The State of Hockey?

Why can't Minnesota become the State of Hoops?

Gophers hockey is muddling through uninspiring seasons in a conference no one cares about. The Wild eked into the playoffs only because of the mediocrity of the conference in which it plays.

The Lynx are the winningest team in town, and now share a new, state-of-the-art practice facility with the most promising team in town.

The Lynx's practice court abuts the Timberwolves', and the latter is starting to resemble the pre-championship Lynx.

Remember, the Lynx weren't always a powerhouse teams measuring themselves by championships. The Lynx didn't win a playoff series in their first 12 years of existence. Cheryl Reeve became the coach in 2010, the same year the Lynx traded for Lindsay Whalen.

When Maya Moore arrived in 2011 to team with Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Whalen, the Lynx won three titles in five seasons.

Reeve and Whalen are two of the winningest and knowledgeable basketball people you can find. As they begin their title defense with a preseason game in New York on Thursday, they couldn't hide their glee at seeing the Wolves becoming theoretical contenders.

When Glen Taylor hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach, Reeve texted Taylor, who owns the Lynx and Timberwolves, and his wife.

"I said, 'Congratulations, this is big,' and I'm incredibly excited about it, selfishly," Reeve said Tuesday. "For two reasons. One: I can learn a lot. Two: I like playoff basketball, and I want to be there in person, not watching on TV."

Reeve has won three titles in five years and wants to learn?

"Thibodeau would be the leader of that, and I hope the staff he puts together would be an extension of him as a teacher," she said. "He's got a great track record. He's not just a defensive coach. He has a different way of doing things. I think it's just what the Wolves needed."

Whalen was born in Hutchinson and played for the Gophers. Last winter, she didn't play internationally so she could preserve her body for another title run and the Olympics, so she attended a handful of Wolves games.

"I watched pretty much every one, but most of them I watched on TV," she said. "I like the replays, and getting to hear [Wolves analyst and Lynx assistant] Jim Petersen.

"I'm very excited. We're both in the same facility, and it's really cool. You don't want to use a cliché, but it really is a family atmosphere. They want to see us do well, and we want to see them do well."

In 2010, the Lynx finished 13-21. In 2011, they went 27-7, then won seven of their eight games in the postseason.

Last season, the Wolves finished 29-53.

"I would be really surprised if this wasn't quick," Reeve said. "If they can play defense to match the offense they showed last year? You're at what, 45 wins, maybe? You're a playoff team, that quick. That's what I think Tom's going to be able to do."

Whalen knows that Minnesotans gravitate toward winners. She didn't call that bandwagon-jumping. She described it more as a matter of good taste.

"We're the State of What Teams are Engaging and Successful," Whalen said. "I love all sports. When the Vikings are rolling, everybody's all in. When the Twins have gone to the World Series, everybody's all in. We've been to the Finals four times and the place is packed, and you can feel the energy from the whole state.

"Our state rallies around teams that win and play the right way. Hopefully we've done that for the women's basketball community."

They have. A Lynx game is one of the more underappreciated sporting events in Minnesota, given the world-class talent on the court and how the players treat the fans.

"We're very mindful of our position in the community," Whalen said. " 'We try to be great role models for kids. We try to do the right things."

It doesn't hurt that they're the winningest pro team in town.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com