Category Archives: RandBall

I’m not sure anyone actually discusses sports around the water cooler, any more. Somehow, the idea of water-cooler conversations entered our collective minds, but with the rise of computer communication, the idea of having to wait to talk to a co-worker until you see him at the water cooler seems touchingly quaint. If water cooler conversations exist, though, sports fandom is fragmented enough that there isn’t just one “Game of the Week” that’s part of our common knowledge. (Except for the NFL, I mean. Everybody watches the NFL.)

With that fragmentation in mind, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to find multiple Games of the Week, listed out by sport. Maybe you know your co-worker loves racing, or golf; here’s what he or she is likely to be talking about come Monday.

Soccer: Minnesota vs. Edmonton, 7pm Saturday (Channel 45)
United has lost just one game in 2014, and has five wins and a draw in six home games – and that doesn’t even count home wins over Premier League side Swansea City and the Mexico U-21 team. Edmonton, though, has beaten high-flying San Antonio and tied powerhouse New York in the span of a week, and will be looking to do the same to the Loons.

Basketball: Lynx at Phoenix, 9pm Saturday (NBA TV)
Make your jokes about the WNBA if you wish, but your hometown team is an astonishing 24-6 and has won eleven straight – and is still a game and a half behind Phoenix, which is 25-4. The Lynx beat the Mercury last week at home, but now have to head south to attempt to repeat the feat – and Phoenix has lost just one home game all season.

Golf: PGA Championship, Saturday/Sunday (TNT / CBS)
The PGA is the major that looks most like golf does the rest of the year, something that’s confirmed by the red numbers that have been hitting the scoreboard at Valhalla. Maybe the course will toughen up this weekend… or maybe Rory McIlroy will shoot 264 and dust the field.

Euro Soccer: Arsenal vs. Manchester City, FA Community Shield, 9am Sunday (FS1)
Man City won the Premier League last year and Arsenal won the FA Cup, and so the two square off in the traditional season-opening exhibition between England’s two champions from last year. Meaningless in the standings, maybe, but both clubs can set a tone for the season to come with a victory.

Football: Cleveland at Detroit, Sat 7:30pm (NFL Network)
Remember when Tim Tebow was the biggest story in the league, except he’d never do anything interesting except play his hardest? Johnny Manziel isn’t like that. Johnny Manziel could do anything. This is why you’ll probably flip on a preseason football game today, just to check in; Johnny Football will be there.

Baseball: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee, Sun 1pm (TBS)
Clayton Kershaw is pitching.

Racing: NASCAR Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen, noon Sunday (ESPN)
Dale Jr. won last week, he said with an impossible-to-resist Southern accent, and is leading the Cup. But Jeff Gordon loves himself a trip around the road course at the Glen. Tune in to see what NASCAR looks like when it turns both ways!

This appeared at RandBall.

Game of the week: Wild at Colorado Game 5, 8:30pm, FSN. The advanced statistics say that the Wild controlled the puck in Game 3 and Game 4 for around 70% of the time; if you take into account only 5-on-5 time, that number jumps up to around 75%. In the two games, Colorado combined to loose 50 shots that weren’t blocked; the Wild, meanwhile, took 111.

It’s been two games of domination, in other words, so much so that the Wild are now topping all of the advanced metrics for the playoffs so far. The one caveat, though, is that in Games 1 and 2, the Wild’s numbers were much, much worse; it’s not too much to say that the Avs were the utterly dominant ones in the first two games.

After two games, it appeared that Mike Yeo was being completely outcoached by Patrick Roy, but in the next two, it was Roy that appeared to be taking a beating. As much as the people using the hashtag #lastchange on Twitter were joking, being allowed to match a checking line with standout Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon appeared to make a great deal of difference. Plus, the Wild were inarguably more physical in the second two games, in a series that’s rapidly making it clear that NHL officials have gone old-school and forgotten what an interference penalty looks like.

