RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Gophers seventh-most likely team to make college football playoff, says U of Wisconsin statistical model

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated October 22nd at 3:53pm 280082212

gophersbadgersAn associate professor in the engineering department at the University of Wisconsin has created a statistical model that is VERY favorable to your Gophers football team (and not the Badgers, by the way).

Laura McLay’s “Badger Bracketology” is an attempt, she says, to forecast which four teams will make the inaugural college football playoff this season.

The methodology, at a glance:

I start with the outcomes of the games played so far, starting with at least 8 weeks of data. This is used to come up with a rating for each team that I then rank. The ranking methodology uses a connectivity matrix based on Google’s PageRank algorithm (similar to a Markov chain). So far, I’ve considered three variants of this model that take various bits of information account like who a team beats, who it loses to, and the additional value provided by home wins. I used data from the 2012 and 2013 seasons to tune the parameters needed for the models.

The ratings along with the impact of home field advantage are then used to determine a win probability for each game. … My method is simple, but it gives us everything we need without being so complex that I would be suspicious of overfitting.

McLay actually uses three models, with 10,000 replications for each one. The most useful tool is the “ensemble,” which takes the average of the three models.

This is the first week for which the model has churned out projections for the playoff. It starts off about as expected, with Florida State as the most likely, followed by Mississippi, Mississippi State and then Alabama. Next you find Georgia, then Notre Dame and then …

Minnesota.

Yes, the Gophers are No. 7 in the model right now. That is to say, they are the seventh-most likely team to reach a four-team college football playoff for a national championship. Seventh. Yes, that’s right out of the money. But it’s so close to the money. They’re ahead of Michigan State (No. 8), while Wisconsin is nowhere to be found in the top 25.

Much of the season is yet to be played. So much can happen. But just know that, as of now, a simulation from the University of Wisconsin says things are looking good for the Gophers.

H/T: Fasolamatt.

Wednesday (Bennett a true wild card for Wolves) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated October 22nd at 1:25pm 280050892

rubioWhen the Wolves were finally able to announce the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers, two of the three pieces they received in return were easy to categorize.

Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, was the clear jewel of the trade. He was the deal-maker and the deal-breaker. His superstar potential made it possible for the Wolves to feel good about dealing an established star player.

Thaddeus Young, a power forward with credentials, came over to fill Love’s spot in the lineup, contribute points and rebounds, and help mentor some of the team’s younger players. He was the known commodity in the deal.

The third piece, though, was Andrew Anthony Bennett. He was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, then had a disastrous rookie year. The only thing you could say about him was that he had the potential to be a boom or a bust — a true wild card. But his potential was intriguing, nonetheless.

In early preseason action, Bennett — now healthy — has shown off some of those skills that led the Cavs to make the power forward the top pick a year ago. He plays with energy, he has a nice mid-range jumper and he could be a fan favorite. His nickname, “Big Daddy Canada,” is also fantastic.

We don’t imagine a strong contribution from Bennett will make much of a difference in the bottom line for this year’s Wolves team. It’s still a group that will struggle to win 35 games and likely will settle in more around 30 by season’s end.

But if Bennett can continue to contribute when the real games start, he certainly has the opportunity to make the Wolves better in the future — and to make the Love trade look even better as well.

TFD: U's Pitino responds to Nebraska coach's plea for more 'personality'

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated October 21st at 6:49pm 279984152

pitinoAt Big Ten media day last week, Nebraska coach Tim Miles referred to some of the Big Ten coaches as “stiffs,” adding with a smile: “Richard Pitino. Come on. Let’s have some of that personality we know you’ve got in there somewhere, buddy.”

The Gophers’ Pitino, with a smile on his face, too, said this in response at Gophers media day on Tuesday: “No comment. … He should know better. … He’s just challenging me and trying to bait me. I’m not buying his thing. But what I love about Tim Miles is that he’s the exact same way in a  press conference as … that’s just the way he is. We can’t all be as funny as Tim Miles, and I’m OK with that.”

Good times, good fun. We don’t imagine either coach is upset. Just some friendly banter. Here is a video clip of both Miles and Pitino.

The one-year anniversary of the Josh Freeman Game: An oral history

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated October 21st at 2:31pm 279946672

freemanOne year ago today, a group gathered at Legends Bar and Grill in Minneapolis to watch the Monday Night Football game between the Vikings and Giants. The impetus for the gathering, aside from camaraderie, was a mixture of curiosity and real excitement for the debut of new quarterback Josh Freeman, a midseason pickup the Vikings decided to throw into the mix only days after signing him (after Freeman’s release from Tampa Bay and introductory, whisper-filled news conference in Minnesota).

