A good Monday to you. I hope your week is off to a positive start. I’m properly caffeinated, have done my research-type things, so let’s get busy …
THE 5 BEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND IN STL-RELATED SPORTS
1–Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the Blues lineup Saturday in Los Angeles and was in fine form. Abundant energy, snapping off shots, unflinching about physical contact. In 16 minutes and 25 seconds of all-situations play, Tarasenko had four shots, had two takeaways, delivered a hit, and absorbed three hits. Sorry to get fancy on you, but Tarasenko’s Corsi Relative percentage was a +23.35 — meaning that the Blues’ Corsi-For percentage was 23.35% better with Tarasenko on the ice at 5 on 5. That’s in comparison to their Corsi-For when Tarasenko was off the ice. Because of three surgical procedures on his left shoulder, this was Tarasenko’s 11th regular-season game since the Blues won the Stanley Cup.
2–The Blues picked up a point in LA to extend their productive road trip. Sure, I hated that the Blues gave away a 3-0 lead Saturday, and I thought hard about leaving their Saturday-night overtime point off this list. But I’m looking at the bigger picture: a 4-0-1 record in the California Dreaming Trip that ends Monday night in San Jose. Not only that … but the Blues’ 10-2-1 road record translates into an .808 road points-percentage that ranks No. 1 in the NHL.
3–The Cardinals’ outfielders started hitting, and it’s never too early for that. In this instance the difference between spring training or regular season doesn’t matter to me. These dudes have a lot to prove in 2021, and a large percentage of the lineup’s success or failure depends on a cast of aspirants that includes Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson.
4–Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum represented St. Louis, and their respective teams, in the NBA All-Star Game. In a fun-and-loose basketball romp — as this game should be — the two Chaminade Prep grads and friends played for Team Durant, which lost by 20 to Team LeBron. Beal (Wizards) led Team Durant with 26 points in 31 minutes. Tatum (Celtics) scored 21 in 17 minutes with 7 assists and 4 steals.
5–The Fighting Illini closed out a dynamic regular season with a late comeback at Ohio State for a 73-68 win. Coach Brad Underwood’s special team is 11-1 since Jan. 16. The Illini, 20-6 overall, won 16 of 20 games in the Big Ten — the toughest conference in these United States. Guard Ayo Dosunmu returned after missing three games with a broken nose, donned a mask for protection, and dropped 19 points on the Buckeyes. And freshman guard Andre Curbelo? Oh my, what a player.
THE 3 WORST THINGS THAT HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND IN STL-RELATED SPORTS
1-Cardinals starting pitcher Miles Mikolas was pushed back again, held out of a planned weekend bullpen session because of a crotchety right shoulder. In observance of The Cardinal Way as it pertains to injury information, manager Mike Shildt assures us that everything is fine. Nothing to worry about here. In related news, Walt Jocketty says Mark Mulder is set to rejoin the Cardinals’ rotation in two weeks.
2–Jake Odorizzi signed with the Astros, who quickly made a deal after losing starting pitcher Framber Valdez (broken finger) for an indefinite period. The Astros’ rotation already was thinning before Valdez went on the 60-day injury list. So Odorizzi, from Highland Il., was a good-timing addition. Happy for him, of course. I realized there was only a very minor chance of the Cardinals signing Odorizzi. But until he signed elsewhere, I wondered if the Cardinals would surprise and move in on him. Wasn’t meant to be. The Cards love their starting pitching. They love their pitching despite multiple setbacks for Mikolas, and the sudden inability of K.K. Kim to avoid getting blasted in his two exhibition starts. (He complained of low velocity after the first outing last week.) Let’s hope the Cardinals will still be loving the starting pitching in, say, September.
3–A really disappointing weekend for SLU and Mizzou basketball. St. Louis U’s NCAA Tournament hopes were deflated by a 71-53 loss to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 Conference semifinals. SLU was hammered inside by the superior Bonnies, who made 61% of their two-point shots (compared to 40% by SLU.)