So, Game 5. Can the Wild still be physical? Can they somehow avoid having MacKinnon and company play against their worst lines? Will the refereeing crew be as exceptionally bad as every prior crew in this series? Tune in and find out.

What else to watch

7:00 tonight: United vs. Edmonton, Channel 45. Minnesota’s local pro soccer team is televising every home match this year, as David La Vaque so ably covers in this morning’s paper. Perhaps more importantly, though: can United continue its perfect start to the season, and add a third consecutive win to begin the year?

8:30 tonight: Oklahoma City at Memphis, ESPN. OKC is down two games to one and reeling against the Grizzlies, who may be the seventh seed, but whose slow-em-down regular-season strategy led them to 50 wins. A three games-to-one series lead might be insurmountable for the Thunder.

8am tomorrow: Liverpool vs. Chelsea, NBC Sports. Liverpool, once far and away the most dominant team in England, haven’t won a championship for 24 years. A win tomorrow over second-place Chelsea, and they’ll be just one step away. Chelsea, meanwhile, are concentrating on their chance to win the European Cup, and are fielding an under-strength team – but Chelsea’s second team is better than most squads’ first teams.

Noon tomorrow: PGA Zurich Classic, Golf Channel. So far in this tournament, Ben Martin has broken the course record with a 62, then put up a 67 in which he closed his first nine bogey-double bogey. I’m just excited to see what he does next.

NOTE: This appeared at RandBall.

More than a few Americans joined me in taking Thursday and Friday of last week off, mostly to lounge in front of the TV, watching college hoops. If you’re like us, you’re going to be doing the same thing today and tomorrow; I don’t need to tell you how to find those games, since you already have the channels memorized.

If you finally get tired of hoops, though, here’s what else to check out this weekend:

Noon: Twins vs. Yankees (FSN Plus and MLB Network). Kevin Correia starts for the Twins, Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees. I feel strongly that Tanaka needs to start going by one single name, like Ronaldo used to in soccer. Kevin Correia could also do this, too, but should you start suggesting names in the comments, I guarantee that those comments will get deleted.

1pm: Detroit at Wild (FSN). I have always enjoyed a matinee hockey game; there’s something truly delightful about getting your hockey fix and then walking outside and finding out that you still have eight or nine hours left over for activities.

9pm: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks, in Australia (MLB Network). It’s regular-season baseball, which we enjoy, as long as we ignore this game being played on the other side of the world and more than a week before the rest of the regular-season games begin.

6:30pm Sunday: Wild at Detroit (NBCSN). It’s pretty rare that you see two NHL teams playing a home-and-home weekend series, but that’s exactly what’s happening for Minnesota and the Red Wings this weekend. No doubt NBC Sports is hoping for a couple of brawls this afternoon that carry over into some bad blood for Sunday night’s game.

What to read this weekend

Joe Posnanski explored the legend of Louis Sockalexis, and the origin of the name “Cleveland Indians,” and whether the team was named to honor one of the great lost ballplayers, or just an early-20th-century racist caricature.

Also, Joe Prince-Wright of NBC Sports looked at Minnesota United’s preseason trip to the UK, and why our local soccer team traveled across the pond just for practice.

This appeared at RandBall.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall.

Every so often, we get a weekend that lines up perfectly for you to spend the entire thing inside, watching sports. This is one of them. Let me take you through it, in the form of a question for every event.

3:30pm: Toronto at Seattle, NBCSN. The MLS game of the week – featuring American stars like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – is just the culmination of a day’s worth of soccer on NBC Sports Network, following up three Premier League games, beginning at 7:40 am (Man City-Hull, then Sunderland-Crystal Palace, then Chelsea-Aston Villa). The thing is, there’s just an enormous number of choices all day today – high school basketball championships, college basketball conference championships, even the NHL (Pittsburgh-Philadelphia at noon on the NHL network, for example). Pick anything – but why not pick some soccer?

7pm: Wild vs. Columbus, FSN. It’s the playoff race, and every game is absurdly important, doubly so for home games against the Blue Jackets. Can the Wild prove that their three-game swoon last week is a thing of the past – and close their grip on a playoff berth?

