Friday, December 30, 2011

From Darling to Dumpster: Breaking down the Wild’s Recent Eight-Game Losing Streak

By Joey Cavalier

Let’s just say it has been a rough couple of weeks for the Minnesota Wild (and for the “Team of 18,000”). Only two weeks ago the Wild were sitting at the top of the NHL in the standings, and were finally being recognized as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. Now, only two weeks removed from the hype machine, the team is in danger of watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from the comfort of their own homes. To put it kindly, it has been an absolutely brutal stretch of games for the Wild.

So what has contributed to this free fall from the top of the standings? Well for starters, the Wild only managed to score ten goals during their eight game losing streak (that was finally snapped last night vs. Edmonton). The offense has been unable to create quality shots, and have been even less capable of burying the puck when given the chance. Yet, the biggest struggle for the Wild’s offense, at least in my opinion, is that no one on the squad has been creating the necessary havoc in front of the net. If you disagree, let me know the last time you saw a member of the Wild getting physical in front of the opposition’s net. When was the last time the Wild were screening and pestering the opposing goaltender over the course of a game? Successful teams station key players in front of the net to create offense, and it pays off time and time again (see: Vancouver Canucks). The Wild simply are not doing that. When the Wild were feasible on offense this year, it was when players were creating mayhem and opportunities in front of the opponent’s net.

The Wild defensemen are also to blame for the recent skid. They have been an absolute joke in terms of contributing offensively. Collectively, the Wild defensemen have scored only six goals on the year. Marco Scandella has three of the six goals, while Jared Spurgeon has two of the six. That means only three Wild defensemen have scored a goal on the year. That is just bad, plain and simple. It is hard to win games when all of the pressure to produce offense is placed on a group of banged-up forwards. When the offense is hurting, the defense must take initiative and generate offense. If the Wild are going to climb up and out of this chaos, they will need the defense to step up and score some goals. If they do not begin producing offensively, the Wild will never see the light of the postseason.

While injuries certainly factor into the Wild’s offensive struggles, the Wild have been dealing with injuries all year. So the injury excuse isn’t sufficient enough to explain the recent disappearing act on offense.

There are certainly other things that are contributing to Wild’s free fall (i.e. bad penalties, ineffective power play, defensive lapses, etc). But offense, or lack thereof, lies at the core of the Wild’s recent failures. Getting Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse back from injury will certainly help the Wild put more pucks in the net. But if the Wild do not get back to getting nasty in front of the net, setting screens, and burying loose pucks in and around the crease, they will never rise up to the top of the standings. If the Wild defenders do not begin to take shots and find a way to score goals, then the Wild will become accustomed to looking up to other teams in the standings. Luckily, the Wild still have plenty of games remaining to put it back together, and regain the reputation as a legit, Cup contender. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gopher Gab

By Jason Rossow

When Trevor Mbakwe (above, right) went down in the Championship Game of the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, I assumed the Gopher Basketball season was done. Since that night however, the Gophers have rattled off six consecutive victories over some decent competition. 

The player I’ve been most impressed with, and I feel is the Gophers best player (now that Mbakwe is done) is JUCO transfer Julian Welch (above, left). He makes good decisions with the ball, can get a basket when needed, and plays solid defense. Welch has averaged 14 points a game WOM (without Mbakwe) and scoring just 6.6 WM (with Mbakwe). With point guard being the most important position in basketball, I give the Gophers a much better chance at staying in games with Welch running the show. Most impessive for Welch is he is shooting free-throws at a .875 clip!

