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D’Lo Due to Lift Wolves’ Offense

April 20, 2022 - (0) comments

 

“Mr. Inconsistent,” D’Angelo Russell, just might give the Timberwolves the scoring lift they need tomorrow night to pull back ahead of the Grizzlies in the first round NBA playoff series tied at 1-1.

The Wolves ‘enigmatic guard averaged 31 points against the Grizzlies in four regular season games. But in the first two playoff games he is averaging 10.5, converting 22.7 percent of his field goal attempts. That’s a big contrast from the 19.4 points he averaged in five games for the Nets in the 2018-2019 playoffs.

After last night’s 124-96 blowout loss to the Grizzlies,Wolves coach Chris Finch acknowledged his offense let him down. The switching and pesky Memphis defense bothered all the Wolves including Russell. Finch suggested his players can make adjustments including better ball movement to find open teammates.

The Grizzlies are among the NBA’s highest scoring teams and totaled 117 points in their loss to the Wolves Saturday. Minnesota is going to need more offense than producing 96 points to keep the series competitive. Russell must step up starting tomorrow night at Target Center.

Finch said the Wolves need to get him better looks at the basket but D’Lo can also be more decisive with his shot selection. It’s not like big games are too challenging for the 6-4 guard. Just last week in the team’s Play-in-Tournament win over the Clippers he scored 29, while making 10 of 18 shots. Part of the Wolves’ big three all season, Russell complemented Anthony Edwards who scored 30 points and both players helped make up for a dismal 11 point, foul plagued performance by Karl-Anthony Towns.

A peaks-and-valleys career performer, Russell is now with his fourth NBA team in seven seasons. He’s been in the valley against the Grizzlies in Memphis but maybe he can climb the mountain in Minneapolis with games Thursday and Saturday night.

Worth Noting

Brian Cosgriff

Minnetonka administrators made a savvy hire this week with the appointment of Brian Cosgriff as the Skippers’ girls basketball coach. Before retiring in 2020, the high character coach won seven Minnesota state championships at Hopkins, with a career record of 569-67.

Eric Musselman, who the Gophers likely could have hired on two occasions during the last 10 years, has his Arkansas basketball team drawing top five mentions for best team in the country next season. Musselman’s 2022 recruiting class is No. 2 in the nation, per 247Sports.

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan, a starter since 2018, is effusive about the return of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who mentored him from 2017-2019. “I have known him for a long time, and obviously he means a lot to me,” Morgan said.

Morgan, 27-12 as a starter and the winningest quarterback in program history, said that as a 17-year-old he was “terrified” of Ciarrocca. “When I first got here I was afraid to make mistakes and stuff like that. That relationship is awesome (now) and I am very thankful that he came back.”

Indications are the aggressive passing game—including slant patterns—that the Gophers had so much success with under Ciarrocca in 2019 will return in 2022. Wide receivers Chris AutmanBell and Dylan Wright will likely be frequent targets, with opportunities, too, for tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford. Prediction here is 30-35 receptions and four-five touchdown catches next season for the talented Spann-Ford who was under utilized last year.

Autman-Bell talking about promising Western Kentucky and Abilene Christian cornerback transfers Beanie Bishop and Ryan Stapp who he faces in practice: “Those guys are going to be ballplayers for the Gopher Nation. …I got nothing but love for them.”

Starting linebacker and team leader Mariano Sori-Marin talking about the progress of the defense this spring: “I’ve just been really excited about how tough (physical) we’ve been playing.”

Barry Mayer, who led the University of Minnesota in rushing in 1969 and 1970, chuckled over a conversation he had with a current Gopher at practice on Saturday. Today’s players like to wear their football pants, including knee pads, close to mid-thigh. Mayer suggested to the Gopher that knee pads should cover knees. “He looked at me and said, ‘Not in this generation.’ “

ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold wrote earlier this week former Gopher tackle Daniel Faalele will be the biggest player in the upcoming NFL Draft at 6-8, 384 pounds. Legwold reported Faalele said at the NFL Combine he weighed 426 pounds in his early days at Minnesota. The Australian native is one of the biggest NFL prospects ever and could be drafted in the second or third round.

I am feeling confident about predictions after the Timberwolves went 46-36 in the regular season (forecast 45 wins). Here’s a guess on the Twins’ final record: 76-86.

The MLB Morning Lineup email newsletter has the Twins No. 19 in its power rankings. The Dodgers, who swept the Twins in Minneapolis, are No. 1 in the listings—with Minnesota’s division rivals ranked like this: White Sox, No. 3; Guardians, No. 14; Tigers, No. 17; and Royals, No. 25.

Trivia buff John Justice from Edina points out Highland Park High School in the Dallas area has amazing sports alums including Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw who no- hit the Twins last week over seven innings and helped his team become 2020 World Series champs. Other famous names are 2022 Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, 2022 Super Bowl winning quarterback Matthew Stafford and football immortal Doak Walker.

