the Lions, well even with Bentley and Lucas, they're not a very good shooting team. They hit the boards and they'll be counting on Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson to get 'em some 2nd opportunities, and they'll be looking to Bentley and Lucas to create points off of turnovers. But for primary offense and also on the defensive end, they're not an elite team at all.

(X. For future reference, Maryland would go here.)

2. Northwestern (11-5). OK, here's the 1st surprise, the young Wildcats knocking Purdue, Ohio State and Nebraska out of 2nd place. They're the anti-Penn State, well, except they too pound the boards. But they shoot the ball, too. Their primary offense is very solid, led by F-C Dannielle Diamant with 16 points on 56% shooting (so far this year) and Kendall Hackney with 16 and 47% (so far). Guard Karly Rosar has been good for 8 assists per game so far.

3. Michigan State (11-5). And another surprise, the not so-young Spartans also out-performing the rest of the faves. This is a great defensive team, and guards Klarissa Bell and Jasmine Thomas score just enough to stay ahead. Actually they're outstanding shooters.

4. Nebraska (10-6). Jordan Hooper, Lindsay Moore and Emily Cady are pretty much another 3-woman team. And, frankly, I'd rather build around them than the Buckeye's big 3. Neither appears to have the right pieces alongside.

(X. And for further reference, Rutgers would go here. IOW, the football Gophers may have picked up a couple of new Big 10 opponents they can beat. But for women's basketball, the Big 10 just got a lot tougher.)

5. Ohio State (10-6). This is a 3-woman team with guards Tayler Hill and Amber Stokes and post Ashley Adams. And neither Stokes nor Adams is a great offensive player. Stokes is however a genuinely great defender but she will have to create a lot of turnovers to keep Ohio State running. The loss of Sam Prahalis is just too much.

6. Minnesota (9-7). Improving. But like the above, the Gophers are also a 3 or maybe even a 2-woman team unless freshmen Kayla Hirt and Shayne Mullaney get it together in a hurry. Which could happen. 

7. Purdue (9-7). A poor shooting bunch, they are and will have to be a great defensive team to be successful.

8. Iowa (7-9). Has some nice talent but has not jelled so far, and the shooting percentages are not very good. Still Morgan Johnson has become a great all-around player, and Jamie Printy and Sam Logic are potentially a great guard pair. Theairra Taylor and Beth Doolittle are getting major minutes.

9. Michigan (6-10). Kate Thompson has become a contributor with 15 ppg and 49% shooting. But the Wolves are a little thin and a little lacking in firepower.

10. Indiana (5-11). Aulani Sinclair offers hope and Jasmine McGhee, too. And Milika Taufa for that matter. But it will take time.

11. Illinois (3-13). Karisma Penn didn't make the pre-season all-conference team, which is a joke. She is the best player in the conference. Without her, a winless season would be in order.

12. Wisconsin (2-14). Cassie Rochel and Anne Marie Brown are playing major minutes, but this team cannot shoot straight.

Post-Season: The Big 10 is not exactly an elite conference in women's basketball, and so 10 wins will be an easy cut-off for the NCAA to execute. So the top 5--Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State--advance.

All-Conference

Karisma Penn, Illinois, not among the 8 pre-season picks by the coaches and media, ha ha
Alex Bentley, Penn State, more all-around chops than Lucas, the bigger scorer
Jordan Hooper, Nebraska
Morgan Johnson, Iowa
Rachel Banham, Minnesota, where oh where would the Gophers be without Rache?

Second

Tayler Hill, Ohio State, I know, I know, probably wins the scoring title, but a bit 1-dimensional
Maggie Lucas, Penn State, ditto
Dannielle Diamant, Northwestern
Aulani Sinclair, Indiana
Kendall Hackney, Northwestern

Third

Lindsay Moore, Nebraska
Klarissa Bell, Michigan State
Jamie Printy, Iowa
Rachel Sheffer, Michigan
Ashley Adams, Ohio State

Honorable Mention

Maggie Lyon, Northwestern
Jasmine Thomas, Michigan State
Amber Stokes, Ohio State
Taylor Wurtz, Wisconsin
Micaella Riche, Minnesota
Sam Ostarello, Purdue
Courtney Moses, Purdue

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Minnesotans Playing D1 Men's Basketball 2012-2013 by Alan Holst


The following post is courtesy of Alan Holst, and was first posted on MNBuckets.com. I added in some stats for 2012-2013 games to date (anybody averaging in double figures plus others of interest).

ALAN'S PRE-SEASON ALL AMERICAN TEAM 
(MINNESOTA HIGH SCHOOL PRODUCTS)

Trent Lockett (Hopkins) Marquette Senior
Trevor Mbakwe (St. Bernard’s, Henry Sibley) Minnesota Senior

Mike Muscala (Roseville) Bucknell Senior

Rodney Williams (Robbinsdale Cooper) Minnesota Senior

Nate Wolters (St. Cloud Tech) South Dakota State Senior



Jared Berggren (Princeton) Wisconsin Senior HONORABLE MENTION

Alec Brown (Winona) Green Bay Junior HONORABLE MENTION

Sam Dower (Osseo) Gonzaga Junior HONORABLE MENTION



This is a throwback season as Minnesota had produced some outstanding guards in recent years but not so many big men.  This season there are a number of quality centers to choose from.



