Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where it’s a good time to ignore the weather forecast and focus on the positives. Let’s get to it:
Tuesday was a big night in local sports, with three major teams quality opponents. All three games started at 7 p.m., and the news was almost all good. So what can we take away from each result?
*Gophers: On a macro level, Minnesota’s 73-69 victory over Big Ten-leading Purdue was a major positive affirmation. Minnesota under Richard Pitino hasn’t always risen to the occasion in big games, but on Tuesday the Gophers certainly did. Amir Coffey was brilliant for the second straight game, which bodes well if he’s entering a hot streak.
On a micro level, the victory obviously enhanced the Gophers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament. They’re currently 19-11, including 9-10 in the Big Ten. They didn’t move in terms of seeding with ESPN’s Joe Lunardi (who still has them as a No. 11) or CBS’s Jerry Palm (who still has them as a No. 10), but they did move up the rung a couple places on Lunardi’s “last four teams to get a bye” list.
Was that one win enough to conclude the Gophers are safely in the field of 68? I wouldn’t quite go that far. While a loss at Maryland in the regular-season finale wouldn’t do much damage, that in combination with a first-round loss in the conference tournament would still leave Minnesota on shakier ground.
If we look at this simulator — thanks to @GettingGophery for reminding me of it — a loss to Maryland and then, say, Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament would according to the model still leave the Gophers more likely than not to receive a bid, but only around a 61 percent probability.
A loss to Maryland and a win over Rutgers in the conference tourney before a loss to Michigan State would give the Gophers an estimated 73 percent chance of getting a bid.
But long story short: The Purdue win was huge. Change Tuesday’s result to a loss, then give the Gophers just one more win over Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament in the simulator, and their likelihood of getting in drops to 36 percent.
The signs point to yes. To remove more doubt: win another game. To remove all doubt: keep winning.
*Wild: Goalie Devan Dubnyk is frustrated over the result (and process) of the last two Wild shootout losses to Nashville, but the big picture is one of optimism. The Wild has faced a gauntlet of five very difficult games in a row — St. Louis, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, home-and-away with Nashville — and come away with eight points and a 3-0-2 record. I dare say that’s about three more than I would have expected for the entirety of this six-game stretch that concludes at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Anything that happens against the NHL-best Bolts is just gravy.
The stretch means the Wild has a legit chance to make the playoffs. The probability odds are about a coin flip right now, and with 15 games left there’s still a lot of variance from night to night.
More to the point: Competing well in these last five games should give the Wild confidence that if it does get to the postseason, it can hang with a top-quality first round opponent. Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville are all quite possible playoff foes for the Wild if it gets in.
The Wild is a staggering 4-0 against the Jets this season, but they were 0-3 against the Flames and Predators before this recent stretch. The belief level surely went up a notch or two in the last week.
*Wolves: Even after a 131-120 victory over the Thunder — improving the Wolves to 3-0 against OKC this season — Minnesota’s playoff chances are slim and none with too many good teams ahead and not enough time. Basketball Reference’s simulation says 0.6 percent. As former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire once quipped about the team’s atrocious power play, they cannot even make milk at that percentage.
But even if the Wolves (30-34) aren’t in a realistic playoff chase, the final 18 games are important for the future. And winning Tuesday after a clunker of an 0-3 road trip showed that interim coach Ryan Saunders is still drawing a good effort and results out of his team.
Karl-Anthony Towns is thriving in Saunders’ system, including a 41-point monster performance against the Thunder. If you get the sense that the permanent job is there for the taking for Saunders, what he’s able to do down the stretch will be key.