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Clock Starts Now on Wolves Rosas

November 19, 2020 - (0) comments

 

The Timberwolves hired Gersson Rosas as president of basketball operations in May of 2019.  Now he has been through one season and two NBA Drafts including last evening when he used the No. 1 overall pick to select shooting guard Anthony Edwards.

With draft choices and trades, including bringing back fan favorite Ricky Rubio to Minneapolis, Rosas has reshaped the roster.  Assuming the NBA can have a 2020-2021 season despite the pandemic, the next 12 months will indicate whether Rosas can succeed with a franchise that avoids the playoffs like it was the virus.

With the Timberwolves up for sale, it’s a solid bet the next owner will come in with eyes wide open about Rosas.  That new owner could already have “his own guy” in mind when he signs the paper work to acquire the franchise.  But if Rosas has the Wolves rolling, his job security should be fine.

Gersson Rosas

It’s hyper-competitive trying to build and maintain a winning NBA team.  There are a lot of bright basketball operators in the league including Danny Ainge, R.C. BufordBob Myers, Daryl Morey, Donnie Nelson, Sam Presti and Pat Riley. Wolves faithful are hoping Rosas will some day have his name mentioned in the same group.

As for Edwards, the Wolves may have acquired the highest potential player in the draft.  This week ESPN said analytics showed a 41 percent likelihood of Edwards  becoming an NBA All-Star, a higher percentage than the two other consensus top draft prospects, James Wiseman and LaMello Ball.

Edwards is a potentially prolific scorer with his shooting range and ability to drive to the basket.  The former Georgia freshman’s perimeter shooting and ability to run the floor is a welcome fit for the style Rosas wants his team to play.  With only about a month until the season starts, and no preseason games, Edwards and other rookies will have a different kind of introduction to the NBA with a fast and difficult learning curve asked of them.

Hoopsrumors.com is reporting power forward Freddie Gillespie, the former East Ridge and Carleton player who walked on at Baylor, will sign as a free agent with the Mavericks.  An NBA authority told Sports Headliners yesterday he thought Gillespie might be taken in the second round.

Four other Minnesotans were drafted including ex-Hopkins player and power forward Zeke Nnaji who was taken in the first round. “Energy. Always in the mix, playing hard,” said the source who requested anonymity.

The first pick in the second round was point guard Tyrell Terry, the former DeLaSalle and Stanford point guard.  “He might be the best shooter in the draft,” said the source whose basketball background includes coaching and scouting.

After Terry was chosen at No. 31, the Gophers’ Daniel Oturu was taken at No. 33.  There was speculation last spring Oturu, the former Cretin Derham-Hall center, might be a first round draft choice after making All-American his sophomore season at Minnesota.

Tre Jones, the ex-Apple Valley and Duke point guard, was drafted at No. 41.  The NBA authority raves about him.  “Just never, ever count him out. ..He’s a winner.  His pedigree is really strong.”

As a first rounder, Nnaji receives a guaranteed contract. Second rounders don’t and often start out in the NBA’s development program, the G League, where for seven months players receive a base salary of $7,000 per month for five months.

Golden Gophers Turn into Underdogs

The way it looks now the Golden Gophers football team will be underdogs in their four remaining scheduled games.  The most winnable for 1-3 Minnesota appears to be Friday night at home with 2-1 Purdue.  The Boilermakers are about a three-point favorite and deserve a bigger spread based on how the Gophers are playing.

In Minnesota’s other three games, at 2-0 Wisconsin and 1-2 Nebraska, and home versus 4-0 Northwestern, the Gophers figure to be larger underdogs than they are tomorrow night.  Try this as possible pre-game point spreads: Wisconsin by 28, Northwestern by 18 and Nebraska by 8.

In December all Big Ten teams will be assigned a ninth game against a divisional crossover opponent based on the strength of their 2020 record.  That could be the next time Minnesota is favored in a game.

