Are you snowed in? Worried that you won’t make it out this weekend for all the hottest black Friday shopping deals? Don’t worry — I’ve got all of the best gift ideas right here for the Minnesota sports team in your life.
Gophers football — a decent Saturday forecast, a shiny axe … and a small fortune (for the fans): Minnesota’s biggest edge over the Badgers in Saturday’s massive game comes on offense — specifically the Gophers’ excellent run-pass mix, with playmakers all around in both cases. The forecast Saturday looks grim, with a lot of snow and rain. Being able to throw the ball will be the key to retaining the axe, with a win almost certainly ensuring the Gophers of no worse than a Rose Bowl berth (yes, I really typed that).
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Vikings — A return to Rhodes closed: It’s strange to say this based on recent history and all the investments the Vikings have made there, but one of the shakiest parts of this year’s 8-3 team has been its pass defense. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency rankings, the Vikings are just 16th in pass defense this season (they were fifth and fourth the last two seasons, by comparison). There’s plenty of depth, but their three most-used corners (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes) all have subpar coverage grades of 52.2 or worse per Pro Football Focus.
If the Vikings are serious about a deep playoff run, a return to the “Rhodes closed” status of past years will be key.
Twins — A frontline starting pitcher and a smooth transition: The Twins’ biggest personnel need is a top starting pitcher to vault them into more serious contention in October, but the biggest story line might be how the Twins withstand having key members of their field staff poached away. They already lost hitting coach James Rowson and assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Bench coach Derek Shelton joined them Wednesday.
Wild — clarity: Since its awful 1-6 start, the Wild is 9-5-4. That 18-game pace extended over an entire season would translate to 100 points. So which Wild team is the real thing? Probably something in the middle, but GM Bill Guerin could sure use some clarity in determining how to move forward with this roster.
One thing that would help push the Wild toward contention: better goaltending. The Wild’s netminders have been underperforming relative to their expected save percentage for several years, including this season.
Wolves — a shooter or two: The Wolves have placed a premium on higher-efficiency shots, leading to way more three-pointers. Entering Wednesday, they are tied for third in the NBA at 39.5 attempts from beyond the arc par game. But they’re just 28th in three-point shooting percentage (31.7). That number figures to trend upward a little, but outside of Karl-Anthony Towns there isn’t really a pure three-point shooter on the team. It’s hard not to wonder how a this roster would look with a shooter or two added to the mix, particularly since the team is already 9-8 without shooting well.
Gophers men’s basketball — a clear identity: This is a big season for Richard Pitino’s Gophers, and the rest of the nonconference season should be about figuring out an identity and deciding what the Gophers do best.
Lynx — A Maya Moore resolution: Head coach/GM Cheryl Reeve did a nice job revamping the Lynx’s roster and playing style last season, getting Minnesota back to the playoffs even while Maya Moore took the year off. To really move forward, though, the Lynx need to know what Moore is doing in the long run.
Gophers men’s hockey — Faith in the future: The Gophers look like they are headed toward a third straight year without an NCAA tourney appearance. That has happened two other times in the last 25 years, and in both cases a resurgence has followed. Bob Motzko has a young team on the right track, and continued progress this season would yield confidence that faith in the future is justified.
Gophers women’s basketball — An NCAA tourney season: It feels like Lindsay Whalen could build a dynasty at Minnesota. But most teams need to walk before they run, and this year that would mean at least getting into the Big Dance.