I’m grouchy this morning so I need to work it out of my system …
1. Mizzou’s incomprehensible second-half collapse at Mississippi State was hideous. There’s no justifiable excuse or rationalization for the Tigers getting outscored 51-22 after taking a 14-point lead in the first minute of the second half. This was a mess. The most glaring second-half statistics included: Mississippi State outscoring MU 17-0 on points on turnovers; Mizzou failing to get a single point from a bench player and Miss State shooting 68% and scoring on 56.3% of its possessions. Mizzou was clobbered on the boards. Didn’t get to the free-throw line.
It’s one thing to get your ass kicked by Tennessee. The Vols are No. 8 at KenPom and will be in the hunt for a spot in the Final Four. But this? Mizzou is among the most experienced teams in the nation, and a complete unraveling over the final 19 minutes to succumb meekly to an inferior opponent … well, this can’t happen.
The worst part may have been this: coach Cuonzo Martin couldn’t explain the meltdown. “The one thing I said to my staff after the game was, ‘What happened?’ he said via postgame Zoom conference. “I thought we had one of our better halves all season in the first half. We were really moving the ball, sharing the ball, defending, protecting the lane, getting everything we wanted out of the ball screen actions. Then in the second half … I couldn’t tell you. I need to watch the film to see exactly what happened. But we weren’t the same team.”
Missouri hasn’t played well in three of its last four games. That’s why it’s smart to always look to KenPom for a more accurate assessment of what this team is. And the Tigers are ranked No. 49 today at Ken Pomeroy’s site. I want to believe in this Mizzou team, and am always happy to offer praise … but their lapses are ridiculous. And Coach has to come up with the answers.
2. I’m thinking of starting a GoFundMe for the Cardinals, so let me know if you’d be willing to contribute and join me in this humanitarian effort to save the franchise from financial ruin. I hope my brothers and sisters in Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh will take the initiative to do their part to reverse the NL Central’s descent into extinction.
3. I don’t understand the forced drama over the Blues’ captaincy. I guess I’m silly, but I’m thinking that the condition of Vladimir Tarasenko’s shoulder is a helluva lot more important than the condition of his feelings over Ryan O’Reilly being chosen as team captain. Tarasenko played in 10 regular–season games last season. He lasted only two games in the Blues’ first-round knockout by Vancouver until the shoulder gave way again. He needs to reestablish himself as an elite, physically capable scorer. That’s the only thing that really matters. Get healthy. Get back on the ice. Score goals.
And what did Tarasenko do, exactly? He told a Russian interviewer that he’d been hoping to be named captain and was disappointed when the team opted for O’Reilly. WOW! I must have missed the part where No. 91 impugned O’Reilly’s character, ripped GM Doug Armstrong’s integrity, questioned the intelligence of coach Craig Berube, and demanded a trade from the Blues. (Sarcasm alert.) I looked for some more juicy details of this unsettling Blues’ crisis at TMZ, but all I could find was gossip about Kanye and Kim and rumors of their imminent divorce.
I FEEL LIKE GIVING A SPEECH ON THE BLUES:
Why are the Blues committed to the “Win Now” approach? Lots of reasons, of course. Ownership is always committed financially to building and maintaining a championship-caliber roster. GM Armstrong is resourceful and aggressive and willing to take on the challenge of reaching the highest standard of performance.
The Blues have a strong roster, excellent depth and a terrific mix of talent. There’s a more dynamic component to this 2021 group, with more scoring punch and sizzle. So of course the Blues are fired up — from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff to the players. And the timing is right for another reason.
The team’s young-talent pipeline is in a slowdown phase right now. That’s just the reality, and a natural occurrence for a highly successful hockey operation. The Blues have done an outstanding job of drafting and developing players, but assertive organizations aren’t afraid to trade prospects or premium draft choices for sensible roster upgrades that provide immediate help.
This philosophy has clicked for Armstrong and his astute hockey staff. Over the past nine seasons, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have won more games (410) than the Blues (407.) And the elusive Stanley Cup was finally seized by STL in 2019. The 2021 Blues are poised to make another run.
