Moving websites

I’ve decided to accept an offer to team up with Jonathan Foster at From The Barn and co-blog the dramatic comedy we call Gopher basketball.  You can read all of my stupid thoughts and witty banter at www.fromthebarn.org in the future.

Hope to see you over there!

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Game 17: Gophers @ Michigan State

Since I really can’t expect to put together a better preview for tonight’s game against the Spartans than From The Barn, check out the preview and analysis for tonight’s game.

I’ll quickly say that Minnesota is going to have to play near perfect basketball to hope to pull this one out.  Force turnovers, make free throws, take care of the ball.  PRESS.

Go Gophs.  5:30pm CT tip.

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Midseason Dance Watch

We are one game past the midpoint of the season and the Gophers sit at 12-4 (3-1 Big Ten).  Even though conferences are just beginning shake out, we can get some idea of just what Minnesota’s chances are of making the Big Dance and what they have to do to get there.

Their current resume breaks down like this:  (RPI numbers are from College RPI)

Wins:

One “great” win over Butler (RPI: 17), zero good wins (RPI 25-50), one “decent” win over Ohio State (RPI: 91) and 10 “expected” wins over the rest of the clowns they’ve faced (who knew there was a Utah Valley University?)

Losses:

Thankfully so far, the Gophers haven’t had a “bad” loss (losing to a team with an RPI of 150 or below).  In fact, their worst loss was at the hands of Portland (RPI: 80).  The only bad losses they can expect to suffer the rest of the season would be dropping either of their remaining games against Iowa or Penn State.  Of course, anything can happen in a conference game.

With their current situation in mind, I’m under the impression that the Gophers will need to win at least 20 games in order to be a candidate for at-large consideration in the tournament. This is barring an upset victory over Purdue, Michigan State and even Wisconsin this year.  They only have two solid wins on their resume right now and will need a handful of wins over teams like Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern to strengthen their tournament argument.  That means they need to win eight more games in order eclipse the 20-win mark.

But where will those wins come from?  It’s impossible to correctly predict how the remaining games will pan out, but you can definitely identify expected victories.  Here’s how I think it shapes up (with a conservative, “mind of a Gopher fan” angle):

  1. @ Michigan State:  Loss
  2. @ Indiana:  Win
  3. vs. Michigan State:  Loss
  4. vs. Northwestern:  Win
  5. @ Ohio State:  Loss
  6. @ Penn State:  Win
  7. vs. Michigan:  Win
  8. @ Northwestern:  Loss
  9. vs. Wisconsin:  Loss
  10. vs. Indiana:  Win
  11. vs. Purdue:  Loss
  12. @ Illinois:  Loss
  13. @ Michigan:  Loss
  14. vs. Iowa:  Win

Again, these are conservative predictions (losing at home to Wisconsin, for instance), but you get the idea.  Of course, the Gophers could steal one on the road against Michigan, but they could just as easily drop a gimme game at home to Iowa, so I think it balances out.  More importantly, you can really only identify six “should-win” games for the rest of their schedule.  That puts them at 18-12 to finish the regular season and adds a lot of pressure to win an opening round Big Ten tournament game.  Do the Gophers get an at-large bid with only 19 wins and one win over a Top 25 team in a down Big Ten year?  I don’t think so, which means they need to steal a game they aren’t supposed to.  On the road against Illinois, OSU, NW or Michigan or at home against Purdue, Wisconsin or Michigan State.  Yikes.

Overall, it’ll be important for Minnesota to win the games they are supposed to.  They can’t afford to drop a home game to Northwestern and they have to win at Penn State.  If they can hold their own in the soft parts of the schedule, then they are in better position to steal a game they aren’t expected to win and help strengthen their argument for a ticket to the Dance.  They need to position themselves as a strong, 2nd tier Big Ten team — something that will happen with wins over the Illinois, Ohio States, Northwesterns and Michigans of the conference.

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Back to Business

After falling well short of expectations in their third conference game against Purdue, the Gophers rebounded for an impressive 73-62 victory over Evan Turner and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The game against Ohio State was important for a number of reasons.  Primarily, it was a test to see just where the Gophers stacked up against a 2nd tier team in the conference.  Sure, Minnesota rolled over Penn State and Iowa and got dumped by Purdue, but those were basically to be expected.  What’s more important is how the Gophers stack up against teams like OSU, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan.  These games go a long ways in showing just where the Gophers sit in the conference in terms of talent and present a fairly accurate barometer of their tournament chances.

What we saw, finally, was consistent offensive output against a tough opponent.  Minnesota has shot poorly against better teams this year (Texas A&M, Purdue) and their 45% clip was refreshing to see.  What has dogged them in their losses has been poor shooting.

Also interesting was the lack of playing time from the “second string” line, including Joseph, Cobbs, Carter and Williams.  Tubby is settling into a core lineup of Westbrook, Hoffarber, Nolen and Johnson, which definitely helps the flow of the offense.  It’s apparent with the second string is on the floor that the offensive fluidity of the team drops off considerably.

Concerning, though, was just how lost Colton Iverson continues to look.  Four TOs, two missed free throws, only one shot.  These are numbers that can’t be accepted from your starting center.  Iverson does a great job of carving out space and getting to the hoop, but he doesn’t have the hands to put points on the boards and has almost no touch.  Ralph Sampson, on the other hand, looked much more comfortable than he has in recent games.

I think we’ll continue to see it as the conference season plays out, but the Gophers will live and die by their shooting percentage.  We’ve seen their incredible defense keep them in games even when they shot 30%, but they just don’t have the free throw consistency to put up a W  without shooting over 40%.  When they are bricking shots and settling for mid-range jumpers, they won’t be winning many close games.  However, the Ohio State game showed us that they do know how to put it together and put enough points on the board to win against a solid conference opponent.

