The Twins plummeted. The Vikings hit rock bottom. And five winter sports teams — the Wild, Timberwolves, Gophers men’s basketball, Gophers women’s basketball and Gophers men’s hockey — failed to reach the postseason (pro playoffs or NCAA tourney) in the 2010-11 season. This year won’t be that year. The Vikings are too promising. The Twins have potential. And at least a few of those winter teams are in the mix.
However, it is also worth noting that none of those five winter teams are anything close to sure things to make the playoffs.
Before we take a closer look at the those five, we should also note that the Gophers women’s hockey team is, of course, on track to make the NCAA tournament again. Minnesota is ranked No. 3 in the country, rising above the fray again.
Now, onto the five and their playoff prospects in ascending order:
*Timberwolves: The Wolves started out 8-8 and looked like they might hang around the fringes of the playoff race in a suddenly mediocre Western Conference. Instead, they’ve gone 6-27 since then to sit at 14-35. Short of a miraculous turnaround, they’ll miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
*Gophers men’s basketball: Strangely enough, even at 0-10 in the Big Ten, I give the Gophers a slightly better chance of making the NCAA tournament than I do the Wolves making the playoffs. Why? Because Minnesota would *only* need to win four games in the Big Ten Tournament to make it. The Wolves would need to go something like 26-7 down the stretch to have a shot. Which is more likely? I’ll say the Gophers, though both are the longest of long shots.
*Gophers women’s basketball: On the surface, this team looks to be in good shape: 14-7, 6-4 in the Big Ten. But Minnesota’s RPI is a dismal 103 due to a poor strength of schedule. The Gophers don’t have a lot of good wins, and their schedule gets tougher down the stretch. That means they have an opportunity to move up in the standings and RPI, but it won’t be easy.
*Gophers men’s hockey: Losses last weekend to Bemidji State and Minnesota State put a dent in the Gophers, who are now 20th in the PairWise Rankings and on the outside looking in when it comes to the 16-team NCAA field. That said, the Gophers have 10 conference games remaining (six at home, including a big series this weekend against Penn State and three weekends from now against Michigan). A strong finish could put the Gophers back in the top 16, or they could also make it by winning the conference tournament.
*Wild: In spite of the January swoon, I still think this is the team most likely to make the postseason this winter. Mike Yeo’s squad has been a second-half team the past two seasons. There’s too much talent for the Wild to keep floundering forever.