Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.
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The process of updating TCF Bank Stadium for use by the Vikings is well underway, as we watched construction crews rip out the artificial surface field on Tuesday as they prepare to put heating elements in for the pro season.
The rip-out is expected to be finished by the end of the week, but by this morning there was already substantial progress with about half the turf gone. The new heated field is expected to be ready to go by June. The original field didn't have the heating elements because the regular-season in college is over in November and postseason games are played elsewhere, of course. In the NFL, the Vikings have regular-season games in December and potentially two home playoff games in January. Anyone who watched Brett Favre get smashed to the rock-hard turf in December of 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome roof collapse knows the danger of an unheated turf field.
In any event, the field looked far different Tuesday than it did Saturday for the Gophers' spring game. Have a look-see:
Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino had a hard time during his first season fielding the question of whether his team was living up to his expectations. Every time the question popped up, he didn't exactly avoid it, but it seemed as though he was so focused on the process that it was simply difficult to assess.
Now that the season is over, however, Pitino seems to have reflected on the notion of expectations in a couple of different ways -- addressing, in an end-of-year blog post, this past season and the one coming up.
Writes Pitino about expectations in his first season: "Did this year meet expectations? That is the most commonly asked question that I have received since our NIT championship. The answer would be 100 percent yes. As a coach your hope is that your guys compete and get better every day. I can honestly say 99 percent of our practices and individual instruction sessions were a success. The guys brought it every day and that's all you can ask."
And for next year? "Next year will be met with much higher expectations certainly than this year. Our guys will have to be prepared to be the hunted instead of the hunter. That won't be easy. We will need the Barn to be the toughest place to play in the country! As crazy as it sounds next year's schedule will be more difficult than this year's top ten strength of schedule. We will have to be ready to compete every night!"
Pitino also doles out some team awards in the post, so please have a look-see at the entire thing.
So, as some of you might have noticed, we haven't posted in these parts for a while. And as some of you might know, the reason is pretty simple: we had two weeks off after the March 30 birth of our first child, a daughter named Anabel.
She arrived after a somewhat lengthy process, but she did arrive right on her due date -- which also happens to be the same birthday as our wife Julie (aka the RandBall Better Half). She is healthy, sweet, and generally good-mannered (both of them are, we suppose), though Anabel did have her first rough night last night by keeping us up until about 3 a.m. with unexplained crying.
Babies are going to do baby things.
The past couple weeks have been somewhat of a blur. They also happened to be two pretty crazy weeks of sports. As such, here are very brief recaps of what we missed out on posting on, even if we barely remember a lot of it happening:
*UConn won the NCAA men's hoops title; the Gophers won the NIT title. Wisconsin lost in the Final Four. We were watching "Say Yes to the Dress" in the hospital during a couple of Elite 8 games since the person delivering the baby gets the remote, so don't come back to us for much more insight than that. (Side note: What is the point of that show? Nobody wins anything. There's not really a host. It's just basically watching people shop for a wedding dress.)
*Small sample size, but the Twins can hit but can't pitch? Is that right? As expected.
*Corey Brewer scored 51 points in a game? Also, the Wolves have defeated the Grizzlies, Heat, Spurs and Rockets while we were away, but they also lost to the Magic and Kings? Yeah, that sounds just about right for a season that makes no sense.
*Justin Holl. Seriously, one of the most amazing finishes to a game we have ever seen. No other way to describe a short-handed tie-breaking goal with 0.6 seconds left in an NCAA semifinal against a bitter rival.
*And the Wild will face ... Colorado in the playoffs? We can only hope coach Patrick Roy comes out of retirement to let in another Game 7 overtime goal.
OK, there was tons more that happened. But we need to save some of it for some longer posts on what figure to be plenty of long nights.
Gophers fans showed restraint, thankfully, when Minnesota later dispatched Southern Mississippi to reach the semis as well. The ridicule of Clemson is not meant to belittle the benefit of playing well in the second-rate tournament. After all, doing well in the NIT is certainly better than doing poorly in the NIT.
That said: These are the teams who weren't good enough to be granted at-large berths in the NCAA field. While we won't say they aren't among the top 68 teams in college basketball since there are certainly small-conference automatic qualifiers in the bigger tournament that aren't nearly as good as much of the NIT field, the point remains: these are the leftovers. Teams that were average in good leagues or good in average leagues. Storming the court is excessive.
But we would also like to offer a history lesson to any Gophers fan getting a little high and mighty this morning about not following the lead of Clemson's overly enthusiastic bunch: there is precedent for an NIT court-storming at Williams Arena. We know because we were there, and we have a written account to prove it further.
The year was 1998 -- one season after the run to the big-time Final Four. Both seasons have since been wiped off the record books, but not from memories. The Gophers were playing in the quarterfinals of the NIT against Marquette. More than 11,000 fans were inside Williams Arena -- double the number announced last night. Minnesota trailed by four points late before ending the game on a 6-0 run to grab a 73-71 victory.
And yes, after the dramatic victory, a large group of fans caught up in the moment -- including Michael Rand, a U of M student in his first senior year -- stormed the court.
Don't believe this happened? Here is the written Star Tribune account from then-beat writer Jerry Zgoda:
Sam Jacobson's final four points came on two determined drives through the lane that first tied the game and then won it, setting off a celebration that had Sinatra music spreading the news about the trip to New York, New York, and caused many in the audience of 11,842 spectators to storm the floor in a celebration fitting for a Big Ten title.
Thankfully, Twitter didn't exist back then. This incident has largely been forgotten, but we felt the need to set the record straight.
Really, the sentiment extends to so many of Minnesota's teams. With apologies to the dominant Lynx and Gophers women's hockey team, along with the contending-in-most-years Gophers men's hockey team, there are six teams in the Twin Cities that draw the most water: the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves, Gophers men's basketball and Gophers football.
We've already addressed Gophers men's basketball. Gophers football speaks for itself, with slightly above average finishes in the Big Ten serving as the apex of accomplishment in the last 40 years. The Twins had a run of six division titles in nine seasons from 2002-10, but their postseason failures diminished how history views that era. The Vikings under Dennis Green had a similar run of eight playoff appearances in 10 years, with the apex from 1998-2000, but since then it has been peaks and valleys. Wolves? Seven straight playoff one-and-dones, followed by the trip to the West finals a decade ago, and then silence since then. The Wild? The surprise run in 2003, a couple of nice regular seasons, and now perhaps the building of a contender but so far a team hanging on the playoff fringes.
This whole market is starving for a big-six team that doesn't live on the perpetual bubble. We can't hazard a guess right now as to which of them -- if any -- will be the one to step up and become a true consistent contender, but if and when it happens that team will own this state.
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