8pm: Hopkins vs. Lakeville North, Channel 45. There are a few prep teams – St. Thomas Academy in hockey and De La Salle in football spring immediately to mind – that the public seems to have a certain emnity for. Hopkins hoops is certainly on that list, as well. But will the Royals win state yet again?

1am tonight: Australian Grand Prix, NBCSN. It’s the first race of the Formula One season, and while Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing have won four straight titles, an entirely new engine and set of regulations have them scrambling to actually complete laps in testing so far in 2014. Can Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes vault ahead of them – or can Ferrari return to dominance with Fernando Alonso and the entertaingly-grumpy Kimi Raikonnen on board?

8:25am Sunday: Manchester United vs. Liverpool, NBCSN. United are out of the running for everything this year, but can still play spoiler for teams like Liverpool who are still in the race. Can ManU disrupt their old rivals?

10:55am Sunday: Tottenham vs. Arsenal, NBCSN. Arsenal fight to stay in the title race, Tottenham fight to stay in touch for a possible Champions League berth. Which of the bitter North London rivals will come out of White Hart Lane happy?

12pm Sunday: Twins vs. Miami, FSN. Go ahead, watch baseball. Maybe plan out your garden for the year. Think about changing the spark plugs in the mower. And with the Twins looking terrible, does it really matter who is in the lineup?

2:30pm Sunday: Big Ten basketball championship, CBS. I like to hope that this game goes into quintuple overtime, thereby ruining the tournament selection show that comes right after the game. Would Jim Delaney run onto the court and declare the game a tie, in order to appease the all-controlling TV networks?

5pm Sunday: NCAA Tournament Selection Show. One question: will the Gophers be in? (Okay, it’s unlikely. But you never know.)

What to read this weekend

Still got time? Read this in-depth study of the ball for this summer’s World Cup, which has already been scientifically proven to knuckle less than previous editions. (It’s more interesting than it sounds. Trust me.)

More? How about Eno Sarris, describing what it’s like to go inside major-league clubhouses as a baseball stats nerd?

NOTE: This appeared at RandBall.

Game of the Week: Wild at Stars, 7:30pm today, FSN

It’s the first game of the new-look Wild. Matt Moulson will be on the ice for Minnesota, and can start proving himself worthy of what his new team gave up for him. Until then, though, we have time to argue about the trade – and for me to tell you that the Wild gave up too much.

Torrey Mitchell, I don’t consider too much; he was a third-line forward that ended up struggling on the fourth line, and if nothing else, it was a mercy trade, a chance for Mitchell to start over fresh. His departure also gives the Wild their second-best benefit of the trade – a chance to take Mitchell’s $2.5 million salary for next year off the books.

Mitchell leaving is more or less a wash with Cody McCormick, the tough-guy forward who is likely to replace him at the bottom of the Wild lineup. But it’s the two draft picks – a second-rounder this year, a second-rounder in 2016 – that make me wonder if the Wild got the raw end of the deal.

If all goes very, very well, Moulson will score eight, perhaps nine goals in a Wild uniform. He is a free agent when the year is up, which – given the Wild’s position in the standings – it is likely to be after one round of the playoffs. Minnesota will likely have to play St. Louis or Chicago in the first round, and Moulson or no, they’ll be heavy underdogs to either.

Second-round draft picks aren’t exactly the crown jewels of the hockey kingdom, but neither are they worthless. The second round is where teams find second-line forwards and second-pairing defensemen, late-blooming goaltenders and future Selke Trophy winners. All draft picks carry the risk of being busts, of course, but the higher you go, the lower the chance.

So here’s the trade: two future top-nine forwards for nine goals and $2.5 million, and an ever-so-slightly-increased chance of not exiting this year’s playoffs immediately. That seems like a lot of future to give up for a little bit of present, which is the type of trade that Doug Risebrough always used to make — which is part of the reason that Chuck Fletcher has been frantically digging in the prospect ditch for his entire tenure as general manager.