The other player that has stepped up the most WOM is Rodney Williams. One of the most gifted players to ever put on the Maroon & Gold is FINALLY showing signs of becoming a legit Big10 player. Losing Mbakwe has forced Tubby to put Williams at the 4-spot, getting him closer to the rim. It’s obvious that Williams (as of this moment) is a better power forward than small forward. WM, Williams was scoring a modest 7.7 per, but WOM he's pumped in 12 a game. Of course, when you have two dunks per game it skews the numbers, but Williams is shooting a crazy .613 from the field. Williams continues to get the Gophers national attention with his sick dunks that regularly crack the Top-10 Sportscenter plays of the night. Williams is the best dunker I’ve seen play for Minnesota, or the Big10 for that matter. Now if the rest of his game could catch up to his leaping/dunking ability, you’d have a lottery pick.

For the Gophers to have any success in the Big10, Ralph Sampson III is going to need to play well. Ralph is already a senior this year for the Gophers, and will probably go down as the being the most hyped, yet having the most underwhelming career you could imagine. Ralph continues to look like he’d rather be doing anything in life BUT playing basketball. His lack of effort, hustle, waste of a 6’11 frame, and waste of natural talent shouldn’t be confused with being a calm, focused, mentally tough player. 

Prior to Mbakwe going down, I had the Gophers projected around 5th in the Big10 and making an early exit from the NCAA tourney. Now, even with the six consecutive non-conference wins, I’m not a believer in this team. If they could go .500 in the Big10 I would be impressed. The Big10 is stacked this season, and could argue with the Big East as to who is the premier basketball league in America. With Ohio St., Michigan St., Purdue, Indiana, Illionis, Wisconsin and Michigan all legit Top-20 teams in the country, the Gophers just don’t have a great chance of being successful without their top player. Another thing that has me concerned is the lack of road games. To be successful in the Big10, you need to win some road games. That has been Tubby’s downfall every year he’s been here. So what do the schedule makers do for Team Tubby this year? Of the 13 non-conference games, 10 of them are at the Barn, and three of them at a neutral site. They have their first true road game December 27th when the travel to Illinois to open up Big10 play. After that night, we’ll have a good understanding of what kind of team the Gophers have WOM. Losing a top-5 Big10 player from an otherwise mediocre (at best) team is going to prove to be too much to overcome for Tubby’s squad. I predict the worst three letters in college basketball coming our way in Mid-March…… N. I. T.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weekly rankings take into account opponent, injuries and other incidental factors.

Ryan Boser highlights one quarterback who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals) at St. Louis
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Andy Dalton survived a hellish five-game stretch against the league’s top four fantasy pass defenses (Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston and Pittsburgh twice)...Click here to read the rest of the breakdown at Bruno Boys.

Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles) vs. New York Jets
The good news is that Michael Vick (ribs) made it through Sunday’s tilt with Miami without any setbacks. The bad news is that he was lousy, completing just 15-of-30 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and only running twice for nine yards... Click here to read the rest of the breakdown at Bruno Boys.

Joey Cavalier highlights one running back who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

Felix Jones (Dallas Cowboys) at Tampa Bay
Now that DeMarco Murray is on IR, Felix Jones gets another chance to prove he is worthy. He certainly did that last week when he shredded the New York Giants for 137 total yards in relief for Murray. This week Jones faces off against one of the most putrid defenses in the entire NFL. Everyone (yes, even the Jacksonville Jaguars) puts up crazy numbers against the Bucs. Expect Jones to fill in nicely for the injured Murray, and help carry your team to a victory. Felix is a low-end RB1 going into this weekend, based on his matchup and the opportunity for feature back duties. 

Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers) vs. Pittsburgh
If you are a Frank Gore owner, chances are you’ve had your backup plan in place for several weeks. Gore is hobbling into the fantasy playoffs, and health concerns will likely force the Niners to hold him back again this week (he only out-carried Kendall Hunter 10-to-eight last week), rendering him a very risky play. Pair that with a brutal matchup against a Steelers defense that is stout against the run, and Gore could be in for a rough day. If you have the depth, you may have better options than Gore. Otherwise, expect Gore to be nothing more than an average flex-play this weekend. 