But “deflated” doesn’t mean destroyed. After a four-game winning streak that put them back on track the Billikens flattened out by going 3-3 down the stretch. It isn’t over; the Bills still have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Both Jerry Palm (CBS) and Joe Lunardi (ESPN) have SLU on their “First Four Teams Out” list. SLU’s bid needs some assistance; stumbles by Colorado State, Xavier and Boise State would help. On the other hand — there are a bunch of teams on the bubble, right there with SLU, that have a chance to gain entry should other tournament contenders fail. So root against Syracuse, Utah State, St. John’s and Ole Miss.
For what it’s worth, SLU (No. 44) was a spot above Mizzou (No. 45) in Monday morning’s NET Rankings. And Missouri is considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Mizzou faded late in their 86-80 loss to LSU at home Saturday. The Tigers (15-8 overall) finished the regular season with an 8-8 record in the SEC. That isn’t bad considering that the SEC is the nation’s third-best conference according to KenPom’s metrics. But we all know that MU should have done better in conference play. And now it’s onto the SEC Tournament, with Mizzou as the No. 7 seed. In the bracket projections, Palm has the Tigers as a No. 6 seed; Lunardi slots them as an 8 seed.
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More From Albert Pujols: I’m late on this (sorry) but in his Q&A with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Pujols was asked about reuniting with the Cardinals in 2022 should Albert decide to play beyond 2021. (Providing that the NL implements the DH in 2022.)
Pujols: “That’s like the million dollar question. Everybody asks me that. Hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is the last year of my contract, and I feel like I can play. I feel good. My body feels great. Mentally, I feel like I can continue to play. But I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. Who knows?”
The Missouri Valley Conference : Go Loyola-Chicago! Porter Moser has a fantastic team that can go far in the NCAA Tournament … I still can’t believe that Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin is retiring; he’s been a tremendous leader for The Valley and a powerfully influential diplomat for St. Louis in attracting NCAA events to our town, especially hoops. And Doug is easily on my short list of the classiest people I’ve had the pleasure to know in St, Louis sports.
More On SLU. Watch Out For the Usual Shenanigans: of course, there is always a possibility of St. Louis U being snubbed just because, well, NCAA selection committee gonna do the NCAA selection committee thing. And most ties go to the power conferences. Hey, have to get Jim Boeheim in there, right?
With that in mind, this tweet from Stu Durando who covers the Billikens for the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday, relaying something that coach Travis Ford told SLU broadcaster Bob Ramsey: “a reputable source indicated that SLU will be hurt in selection process because of only 20 games played. Others in top 50 of NET with that few are St. Bonaventure with 19 and Florida State, UConn and Virginia Tech with 20.” (Durando declined to include Colgate.)
“Lukewarm Seat” For Blues Coach Craig Berube? My opinion, no way. Not a chance. But it’s a possibility (kind of) according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, who put together a “Coaching Hot Seat Index” ranking. The lukewarm-seat category is the second-safest among Wyshynski’s groupings.
“The coach that led St. Louis to their first and only Stanley Cup in 2019 is in the second campaign of a three-year contract,” Wyshynski wrote. “He’s no longer coasting on the goodwill that moment created, but it would take a real downturn in the Blues’ fortunes to see him dismissed before that contract runs its course — like missing the playoffs in the West Division, where the Blues have a 39% chance of qualifying at the moment? Still, injuries should provide him enough cover if St. Louis misses the cut in a truncated season.”
Drew Lock Is Facing Competition In Denver: The Broncos drafted Lock out of Mizzou in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Lock started four games as a rookie, with the Broncos going 4-1 in his starts. But last season Denver went 4-9 in Lock’s starts, and he finished 32nd among qualifying quarterbacks with a poor 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold. In a recent briefing, Broncos GM George Paton and head coach Vic Fangio confirmed plans to bring in competition to challenge Lock. It could be a rookie; Denver has the 9th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past … we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”
Added Paton: “Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on. But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”
Lock received an enthusiastic endorsement from Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick. “I love Drew,” Patrick said in an interview with longtime Denver media insider Mike Klis. “Going forward I think he understands what he needs to do. It doesn’t have anything to do with his football skills. And it’s good to see. I’ve been in Denver for a couple weeks and his approach to the game has been 100 percent different than it was during the season. He’s one of the first guys in the building. One of the last guys to leave. He’s doing the small things to be a great player in this league. And understanding what you’re not good at and getting it up to where your talent is. I think this talk about bringing in other quarterbacks has motivated him. And I think he should have a big season this year (2021.)”