In other words, I wish the Wild hadn’t made this trade. But I also hope that they’ll prove me wrong.

What else to watch this weekend

11:25am today: Chelsea vs. Tottenham (NBCSN). Chelsea need a win to stay atop the league; Tottenham need a win to revive their chances of finishing in the top four. It’s a game between a team with everything to lose, and one with everything to gain; now, can Tottenham actually score a goal, for once?

Noon today / 7pm today: State hockey championships (Channel 45). There’s a short list of events that rise to the level of “cultural touchstone,” that are the kind of event that you can ask others about, whether you know they’re a hockey fan or even a sports fan. This is one of them. I recommend that you watch.

12:05 Sunday: Twins vs. Phillies (FSN). I’m going to keep putting baseball on the watch list until it warms up around here. Just one 65-degree day. That’s all.

What to read this weekend

Kyle Wagner of Deadspin went to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and came away with the truth about the current state of sports analytics: there’s great, useful data out there. But people are keeping it to themselves.

Game of the Week: Twins vs. Boston, 12:05pm today (FSN)

That’s right: today, you can sit around in your underpants and watch baseball. I give you permission to delude yourself and pretend that this is a sign of spring; in reality, we know that spring won’t be here until mid-May this year, and that the first televised baseball game of the year holds no special significance, even on the first day of March.

Still, though: try. You can go back to accecpting the icy realities and/or watching hockey later tonight. For now, watch some baseball, and enjoy yourself.

What else to watch

11:25am today: Liverpool at Southampton (NBCSN). Liverpool tries to keep the momentum going against the Saints, who nobody wants to play right now. This game is doubly perfect if you’re waiting for baseball to start, because you can get into it, then start flipping back to it between innings.

5pm today: Gopher hoops at Michigan (BTN) The Wolverines lead the conference; the Gophers may be just one win away from an NCAA tournament berth. Which Minnesota team will show up? The fun-and-gun team that beat Iowa… or the unmitigated disaster that lost to Illinois?

7pm today: Penguins at Blackhawks (NBC). I think the NBC’s expanded slate of outdoor games is one of the dumbest things the league has ever done. (The message: “Hey, remember that thing you thought was special? It’s not! Quit enjoying stuff, rube!”) Nevertheless, this game is at Soldier Field; it could be kind of fun to watch. Give it a chance.

3pm Sunday: Senators at Canucks (NBCSN). I’m not sure what’s more notable about this game: that it’s being played at BC Place, or that it’s televised in the United States despite not involving New York, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, or Washington.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall, your home for ROAD TRIP!

Game of the Week: The Olympics, NBC Family of Networks

Until Thursday, I was enjoying the Olympics immensely. Even the struggles of the USA curling teams didn’t bother me, because hey, curling is on TV again! The same was true of skiing, and sliding, and all of the other enjoyable sports that hardly ever make it on the TV except during the Olympics.

Then came hockey, on Thursday and Friday, and I was reminded of the most terrible thing about the Olympics, the thing that’s true of it and the World Cup and any other quadrennial event: if your team loses, you have to wait four whole years for redemption. And the truly awful thing is that, if you had already been waiting four years for redemption, like both USA hockey teams against Canada, and it doesn’t come – then your four-year wait becomes eight, and can become twelve, sixteen, a lifetime, all quite easily.

I abhor the idea of the NHL pulling its players out of the 2018 Olympics; there’s just nothing better than Olympic hockey, and whatever NHL-run World Cup of Hockey event would replace it just would not, could not, be the same. However, the only good thing I can think of is this: I’ll bet the Bettman-led money-grubbers would probably have it every other year or so, and then I wouldn’t have to wait whole huge chunks of my life for the USA to get another shot at beating Canada.

Anyway, there’s a whole bunch of stuff today and tomorrow, including the closing ceremonies tomorrow night if that’s your sort of thing. All that’s left for me, though, is this: I sure hope Canada loses at hockey.