Marshall Tanick

Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick will talk about “Law and Lore of Baseball in Minnesota” on Thursday at the Dakota County Law Library. He is a long time observer of sports and law in the state, including the historic attempt to contract the Twins in 2001. Tanick is a former sportswriter at the University of Minnesota and a Stanford law school graduate.

The CORES luncheon group welcomes Gregg Wong as its guest speaker May 12 at the Bloomington Event Center. The Minneapolis native is a former sportswriter for the Pioneer Press who covered the Gophers and Minnesota’s pro teams, and reported from two Olympics. Reservations must be made by May 9. For more information contact Jim Dotseth: dotsethj@comcast.net. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.

 

U Secondary May Rank with Best

April 17, 2022 - (0) comments

 

The football Golden Gophers are about halfway through spring practices. At this point there is a lot to like about the defensive secondary.

Veteran starting linebacker and team leader Mariano Sori-Marin was asked after practice yesterday if the secondary will be among the best in the Big Ten Conference next fall. In his answer he went beyond the Big Ten.

“Their expectation is they’re going to be one of the best secondaries in the country, and they know that, and you can see that in the way they work,” Sori-Marin said. “The way they communicate with each other. Just the way they practice. That’s one thing about that group that flies off the tape is the way they practice.”

Conversations about individuals in the secondary can begin with Tyler Nubin. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season and defensive MVP at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in December when the Gophers defeated West Virginia. He has already lettered three times at Minnesota and he led the team in interceptions in 2021 and was third in tackles. Sori-Marin describes Nubin as a fly-around-the-field safety and “vocal leader.”

Other returning starters in the secondary are safety Jordan Howden and corner Justin Walley. Howden has played in 45 games at Minnesota and will forever be remembered by Gopher fans for his late game interception in 2019 against No. 5 ranked Penn State. He has been named Academic All-Big Ten the last three seasons.

As a freshman last year Walley played in all 13 games and started the final six. The former Mississippi Mr. Football was named to the 247Sports True Freshman All-American team. He and Nubin are certain to be candidates for All-Big Ten next fall.

The Gophers have a cornerback spot to fill but candidates to become the starter have experience and skills. Transfers Beanie Bishop and Ryan Stapp have impressed at spring practice. Bishop was an All-USA Conference selection at Western Kentucky, while Stapp is highly regarded, too, after three seasons at Abilene Christian.

Terrell Smith is a four year letter winner for the Gophers and started seven games last season. He also was Academic All-Big Ten in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Minnesota had one of the most effective defenses in the nation last season including against the passing game. The Gophers gave up 1,812 passing yards, ranking No. 8 in the nation.

While there are plenty of personnel questions to be answered before next season regarding the defensive line and the linebacker roster, Sori-Marin sees the whole unit’s overall potential. “There’s just so much speed and athleticism in this defense,” said Sori-Marin who earned All Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2021. “There’s so much we can do but we just have to focus on the details. There’s one thing to say we can do all these things—but if you’re not focusing on the details, or the basics, we can’t take it to the next level.”

The Gophers’ secondary looks poised to do more than its share and could be ready to be one of the best in school history.

Will WWE Make Steveson a Hero or Villain?

Olympic gold medalist and college national championship wrester Gable Steveson is a hero and role model. So when the Golden Gophers and Apple Valley legend makes his pro wrestling debut he will, of course, be a good guy, right?

Well, not so fast pro rassling fans. Apparently the script has yet to be written.

“…If I turn bad guy, then I am fine,” Steveson told Sports Headliners. “If I turn good, then that will be good.”

Steveson signed a Name, Image and Likeness deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) last year but the date for his first match is TBD. “I have no clue,” he said. “Whenever they tell me.”

Steveson is likeable, a charmer when he talks to individuals and groups. When those first WWE matches start coming in late spring or early summer his followers may expect to see their hero in a “white hat,” but the shtick in pro rasslin’ is all about creativity and surprises.

Beyond a pro wrestling career, Steveson acknowledges interest in mixed martial arts and perhaps one day fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) enterprise. That was a path taken by another former Gopher wrestling legend, Brock Lesnar, whose WWE and UFC story Steveson is familiar with.

The winner of the heavyweight championship at the 2021 Olympics, Steveson also won two NCAA titles and three Big Ten championships during his storied career. Monday night at the Golden Goldys event he will learn whether he has added yet another prestigious title, the Big Ten Medal of Honor.

The medal is awarded annually to the top female and male student-athletes at each conference institution. Steveson, along with Blaise Andries (football) and Alec Basten (men’s cross country) are Minnesota’s three male finalists. Minnesota’s female nominees are Bethan Hasz (women’s cross country and track), Lexy Ramler (gymnastics) and Stephanie Samedy (volleyball).

The award dates back to 1915 when it debuted to recognize individuals who had “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.” Twenty-eight student-athletes will be recognized this year and more than 1,300 have earned the honor.

 

Wolves Need ‘Missing’ KAT for Memphis

April 13, 2022 - (0) comments

 

The Timberwolves are in the playoffs for only the second time since 2004. Will their “missing” KAT be a major contributor in Saturday’s opening playoff game in Memphis against the Grizzlies?