What transpired was a debacle of a game – the low point in a lost season, a low point for the Vikings, period. Freeman, who had one very good season and one pretty good season with Tampa Bay, looked completely lost. He completed 20 of 53(!) passes for 190 yards. Despite the game being within two scores throughout – the Vikings lost 23-7 – Minnesota attempted just 14 running plays. Freeman never threw another pass for the Vikings and is not currently with any team.

To commemorate that experience, we gathered the core people who watched the game one year ago for a reunion Monday at Legends – also during Monday Night Football, this time a much better game between the Steelers and Texans. We put together an oral history, of sorts, of the experience of watching the original game a year ago. Be aware that the conversation veered off-topic so many times we lost count. Maybe it was more fun to be there than to read this transcript. But we hope you enjoy it.

The participants are:

Aaron Gleeman (@aarongleeman), a noted baseball blogger and brunch enthusiast. (First picture, right)

Maggie LaMaack (@MaggieLaMaack), a millennial who in 2013 was watching her first full season of Vikings football. (First picture, left)

Jim Andrews (@realjimandrews), a dedicated Vikings fan who played the game. (Second picture, left)

Jake Nyberg (@jakenyberg), who set the tone Monday by ordering a vodka Red Bull. (Second picture, right)

Michael Rand (@randball), who is us, which is to say, me.

Here we go:

gleemanRand: You were legitimately excited for the game before it happened, right?

Andrews: I was excited for the prospects of an actual Vikings quarterback, that being Freeman. But I didn’t expect them to throw the ball, what, 41 times?

Rand: 53 times.

Andrews: 53 times! That’s an insane amount. Was Adrian Peterson playing?

Gleeman: Yes! That’s the research I did. Freeman threw it 53 times and Peterson ran 13 times for 28 yards.

Nyberg: It almost seems like someone was trying to prove something that night.

Rand: You think? But who?

Nyberg: My crosshairs would go on Leslie Frazier. He’s saying, “You wanted this guy on my team, you want to start him? I’m going to have him throw it 53 times.” He was daring (Rick) Spielman to fire him.

Gleeman: I found a good quote from Frazier after the game. He said, “I thought about taking him out, but we were really close.” And Sherels did have a punt return for a touchdown early on, so it was close for a long time. That’s how we got our mystery shots.

Rand: Did you turn down the mystery shot?

Gleeman: The waitress wouldn’t give it to me, and I was very upset. But then we decided, “well, they just scored. They’re probably going to score four or five more times, so we’ll have more chances.”

Rand: Because of Josh Freeman.

jimandrews

Nyberg: This vodka Red Bull, by the way, wasn’t part of my routine last year. But it should have been. Because I’m soaring right now.

LaMaack: I think my only real contribution to that day was finding a picture of Josh Freeman dressed like the Michael Jackson Thriller cover.

Rand: I forgot about that! By like the third quarter, that was all I cared about.

LaMaack: Why did he actually take that picture? Because it had an actual tiger in it.

Rand: Maggie, last year was your first year as a Vikings fan. How did that game make you feel?

LaMaack: I have watched one Vikings game so far this year – the one where Teddy Bridgewater did a good job.

[Three minutes of discussion of all that has gone wrong this year]

Nyberg: I love how the Vikings have managed to remain such a train wreck that we’ve gathered to talk about something that happened a year ago, and we’re all in on this year. It’s unbelievable. Twins fans can only dream of such a mess.

Rand: Back to Freeman, why do you think they played him in the first place?

Gleeman: Yeah, I mean, if Frazier is daring Spielman to fire him, what’s his end game there?

Rand: Well, his end game happened. He got fired.

Gleeman: Do you think he thought Spielman would get fired and he would stay?

[Long discussion of whether Raffi, the musician, is still alive. He is.].

[Long discussion of whether the Gophers can contend in the Big Ten. There is optimism among the group].

Nyberg: Did we go totally off the rails here? I feel like we’re totally off the rails with the original discussion.

Rand: It’s OK.

Gleeman: There really were no rails.

Rand: We can only talk about the Josh Freeman game so much. I didn’t expect us to talk about it for two hours. This was an experiment. But I do want to hear from Nyberg. What was your expectation going into that game last year?