Minnesota’s 2020 performance is one of the most disappointing in college football.  Coming off an 11-2 season last January, it seemed success would be sustained even if not at that level.  The Gophers entered their October 24 season opener against Michigan nationally ranked.  The program was showcased that Saturday with ABC televising the game across the country. Earlier in the day ESPN’s College GameDay produced its show inside TCF Bank Stadium.

Seldom in modern Gopher football history has a defense started the season so ineptly as this fall.  Linemen are often pushed way off the line of scrimmage, the linebackers frequently don’t fill holes, and the secondary (sometimes out of position) is the last line of defense.  The safeties lead the team in tackles.  Minnesota is giving up a Big Ten leading 7.8 yards per play.  The Gophers also are yielding a conference worst 20 touchdowns and 35.8 points per game.

Gone from last year’s defense are the best players, who used up their eligibility.  It was understood before the season the defense would be suspect, but no one thought this bad.  The pandemic and the cancellation of spring practice were setbacks for a defense trying to regroup.  Inexperience and injuries have added to the challenge, but expectations were rightfully higher.

Head coach P.J. Fleck insists the talent is present for a better defense in the future but experience is needed first.  However, with the program in its fourth year under Fleck, there should have been more capable and experienced defensive players in place to take over from last season’s seniors.

Futility was so evident in last week’s embarrassing 35-7 loss to Iowa.  For Gopher fans the game was an unwelcome reminder of recent history in the Minnesota-Iowa series.  The Hawkeyes have won six straight games for the first time in the 114-year-old rivalry. In the battle for Floyd of Rosedale, the series is tied at 42-42-2. Iowa has not trailed in games against Minnesota since the fourth quarter in 2016.

In this year’s game even the Minnesota offense, fifth best in the Big Ten averaging 29 points per game, was ineffective.  Iowa controlled Minnesota’s usually productive running game, and the Gophers have been struggling to develop their passing attack other than with All-American wide receiver Rashod Bateman.  Under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford the Gophers, despite having most of their key players back, seem more conservative than last season.  Creative play-calling is absent in the read-option offense that almost never has quarterback Tanner Morgan running with the football. Program woes also include special teams, with disappointments evident with field goals, extra points, kickoff returns and punt returns.

The Gophers need to find themselves starting tomorrow night, hoping for a result similar to two years ago.  On November 10, 2018 Minnesota played Purdue at home and entered the game having lost five of its previous six games.  The Gophers won 41-10 and took two of the next three games with an upset victory over Wisconsin in Madison and bowl game win versus Georgia Tech.

 

Zimmer “Tired” of Special Teams Woes

November 17, 2020 - (0) comments

 

Mike Zimmer expressed frustration with the Vikings’ special teams after last night’s 19-13 win over the Bears in Chicago.  Cordarrelle Patterson ran a kickoff back for a 104-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 13-7 third quarter lead.  In Minnesota’s previous game against the Lions, Zimmer saw his team have two punts blocked.

“We weren’t very good tonight (on special teams),” Zimmer said on KFAN. “We weren’t supposed to kick the ball to Patterson and we did, and that was bad. We’re going to have to really look at our personnel on that. See if we can change some things up. This is not good.  It’s been bad the last two weeks, and quite honestly I am tired of it.”

Patterson, the ex-Viking who goes by the nickname “Flash,” might be the best kickoff returner in NFL history.  He just whizzed by defenders on his long run, with the last potential tackler Viking kicker Dan Bailey—a total mismatch.  As Zimmer watched on the sidelines he was livid.

Without the kickoff touchdown, the game wouldn’t have been close.  The Bears produced two field goals with their inept offense that relies on replacement players because of injuries.  A first down was worthy of high-fives from Chicago fans.

Zimmer took advantage of the incompetent Bears with blitzes.  He wasn’t hesitant to ask his inexperienced secondary to cover one-on-one.  He said after the game on the radio those players and the entire improving defense is gaining confidence as the Vikings earned their third consecutive win.

Kirk Cousins

Nobody on the Vikings looked more excited toward the game’s end than quarterback Kirk Cousins who for the first time in his career was on the winning team for television’s Monday Night Football.  He was pumping a fist and showing thumbs up as the Vikings kept playoff ambitions alive while his MNF record improved to 1-9.  He completed 25 of 36 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns (both to Adam Thielen).

