Bison-Gophers: The aftermath

I got a chance to watch the entire Minnesota-North Dakota State men’s basketball game yesterday. All I was hoping for was an entertaining game, and while a lot of shots fell, the Gophers jumped out to a 12-point lead early and seemed to maintain that lead for most of the game. Minnesota won 90-76.

First off, I was really surprised by the final score. I never would have guessed that many points would be scored. The two teams combined to hit more than half of their 3-point tries (17-31, 55% combined). That’s an amazing stat.

The Bison shot 45 percent from the floor, which is nothing to sneeze at (that’s an odd expression, by the way – nothing to sneeze at?). But the Gophers shot 61.5 percent for the game, including 65 percent in the second half! Those are crazy numbers. And it’s not like all of their shots were easy buckets inside. Minnesota was 8-for-13 from 3-point range, with Lawrence Westbrook and Jamal Abu-Shamala leading the way from 3-point land.

Mike Nelson hit a lot of big shots late to keep NDSU within shouting distance, but Ralph Sampson III elevated his game to levels he hadn’t previously reached this season.

Nelson finished with 22 points, including 5-for-10 from 3-point land.

Sampson, however, was the difference in the second half. Minnesota’s true freshman 7-footer created all sorts of matchup problems down low for NDSU to deal with. At times, NDSU 6-foot-7 forward Dejuan Flowers was matched up on him. Not quite a fair fight.

That’s the typical challenge every mid-major faces. Major-conference foes generally have an easier time finding depth in the post. Minnesota’s bringing Sampson off the bench, while NDSU really lacks a post presence to match up with him at all times.

Sampson scored 12 points and had six rebounds and three blocks.

So all and all, yesterday’s guess wasn’t the worst prediction I ever made. If you had told me the two teams would hitter better than half of their 3-point shots, I’m sure I would have guessed a much higher score. I really didn’t see that one coming.

And for NDSU a win would have been nice. But the Bison’s goal is an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament by winning the Summit League tournament title. And a win or loss against the Gophers will be forgotten if NDSU can obtain a Big Dance berth.

Bison vs. Gophers, who ya got?

It’s the annual North Dakota State vs. the University of Minnesota men’s basketball game later today.

Make sure to check out my Forum colleague Mike McFeely’s Sports Show on WDAY Radio (970 AM) at 10 a.m. today if you’re not reading this too late. Mike will be live from stories Williams Arena with The Forum’s NDSU men’s hoops beat reporter Kevin Schnepf. Guests include NDSU forward Brett Winkelman and Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan.

The teams are meeting for the fourth straight season. None of the games have been close, yet every year I think that will be different.
2005: Minnesota 70, NDSU 57 – Vincent Grier leads UM with 21 points.
2006: Minnesota 63, NDSU 49 – Lawrence McKenzie has 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Gophers. Andre Smith had 17 and 17 for the Bison in a notable effort.
2007: Minnesota 88, NDSU 56 – An ugly game, with five Gophers scoring in double figures.

So in keeping with tradition, I’m going to say this game is going to be closer than people think. I’ve watched the Gophers a few times this year and haven’t been that impressed. Having said that, NDSU’s loss to Idaho last week wasn’t impressive either, but the Bison did bounce back strong against Northern Arizona.

To say this would be a high-scoring game would seem like as good of an idea as me live blogging the game from my couch. Could you imagine how magical that would be?

Ben Woodside passes cross-court to Brett Winkelman, who drives past Jamal Abu-Shamala and pulls up from 18 feet… good. What a shot by …. Doh! I just spilled pizza sauce on my Zubaz. That stain’s not coming out.

So now for my prediction. The Gophers have tightened up defensively since allowing 80 to St. Cloud State in their preseason opener. I think NDSU should score more than they have in the previous meetings of this series, but it’s hard to see the Bison going off for 80 points.

Here’s my guess: Minnesota 75, North Dakota State 65. Should be closer than recent seasons. Now I know I’ve done well with predictions in the past, but don’t be afraid to take NDSU in this matchup. The Gophers haven’t blown out teams like Georgia State and Bowling Green this season, so you never know. That’s why they play the game. 

Aaron Hicks makes waves in Twins’ system

I mentioned in a recent post that Baseball America named Aaron Hicks the No. 1 prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system.