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2009-10 Schedule Coming Together

Slowly but surely the Gophers 2009-2010 basketball schedule is coming together with Jeff Goodman from Fox Sports reporting that Morgan State, St. Joseph’s and Stephen F. Austin have all been confirmed as opponents.  The Gophers will also be playing on the road against Miami (FL) for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Minnesota will also be opening up the season in Anaheim for the 76 Classic (Nov. 26-29).  While the tournament pairings have not been announced, the rest of the field includes UCLA, West Virginia, Clemson, Texas A&M, Butler, Long Beach State and Portland — a pretty stacked early season tournament as seven of the eight teams were in the Big Dance.

With a field like that, its entirely plausible that the Gophers could end up playing one or more top 25 teams, which would be a strong non-conference addition to their schedule.

So, while the upcoming schedule continues to be a closely guarded secret, the pieces are starting to come together.

UPDATE: It’s now been reported that the Gophers will meet Butler in the first round with the winner facing the UCLA/Portland winner.  So it’s feasible that Minnesota could open its season with games against two top-10 teams.  Fun!

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Gophers up to #21

The Gophers took two out of three on the road against Michigan, improving to 33-14 on the season and 15-5 in the Big Ten.  Minnesota currently sits in first place in the conference with one more series left to play in the regular season.  The Gophers travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in their final tune up before the Big Ten tournament and, more than likely, the NCAA Tournament.

If you haven’t been following the Gophers too closely recently they are completely on fire.  Since dropping two in a row to Illinois back on April 17-18 they had won nine straight conference games before losing to Michigan on Sunday (John Anderson was denied his 1000th win in the process) with one strange loss to Division III St. Thomas sandwiched in the middle.

Their reward?  Their highest ranking in any national poll this season.  Baseball America placed them at #21, while both Collegiate Baseball Magazine and Rivals put them at #24.  This marks the first time the Gophers have been ranked in the Rivals poll this season.

Derek McCallum is having a ridiculous season hitting .403-16-66.  He leads the conference in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, RBIs, home runs, and total bases.  He is also second in on-base percentage.  Unbelievable.

AJ Pettersen checks in at 12th in the conference in batting average and first in runs scored.  Tom Buske owns the conference’s fifth best ERA.

Now Minnesota just has to take care of business on the road at Penn State (7-14 in the Big Ten) if they want to take the top seed in the Big Ten tournament in Columbus, OH.  The NCAA tournament is starting to look more and more like a lock.

The Gophers have been mentioned as legitimate postseason participants in several publications.  More often than not they are slated to be a #2 seed in whichever region they appear in, meaning they would have to travel for the tournament.  For instance, ESPN’s Jeremy Mills puts them in Texas A&M’s region.

But chew on this — the Gophers actually have a chance to host a regional.  The NCAA has been trying to nationalize baseball for years (read: not have the South dominate year in and year out) and would love nothing more than to have a northern team host a regional.  Should the Gophers win out the rest of the season, they actually have a chance to end up as a number one seed in a region.

Even if they don’t end up with a #1 seed somewhere, it’s not out of the ordinary for a #2 seed to host a region if it makes geographical sense.  Word on the street is that John Anderson has been making a push to host the region at the Dome (Hey, it never rains indoors), and with the NCAA’s push to get the North interested in college baseball, it’s not out of the question that we could see a postseason region held right here in Minneapolis.

Stay tuned.

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Baseball back in Top 25

The Gophers reclaimed a spot in the uber-coveted Baseball America Top 25 poll today after a successful week.

Minnesota split with Missouri on the road (one win, one 20-5 loss…ooofta), but followed up with a three game sweep over Northwestern in their second-to-last Metrodome series.  The week came on the heels of a previous weekend series win over then-#18 Ohio State.

The Gophers again saw spectacular pitching from their starters.  Chauncy Handran (7.2 IP, 2 ER) and Tom Buske (8 IP, ER) each had amazing starts and Austin Lubinsky chipped in with four innings of one-run ball.  Neither pitcher has an ERA over 2.73 for the season.

Offensively, SS AJ Pettersen finished the week 7-20 with four RBI, while Nick O’Shea went 8-21 with five RBI and a HR.  Catcher Kyle Knudson took home unofficial offensive player of the week honors going 9-19 with six RBI and two HRs. Pettersen currently leads the team with a .383 batting average, good for fourth in the Big Ten, while Buske’s 2.15 ERA puts him at second-best in the conference.

Minnesota (20-10, 6-2) now sits atop the Big Ten in a tie with Indiana, with whom they split an earlier series with.  Add that to a resume with series wins over Big Ten semi-powerhouse Ohio State and #16 TCU and single game wins over Santa Barbara and Hawaii and we have the makings of a truly successful season.  Hawaii was only recently ousted from the top 25.

The Gophers go outside this week with single games against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and South Dakota State before an important weekend series on the road against Illinois (21-8, 6-3).  Illinois is one of the more powerful teams in the conference and would be a huge series victory for Minnesota.  Not only would it add two more conference wins over a legitimate opponent, but it would even further solidify the teams postseason chances.

In an interesting side note, the Gophers are “in” as an at-large in Rivals’ most recent attempt at Bracketology.  Rivals has Illinois as the predicted Big Ten champion.  This is interesting in that the Big Ten is more or less the Missouri Valley of NCAA baseball (read:  mid-major) and usually doesn’t get more than one bid.  You might expect this ranking to change should the Gophers find success against the Illini.

Minnesota is currently the only team in the Big Ten ranked in the top 25.

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