The 4-5 Vikings play their next three games in Minneapolis against the Cowboys (2-7), Panthers (3-7) and Jaguars (1-8).  After last night Minnesota clearly has momentum and a favorable path to a 7-5 record by early December.

“We’ve got three in a row.  Keep it stacking, and get back to it,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said on KFAN last night.

St. Paul Saints Deal Pricey

After talking with sources, it looks like the Minnesota Twins might have to write at least one large check to make the St. Paul Saints their Triple-A affiliate starting in 2021.  Sports Headliners speculates a deal could be finished by January 1, with the Saints ownership holding most of the leverage in negotiations that may see ownership transferred to the Twins.

Although a deal is not for sure, it’s a perfect move for the Twins to have their highest minor league affiliate located within a bike ride from Target Field.  Saints Triple-A call-ups could arrive at the big league ball park within 25 minutes from downtown St. Paul.  The Saints are presently members of the American Association, a league that has long operated without MLB affiliation.

Any new Saints owner would project continued sellouts at CHS Field where offerings include low price tickets, quirky promotions, sun-splashed beer-drinking and baseball players (cheap payroll) not wanted by big league clubs.  A wise move by the Twins, if they become new owners, will be keeping prices for tickets and concessions at 2020 levels.

Throw in creative promotions and a big upgrade in baseball talent where Twins fans can see the organization’s future stars, and it seems the Saints could continue to be profitable.  And that doesn’t begin to factor in the business synergy of having two franchises with the same ownership in the same market where there can be crossover ties in ticket sales, radio-TV rights, corporate sponsorships, promotions and advertising.

But what’s in this for the Saints ownership whose public face is Mike Veeck?  He is 69 now and “Mr. Fun Is Good” has worked hard building the Saints into a model minor league franchise.  Veeck has been at this since 1993 and hit a “home run” convincing St. Paul and other public officials to build CHS Field, allowing them to abandon archaic Midway Stadium.

It’s logical to believe Veeck and partners will walk away from their ownership stake if the Twins or someone else will meet their price. A sports industry source told Sports Headliners the Saints ownership paid about $1 million for a franchise startup fee in the independent Northern League back in 1993.  Today he thinks the franchise, despite losing a lot of money because of the pandemic this summer, could command $20 million as a sales price.

That’s a big number but check writing doesn’t stop there if the Saints are to transition from their status of a baseball independent in the American Association to a MLB affiliated Triple-A operation.  There is a cost that MiLB (Minor League Baseball) and MLB are working out for franchises to switch from independent status to affiliation with a big league club.  An estimate right now is $10 to $20 million.  It seems preposterous to think the Saints present ownership would be interested in paying $10 million or more for that status and continuing to operate the St. Paul franchise.

MLB teams do own minor league franchises so a Twins operation in St. Paul wouldn’t be unprecedented.  But the move to St. Paul (the Twins have severed ties with their Triple-A Rochester, New York team) could be predicated on a spending spree by the Twins Pohlad ownership group that might total $30 million or more.

Maybe there’s a buyer other than the Twins for the Saints.  In that scenario it would be prudent for the Twins to cover much of the franchise fee needed for the transition of the Saints to Triple A.

Worth Noting

Last fall after the Vikings lost 16-6 to the Bears in Chicago, star wide receiver Stefon Diggs made news expressing public frustration with the offense.  Now, following an offseason trade to the Bills, Diggs is playing with a hot quarterback in Josh Allen and could finish the season leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards.

In Wednesday night’s NBA draft the Timberwolves, with the first overall choice, will take Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards and then with their 17th pick in the first round will acquire Memphis forward-center Precious Achiuwa, per yesterday’s SI.com mock draft.  With their second round choice at No. 33, the Wolves are projected to choose former Hopkins standout Zeke Nnaji, the forward-center who was a freshman last season at Arizona.

