April 29, 2008

Big Ten Blogger Roudtable - Springtime Ed.

The spring football game has come and passed. While there was slightly more excitement surrounding the annual scrimmage, it was still met with a collective yawn across Gopher Nation. Partially because nobody has ever cared about the Gopher's spring game and partially because most of the incoming flux of talent is yet to arrive on campus. So while this game was important for the further development of the offense the other side of the ball was missing what could be half of it's likely starters.

With the passing of the Spring Game we have to give an assesment for the rest of the Big Ten Blogosphere to know where the Golden Gophers stand.

1. I love spring. Flowers blooming. Birds chirping. Bones breaking. ACL's tearing. List the injuries your team sustained and describe their impact on 2008.

No significant injuries that will affect Fall 2008

2. Break down the major position battles going on with your offense.

The major offensive decisions are on the right side of the offensive line and wide receiver.

Here is who started the spring game along the OLine

LT - Dom Alford - should be a lock to start
LG - Ned Tevale - should also be a lock
C - Jeff Tow-Arnett - JR who started three games at LG in 2007
RG - Ryan Wynn - rFR got the starting nod over DJ Burris who started 11 games in this spot last season
RT - Jason Meinke - the walk on JR got the start but will likely have to work to keep it

Who is battling for C, RG and RT?

  • DJ Burris - started 11 games at RG and was a Sporting News All Big Ten freshman. Currently Burris is listed as a Center and will battle with Tow-Arnett, but should nobody step up to lock down RG expect Burris to make the switch.
  • rFR Chris Bunders - should see some time and push Meinke at RT.
  • JR Ryan Ruckdashel - reserve for two seasons and has appeared in 21 games as a Gopher. Should be given a chance to prove he is a viable starter at RG.
  • SO Andy Brinkhouse - possibly in the mix for RT.
I know this is so exciting to discuss who are the starters at C, RG and RT. I can hardly sleep at night while I think of the different combinations and how it will best block Weber's front side. But getting production on the right side is very important to the development of the offense in year two.

At WR there isn't a ton of intrigue either. Who will start opposite Eric Decker is up in the air but since there will be 5 or 6 receivers contributing on a regular basis who starts and who actually gets balls thrown their way are two different things.
  1. Eric Decker - JR
  • Ralph Spry - SO
  • Brandon Green - FR
  • Xavier Brandon - FR
  • Brodrick Smith - FR
  • Trey Herndon - SO
  • David Pittman - JR
But most of the offense returns and should progress in their development.

3. You knew this was coming. Break down the major position battles on defense.

How much time do you have to read this? I could list the defensive starters for the spring game but there is a pretty good chance that 11 different names will be atop the two-deep come September. The hard part here is that many of the incoming freshmen will be relied upon to push the incumbent starters or take over completely and most of them are not yet on campus.

Lets take a quick look at all of the positions...

Defensive End - Willie VanDeSteeg and Will Brody
competition? - JR-Lee Campbell, rFR-Anthony Jacobs, FR-Brandon Kirksey

Brody will almost certainly not be a starter come game 1. My money is on Jacobs to earn the starting spot opposite Willie VDS. But competition will ensue at RE.

Defensive Tackle - Eric Small and Garrett Brown
competition? - FR-Jewhan Edwards

Both saw significant time in 2007 but this was a major weakness. I fully expect to see Edwards starting at DT very soon.

Linebacker - Steve Davis, Nate Triplett, Kevin Manion
competition - FR-Sam Maresh(MLB), JR-Deon Hightower, FR-Spencer Reeves, rFR-Andre Tate

This area was awful last year too. I would not be surprised to see Maresh, Reeves and Hightower as the starting backers this year. That would be two true freshmen, I know.

Cornerback - Ryan Collado, Marcus Sherrels
competition - JR-Traye Simmons, FR-Troy Stoudermire, FR-Tim Dandridge

Collado improved as his freshman season wore on and then everybody expects Traye Simmons to be our best CB once he arrives on campus in June. Sherrels makes things interesting. He was a recent conversion from WR to CB and the staff has had a lot of good things to say about him. Adding some depth and anybody who can play back there is a good thing and there was little chance Sherrels was going to see much time on offense so give defense a shot.