But a more shallow prospect pool is yet another reason why the Blues’ go-for-it push makes sense. According to Chris Peters, who tracks prospects for ESPN, the Blues’ system is ranked 28th among the 31 NHL teams.
“The Blues don’t have much in their system at the moment, especially after the graduation of Jordan Kyrou,” Peters wrote. “What they do have, however, are some good developmental players. On the blue line, Hobey Baker winner Scott Perunovich just got better and better over a three-year NCAA career, where he went from good to special in short order. The Blues are also still waiting on Klim Kostin to take that next step as a potential power forward, and he still looks like he can get there. Joel Hofer and Ville Husso are a pair of quality goaltending prospects, and recent first-round winger Jake Neighbours looks like a great stylistic fit for what the Blues do.”
Back to me: The situation is hardly bleak; the Blues have a few up-and-coming players to plug in. And there are plenty of fresh bodies on their core roster. This is hardly a creaking team. If anything the Blues have gotten younger through the retirements of Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen. But when the pipeline isn’t fully flowing — before it can be replenished — the Blues are doing the right thing by being proactive (Mike Hoffman) and cranking up the urgency.
READING TIME, 5 MINUTES
Latest update on the NBA exploits of St. Louisans Bradley Beal (Washington) and Jayson Tatum (Boston.) Let’s go to the STL file: Beal is averaging 30.6 points per game through his first seven games, which ranks third in the NBA … Tatum dropped 40 points on Toronto in his team’s win Monday night … if we’re counting raw point totals, rather than points per game, here are the top four in the NBA through Tuesday: Steph Curry (Golden State) 224, Jaylen Brown (Boston) 215, Beal 214, and Tatum (210) … speaking of Tatum and Brown, the NBA stats office notes that Tatum and Brown are the first Celtics teammates to each score 200-plus points over the first eight games of a season since Larry Bird and Kevin McHale did it in 1986-87.
Now that the Heisman Trophy has been awarded, I can reveal my three-line ballot. I voted for, in order, Alabama WR DaVonta Smith, Alabama QB Mac Jones, and Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. I strongly considered Kyle Trask, the Florida QB. Smith won the Heisman, as he should have. But the voting went with Lawrence second, and Jones third, and that is both fine and dandy.
At ESPN, baseball columnist Buster Olney is serving up his annual rankings of the Top 10 players at each position. In the starting pitching category, Olney put the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty in the “best of the rest” group. Olney had St. Louisan Max Scherzer (Washington) at No. 5 … no Cardinals relievers made the list, but St. Louisan Devin Williams (Milwaukee) was No. 2 … as for infielders and catchers, Olney had Paul Goldschmidt at No. 3 among MLB first basemen, Yadier Molina No. 9 at catcher, and former Cardinal Kolten Wong at No. 8 in the second base ratings … the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong didn’t appear on Olney’s top 10 shortstops list — not even in the “best of the rest” honorable mentions.
In his last five games Mizzou’s Mark Smith has made only 4 of 18 three-point shots and has committed 15 turnovers … pleasantly surprised (and I shouldn’t be) to see the Blues coaches give Kyrou an early chance to show he can be effective on the third line … back to KenPom: St. Louis U is ranked 31st today; Illinois is No. 7, Missouri State is No. 132 and Southern Illinois is at 189 … congrats to St. Louisan Peter Baugh. He did a fantastic job covering Mizzou for The Athletic, and his bosses have asked him to take over the Colorado Avalanche beat for the site.