Tre Jones

The Nets, with the No. 19 pick in the first round, will take former DeLaSalle star Tyrell Terry, a freshman guard at Stanford last season.  Former Apple Valley and Duke point guard Tre Jones is projected at No. 35 in the second round, going to the Sacramento Kings.  Daniel Oturu, the ex-Cretin Derham-Hall and Gopher center, will be drafted at No. 42 in the second round by the New Orleans Pelicans, per SI.com.

The cell phone mailbox of David Holmgren is full and not accepting messages these days.  His son, Chet Holmgren, is the nation’s No. 1 or 2 senior prep basketball prospect while playing for Minnehaha Academy. Chet is waiting until next year to announce a college choice, with minimal likelihood (my opinion) he plays at dad’s alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Because of COVID-19 don’t expect Monster Jam and AMA Super Cross, two popular events scheduled at U.S. Bank Stadium in February, to take place.

Also because of the pandemic no season media passes are being issued for Gophers men’s hockey; only single game requests on a restricted basis are being granted.

Today (Tuesday) is the deadline for WCHA men’s hockey members to announce opting out for the coming season because of the pandemic.  Alaska Anchorage isn’t competing in any winter sports including hockey, leaving the WCHA as of now a nine-member league for 2020-2021.  Could the University of Alaska also opt out?

Don’t expect regular coverage of this “sport” here, but a Belgian racing pigeon was auctioned off for $1.9 million Sunday, per the Associated Press.

 

P.J. Fleck 15-5 Last 20 Games, But…

November 11, 2020 - (0) comments

 

P.J. Fleck, now in his fourth season as the University of Minnesota head football coach, is an impressive 15-5 dating back to November 10, 2018.  That’s his overall record in both Big Ten and nonconference games including two bowl wins, highlighted by an Outback Bowl gem last January against SEC blueblood Auburn.  His Big Ten record during the period is 10-5.

Fleck’s 15-5 translates to a winning percentage of .750.  In all games during his Gopher career that began with the 2017 season he is 24-17, a winning percentage of .585.  Looking back almost 100 years in Minnesota coaching history, only the legendary Bernie Bierman with a .727 winning percentage has a better number than Fleck’s .585.

But in the “what have you done for me lately” world of high stakes college football, Fleck must build on his record.  Despite the honeymoon of last season’s 11-2 record and No. 10 AP final ranking, critics have rushed in to criticize the 39-year-old coach this fall, with his team losing two of its first three games and at times playing with an Olé defense.  Minnesota is giving up 36 points per game and opponents have scored 15 touchdowns.

The defensive unit is inexperienced and development was slowed by the cancellation of spring practice and late start to the season caused by the pandemic.  However, there was better tackling and swarming to ball carriers in last Saturday’s 41-14 win at Illinois. Friday night at home against Iowa, Minnesota’s defense is likely to determine the game’s outcome.

The Hawkeyes, 1-2 with the two losses by a combined five points, deserve to be favored.  This is a typical Iowa team, fundamentally sound and conservative in approach with success starting with its defense.  The Hawkeyes have given up only seven touchdowns, the fewest among Big Ten teams who have played three games.

New starter Spencer Petras is settling in at quarterback and Iowa scored a season high 49 points last Saturday in a win over Michigan State.  The victory gave head coach Kirk Ferentz his 163rd win at Iowa, fourth best for overall wins in Big Ten history.

If Minnesota can upset Iowa that will end a streak of five consecutive losses to the Hawkeyes—and also of importance, improve Fleck’s standing in rivalry games.  He is 4-8 in trophy games against Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.  Nebraska is included here even though neither the Husker nor Gopher athletic departments officially recognize the $5 Broken Bits of Chair Trophy—an Internet creation that started several years ago.

A Gopher win in the nationally televised Fox game will slow the frequent carping by Fleck critics and boost Minnesota’s record to 2-2 in Big Ten games.  That development keeps in place aspirations of winning the Big Ten West Division where 3-0 Northwestern is already in a commanding position.  The Gophers and Wisconsin tied for best record in the West last year with 7-2 records.