Safety - Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock
competition - JR-Simoni Lawrence, FR-Keanon Cooper

Game 1 should have Brock and Lawrence starting at FS and SS respectively. Both are JUCO transfers who will be instant upgrades. I am a fan of Theret and like what he brings but he'll be there for depth.

4. Who are the unknown kids on your team that will be household names come December?

This question isn't fair because outside of Minnesota everybody on this team is an unknown commodity but I'll pick a name.

QB/WR/PR/CB - David Pittman

The JUCO transfer is a super athlete and will be a key member of the spread coast offense. I imagine OffCord Mike Dunbar is waking up in the middle of the night with new plays that come to him in dreams to spotlight Pittman.

How would you describe the general mood around your program? Are you gearing up the tailgate party for a conference title run or do you get the impression there are going to be a lot of empty seats in your stadium this year?

Conference title is out of the question. I have an IV of maroon and gold kool-aid permanently being pumped into my veins but not even I could imagine an Illini-esque run to the Rose Bowl. Fans are excited to see the young kids come in and show us what Big Ten athletes look like. There are high expectations for what was the most talented recruiting class in school history, but they are mostly freshmen and this is a year to build for the next couple.

What I know everyone is looking forward to are the new unis!


April 23, 2008

Welcome to Gopher Nation Kid - Royce White

Tubby Smith took a giant step towards securing another top 25 recruiting class for 2009. If I were to tell you we received a commitment from the 32nd overall player in the current junior class, you would be pretty happy. But what makes this commitment so huge is that said player is the best junior in the state of Minnesota, Royce White. Isn't it nice to know that the best of Minnesota isn't signing with Wisconsin, Kansas, Marquette, Michigan State, Iowa or anywhere else?

For the first time in a while Minnesota has two players currently ranked in the top 50 nationally. White is #32 and Rodney Williams is currently 43rd. Landing White was the first step towards signing Williams as well and locking down the borders.

White is a 4-star, 6'7" forward who is highly skilled.

ESPN Insider - "He's an explosive athlete (good quickness) that can accelerate with the ball in the open court or drop-step and dunk in the post. He makes good decisions with the ball and is an unselfish player. White plays hard at both ends, is an excellent rebounder, and one of the few players in the country that plays with a purpose on every possession."

Rivals - "Destined to be a piece to a winning formula as a quality college player, White also has the toughness, skill level and basketball IQ to take his game even farther. He is cut out of the mold of present NBA players Chuck Hayes and Carlos Boozer."

Scout - "Good player who works his tail off. Can play some combo forward in college but has the makeup of a power forward."

I can't say enough good things about this verbal. Getting a player of White's caliber before other top notch programs get a chance to dig their hooks in deeper is significant and allows Tubby and staff to direct more efforts to other pieces of the 2009 class.

This team is looking very good down the road. This upcoming season will be fun to watch as we see the 2008 recruiting class get going, but year from now we'll lose Jamal Abu-Shamal & John Williams but we'll add Royce White & someone else. Regardless of who that player is that is an improvement. And this team will be capable of competing with just about anybody.

PJS has an insightful look into the verbal but I'm going to look ahead.

With the commitment of White we have for certain 1 scholarship remaining for the 2009 class but probably 2 if you assume Travis Busch will not receive a free ride for his senior season.

2009 - 2 scholarships available

1st priority - Rodney Williams
2nd - PG, unless Verdell Jones signs then this scholarship is unavailable

2010 - 4 scholarships available

1st priority - C/PF
2nd - SG (replace Hoffarber and back up for Joseph)
3rd - PF
4th - best available, probably another G

To tell you the truth I am more excited about the significance of this commitment than I am about some other news in Minnesota sports today. This is big and things are looking brighter still for Gopher hoops.

April 18, 2008

Devron Bostick wins an award, Kris Faber makes his decision and Verdell Jones has not

Incoming Gopher recruit, Devron Bostick was recently named the JUCO Div 1 Player of the Year! Bostick led his team to a 28-5 record while averaging 18.2 ppg, 4.9 reb/gm and 3.2 ast/game.

