Rand's Minnesota Sweet 16: Two unbeatens fall in Elite Eight

  • Updated: April 15, 2014 - 10:28 PM
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Gophers star Lindsay Whalen and her teammates celebrated their victory in the NCAA Midwest Regional final over Duke in 2004 in Norfolk, Va.

Photo: File photo by KYNDELL HARKNESS • kharkness@startribune.com,

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Brief recap: This is the “Sweet 16” of what I determined to be the 16 greatest single-season teams in Minnesota sports history. I limited my prospective candidates to teams that play at the highest possible level of college or professional sports. There were 16 numbers chosen at random for the 16 teams. The team assigned No. 1 “played” the team assigned No. 16, and so on. I set these up at random instead of truly “seeding” the teams because, well, this would be pretty boring and predictable if I seeded them. The first matchups were played Tuesday; now we’re down to the Elite 8:

1976 Vikings vs. 2003-04 Timberwolves: Winner — 1976 Vikings. Some might argue this wasn’t even the best Vikings team of all-time. The 1969 squad had a better point differential; the 1975 team that lost on the Drew Pearson push-off is considered by others to be more dominant. And even though the 1998 team missed the Super Bowl as well, a 15-1 regular season is nothing to sneeze at. That said, the 1976 team went 11-2-1 and in this bracket took advantage of a couple of favorable matchups (defeating the 2006 Twins in the Sweet 16). The team is aided by a bit of a lifetime achievement sentiment. This was the fourth Vikings team in eight seasons to reach the Super Bowl.

2012-13 Gophers women’s hockey vs. 1987 Twins: Winner — 1987 Twins. It takes a lot to defeat a team that never lost. But as great as the 41-0 NCAA champs were, in the end there was just no way to go against a team that brought Minnesota the major pro sports championship of its generation. The 1987 Twins were more flawed than the Gophers, but their season resonated more.

1991 Twins vs. 1940 Gophers football: Winner — 1991 Twins. Another undefeated Gophers national champ goes down? I based this on two main criteria: First, there was the drama of the World Series. Many people know I was a die-hard Braves fan at the time. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the series for what it was: the best I have ever seen, no matter how much it hurt at the time. Second, there is the depth of competition. My sense is that being dominant in baseball in 1991 was harder than doing so in college football in 1940.

1949-50 Lakers vs. 2003-04 Gophers women’s basketball: Winner — 2003-04 Gophers women’s basketball. Again, I’m arguing this based on depth of competition. The Lakers teams of that era were dominant, but the NBA had only 11 teams in the 1949-50 season. The Gophers, meanwhile, had a run to the Final Four in a crowded women’s basketball landscape that captured the imagination of the state. Never forget: Lindsay Whalen was named Star Tribune Sportsperson of the Year in 2004, the same year Kevin Garnett was NBA MVP and Johan Santana won his first Cy Young Award. That’s how big she and the Gophers were a decade ago.

Coming Thursday: The Final Four — 1976 Vikings vs. 1987 Twins; and 1991 Twins vs. 2003-04 Gophers women’s basketball.

michael rand

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