Karl-Anthony Towns played 24 minutes last night in Minnesota’s play-in-tournament win at Target Center, qualifying the Wolves to meet the Grizzlies in a potential seven-game series. Metaphorically, the KAT was “MIA.”

Often labeled the team’s best player and a possible second or third team NBA All-Star when honor teams are announced this spring, the 6-11 veteran center was awful last evening and a non-contributor in a dramatic 109-104 win over the Clippers. He had a minus 14 rating when on the floor (by far the worst among his teammates) and he fouled out in the fourth quarter while playing only a couple of minutes in the game-determining last period.

The Clippers, instead of guarding Towns with another center, used mobile forwards to defend the Wolves’ season leading scorer. When Towns had the ball, he often was double teamed by the Clippers’ center. The strategy flustered Towns who forced shots, tried to move where there was no space and didn’t get rid of the basketball quick enough to open teammates.

Neither Towns nor head coach Chris Finch seemed to adjust. Instead of taking a position down near the basket, Towns either remained stationed near the top of the key or sometimes went to a corner where he was usually out of the offensive and rebounding action.

Before halftime Towns had four fouls. In the third quarter he played recklessly including bowling over opponents while picking up his fifth foul and going to the bench.

At 9:27 of the fourth quarter, Towns was back in the game. By 7:34 he was gone, committing his sixth and final foul while foolishly reaching over the back of a Clipper attempting to rebound the ball. He left the game without impacting it, scoring 11 points (five on free throws), grabbing five rebounds and committing a team high four turnovers.

The Clippers, although they boast a $39 million forward in Paul George, aren’t the talent equal of the Wolves. The going gets much tougher against the Grizzlies, who are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs after earning an impressive 56-26 regular season record.

Maybe Towns and Finch can figure out Xs and Os to combat the defensive strategy the Grizzlies are likely to use after seeing the results by the Clippers. As for discombobulating, the 26-year-old Towns is an emotional player on an emotional team. Finch has experience working with excitable personalities but on the court it will ultimately be up to the big guy to figure out how a KAT can “purr” against Grizzlies.

Worth Noting

In The Athletic’s end of season NBA power rankings of 30 teams, the Wolves finished No. 15, the Clippers No. 16. The Wolves, with a 46-36 record after last year’s 23-49, received a final grade of A. The Clippers, playing much of the year without their two best players in George and Kawhi Leonard, received an A minus.

The Saints, Timberwolves, Twins and Wild all played home games last night. Total attendance estimated: near 60,000 (on a work and school evening).

The Timberwolves had tickets available Tuesday morning but announced a sellout last night.

Tyus Jones

Brothers Tyus and Tre Jones, former Minnesota Mr. Basketball winners now playing with the NBA Grizzlies and Spurs, finished No. 1 and 2 in assists-to-turnovers ratio among league players this season, per Teamrankings.com. Jordan McLaughlin of the Timberwolves was third.

The Twins announced today they have placed outfielder Alex Kirilloff on the 10-day Injured List with right wrist inflammation. Also, they designated right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton for release or assignment.

To replace Kirilloff and Cotton, Minnesota has recalled outfielder Trevor Larnach and selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Dereck Rodríguez from Triple-A St. Paul.

It could be the Twins try to trade right fielder Max Kepler, 29, and first baseman Miguel Sano, 28. Both veterans have ongoing hitting issues, and while they aren’t alluring trade bait, they might bring pitching help with major leaguers or prospects. Trading Sano could allow the Twins to move Kirilloff from left field to first base, a position he is more effective at.

Hall of Famer Rod Carew writing in the latest issue of his newsletter: “There’s a saying that the most important ability is availability. Unfortunately, that’s the only ability missing from Byron Buxton’s game.

“This guy is so unbelievably talented in every aspect, yet only once has he played more than 92 games. That also was the year (2017) he won his only Gold Glove.

“Bux could win a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award if he can stay healthy. …”

Athleticsnation.com reports feral cats have invaded the Oakland Coliseum, home of the A’s. Good news is the rat population has declined and presumably the cats will be under control before the Twins play there starting May 16.

A’s ownership is tiring of its pursuit to make a deal with the city for a new stadium, with talk the MLB club could land in Las Vegas playing in a new small capacity covered stadium.

It will be a special Kentucky Derby for Minnesota thoroughbred racing fans next month. Local Derby authority Steve Erban believes 2022 will be the first time two of the 20 entrants in the “Run for the Roses” will have Minnesota owners.

Joni and Barry Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, while Jeff Drown from St. Cloud owns Zandon. That means 10 percent of the field of three-year-olds May 7 will have Minnesota owners.

Remarkable, too, said Erban is that approximately 30,000 foals are born each year, so what are the odds of two with Minnesota connections being in the 2022 Derby? Or that both horses have names beginning with Z?

Erban’s Stillwater-based Creative Charters is running another Kentucky Derby trip this spring. To check on availability, contact him at 612-801-7141.

 

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