I applaud coach Smith and his staff for identifying Bostick early and getting his commitment. In the excitement and anticipation for freshmen Ralph Sampson, Devoe Joseph and Colten Iverson; I feel as though Bostick is being overlooked. He will bring a new level of athleticism at the off guard spot and he should easily replace the scoring lost by McKenzie. Joseph could be something special in the Gopher backcourt but Bostick will be coming in as a more mature player and will be more likely to contribute immediately.


On the big man recruiting front, unfortunately the raw big man who was second in the nation in rebounding has chosen DePaul for his collegiate career. In my opinion Faber would have been a welcome addition to provide more depth in the post and would have been a quality change of pace guy with Sampson. But the enticement of living in Chicago and probably the lack of two other incoming big men (Sampson / Iverson) was enough to choose DePaul over Minnesota.

I would have loved to see Faber in the Barn next year but it isn't like we had all of our eggs in that basket. We have Sampson and Iverson both at 6'10" or greater. If we can bring in another quality big man next year (or the next), then this loss isn't all that great of a loss.


Verdell Jones is still out there, yet to make a decision. The PG is one of the best remaining PGs out there and is considering a number of options, but I've been on record and continue to feel that we'd be better off without him. Maybe I'm greedy but if we are his back up school, then will he really be happy here? If he feels like he is attending a lower tier program will he expect to be the man here? Nothing about his recruiting sits well with me and I fear he'll be more trouble than he's worth. I am a fan of Nolen at PG, I think Joseph will get plenty of minutes a the 1 and I believe we'll bring in a top notch PG in the next recruiting class. All of that points to me that we don't need Jones.

The Hoosier Scoop talked with Jone's father.

Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota appear to be his leaders with visits planned for Arizona and Virginia. My hope is that he goes to Kentucky.

April 15, 2008

The Big Ten will win the 2008 B10 / ACC Challenge

The match ups for the Big Ten / ACC Challenge have been announced and for once I think the match ups favor the Big Ten. I fully understand that much will happen between now and December. We don't know who will fill out each team's rosters with NBA exits and who knows how incoming recruits will fit in and contribute. But I'm declaring this year as the first victory for the Big Ten in this event.

ACC Wins

North Carolina (14-2) @ Michigan State (12-6) - Assuming nobody leaves UNC it is hard to pick against the Tar Heels. Hansbrough, Ellington and Lawson are good enough to not only carry this team back to the Final Four but they can win it all. Michigan State is at home but they lose Neitzel and Naymick. The Spartans could be a very good team next year with Morgan and Lucas, but at this point the edge has to go to UNC. If a guy or two decide to leave for the NBA then this game gets interesting.

Clemson (10-6) @ Illinois (5-13) - When I saw Illinois they looked like a Final Four team. Obviously they were not and they lose their best two players in Randle and Pruitt. Clemson loses a couple key guys but they still return more plus they add 3 players including a 4-star center. Clemson gets this road win.

Florida State (7-9) @ Northwestern (1-17) - This game is the biggest lock of the Challenge. Sorry Wildcat fans but if FSU graduated their top 13 scorers I'd still give them the edge here. Seriously, FSU brings back their leading scorer in Toney Douglas and has a very good recruiting class coming in. Northwestern only loses 6.9 ppg and will bring a few players who may help them. They'll be improved but they won't have the horses to keep up with the Seminoles.

Iowa (6-12) @ Boston College (4-12) - I believe Iowa will be improved in year two under coach Lickliter. They lose Justin Johnson but gain a highly ranked SG (Matt Gattens) from within the state and a solid big man. Both should help the Hawkeyes improve but BC returns their top 6 scorers, 4 of whom were freshmen last year. Incoming recruit Reggie Jackson will be helpful and they will also enjoy the home court and Iowa has very little chance in this one.

Big Ten Wins

Duke (13-3) @ Purdue (15-3) - Duke loses only one player who happens to be their leading scorer. Purdue loses only 4.5 ppg. With some player development and a little luck the Boilermakers could be 2 or 3 seed who make a Final Four run. This being at home I really think his is a winable game for Purdue.