Trent Frederic Is Stirring It Up In Boston: Yet another St. Louis native is earning his way to a regular spot in the lineup. The Bruins love our town’s Frederic — of the Frederic Roofing family — for his physical, aggressive demeanor and developing skill. Frederic, 23, made his NHL debut with 15 games for the Bruins in 2018-2019, then spent all but two games of the 2019-2020 season in the minors. This was primarily designed to get Frederic some polish and experience playing center or left wing.
In 22 games this year, Frederic has 3 goals and an assist and leads the NHL with 43 penalty minutes. He isn’t an enforcer in the traditional sense but fits the preferred hybrid model: a genuinely tough player who can drop the gloves to stand up for his team — while also being capable of providing offense.
You probably heard about Frederic’s tango with Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin in a game last week. There were heavy hits, plenty of yapping, and an invitation to fight. (Ovechkin declined.) Frederic stayed on Ovechkin until Ovechkin snapped, spearing Frederic to draw a two-minute penalty. And just like that, Frederic got one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history to sit in the penalty box during a tie game. Advantage, Bruins.
Frederic has fought Washington cheap-shot scoundrel Tom Wilson twice in recent weeks (including this past weekend.) And earlier in the season a chirping Frederic baited New Jersey’s P.K. Subban into scrapping, but the officials separated them before punches were thrown.
“I’m going to (expletive) beat the living (expletive) out of you!” Subban yelled at Frederic as the two skated face-to-face in an exchange caught on mic.
As Subban skated away Frederic shouted, “Post another (expletive) workout video, you (expletive) loser!”
“He’s come into the league and decided he’s gonna be an agitator to a certain extent, but keep his discipline, so it’s not putting us at a disadvantage,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said via Zoom postgame after the Frederic-Ovechkin follies. “I think he’s done a good job with it. We like that out of him. It’s a little bit of abrasiveness. It’s still welcome in the game. He can continue to bring it as long as he doesn’t get off his game.”
Said Bruins winger Brad Marchand: “I think he’s been doing a great job so far. He’s in people’s faces every single game. He’s tough, plays physical. I think he’s been doing a great job. He’s really come in, earned his spot. He competes hard every day. He’s a great kid in the room. Brings a lot of energy. So I think for him, he wants to toe the line, but he’s been really good at that. He doesn’t seem to cross it very much. He’s just learning the game, and he’s been doing a great job so far. We definitely feed off him. I really liked his game so far this year and continue to grow.”
Watch Out, Here Comes Vegas: The Vegas Golden Knights are trying to seize firm control of the Western Division, having won six straight games going into Monday’s match against Minnesota. The division points race looks tight; Vegas is on top with 33, followed by the Blues (31.) But that’s misleading because Vegas has played four fewer games than St. Louis so far. In points percentage Vegas (16-4-1) leads the NHL at .786 … in the division the top four are Vegas (.786), Colorado (.636), St. Louis (.620) and Minnesota (.614.) … former Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo had to leave Saturday’s win over San Jose after blocking a shot and is considered a game-time decision for Monday night. In his last seven games Petro has a goal and 5 assists and is a +9 while averaging 24:57 of ice time … after playing two in a row against Minnesota the Golden Knights head to St. Louis for two games — Friday and Saturday at Enterprise Center … after tonight’s game at San Jose, the Blues will play 21 of their final 30 regular-season contests against Vegas, Colorado or Minnesota … and the Blues will face those three teams 17 times in their final 20 games.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.