This was no surprise, considering Hicks was drafted in the first round last year. But I wanted to know more about him. Here’s what I found:

  • Baseball America calls him a "toolsy" outfielder. It says he has the best outfield arm and is the best defensive outfielder in the system, but that he also has the best strike-zone discipline in the system and is the best athlete.
  • Hicks walked nearly as many times as he struck out (28 BBs, 32 Ks) last year for the Gulf Coast League Twins. That’s an impressive accomplishment for someone his age playing short-season ball. He hit .318 and had a .409 OBP with four homers and 12 steals in 45 games.
  • Baseball America had already named Hicks the top prospect in all of the Gulf Coast League a couple months ago.
  • It sounds like he’ll open 2009 at Class A Beloit. Beloit’s outfield next year could be Hicks, Ben Revere and Angel Morales, all of whom are among the team’s top 10 prospects according to BA. Revere could open at Fort Myers, though.
  • In multiple places scouts said Hicks was the best prospect to come out of the Los Angeles area since Darryl Strawberry in the early 1980s.
  • A number of major league teams considered drafting him as a pitcher. He throws in the 90s.

Well, there’s some info to chew on it. That’s part of the fun with prospects. Hicks could come through like Joe Mauer, or he could flounder like Pat Mahomes or David McCarty before him. You never know.

And finally, in my neverending effort to provide YouTube videos, here’s all I could find on Hicks from last season with the GCL Twins. It’s a plate appearance where he walks, so it’s not much.

The toasts of Black Friday

I can’t stand the day after Thanksgiving, which is now commonly referred to as Black Friday.

Everyone and their brother gets up at 4:30 a.m. to get in line for a store’s best sales of the year. That is assuming those people aren’t among those camped outside the building.

What if the last on-sale DVD player or that video game system you wanted has been sold? What if you’re late to the party?

I can think of 53 players who feel late to the party every Sunday, or in this case, Thursday. They all play for the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

The Lions fell to 0-12 yesterday with a 47-10 loss to Tennessee, torturing those of us who enjoy sitting around on Thanksgiving to watch good football while at the same time putting themselves just four losses away from NFL history.

No team has ever gone 0-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went winless in their expansion season of 1976, but that was with a 14-game schedule.

Every year there’s always one team that starts out winless for the bulk of its schedule. I mean, someone has to be the last team to win their first game of the season. However, it doesn’t usually take this long to get off the shnide. In fact, only six times in NFL history has a team started 0-12.

The scary thing about this Detroit team is how inept it is on both sides of the football. Entering Week 12 play, the Lions were allowing the most points in the league and scoring the fourth-fewest. They’re last in rushing offense and rushing defense, which is a REALLY bad combination.

"We are desperate for a win," said Lions QB Daunte Culpepper after the game.

But the big question is, "When will that happen?"

The Lions close out the season like this: host Minnesota, at Indianapolis, host New Orleans, at Green Bay.

Those are all teams in playoff contention, though the Saints and Packers could be out of contention by the time those games come up on the schedule.

I’m really not sure if this team can win a game. If I had to say now, I don’t think it will happen. What say you readers, assuming you’re not amongst those creating mass chaos at Fargo-Moorhead department and electronics stores? Do you think the Lions will win?

Put aside the bitterness. It’s “thankful” time.

Today is Thanksgiving, and as a sports fan one of the things I look forward to most is Pat Reusse’s "Turkey of the Year" column he writes for the Star Tribune.

I’ve decided to take more of an upbeat approach and will turn negative for Black Friday instead. Here is one person or thing from area teams that I’m thankful for:

  • Minnesota Twins: Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson. Tom Kelly got this team back in contention in 2001, but a lot of credit goes to manager Gardenhire and pitching coach Anderson for keeping them there. As Reusse points out above, very little worked out for GM Bill Smith in his first year, yet Gardy guided this team to within a game of the postseason.
  • Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson, of course. Imagine this offense without AP. Seriously. Do it.
  • Minnesota Wild: Jacques Lemaire. Much like in the Twins’ case, Lemaire keeps this team in contention despite ownership really financially supporting this team. The Xcel Energy Center is sold out every night, yet the Wild really haven’t had a star player – outside of the always banged-up Marian Gaborik – throughout its existence.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin McHale. Yes, he might be the biggest laughingstock of a pro executive now that the Detroit Lions have parted ways with Matt Millen, but he’s OUR laughingstock. He’s OUR punchline. If he went away, who would we make fun of? Who would we make snide remarks about? Yeah, deep down, you’re glad McHale’s here. You want him on that wall. You need him on that wall. Well, maybe not.