What else to watch this weekend

5pm today: Gophers at Ohio State, BTN. Speaking of disappointing teams who lose at the worst possible time… Anyway, I suggest pairing this struggling local basketball team with another this evening:

8pm today: Wolves at Utah, FSN. It’ll be a whole nice evening of basketball. And if both teams lose, don’t worry: they don’t have to wait four more years for another game. (This hockey thing may be bugging me an awful lot.)

9am Sunday: Daytona 500, FOX. Sure, you might be one of the multitudes who are far too cool to ever watch something so absurd as NASCAR. That said, though, this is NASCAR’s biggest spectacle, in a sport that is America’s leading purveyor of spectacles, and so I recommend flipping it on.

1pm Sunday: Accenture Match Play, CBS. There are people playing golf right now, even as I type this and you read it. They are playing golf, and their cars are not covered in a two-inch layer of icy snow, and they can drive on the interstate without their cars going sideways with little provocation. Imagine that you might be one of them. Lying to yourself might be the only way to get through this week.

What to read this weekend

Still stuck inside? I recommend checking an examination of US women’s professional soccer, and why so many players are heading overseas for an entirely different – and more stable – experience.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall.

Game of the weekend: The Olympics

I could try to list out all of NBC’s coverage, which is spread across five networks, but I’ll do better just linking you to their official site and letting you work things out. I’ll also offer you the following scientific ranking of Winter Olympic sports:

  1. Hockey: Like basketball, the Olympics is the most important international competition. The game is better because the ice is bigger. And sometimes this happens to Canada. It’s got everything!
  2. Curling: Mesmerizing, and full of Minnesotans. You know how ESPN shows bowling on Sunday afternoons in the fall because everybody’s watching football? I wish they’d show curling instead. I would watch so much curling.
  3. Alpine skiing: NASCAR should have races like this, by which I mean time trials on an icy mountain.
  4. (tie) Bobsled / luge / skeleton: These are basically all the same sport.
  5. Speed skating (short track): Ooh! A pileup!
  6. Figure skating: This tends to be more popular with one gender than the other. I can’t quite figure out why. It goes in the same category as women’s gymnastics and the royal wedding, for me, but I realize that there are many people for whom the Winter Olympics are nothing but figure skating.
  7. Speed skating (long track): Are there people who watch the 10,000 meters at the Summer Olympics? I bet those people live for long-track speed skating.
  8. Biathlon: Something that involves carrying a gun around should be less boring.
  9. Ski jumping: Something that involves jumping off a mountain should be less boring.
  10. Snowboarding / freestyle skiing: I cannot shake the feeling that all snowboarding and freestyle skiing events should be broadcast only on MTV, be sponsored by Surge and/or OK Soda, and take place in 1997.
  11. Cross-country skiing: The Tour de France of the Winter Olympics, by which I mean way too long and incredibly boring to watch.

What else to watch

Today, 11:30am: Cardiff City at Swansea City (NBC). These teams are A) both in Wales, B) separated by just three points in the standings, and C) both in some danger of being relegated back into the second division. All of which should make for quite the game.

Today, 1pm: #10 Michigan at #17 Iowa. I wonder if Acie Earl is going to play in this game? I’ll bet he is.

Today/Sunday, 2pm: Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (CBS). Now that you’re into February, you have my permission to start dreaming about playing golf again. Forget that it’s snowing and ten degrees outside. Use your imagination.

Sunday, 1pm: Penn State at Gopher Wrestling (BTN). The Nittany Lions are #1 in the country; the Gophers are #3. There should be battles between two Top-10 wrestlers at six of the ten weights; it’s time for J Robinson’s men to prove whether they have what it takes to challenge Penn State at the top.

What to watch this weekend

Okay, you and I both know that we’re watching the Super Bowl tomorrow. We just are. It’s the secular Christmas / Thanksgiving, a time to spend with people you like and eat far, far too much awesome food.

