Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where the only thing worse than snow is rain. Let’s get to it:
*Even after a Friday loss at Maryland (in which the 69-60 final score made things look closer than much of the game really was), the Gophers men’s basketball team could take plenty of positives from the weekend.
Various outcomes broke in their favor, keeping the Gophers as the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. They’ll face No. 10 Penn State on Thursday, which is pretty much ideal. The Nittany Lions have virtually no chance of getting into the NCAA field unless they run the table in the Big Ten tourney because of some tough-luck losses — including a 65-64 loss to the Gophers — that have them at 14-17. But they’re actually above the Gophers in Net Ranking (49 compared to Minnesota’s 56) and KenPom (39 compared to 46).
A Gophers win Thursday would go down as a good one; a loss wouldn’t be a bad one.
Not only that, but they avoided matching up with either Ohio State or Indiana. Those two bubble teams — Ohio is Joe Lunardi’s last team in, Indiana is his first team out, so it doesn’t get much closer or bubblier than that — will play each other in the 8-9 game Thursday. It feels like the winner of that game will have the inside track on a bid, while the loser will probably stay home. And the Gophers, win or lose, should be safely in the field — barring a run of upsets in conference tournaments.
*A few e-mailers helped clarify a point I made in Monday’s print edition (also online) about Gophers men’s hockey attendance.
I noted that the two playoff crowds this weekend that didn’t even top 2,000 fans stood in stark contrast to 2012 — the last time the Gophers were in the playoffs and going head-to-head with the state high school boys’ hockey tournament.
That year, back in the good old WCHA, the Gophers announced crowds of 9,000-plus both Friday and Saturday. E-mailer Nancy writes:
“One difference between the WCHA playoffs you compared the Big Ten Playoffs to is that back then the 1st round of the playoffs was included in your season ticket package. We are long time season ticket holders and even during those years, the actual number of people at the games for the first round was less than the tickets sold. This year, you had to buy them, so you could make a decision on whether you wanted to buy them or not. They were cheaper than the regular season, so that was appealing. But – even I was shocked at how few people were in the stands!”
E-mailer John adds: “As I recall, actual attendance was not as high as during the regular season but certainly nothing like last weekend.”
Indeed, I’m sure the butts in the stands for that 2012 series against Alaska-Anchorage was less than 9,000 (but far more than 2,000).
*Splashy names are fun in NFL free agency, but relative bargains are what drive teams. Our own Mark Craig has some interesting names to avoid (and pay attention to) as free agency opens.
*The Timberwolves went 2-0 this weekend without Andrew Wiggins, making them 4-0 in their last four games without him in the last month. All four were home games — the Wolves are 23-10 at home but just 9-25 on the road — and the foes this weekend (Wizards and Knicks) are among the NBA’s worst. Still, it’s interesting to see how the Wolves play without Wiggins.