MINNESOTA HS PRODUCTS LISTED ON 2012-2013 SEASON D1 ROSTERS (57)

Jordan Aaberg (Rothsay) North Dakota State Junior F

Aaron Anderson (Osseo) North Dakota Junior G 13 ppg + 3 assists

Joel Awich (Tartan) Cal Poly Freshman F

Jared Berggren (Princeton) Wisconsin Senior F/C 15 ppg 7 reb 55% FG%

Marshall Bjorklund (Sibley East) North Dakota State Junior F 11 ppg on 65% FG%

Brandon Brekke (East Grand Forks) North Dakota Junior C

Mike Broghammer (Hopkins) Notre Dame Senior F has not played so far

Alec Brown (Winona) Green Bay Junior C 12 ppg + 7 rebounds

Mike Bruesewitz (Henry Sibley) Wisconsin Senior F

Syani Chambers (Hopkins) Harvard Freshman G 10 ppg 5 assists 2 steals 

Joe Coleman (Hopkins) Minnesota Sophomore G 9 ppg + 2 steals

Ray Cowels (Hopkins) Santa Clara Senior F 10 ppg

Sam Dower (Osseo) Gonzaga Junior C 10 ppg 57% FG%

Will Dunn (Benilde-St. Margaret's) IPFW Freshman G 

Mike Felt (Redwood Falls) North Dakota State Junior G 12 ppg

Josh Figini (Chisago Lakes) Cornell Senior F

Mike Fitzgerald (St. Thomas Academy) Air Force Senior F

Tyler Flack (Lakeville) South Dakota Freshman F 11 ppg 3 blocks 53% FG%

Trevor Gruis (Ellsworth) South Dakota Junior C 10 ppg 7 rebounds 50% FG%

Chris Halvorsen (Henry Sibley) Minnesota Junior F

Seth Hinrichs (MACCRAY Clara City) Lafayette Sophomore G 14 ppg

Andre Ingram (Minnesota Transitions) Minnesota Sophomore F (ex-Butler CC KS)

Jordair Jett (St. Bernard’s, Notre Dame Prep MA) Saint Louis Junior G 6 ppg 3 assists 2 steals

Raijon Kelly (Cretin-Derham Hall) Samford Sophomore G 14 ppg 4 assists

Joey King (Eastview) Drake Freshman F

Nate Kratch (Watertown-Mayer) Santa Clara Freshman F

Simon Krych (St. Cloud Apollo) Nebraska Omaha Freshman F

Trent Lockett (Hopkins) Marquette Senior G (ex-Arizona State) 9 ppg 5 rebounds 2 assists

Sanjay Lumpkin (Benilde-St. Margaret's) Northwestern Freshman G/F 

Marcus Marshall (St. Paul Johnson) Missouri State Freshman G 10 ppg

Trevor Mbakwe (St. Bernard’s, Henry Sibley) Minnesota Senior F 8 ppg 7 boards 59% shooting

Shelby Moats (Waconia) Vanderbilt Sophomore F 

Mike Muscala (Roseville) Bucknell Senior F/C 16 ppg 11 rebounds 2 assists 2.5 blocks 51% FG%

C.J. Neumann (Cretin-Derham Hall) Wofford Freshman F 4 ppg on 64% FG%

Fred Newell (Lakeville North) North Dakota State Junior G

Kevin Noreen (Minnesota Transitions) West Virginia Sophomore F

Kyle Noreen (Minnesota Transitions) Radford Sophomore G 6 ppg 5 rebounds 2 assists

D.J. Peterson (Hopkins) La Salle Sophomore G 6 ppg on 60% FG%

Eric Robertson (IMG Academy) South Dakota Freshman G

Mike Rostampour (Henry Sibley) Nebraska Omaha Junior F

Tom Schalk (Apple Valley) William & Mary Sophomore F

Matt Sellers (Champlin Park) Wyoming Sophomore C (ex-Western Wyoming CC)

Marvin Singleton (Hopkins) Northern Iowa Sophomore F

Jordan Smith (Orono) Wisconsin Sophomore G

Marc Sonnen (Tartan) Northern Iowa Senior G

Dyami Starks (Duluth East) Bryant Sophomore G (ex-Columbia) 15.5 ppg 2 steals

Jonah Travis (DeLaSalle) Harvard Sophomore F

Ross Travis (Chaska) Penn State Sophomore F 8 ppg 7 rebounds

Alonzo Traylor (Minneapolis South) North Dakota Junior F

Estan Tyler (St. Paul Johnson) UMKC Sophomore G 11 ppg 4 assists

Marcus Tyus (Anoka) Nebraska Omaha Freshman G

Jake White (Chaska) Wichita State Sophomore F

Rodney Williams (Robbinsdale Cooper) Minnesota Senior F 14 ppg 7 rebounds 67% shooting

Mitch Wilmer (Warroad) North Dakota Senior C

Nate Wolters (St. Cloud Tech) South Dakota State Senior G 22 ppg 6 rebs 6 assists 2 steals 55% FG%

Ethan Wragge (Eden Prairie) Creighton Junior F 13 ppg 50% FG%

Isaiah Zierden (Benilde-St. Margaret's) Creighton Freshman G


TOP 5 SCORERS as of 11-25-12

Wolters 22 ppg
Muscala 16
Starks 15.5
Berggren 15
Rodney Williams 14
Raijon Kelly 14

TOP REBOUNDER

Berggren, A. Brown, Gruis, Mbakwe, Ross Travis, Rodney Williams 7

TOP ASSISTS

Nate Wolters 6

TOP STEALS

Chambers, Jett, Wolters 2

TOP BLOCKS

Tyler Flack 3

TOP SHOOTER

Rodney Williams 67%