I thought this might be the winter when basketball clearly surpassed hockey in Minnesota in terms of local popularity and relevance.

I thought the Gopher basketball team could be quite good, and that the Timberwolves had to be better.

I thought the Wild would be mediocre and boring, and the Gopher hockey team would continue its slide.

So, I was 1-for-4. Thanks, Gopher hockey.

I was at the X on Tuesday night to write about Todd Richards and the boys, and while the game was sloppy following the All-Star break, the Wild won in a shootout because of great goaltending (Nick Backstrom this time) and strong D.

Which is the big change in the Wild this year. Last year, Richards wanted to create scoring with strong forechecking, but all that happened was that the Wild became soft on defense. Now, as Nick Schultz told me Tuesday morning, the emphasis is on playing strong defense and letting that create time in the offensive zone.

``Even a strong offensive team like Washington has figured out that you've got to play D,'' Schultz said.

The Wild aren't exactly dynamic, but Brent Burns is playing like a star, and they're mustering enough scoring (on most nights), and they have climbed into 8th place in the conference.

I'm surprised. Except by Gopher hockey.

-Richards said he plans to start Jose Theodore (American translation: Joe Ted) on Thursday in Colorado.

I don't think that makes sense from a competitive standpoint. Backstrom just had six days off and posted a shutout. So I'm guessing this means the Wild wants to market Joe Ted for a trade, knowing that the Dancing Bear Goalie, Anton Khodobin, could be the backup the rest of the season if necessary.

-Love the way Cal Clutterbuck plays. He hits everybody, and takes the cheap shots in return without retaliating and getting called for penalties.

-As someone who loves downtown MInneapolis and likes basketball, I'm in favor of renovating Target Center. I know, nobody wants to spend public money right now on non-essentials...but then I've never heard a politician or a non-sports fan ever say ``Now is a really good time to spend money on sports.''

There is always a creative way to get these things done.

If only the Wolves hadn't been such an embarrassment for the last five years, they might have more support.

If someone told you before the season that Kevin Love would put up All-Star numbers while leading the league in rebounding, Beasley would be an effective scorer and Darko would perform solidly, what record would have guessed they would have through 47 games? 

11-36? No, you would have guessed something like 20-27.

At least Memphis is coming to town, meaning we can celebrate the high point of the last five years for the Wolves: The Love-for-Mayo trade. What a landslide. Kevin McHale should get all the credit for that one.

-Said hello to Ron Gardenhire on Tuesday night at the X, and caught up with Matt Birk, who's living in Maryland these days but came home for a visit.

Two summers ago, Matt and Mike Morris put me through a hellacious workout at Mike's gym. Before that, I always thought projectile vomiting was a myth, or something you saw only in horror movies. Wrong.

Matt and I have a tentative date to reprise those workouts this summer. He wants to torture me further, and I want to prove I can get through an NFL player's workouts without losing food.

(I did finish the workouts last time around, I just didn't finish them with a full stomach.)



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Super Sunday, starting in The Barn