Penn State (7-11) @ Georgia Tech (7-9) - The Yellow Jackets lose their top two scorers and will bring in Iman Shumpert (who the Gophers pursued). Penn State basically brings back the roster. Geary Claxton is out of eligibility but he missed nearly all of the Big Ten season anyway. Taylor Battle, Stanley Pringle and Jamel Cornley will make a decent core. I know this is on the road, but on paper this is a winable game for Penn State.

Virginia (5-11) @ Minnesota (8-10) - this will be a fun match up. Virginia passed on Ralph Sampson even though his dad was one of college basketball's best as a Cavalier. They had already signed 4-star center John Brandenburg and didn't pursue him enough. Both teams are losing their primary scorers but both also have very good recruiting classes coming in. This will be an intriguing match up that I think goes to Tubby at home.

Wisconsin (16-2) @ Virginia Tech (9-7) - Another intriguing match up that puts a 31 win team from this season on the road. Wisconsin loses more and Virginia Tech could repeat as a top 4 ACC team. But I don't pick against Bo Ryan (until the NCAAs) and my money is on the defending Big Ten champ.

Ohio State (10-8) @ Miami (8-8) - this one could change depending on who returns for the Buckeyes. Butler and Hunter are gone and there is a better chance than not that Koufos leaves as well to play professionally somewhere. But once again they are brining in a top flight recruiting class to reload. BJ Mullens and William Buford will bolster this year's freshmen and this team should be better in 2008-09. Miami is home and returns their top seven scorers. Should be a good game, but I expect Ohio State to get back on track next season

Key Games

Michigan (5-13) @ Maryland (8-8)- both teams return their young guards who lead the team in scoring. And both teams have a good sophomore class who will be coming into the prime of their careers. This is an interesting match up but I give a slight edge to Maryland with the home court. I also think Michigan will be a much better team in Beilein's 2nd season, but time will tell on this one.

Indiana (14-4) @ Wake Forest (7-9) - Wake can only get better as their two leading scorers were freshmen, there was not a senior on the roster and they have a good recruiting class coming in. Indiana loses DJ White to graduation, Eric Gordon to the NBA and coach Sampson to cheating. But they do return Basset, Crawford, Ellis and add Tom Crean who is a very good coach. One team improving vs. another team who will likely take a step back before being able to move forward. I don't know where to give this edge as there are too many variables. If Tom Crean can get his guys playing together and believing they can win, then I am confident they can get this road win.


As I looked more in depth I am less confident but I'm sticking with it calling for a Big Ten win.

Wiki page on B10/ACC history


Gopher Recruiting

The last year has been an exciting year for Gopher fans on the recruiting front. With new head coaches in place for the two major sports recruiting has gone from middle of the Big Ten to nationally ranked classes.

Basketball - Tubby Smith in place gives this program a level of respect that it hasn't seen in nearly a decade. 4 and 5 star kids now at least listen to coaches from Minnesota. I am no expert but I imagine Dan Monson's phone calls were not as eagerly anticipated as Tubby Smith's.

2007-08 recruiting has been a consensus top 20 class for Tubby Smith and it likely isn't done yet. There are still 2 or 3 players out there who may commit as part of his 2008 class. Scholarships will get interesting as they add anybody else but if bringing us a 3 or 4 star kid means Travis Busch, Jamal Abu-Shamala or Kevin Payton lose their scholarship I think the team will be better for it.

An interesting note is that I personally heard coach Smith say that this was the first time in his career that they basically signed everyone they pursued. I'm sure that means he got the realistic recruits but his early list was headed by Devoe, Sampson and Iverson. All three signed which is a rare thing.

Kris Faber - C - Faber is a 6'11" rebounding machine averaging 17.5 rebounds per game this year (12.5 as a Jr). The big man is kind of a late bloomer who will likely have to develop an offensive game at this level, but as far as defense and rebounding he would be an immediate help. I believe it is always hard to find big men who can actually help you and I am on board with signing Faber. RSIII is coming in as the center of the future and he'll block shots while adding some scoring but he is the finesse to Faber's brute. Faber has been taking visits lately and just finished visiting DePaul. UCLA has also shown interest which may increase if Kevin Love should declare for the draft, but currently Minnesota is the only BCS level school to offer. While it may not come on the first day of the signing period I hope and expect Faber to sign with Tubby to make this a 6 man class.