Checking in on former Blues Cap’n Alex Pietrangelo in his first training camp in Las Vegas: in early practice sessions he was paired with rugged defenseman Brayden McNabb … Petro told Vegas reporters a story about the moment he realized his career was about to change in a dramatic way. It happened as he skated in St. Louis with his former Blues teammates: “You’re somewhere your whole career, and then you get kicked out and you’re dressing in the other locker room wearing a different jersey. So that was a bit weird,” … Pietrangelo indicated that he’s already feeling like a local. Why? Because he has little enthusiasm for exploring the Las Vegas Strip. When asked what’s different about living in Las Vegas, Pietrangelo said: “I guess how little the motivation to go down to the Strip is,” he said. “Everyone knows it for what it is, but now living here, I mean, the desire to go down there isn’t as much as I thought — other than for the food,”
Here’s a quote on Pietrangelo from LV coach Peter DeBoer: “He looks a lot better in our uniform than in a St. Louis uniform playing against us,” coach Pete DeBoer said of Pietrangelo. “He’s even more impressive in person, both on and off the ice. He’s got a great hockey IQ. He loves to talk about how he sees the game being played and systems. Real refreshing. We’ve had some good dialogue,” … As for the difference in style of play between the Blues and Golden Knights, Pietrangelo mentioned his new team’s fast pace in transition. “That’s new to me, playing with forwards that can generate this much speed,” he said. “I think it helps my game moving the puck,” Pietrangelo said. “As you continue to go and everyone starts finding their place and getting used to the systems, I think it’ll certainly make things easier for me and the way I want to play the game.”
THIS DAY IN ST. LOUIS PRO SPORTS HISTORY: First, let’s go back a day, to Jan. 5. (On Tuesday I was unable to finish my column on Tuesday; was handling a pet emergency.) On Jan. 5, 1937 the Cardinals signed Stan Musial, age 16, to a contract. Nice move … in and on Jan. 5, 2010 the Cardinals signed outfielder Matt Holliday to a 7-year deal for $120 million; the contract was the largest in MLB that offseason. And at the time, Holliday’s deal was the biggest in Cardinals franchise history … on Jan. 5. 1997 the Blues named Joel Quenneville as their new head coach … on Jan. 5 of 2001 the Cardinals signed free-agent outfielder Bobby Bonilla. You will recall that Bonilla’s strained hamstring (late in ‘01 spring training) opened a spot on the opening-day 25-man roster for rookie sensation Albert Pujols.
On this day (Jan. 6) in 1988, slugger Jack Clark left the Cardinals as a free agent to sign with the NY Yankees … in 1966, former Cardinals manager Johnny Keane died from a heart attack at the age of 55. Keane led the Cardinals to the 1964 World Series title but bolted to become the Yankees manager soon after the Cards defeated the Yanks in the seven-game World Series… in 2015, David Backes became the second Blue player to register multiple four-goal games in the Blues’ 5-0 win over Arizona… and in 1972, the Blues and Flyers engaged in their eternally famous brawl at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. (Four Blues were arrested including head coach Al Arbour) … as always, I want to thank @STLBlueshistory Twitter account for being such a valuable resource.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Jan. 5 birthdays: Former Blues tough guy Basil McRae is 60 … St. Louis Rams punter (1998-99) Rick Tuten is 52 … former Blues winger Steve Tuttle is 55 … as for the Jan. 6 birthdays: former STL Rams punter Sean Landeta is 59 … and an especially Happy 84th to Hockey Hall of Famer Dickie Moore, who finished his exceptional NHL career as a member of the 1967-1968 expansion Blues. Moore was part of six Stanley Cup champions in Montreal.
AS OTHERS SEE US
In his outstanding series on the greatest baseball players to be left stranded by Hall of Fame voters, Joe Posnanski of The Athletic gave attention to the cases for center fielders Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones. It’s a compelling read — and another reason to subscribe to The Athletic. You’ll have to read Joe’s full analysis on your own, but he essentially believes that (a) Edmonds was the far better hitter; (b) Jones was superior overall defensively but Edmonds made more spectacular plays; (c) both guys warrant induction. Posnanski doesn’t understand why voters failed to give more love to Jones and Edmonds and I agree.
“I think if you put one in, you put the other in,” Poz wrote. “It’s too close to call. Does that mean I’m going to cop out here and not tell you which player I would vote for? I probably should leave it here with two things I think we can all agree on: Jones is likely to keep gaining support and Edmonds got a raw deal falling off the ballot in his first try. But I’ll tell you: If I absolutely had to choose one, I’d pick Edmonds. It’s the tiniest of differences but I believe he was the better player.”
Thanks for reading The Bits ..
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