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It starts with what you might call a "first-world problem."
See, we wanted to watch the Gophers (7:30 p.m. start vs. Purdue) more than the Timberwolves (7 p.m. at Oklahoma City), but we also wanted to go to the gym. And for some reason, while we do get Fox Sports North at our gym, we don't get the Big Ten Network (here is where you can insert the sound of the world's tiniest violin playing a sad song in honor of our terrible plight).
So this is what we decided to do: watch the first half of the Wolves game at home, while also sprinkling in some of the early Gophers action; head to the gym at halftime of the Wolves game so our treadmill time would coincide with the second half (workouts go so much faster when we have a vested interest in a game); and record the rest of the Gophers game to watch when we got home.
It's not a perfect plan since we would much rather watch a game like Gophers/Purdue in real time and tweet along with the rest of you rascals, but it seemed like the best way to cover as many objectives as possible.
The Wolves game was fine. We had low expectations even as Minnesota -- minus Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer -- hung close through the half and much of the third quarter. But it did feature one of the all-time frustrating plays, when Gorgui Dieng was ruled to have goaltended a three pointer that was CLEARLY going to be long, actually even putting it through the basket as time expired in the third quarter. Instead of a tie at 77-77, OKC had a three point lead, and the rest was about to be history. (By the way, plays like that and the three-pointer that A.J. Price bounced in at the final buzzer to make the final margin 106-97 are the reasons you should never bet on basketball. The line for most of the day on that game was Wolves +10, so Price's late bucket absolutely influenced money changing hands).
But still, we arrived home thinking the effort by the Wolves was pretty good considering who wasn't playing. It's hard to win in Oklahoma City even at full strength.
Then we put the Gophers game on, and we're not sure if anyone else had this happen, but we must have yelled GRAB THE BALL at least 15 times during the course of a game in which it seemed as though Purdue nabbed 90 percent of the critical loose balls and offensive rebounds. That was part of the frustration. We were willing to forgive all of it when Austin Hollins improbably forced overtime and then DeAndre Mathieu improbably forced a second overtime. But by the time a third overtime rolled around ... our recording ran out. Yep, 2 1/2 hours was not enough. It usually is, but in this case it was not.
So a game in which we had invested plenty of yelling and witnessed so many highs and lows ended for us with 4:35 left in the third overtime, which as it turns out would have been better for the Gophers. We read about the ill-fated final OT session, tried to decide whether it was just better that we hadn't seen it, and then headed off to bed.
Final tally for the night: Countless swears, two losses, one workout.
Blame division: 60 percent to the Gophers for general sloppiness that couldn't be overcome by occasional scrappiness; 30 percent to us for hatching a plan that ultimately failed; 10 percent to poor Gorgui.
Then you will really like this interactive map at Mode Analytics that breaks down where Division I men's college basketball players come from, by state. The relative quantity is shown by the coloring in the image above, but the real stuff you want is on this link, where the map becomes interactive.
Of greatest interest to us, being provincial, is how this state compares to others nearby with Big Ten teams.
And, well, it's a little disheartening.
There are currently 48 Minnesotans playing D-I men's hoops right now.
Wisconsin, with a comparable though slightly higher college-aged male population, has 73.
Iowa, with nearly 100,000 fewer college-aged males, has 53.
You'll notice Minnesota is a lighter shade than a lot of important nearby states: Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Perhaps part of the reason is there is only one Division I men's college basketball program in the state, while others have multiple schools. Perhaps part of the reason is that hockey is huge here, and good athletes choose that sport whereas they wouldn't as much in, say, Illinois.
Or maybe Minnesota just doesn't have as many good basketball players, per capita, as a lot of states and schools they compete against in the Big Ten.
Wednesday night was a "make us believe in you" game for the Gophers men's basketball team -- the kind of game, let's face it, that often goes the wrong direction for Minnesota sports teams.
You know what we mean: a team without major expectations gets off to a nice start, and suddenly the fans get interested. Then a big-time opponent comes to town, and everyone is ready to go all-in with a victory ... but instead a letdown happens.
Think 2003 Gophers football ... think 2006 Twins in the playoffs ... think any number of Vikings seasons.
Maybe it's because Richard Pitino isn't from around here, but my goodness that was not a performance Wednesday that indicated any type of fear, tightness or weakness. It had the perfect scenario for a letdown when Andre Hollins left the game with an ankle injury less than a minute in, but instead the Gophers were never seriously threatened in dispatching the Badgers 81-68.
DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker were fantastic. Malik Smith, Austin Hollins and Oto Osenieks -- yes, Oto -- were terrific. The Gophers got no points from Elliott Eliason and just two early ones from Andre Hollins, and yet they still cruised.
If you wanted something to believe in, this was the game to get you there.
Maybe it's fool's gold. After all, the Gophers looked pretty ordinary in a lot of stretches of their first six league games, going 3-3 in the process. But it just feels like a team that's improving. It feels like a team that will defend its home court with poise and confidence. It feels like a team that is primed to make the NCAA tournament, and perhaps even be dangerous once they are there.
Maybe we should know better than to believe, but we just can't help it right now. The Gophers have earned it.
It's safe to say that Ethan Wragge, who played in high school at Eden Prairie before heading off to Creighton for his college ball, is a three-point shooting specialist.
He has attempted exactly six shots this season that were NOT three-pointers. In his career, he has tried more than 700 shots ... and just 54 were two-pointers.
But there is something to be said for someone who knows his role -- and who plays that role well. On Monday night, Wragge was scorching-hot for Creighton in a 96-68 victory at No. 4 Villanova. He was 9 of 14 from three-point range for 27 points in the blowout win. As a team, Creighton made an unconscious 21 three-pointers.
For the season, Wragge is now 76 for 154 from long-distance -- nearly 50 percent.
That's quite a weapon.
There is a notion that by time the outdoor hockey craze at a high level -- either college or pro -- made its way to Minnesota, people were a little bored by the notion.
There is probably some truth to that, but we will also say this: an event like the Hockey City Classic needed to happen in Minnesota, and even if it's a little late ... well, better late than never.
Here is the first picture we took from the night -- midway through the Gophers women's game against Minnesota State, which is 3-0 Gophers heading into the third period. There's not much of a crowd here yet. We'll try to update a couple of more times as we roam the stands collecting other images and video.
We also know this: Those metal bleachers are going to be cold tonight.
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