Verdell Jones - PG - we need a PG and Jones is one of the best remaining but I'm not sold on him. He seems to be holding Minnesota just close enough that they can be his back up school if Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana or another school yet to emerge don't come through for him. So far nobody has pursued him hard enough to land him but I don't know I want him if he doesn't want us. Jones is a 3-star PG who in my opinion is acting like a 5-star. He has been waiting for Tennesse but they didn't come through, he wants to sign with Kentucky but he their back up plan, recently Indiana is interested as Gordon is leaving for the paycheck league and Minnesota is still hanging around with an offer. Personally I'd rather wait a year and make a 4 or 5 star PG a priority for 2009 (Chris Colvin or Johnny Lacy for example). But I also trust this coaching staff's judgment and wouldn't be sad if he signed. But I reiterate that we should want guys who want to be here. At some point we should not be a back up school to anybody.

Trevor Mbakwe - PF - if you have paid attention to recruting in the last year you'll know that Mbakwe is a local product, signed with Tom Crean at Marquette and sat out 2007-08 on a medical redshirt. Obviously Crean is now a Hoosier and there have been rumors that Mbakwe wants to transfer to Minnesota. I would love to see this happen but in the last week these rumors have cooled. Mbakwe is an athletic PF who would add the athletic punch this team has been missing. He would have to sit out a year and would be a part of next year's class for scholarship purposes but those numbers will sort themselves out. Mbakwe would be well worth the scholarship.

2009 recruiting is probably in full swing but with some options out there still for 2008 there isn't a lot of buzz and how many available scholarships is yet to be determined. My best guess is that we'll figure out a way to bring in 3 kids. A quality PG and both of the forwards from Minnesota (Royce White and Rodney Williams).

Football - Coach Brewster didn't accomplish any of his recruiting success by name recognition or on field success. But all of that makes this year's recruiting class that much more impressive. What would happen if we had a couple of Mason bowl game seasons. Or what if we put out an 8 or 9 win season. I'll slow down, but landing what is arguably the Gopher's best football recruiting class in team history in a year when we finished 1-11 is more than impressive.

2009 recruiting is hot and we are heading into the time of year when verbals start flying. Some will get it done before the summer but once kids start heading to team camps verbals will come left and right, hopefully to join Brewster in TCF Stadium.

Football recruiting is kinda crazy because you have to sign so many kids at many different positions. I'm not going to list everyone we are after but I'll highlite few names.

Moses Alipate (committed) - QB - local kid who will likely be the top rated Minnesota player. Who knows when he'll contribute considering we have Weber behind center and MarQueis Gray coming in as the QB of the future, but landing the best in state kid is significant and something we need to see each and every year.

Josh Campion (committed) - OL - another top rated MN kid who has already committed. Offensive linemen are hard to project but again the biggest significance of this commitment is the statement of keeping MN kids at home.

Minnesota Kids

Bryce McNeal - WR - Breck WR who has an early 4-star ranking from Rivals. McNeal would be a great get as we will need speedy receivers and the best of MN each and every year. Considering Michigan, Nebraska, Clemson, Louisville, Iowa and several others. Should be one of our top targets even if he isn't the most talented player we are after.

Ra'shede Hageman - TE - 6'5", 230 big and athletic TE who is also known for being rather physical. He currently only has offers from Minnesota and Iowa but there is significant interest from Wisconsin, Okalahoma Florida, Oregon and LSU. Currently not highly rated but I anticipate Hageman will be a fast riser who becomes a hot name as we go through the summer.

Fritz Rock - Ath/RB - Wazata kid who has offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and N Illinois. I'm not high on Rock but the internet message boards (some of whom have seen him play) think he should be Gopher.

Cole Jirik - DE - Northfield kid who ESPN Insider has on their top 150 watch list. Minn, Wis and Michigan State currently lead the way for Jirik. We need defensive help, I'm not sure he'll be an immediate impact but he's worth brining in and finding out.

