The Big Ten Network football crew including commentators Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith was in Minneapolis last weekend to evaluate the Gophers as part of a 12-campus tour of Big Ten football programs. DiNardo and Griffith are impressed with coach Jerry Kill and the improvement of the Minnesota team.
“I think we’re all gonna see (in 2012) why Minnesota hired Jerry Kill,” DiNardo said on the network’s Gophers preview show. “He’s a guy that maximizes his (player) personnel. We’ll see him do that. He maximizes his staff because they’ve been with him so long.
“The biggest surprise to me a year ago is when Minnesota lost to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. That won’t happen again. Minnesota will win every matchup opponent. Matchup opponent is someone that’s a little better or a little less personnel than you do (have). He’ll win every one of those games. …It’s taken him maybe a little bit longer here than some of the other places he’s been.”
The Gophers were 3-9 last season including those surprise nonconference losses to the Aggies and Bison. If DiNardo is correct, the Gophers will sweep their 2012 nonconference games against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. Then Minnesota has to find two wins among eight conference opponents to reach the qualifying six victories to be eligible for a bowl game.
Minnesota is a second-year rebuilding program under Kill, and Griffith thinks the Gophers are still going to “take their lumps.” Griffith likes the direction of the program with Kill and said the players “have bought into the message that he’s talking about from the front of the room.”
No Gopher discussed on the preview show received higher praise than junior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. Griffith doesn’t believe any center in the Big Ten can block Hageman who was outstanding in Minnesota’s final game last season against Illinois and has continued to progress. “In my mind he’s going to be tough to block for anybody,” Griffith said.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys told the Big Ten Network that Hageman, a former tight end, is now understanding the demands of his position. “There’s not a better athlete in the United States playing d-tackle than what Ra’Shede Hageman is,” Claeys said. “The more he continues to learn the game, the better off I think he will be.”
Griffith thinks senior quarterback MarQueis Gray can have a “tremendous year.” DiNardo said proven running skills and improved passing could make Gray the best “dual-threat” quarterback in the conference.
Asked to identify “newcomers” of note this season, Griffith selected redshirt freshman defensive end Theiren Cockran, a promising pass rusher whom Kill has praised in the off-season. DiNardo chose true freshmen Jamel Harbison, a wide receiver that has shown athleticism in practice this month, and converted quarterback KJ Maye, an exceptionally quick athlete who could play both receiver and running back for the Gophers.
Olympic Basketball & Other Notes:
Minnesotans may never again see an Olympics where men and women with ties to this state played such significant roles in the gold medal success of USA basketball teams. Kevin Love, the Timberwolves’ best player and an NBA All-Star, ranked down the list of premiere players on the men’s roster but he was Team USA’s best rebounder despite limited minutes, while Lynx players Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen were contributors to the USA women’s team championship run in London.
On a team lacking size and rebounding, it was Love who consistently came off the bench to lead the USA in rebounding at 7.6 per game and he was fifth in team scoring with an average of 11.6. Balls that he couldn’t control he would tap to teammates. With the USA only ahead by one point at the end of three quarters in the championship game against Spain on Sunday, Love was asked to play major fourth quarter minutes surrounded by his all-world teammates including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Love showed his usual basketball IQ in the gold medal game, not only positioning himself effectively for rebounds but in the fourth quarter, despite playing with four fouls, he effectively defended Spain’s best player, Pau Gasol. Despite being undersized against Gasol, he made it difficult for the Spanish center to score, including in the low post.
Love demonstrated something else in the Olympics, too. He’s a great player but he will never be an alpha dog scorer, the kind that can carry a team to an NBA championship. If the Wolves are ever to dream about a title, they will have to find a James, Bryant, Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony to team with Love.
It’s highly doubtful if a healthy Rick Rubio, playing forSpain, could have been the difference in the title game. The Wolves point guard is not yet a dominant enough all-around player, nor the kind of defensive force that the Spanish team needed.
While the USA men had to struggle in a 107-100 title game win over Spain on Sunday, the women defeated France 86-50 in their title game Saturday. The Lynx Olympians combined for 17 points. Moore averaged 9 points and 5.6 points per game during the Olympics while Whalen made 56.4 percent of her shots and averaged 8 points. Augustus averaged 7.8 points.
Augustus, Moore and Whalen will hold a news conference in Minneapolis tomorrow.
The 12-members of the USAmen’s team weren’t paid to play in the Olympics but Kurt Badenhausen writing on August 6 for Forbes.com said those players earned $230 million in NBA salaries and outside endorsements during the last 12 months. Their Olympic experience will be a further boost to their commercial appeal.
Working for the Big Ten Network on football coverage this fall will be former Gophers Derek Rackley and Justin Conzemius, and ex-Minnesota coach Glen Mason.
Are the Twins moving their metro area radio broadcasts of games to KTWN-FM starting in 2013?
Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is hitting .400 in his last 10 games and moved his average up to .276. Morneau’s contract expires after next season. He reportedly earns $14 million this season, according to online information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
There have been 126 home runs hit at Target Field this season, the same total as in all of 2011. In 2010, the opening season of Target Field, only 116 total home runs were hit.
The Twins have drawn over 2 million fans at home this season, the eighth consecutive year they have done so.