Happy thanksgiving to all!

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Justice is served

The Star Tribune reported that the men behind the Original Whizzinator have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.

For those who don’t remember the Whizzinator - I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t with a name like that - the device is a urine-cleaning gizmo that helps people cheat drug tests.

The device gained fame in these parts when Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith was busted in 2005 at an airport with the Whizzinator.

After the incident Smith never played for the Vikings again.

Curry can be stopped, but at what cost?

I was surprised last night while looking through college basketball box scores to see Davidson’s stud guard Stephen Curry had been shut out in the first half, yet the Wildcats were leading big over Loyola (Md.) at halftime.

Turns out Curry never did score, a somewhat remarkable defensive feat by Loyola. Curry had scored 44 points in a loss to Oklahoma earlier this season and was averaging 35 points per game this season entering Tuesday’s game.

Apparently, Loyola decided to double-team Curry at all times, whether he had the ball or not.

it didn’t take long for Curry to figure out the strategy. He spent some possessions just standing in the corner with two defenders around him while his teammates had a constant 4-on-3 advantage. Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos explains:

"If Oklahoma can’t stop him, how is Loyola College going to stop him?" Patsos asked.

"We had to play against an NBA player tonight," Patsos explained. "Anybody else ever hold him scoreless? I’m a history major. They’re going to remember that we held him scoreless or we lost by 30?"

Here’s Curry’s take:

"Every dead ball I asked them how long they were going to do this," Curry said he asked his shadowing defenders. "They really didn’t say anything. They weren’t very conversational about it."

Chaminade shut out

One of the nation’s premier college basketball tournaments wraps up today. No matter who wins or loses, this year’s Maui Invitational left a little something to be desired.

The Maui Invite started in 1984 somewhat due to the greatest upset in college basketball history, when tiny Chaminade – at the time an NAIA school – upset Ralph Sampson and No. 1-ranked Virginia in men’s basketball. The game wasn’t televised, and very little video exists of it.

Chaminade – now a Division II school – has faced the big boys of college hoops as one of eight schools in the tournament.

This year, Chaminade took on No. 1 North Carolina. The game wasn’t close, and no one expected it to be.

But I always found that Chaminade’s game was the one game in the Maui Invitational that I looked forward to watching every year. However, this year it was televised on ESPNU. That doesn’t do any cable or dish subscriber who has a basic TV package any good.

It doesn’t matter to me that the Silverswords are 5-67 all-time at the Maui (they did give Marquette quite a scare in the first round last year, though).

I watched their first-round game every year hoping that I might see the improbable, rooting for the little school that’s trying to turn an unlikely trick again, just like it did in 1982.

BA gives its Twins’ top 10

Busy day of work ahead of me, so I’ve gotta keep this brief.

Baseball America is in the process of releasing its top 10 list of prospects for each team. Today, the Minnesota Twins’ top 10 was announced.

Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who was the team’s first-round pick last year, lands in the No. 1 spot. In high school he drew comparisons to Darryl Strawberry. I would definitely take the on-the-field version of Straw.

Two somewhat major league ready players are on it, also. Relief pitcher Jose Mijares, who we saw last season in limited action, is at No. 4. Kevin Mulvey, who came over to the Twins from the New York Mets in the Johan Santana trade, is at No. 8. He spent most of last season at Triple-A.

The story points out some of the Twins’ losses from last season and how surprising it was to see Minnesota have nine more wins than a year before. *

* By the way – as you’ll see in the story below – is anyone else stunned when they see Jason Bartlett referred to as a "defensive whiz." It’s not sour grapes for me or anything. The guy committed 26 errors in 2007 with the Twins despite playing just 138 games. Last year, he committed 16 and played even fewer games. To put 26 errors in perspective, Bartlett’s predecessor Cristian Guzman committed 35 errors in his final three seasons with the Twins combined!

Here’s the link to the story.