Others with Minnesota Offers (by position)

QB - none needed for 2009. Gray came in last year and Alipate is secured for this class.

RB - Eddie Lacy - 1,800 yds and 26 TDs as a sophomore. Neither Rivals or ESPN have him on our radar but Scout has him listed amongst LSU, Miss, Oklahoma, OK State and Tennessee.

RB - Bud Golden - 4-star kid from Ohio. Illinois, Cincinnati, Indiana and Purdue will be the primary competition for Golden.

RB - Hasan Lipscomb - fast kid from Houston (4.38 40). LSU, Tex A&M and Baylor have also offered

RB - Stepfan Taylor - another Texas RB we are after, received 4-stars from Rivals. Offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Tex A&M and others.

RB - Calvin Guyton - Lamar high school product (teammate of incoming freshman Eric Lair), Guyton has offers from Houston, Nebraska and the Gophers.

WR - James Green - 4-stars from Rivals, 6'2" who has offers from Ohio State, Auburn and others.

WR - Victor Keise - ESPN Insider says, "unbelievably productive and consistent and he absolutely catches everything." Decent size and speed but gangly and not explosive. We are currently in the lead for Keise and I expect he'll leave Florida for Minnesota.

WR - Terry Hawthorne - Ohio State, Illinois, Kansas, K State and others have offered Hawthorne.

OL - Marcus Hall - 4-star, Ohio native. Highly ranked but with Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Illinois and others on his radar this one might be tough to land.

OL - Patrick Ward - Illinois native, Rivals 4-star who has offers from most Big Ten schools and Missouri, Standord, Vandy and Virginia.

OL - David Barrent - big kid from Iowa (6'8", 290). Offers from Iowa, ISU, Nebraska, Illinois and others.

DT - Randal Dent - big DE, maybe a DT. Dent has offers from OK State, Tex Tech, Kansas, Arizona and Oregon.

DT - Chris Davenport
- one of the key guys we should all be hoping and praying for. Davenport is a 4-star kid who would likely be an impact player right away. Has offers from everybody. Florida, Florida St, Michigan, USC, Tennessee and many others. This will be a tough one but we can all dream for now.

LB - Willie Ferrell - Tallahassee LB with offers from Illinois, S Florida, Ole Miss, S Carolina, Iowa and others. 4-stars from Rivals.

LB - TyQuan Hammock - we are likely the leader for Hammock over Indiana and a few MAC schools. ESPN says, "hard-nosed run plugger with the physical tools and versatility to develop on the inside or outside at the next level."

LB - Frankie Telfort - 4-stars from Rivals and offers from many major schools. Florida, Florida St, LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, USC and Tennesse are among many others.

LB - Jon Bostic - no star rankings but offers from Florida, LSU, S Carolina, Purdue and others. At this point in the game stars don't mean nearly as much as who is offering actual scholarships to these kids.

CB - Damien Thigpen - 4.34 40, 4-stars from Rivals with offers from West Virginia, Tennessee, Auburn and others. Thigpen's speed would look good in Maroon.

CB - Michael Carter - ESPN has the Gophers as Carter's leader over teams with mascots such as Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes, Sooners and Tigers (LSU). That is very interesting and makes me want him more.

S - Artice Kellam - not highly ranked anywhere but might be a key to landing the Gulliver Trio (LB-Telfort and S-Crawford). Competing with Connecticut.

S-Frank Crawford - so far has only Duke and Ole Miss offering, the Florida kid has interest from many other top schools.

Ath - Brandon McGee - offers from absolutely everybody (28 offers). This would be a coup.

Ath - Ronnie Wingo Jr. - 6'2", runs a 4.4 from St. Louis. Has offers from Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Iowa.

This is obviously a long list and it is less than half of the names we have either offered or expressed significant interest in. I can't list everybody but these were some of the names that jumped out at me. Recruiting this summer should be great fun to watch and assuming a few more wins should help us to land a recruiting class at least as talented as this year's incoming freshmen.

Happy Birthday to me (belated)

I can't believe I missed it but Gopher Nation's birthday has come and gone.

On March 22 I put out my first post laying out why 2007 is the year the bandwagon starts taking fans as we get ready for a trip to Pasadena (eventually).