So, let’s review a few things:

  • The game’s on FOX.
  • It begins at 5:30, but the FOX pregame show starts at 1pm.
  • You can also watch pregame coverage beginning at 9am on Fox Sports 1, but if you do this – like plan it out and plop down in front of the TV more than eight hours before the game begins – please get professional help.

What else to watch this weekend

5:30pm today: #17 Duke at #2 Syracuse (ESPN). Every March, I get excited about March Madness because, hey, basketball all day! I may not be too smart, though, because by my count there are 32 – 32! – men’s college basketball games on today. Anyway, you can watch all 32, or you can watch undefeated Syracuse try to beat their new conference rivals, and call that the best of the day. It’s up to you.

2pm Sunday: Phoenix Open (CBS). Let’s be honest, you do not want to watch the Super Bowl pregame show. You kind of think you do, then you remember how unbelievably boring it was last year, and the year before that, and every year stretching back until the dawn of time. So, heck, Bubba Watson started the week 64-66 in Phoenix; let’s hope he comes to the famed 16th on Sunday with the lead and, I don’t know, tries to roll a driver through the cacti and all the way to the green, just to entertain the crowd.

DO NOT WATCH THIS GAME: 11:30am Sunday, Red Wings at Capitals, NBC. Here’s the thing: whoever sets NBC’s marquee Sunday afternoon NHL matchups thinks you’re stupid. They think what you really want is endless matchups between Boston, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers. No Canadian teams. No teams west of St. Louis.

So, you know what? Forget them. If they want to show this matchup of two terrible Eastern teams, then all we can do is ignore them. I hope nobody watches. I hope this game loses to the Golf Channel in the ratings.

What to read this weekend

Friend of the blog Rocket sends along the following: Nobody cares that you don’t care about the Super Bowl. It’s true; if you’re not watching tomorrow’s game, just remember that absolutely nobody cares.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall, though it was written Saturday morning and Rand forgot to post it until Sunday.

Game of the Week: Wild at Nashville (6pm Sunday, FSN Plus)

Advanced statistical analysis is becoming part of every sport, but the thing that strikes me is how forehead-smackingly simple some of the conclusions turn out to be. In baseball, one of the great conclusions was that outs — wait for it — are bad, because after three of them your team has to start over from scratch.

Hockey, too, has seen an expansion of advanced analysis. Allow me to sum most of the advanced stats up in three sentences: A team must score more than its opponent to win. The team that does not possess the puck cannot score. The number of shots a team takes in a game — including the ones that are blocked or miss the net (depending on the stat) — is a pretty good representation of how often they had the puck.

Got that? The conclusion is that having the puck is good. Forehead-smacking, right?

I bring all of this up because I want to direct you to the excellent extraskater.com page for the Wild, which contains handy charts that show off a graphical look at the Wild’s season. On that page, you can also find the most telling stat for Minnesota: over the past three games before playing Colorado on Saturday, at even strength, Minnesota was getting out-shot more than two to one by their opponents. Winning streak or no, that does not bode well for the Wild.

What else to watch

Sunday, noon: Niners at Panthers (FOX)
3:30pm: Chargers at Broncos (CBS)

There is one reason that football, brain injuries and shortened lifespan aside, will never die, and here’s that expressed in one number: 47,100,000. That’s the number of people who tuned in to the Packers-49ers game last Sunday, the most-watched wild-card game ever. Or another number: 22, the number of NFL regular-season games that drew more than 25 million viewers, up from eight last year.

This is why ESPN has turned itself into a 24/7 NFL pregame show. This is why NFL talk is inescapable in any scenario. This is why football will never go away; it’s America’s favorite game and has the eyeballs to match.

6pm Sunday: Wolves at San Antonio (FSN). The Wolves are having one of the weirdest seasons I’ve ever seen. They are second in the NBA in offense and seventh in defense, and any ranking based on those two stats has them among the top six or seven teams in the league. Yet they’re tenth in the West and 18-18 overall, all because they either lose by two (0-10, famously, in close games) or win by 27, like they did Friday night. This game will likely be close. 0-11 or 1-10?