Nyberg: I thought, to me, how in the world could they just get him for nothing. This guy is a 10-year franchise quarterback, minimum. He was young. … OK, but my real expectations were what your expectations have to be for anything for the Vikings now: the unexpected. Honestly, I’m glad right now that Teddy Bridgewater right now looks raw and young. Because if he was lighting it up every game, you would expect the ACL injury to be two weeks away. You’d be like, “here it comes. Wait for it.” When the highs start to creep towards fun, boom. Here’s what I wish we had the benefit of: I wish I could live a mirror image of the last 7 to 10 years in another NFL market to find out if this is just a Vikings thing or is it an NFL thing. Someone gets arrested (for example) for shoplifting a carabiner. Is that just a Vikings thing, or does that happen everywhere?

Andrews: You mean, do other teams handle their problems head-on instead of dancing around them?

[Discussion of Ray Rice. Inconclusive.]

Rand: Maggie, why did you even start watching the Vikings in the first place last year?

LaMaack: I don’t even know. I think I was briefly dating a guy the season before and he was always watching football. I just started watching it.

Rand: That was quite a year to pick to watch every Vikings game.

Gleeman: It really was. Initially, I blamed (Maggie) for the season. But they’re bad now, too.

LaMaack: I think I’ve just been busy this year. I haven’t been actively trying not to watch.

[Good story from Nyberg about underage drinking in Wisconsin].

Rand: OK, one last try to get us back on topic: I just remember sitting here last year, thinking, “What is going on?”

Gleeman: We must have been excited at one point.

Rand: We congregated. It was a Monday Night game and we were like, “Josh Freeman. Let’s watch this.”

Gleeman: And it was a great turnout, obviously, with five of us.

LaMaack: Also, it was one of the first times I had met Aaron, and he had his Blackberry.

Gleeman: I sat down, and I was like, “Hey Maggie,” and she just stopped and gave me this look and said, “Is that a Blackberry.”

Rand: When did you get rid of the Blackberry? That was your signature for a while.

Gleeman: Like, March.

Rand: That was a big day. With the game, though, I do think we were excited and intrigued. This wasn’t like we were going to get together and make fun of the Vikings.

Andrews: I remember there was a guy in a Wild jersey playing Big Buck Hunter. He was vaping all night. Everything seems so weird when you look back on it.

Tuesday (Rose Bowl irony) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated October 21st at 4:42pm 279919952

smokyjoeThe Gophers have not played in the Rose Bowl in more than half a century. Yes, their last appearance in the “Grandaddy of them all” was in 1962, when they defeated UCLA 21-3.

Since then, the game has been the pie-in-the-sky benchmark for a return to prominence for Minnesota — the game fans dared to dream about. One coach, Joe Salem, even (infamously in retrospect) posed with a rose in his mouth for a billboard. The Gophers never even managed to finish above .500 in conference play under ol’ Smoky Joe. That was more than 30 years ago.

Lou Holtz conjured images of Pasadena. Glen Mason’s best teams ultimately were woulda coulda shoulda teases that accomplished plenty but couldn’t make a really serious dent in Rose Bowl talk. Tim Brewster had a patch of Rose Bowl grass. No, really.

And here we are today. It would be getting way ahead of ourselves to talk about the Rose Bowl, even in a normal year for the game. The Gophers under Jerry Kill are 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, and the next two games on their schedule (at Illinois, home vs. Iowa) are certainly winnable. Their final three (Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin) are more than daunting.

But still, at 3-0, this is the kind of start that would allow most fans to have at least a realistic dream of the Rose Bowl in most years. Indeed, we’ve heard chatter from plenty of them already about that very bowl game.

However, a lot has changed about the game — and getting to the game — in recent years. Unlike many of the seasons in the great Rose Bowl drought, getting there can be complicated.

This season, in particular, it would require being one of the top four teams in college football. That’s because under the new four-team playoff system, the Rose Bowl hosts one of the national semifinals every three years. And this happens to be one of those years.

The Gophers are still in the running for the playoff (think of that, for a moment), but even a Minnesota team that fell short of the playoff but wound up winning the Big Ten would get bounced to a different bowl this season.

Everyone within the program — fans included — would gladly accept that outcome because it would still be the best year for the program since the 1960s. But there would still be some unfortunate irony if the Gophers finally had a season worthy of the Rose Bowl, only to find out they picked the wrong year to be great.

Again: nice problem to have, should it happen — and a long way to go before it becomes  a reality. Just remember it will take a lot more to smell roses this season than in past years.

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