Coincidentally Gopher Nation's birthday is also the anniversary of Tubby Smith's hire. I remember actually typing out my wish list of coaching candidates. I spent probably 2+ hours coming up with names, some realistic some not, but that time spent was wasted when I read that Tubby Smith was hired. If my wish list was going to include names like Tubby Smith I would have also included names like Roy Williams, John Wooden or Phil Jackson. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed Tubby could be convinced to leave Kentucky, but he did and we are better for it. A much improved product on the raised floor, increased attendance and an exciting recruiting class on it's way.

I made it over a year and 2008 can only be better for Gopher fans.

April 6, 2008

Gopher Nation reporting from San Antonio

Obviously very few posts recently and I'm sorry for that but I have been unable to post as I've been in San Antonio since Tuesday. Technically I'm here to work but it has been a blast and I was even able to attend last night's semi-final games.

San Antonio is a great city and the Final Four atmosphere is outstanding. I get very little time to take advantage of it, but if you ever get a chance to attend a final four (whether you have tickets or not) you should absolutely go. I have been working 15+ hour days and don't get out but it is so much fun down here (and warm).

UCLA vs. Memphis - of course the athleticism of Memphis has been well documented as has the defense of UCLA. I expected the UCLA team defense to dictate tempo and contain the Tigers. Obviously the gameplan of spreading out the Bruins and using their bigger guards to score at will was the right move and Memphis won handily. But what most impressed me was the defense of Memphis. UCLA isn't a scoring machine but Memphis has not received enough credit for how they pressure and clamp down on people.

Kansas vs. North Carolina - incredible start but most of us knew you couldn't keep the Tar Heels offense down the entire game. I called my wife at half time and told her it would be a single digit game by the 10 min mark, but coming back from 28 is just too tough to overcome. Kansas was great all around in the first half but making nearly 70% of their shots kept UNC from running their break and made them work (even just a little) for their offense. And it has to be talked about on a Minnesota based blog how well Aldrich played. That first half was incredible and was a huge reason Kansas sustained their run when their big men had to sit.

Coach Sightings...

Roy Williams - Friday night walking to a nice restaurant and he accidentally strolled through the Kansas fans home bar. From what I saw they were all polite to him, at least more polite than Bill Self and the Jayhawks were to him on Saturday night. I have met him before but again was impressed with his classiness and demeanor.

Tom Izzo - seen several times with his wife just around town.

Bruce Weber - passed on the street and nearly begged him to let Minnesota win just once sometime soon.

John Chaney - Temple's historic coach was looking spry buying a camouflage hat at 1:00 am with his posse.

Mark Turgeon - another rival coach seen at the Kansas fan bar and was more than happy to receive beers from Jayhawk fans while taking pictures with them.

There are MANY more but those are the ones I recognized and saw.

Gopher connections...

Coach Taylor sightings - I have seen coach Taylor around several times, he has his own little entourage and seems to be enjoying San Antonio.

Joe Esposito - shook hands and he told me things will be better for us in the next few years, I hope he ain't lying. This experience has taught me one thing. When (yes WHEN) the Gophers make the Final Four, I will be attending the event even if I have no resources to get tickets.

Dave Thorson - head coach at Della Sall and I had a 10 min conversation. He was of course on coach Haskin's staff back in the day and I had him diagram a play I remember being run for Voshon Leonard when we would hold for the last shot of the first half. I have ALWAYS wanted to know that play and he was kind enough to run me through the X's and O's.

Clem Haskins is reportedly in town for his first Final Four in many years, but I have not been fortunate enough to run into him or Tubby for that matter.

Other sightings...

MIAC coaches - Augsburg, Bethel, St. John's, St. Thomas assistants and even a few MIAC refs that I recognized.

Div II National Champion coach Mike Leaf - Winona State's coach came through and I chatted with him briefly just congratulating his significant run and 2nd national championship in three years.

All in all I highly recommend attending a Final Four and vacationing in San Antonio. The Riverwalk is everything you may have heard and more.

Unfortunately we won't be seeing the talented and bear-rific Brianna in San Antonio any more.