It’s really a shame how poorly the Minnesota men’s basketball team have played in February; their record this past month is 1-6. It’s very possible that they have allowed a certain NCAA tournament bid to slip from their grasp.
They have lost seven of their last eight games and four in row at home. The Gophers are 17-11 this season and have dropped three straight games. They have the Timberwolves flu: With the game in hand with minutes left to play, they virtually have given away several games. “To finish first, you must first finish.”
The Gophers have lost the ability to finish games; they have virtually handed games to Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. At the end, it’s been painful to watch. Tubby Smith, as great a coach as he has been with 450 wins and 186 losses over 19 years, has been victimized by critical defections. Players he has allowed to leave the program include guards Devoe Joseph and Justin Cobb.
Not having a point guard with experience kills chemistry and team confidence. The injury to senior point guard Al Nolen over three weeks ago has really hurt this team. Smith is just 38-41 in Big Ten games and 80-50 at Minnesota.
Smith in his fourth season has guided the Gophers to back- to-back NCAA appearances and somehow has found a way to win 20 or more games for 17 straight years, three years straight at Minnesota. It’s the longest streak among active coaches in college basketball. That means the rubber has got to hit the road.
Because with two regular-season conference games left at Northwestern and home to Penn State, the 6-10 Gophers in conference need at least three more wins. Last year, the Gophers reached the Big Ten Tournament championship game. To qualify for the NCAAs a third straight year under Smith, they might need to win the Big Ten Tournament to secure the automatic bid.
Fitz Notes & Quotes
The 14-46 Minnesota Timberwolves play their home games at Target Center. Target’s motto is “expect more, pay less.” The Timberwolves’ motto for fans is “expect more and get less.” They are dead last in the West and are 0-12 versus teams in their Northwest Division — of the Western Conference — against Oklahoma City, Portland, Denver and Utah. That fact points to how far away they are as a competitive franchise: Everything starts with winning in your own division.
This is true in spite of how great All-Star forward Kevin Love has been this year: 46 straight double-doubles — the best such streak the NBA has seen since Moses Malone in 1978-79 — and the league’s top rebounder by a wide margin at 15.4 per game.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as a guy like Moses Malone.” said Love. “He was a guy my dad always talked about. I watched some tape of Malone and my dad would say, ‘Score the ball and rebound the ball.’ And if he [Malone] did not have a great shot, he would throw it off the glass and go get it back. It’s great company to be in, and I’m extremely humbled by it.”
Love is related to the famous Mike Love of the Beach Boys. He’s Kevin’s uncle.
Love and promising-but-often-injured forward Michael Beasley give the Timberwolves a solid good one-two punch. This team must develop a defensive mindset; they can’t stop people — they are last in scoring defense allowing 108 points a game.
While covering the NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles, it was good running into former Gopher great Mychal Thompson. I remember when the football Gophers were searching for a replacement for fired coach Tim Brewster. Thompson said, “They need to hire a young Black guy with a lot of energy and passion for recruiting; that’s what they should do.”
Maybe the University of Minnesota should seriously consider putting a statue of Thompson outside historic Williams Arena. After all, he’s the only Gopher in the 100-plus years of Big Ten basketball history to be selected the number-one overall pick in the entire NBA Draft back in 1978 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Thompson is the longtime radio voice in Los Angeles for the back-to-back NBA Champion Lakers.
NBA game ratings on TNT and ESPN are up nearly 30 percent, yet the NBA owners are headed to a collision with the NBA players’ union on the next collective bargaining deal. The current agreement expires June 30. TNT’s coverage of All-Star Saturday Night was seen by the largest audience ever in the 26-year history of All-Star Saturday Night: 8.1 million total viewers.
Tiger Woods’ inability to win golf tournaments (zero in 2010) is hurting the PGA Tour big time. No athlete since Michael Jordan has had such a profound effect on moving the TV ratings meter like Woods. And remember, Jordan played years ago in the NBA in a team sport. He and Woods are recognized as dominant champions and are both identified as winners. Woods had such a controversial off year in 2010, and golf TV ratings were down 30 percent because he has not been at the champion level we’ve grown to expect.
Time is running out!
The five most watched events in U.S. TV history are the last four Super Bowls and the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983. The just-completed NFL season was the single most successful year that any sports league has ever had. Twenty four percent more people watched the average NFL game last year than five years ago.
Yet the NFL owners have decided to risk it all with this crazy debilitating threat of a lock out. Most people have issues with government intervention into the NFL labor dispute. A recent poll showed that Congressional or federal involvement in negotiations was opposed by nearly 99 percent. Last year Drew Brees was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and this year New England quarterback Tom Brady became the first-ever unanimous NFL MVP.
The Vikings could lose former Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice. He has turned down a multi-year contract offer from the Vikings. Rice has decided to test free agency, or the Vikings could tab him a restricted free agent before the current collective bargaining agreement expires March 4.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Larry welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.