Worth Noting

Although the Minnesota defense played poorly in its 45-44 loss October 30 to Maryland, the emergence of new Terrapins starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa as a high impact passer and scrambler provides perspective to the performance.  The Terps, 2-0, took down Penn State last Saturday. His combined 676 passing yards over the last two weeks against the Gophers and Penn State are the most by a Big Ten player this season.

Former Gophers Darrell Thompson and MarQueis Gray help preview the Minnesota-Iowa game at noon Friday via zoom courtesy of the Goal Line Club.  More on the program at the GoalLineClub.org.

Arland Bruce IV, son of former Gopher wide receiver Arland Bruce III, is a composite three-star athlete recruit per 247Sports, and is verbally committed to be part of Iowa’s 2021 recruiting class.  He plays for Ankeny High School in Ankeny, Iowa.

Word is the Vikings wanted 5,000 fans, seated in acceptably distanced sections, to attend home games this fall but with pandemic concerns trending in the wrong direction it doesn’t appear the state of Minnesota will allow that target number at any of the team’s four remaining dates at U.S. Bank Stadium.  The policy of allowing a maximum of 250 spectators per home game seems all but certain to continue.

Twin Cities author Jim Bruton is finishing up a book on former Viking Scott Studwell to be marketed next fall.  Named as one of the 50 greatest Vikings, Studwell’s connection to the organization is defined by 14 years of playing linebacker and 28 years in the scouting department.

Viking linebacker Eric Kendricks, who has led the team in tackles for five consecutive seasons, is third in the NFL with 84 total tackles. Linebacker teammate Eric Wilson is the only player in the league with at least three interceptions and more than one sack (he has 2.5).

Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson’s 627 receiving yards lead all NFL rookies in 2020. His receiving yardage total is already the fifth most for a rookie in Vikings history and is the most ever for a rookie through Minnesota’s first eight games.

In SI.com’s NFL power rankings out yesterday the Vikings are No. 17, with next Monday night’s opponent, the Chicago Bears, No. 18.  The Kansas City Chiefs are No. 1, with the Green Bay Packers No. 5.

Erik van Rooyen, the South African golfer and former Golden Gopher, is playing in this week’s Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Van Rooyen’s opening tee time Thursday is 11:05 a.m. (Central). He tied for 23rd this year in the U.S Open and has $941,958 in career winnings since turning pro in 2013.  He won the local Tapemark Charity Pro-Am in 2016 but didn’t make the cut at this year’s 3M Open.

Anecdotal observation indicated for months that Minnesota golf courses were busier than usual, and Monday’s Axios Sports newsletter offered national numbers about the boom.  In September there was a U.S. 25.5 percent increase in number of rounds played year-over-year—the fifth consecutive month to surpass 2019 totals. Also per Axios, “Equipment sales increased 42 percent year-over-year in the third quarter to just over $1 billion. It was the industry’s second-best quarter ever.”

Richard Pitino

Despite seven teams (half of the Big Ten) being ranked in the Associated Press men’s basketball preseason top 25, the unranked Gophers could turn out to be an NCAA Tournament entry.  Coach Richard Pitino, after losing All-American center Daniel Oturu as an early entrant to the NBA Draft, has regrouped with six new players, including talented transfers with college experience (Both Gach, Brandon Johnson and Liam Robbins).  Plus, All-Big Ten point guard Marcus Carr decided against entering the draft and is one of the best at his position in college basketball.  The Gophers are expected to open their schedule at home November 25 against Green Bay.

Pitino’s dad, 68-year-old Rick Pitino, told the Sporting News Monday his new gig at Iona is a stepping stone job—to eventual retirement.  Realtor.com reported last month Rick Pitino sold his $17 million south Florida home.

Jeff Munneke of the Timberwolves and J.P. Paul of the Vikings, both with expertise in fan relations, are the latest guests on “Behind the Game,” with co-hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson.  Munneke and Paul discuss fan engagement in the pandemic era and how the experience of fans will be different when spectators return to venues.  The program is available on the “Behind the Game” Channel on YouTube and on cable access throughout the state.

 

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