A quick Nugz for you on the morning before tomorrow brings us Thanksgiving- AND Hanukkah. A rare double-treat for those who celebrate both. As always, travel safe if you're going to see family or just somewhere warm for the long weekend.
Gopher hoops had a strong first half yesterday in Maui but ended up getting thumped by Arkansas 87-73. Minnesota led 40-35 at the half led by Malik Smith who had 13 at the break. The wheels came completely off in the second though as the Razorbacks started on a 10-0 run and never looked back. The Gophers finish the tourney today vs Chaminade at 130 pm Central on ESPNU.
Rumors abound that Richard Pitino and the Gophers will open next season against his dad Rick and the Louisville Cardinals- on an aircraft carrier.
Gopher football is preparing for their final regular season game this Saturday vs a really good Michigan State squad. Tyler Mason of FSN says a Gopher offense that struggled last week vs Wisconsin will see an even better defense in East Lansing:
The Spartans have been stingy against both the pass and the run, leading the Big Ten in both defensive categories. Opponents have gained an average of just 59.4 yards per game on the ground and 177.3 yards through the air. Michigan State is third in the conference in interceptions with 14 -- four each by junior safety Kurtis Drummond and senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Despite the loss last week, Mason also reports head coach Jerry Kill will remain in the booth vs the Spartans:
"Right now, I think that's the best thing to do for our football team," Kill said. "The communication and everything is very good right now. Managing the game, all that stuff has been very good. We'll continue to do that at this point."
While both of the ESPN B1G blog writers predict a Michigan State victory on Saturday, one of the BTN predictors thinks Minnesota will pull the upset. I like what that guy is thinking.
Here's 5 Things You Need to Know about Saturday's matchup with the Spartans. A sixth thing is that kickoff is 11am on BTN.
Before you head out for the Thanksgiving weekend, the "Should Jerry Kill have cancelled the UNC series" debate was rekindled a bit in the past week. Perhaps not surprisingly it was done by "Cupcake City" Glen Mason himself, who argues that Minnesota's current position is proof that Kill made the right call. Mason made this argument last week in his weekly appearance on the Dan Barreiro show on KFAN, then Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press quoted Mase saying the same thing (seriously almost word for word) yesterday:
"I find it very interesting -- all the criticism that was going on early about the University of Minnesota's decision to drop North Carolina -- and then all of a sudden you win four straight Big Ten games, and you've got eight wins and you're really playing for something in November, no one's worried about that anymore," (Mason) said.
As a refresher, at Kill's request The U paid UNC $800,000 to cancel a two game home-and-home series between the two schools. Minnesota replaced the game that was scheduled for this season with a roadie at New Mexico State (which, if nothing else, gave us the joyous pleasure of AggieVision), and will begin a home-and-home series with TCU beginning next season.
Does Mason have an axe to grind on this subject? Absolutely he does, as he was hammered continuously in his time here for his weak non-conference scheduling, and you can feel the glee as he makes his point to Barreiro in the radio interview. But does he have a point? As much as I hate to admit it, I suppose he does. I still hate the idea of paying a school to not play them, especially one like UNC who isn't exactly a juggernaut right now (though they're not bad either at 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the ACC). But no matter what state North Carolina's program is in, Minnesota had a better chance to beat New Mexico State than the Tar Heels, and if your argument is that the Gophers are more prominent now at eight wins overall instead of potentially seven, then Mason has a point.
The issue at the time was two-fold: playing a quality BCS-caliber program should increase the awareness of Gopher football for the average fan much earlier in the season, but is it worth the trade off of potentially losing that game and risking not going to a bowl game? That was essentially Kill's point in cancelling the UNC series- right now the program just needs as many wins as they can get as getting bowl eligible, no matter who the wins come against, is much more important for the short and long term development than getting potentially more exposure playing a better program and potentially losing. And to that point, it's hard to argue with him thus far.
Something else that should be mentioned is the larger issue that no matter who the Gophers schedule in the non-conference, I don't believe the general public/casual sports fan in Minnesota is really going to start paying attention and fully supporting the program until they start beating Wisconsin and Iowa again, and someday make a real run at a division title. Mason's issue wasn't so much his crappy non-con scheduling, it was that year in and year out, his teams would win 6-8 games and play in a lower tier bowl. He beat EVERY good B1G school in his tenure- including the rival Badgers and Hawkeyes- but could just never put it together for a full season. They would win a big game, then turn around and crap the bed the next week, or the week after that. Without fail. For all Mason did for the program, he was fired not because his of who he wanted to play in the non-con, but because he just couldn't get the program to take the next step.
As a fan who pays money for season tickets, I would like to see better non-con slates than we saw this year. But then again, I'm going to the game no matter what, and a successful B1G season and wins over our rivals are definitely more important than playing a good BCS school every year out of conference. And if Kill believes that getting to that step means easier OOC scheduling to win more games, then I'm totally fine for it for now. But like Mason, he'll be judged overall on how he does in the B1G much more than who he schedules.