Oh, for the optimism of the preseason again. Only a few months ago, the Wild was an up-and-coming team that had fans dreaming of deep playoff runs. The Gophers men’s basketball team was the defending NIT champs, ready to take a leap in Richard Pitino’s second year. The Gophers men’s hockey team was coming off an NCAA runner-up finish with many key players back. And the Timberwolves figured to be competitive, even in a rebuilding year.
And now, in the words of former Colts coach Jim Mora: “Playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”
That, unfortunately, is where we are right now. Twitter follower @BillSou sent the stat of the month on Sunday: Since Dec. 30, those four teams are a combined 2-20. Within that misery, though, came an idea: creating odds on which team would, indeed, be the next to win a game. Three of the four play Tuesday night. The Gophers men’s hockey team, meanwhile, has two winnable games this weekend against Wisconsin. Here’s how we handicap the race to 1:
The favorite: Gophers men’s basketball. Even though their game — an 8 p.m. start at Williams Arena — will almost certainly end latest of the three Tuesday, a home game against Iowa presents the state of Minnesota’s best chance in the short term. The Hawkeyes have a nice road win at Ohio State already, but even decent Big Ten teams often defend their home court. Odds: Even money.
Strong candidate: Wild. Yes, everything is falling apart. And yes, Tuesday’s 6 p.m. game is a rough one (at Pittsburgh). But a win against the Penguins is not out of the question. And if all three teams falter Tuesday, the Wild is next up with a game Thursday at woeful Buffalo. Odds: 5 to 4.
Waiting in the wings: Gophers men’s hockey. They’re the speed skater waiting for the other three to crash and fall down, then coast to the finish line. If everyone else loses this week, the Gophers have a home series against a two-win Wisconsin team Friday and Saturday night that should do the trick. Odds: 3 to 1.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance: Timberwolves. They’re on the road against underwhelming Indiana, the weakest of the three opponents a Minnesota team will face Tuesday, and with a 6 p.m. start they could be the first game to finish. Then again, the Wolves have lost 15 consecutive games and now Shabazz Muhammad is out. That could change any given night ... or the streak could hit 20 before we blink. Odds: 4 to 1.