Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where everything changes quickly. Let’s get to it:
*About 24 hours ago, I advocated for the Gophers men’s basketball team to force-feed Gabe Kalscheur more three-pointers in an attempt to gain offensive efficiency and snap out of its skid.
Amir Coffey had other ideas. He scored half of Minnesota’s 62 points in a badly needed victory at Northwestern. The Wildcats are not a good team, but a Big Ten road win of any kind is a welcome and helpful sight.
The Gophers tried 14 threes and made five — right around their conference averages — with Kalscheur going just 1 for 2 from long distance. He might have to do more work as the competition stiffens, but for now the outburst from Coffey (which included 3 for 6 from long distance, another welcome development after he entered the game below 30 percent from behind the arc) was enough to steady the ship.
The Gophers have two daunting regular-season games left: home against conference co-leader Purdue and at Maryland. A split in those games and a win in the first round of the Big Ten tourney should be enough to get in. Anything more than that will certainly be enough. Anything less than that will leave Richard Pitino and co. needing some St. Patrick’s Day luck on Selection Sunday.
The Gophers will finish no worse than eighth in the Big Ten and are likely headed for a single bye and the 8-9 matchup in the conference tournament against Illinois or Rutgers (both are currently tied for ninth, a game ahead of Penn State and Indiana). Minnesota split with both Illinois and Rutgers during the regular season — part of the reason their tourney perch is precarious right now.
The opportunity is there. We’ll see if the Gophers can seize it.
*In a recent post-Super Bowl survey, 63 percent of respondents knew that the big game last month was played in Atlanta. That compares with 54 percent surveyed last year who knew the game was in Minneapolis.
*Minnesota United begins Year 3 of Major League Soccer play on Saturday in Vancouver — with the home opener slated for April 13 at the brand new Allianz Field. Good MLS predictions are hard to come by, but let’s just say there’s a greater sense of optimism among Loons fans that this year will at least feature a realistic battle for a playoff spot.
*In back-to-back games, both close losses for the Timberwolves to Atlanta and Indiana, Karl-Anthony Towns scored a combined 79 points on 27 for 48 (56.3 percent) shooting. The rest of the Wolves’ starters combined for 83 points in those two games on 29 for 82 (35.4 percent) shooting.