Joey Cavalier highlights one wide receiver who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

Jabar Gaffney (Washington Redskins) at New York Giants
Jabar Gaffney has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners down the stretch this season. Last week Gaffney racked up 92 yards and a touchdown on six catches against the Patriots. This week he faces off against a New York Giants secondary that gave up three touchdowns last week against the Cowboys. Gaffney could be in for a huge day as the Redskins will be throwing the ball all game (likely playing a good old fashioned game of “catch-up”). If you have been bitten by the injury bug, and are digging deep looking for a fill-in, look no further than Gaffney. He should perform as a solid WR2 this weekend.

Santonio Holmes (New York Jets) vs. Philadelphia
Don’t let the three game touchdown streak fool you; Santonio Holmes is still not a dependable fantasy WR. Over his last four games, Holmes has been targeted 30 times, yet he has only reeled in 40 percent of those targets (not good). This week the Jets square off against the Philadelphia Eagles, who have been much better defensively in recent weeks. Holmes will likely get the Nnamdi Asomugha-treatment for a good portion of the game, and that alone caps his upside dramatically. You’ve probably made it this far without Holmes, so you should be able to continue on without him. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Weekly rankings take into account opponent, injuries and other incidental factors.

Ryan Boser highlights one quarterback who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

Matt Moore (Miami Dolphins) vs. Oakland
Matt Moore continued his strong play on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, completing 19-of-32 passes for a season-high 288 yards and one touchdown. In his past four games he’s been intercepted just once, and has two three-touchdown efforts to his name, so he’s quickly shaping up as a dependable fantasy option with very nice upside...Click here to read the rest of the breakdown at Bruno Boys.

Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) at Baltimore
Joe Flacco’s attempts, and subsequently, yardage, have been all over the board this season. The one constant has been the touchdowns. Or lack thereof. Flacco’s managed multiple touchdown passes just once in his last eight games, and things won’t get any easier this week against Cleveland’s top-tier pass defense... Click here to read the rest of the breakdown at Bruno Boys.

Joey Cavalier highlights one running back who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

LeGarrette Blount (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) vs. Carolina
Blount, once again, looks like he is going to finish the season strong for fantasy owners. Blount is looking for his third straight 100-yard game, and is beginning to show signs that he can be useful in the passing game (56 receiving yards in his last outing). Blount comes into this week with a dream matchup against the putrid Carolina run defense. Blount will likely get 18-23 touches and is a must-start this week. Start him and be rewarded!

Cedric Benson (Cincinnati Bengals) at Pittsburgh
After coming on strong over the last two weeks, fantasy owners will be looking to Cedric Benson for another big game. Benson squares off with a Steelers defense that ranks 6th against the run. Benson may be a workhorse, but the Bengals could easily abandon the run game if they get down early against the high-powered Steelers offense. Benson is worth a look as a flex-play, but if you are looking for someone to be a difference maker and win you a game, Benson is not that guy.


Brian Dezelske highlights one wide receiver who will "POP," and one who will "FLOP."

Eric Decker (Denver Broncos) at Minnesota
The native of Cold Spring, MN has been managed to score four touchdowns with Tim Tebow at the helm, which just so happens to be the same amount of touchdowns he tallied when Kyle Orton was the starter. The Denver Broncos have been dialing up more pass plays for Tebow as each week goes by, and the Minnesota Vikings have given up the most passing touchdowns in the league. That combination should make for a great homecoming for the former Golden Gopher. Decker should get at least one score, and might even top 100 yards in the process as the Broncos ‘Tebow’ the Vikings this Sunday.

Roddy White (Atlanta Falcons) at Houston
Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons square off against the Houston Texans in what should be run-heavy affair between the two. The Texans are the No. 2 pass defense in the league and are only giving up 6.0 yards per attempt, making it difficult for any offense to score through the air. It’s understandable to play him if you have him, just don’t expect a third 100-yard game in a row.

NOTE: Mario Manningham was downgraded after rankings were submitted, and is not expected to play.