The question from a colleague was simple: Has there ever been a year in which the Wild, Timberwolves, Gophers basketball (men's and women's) and Gophers men's hockey failed to reach the playoffs or NCAA tournament in the same year?

It didn't take much investigating to answer, "Yes."

That happened in 2011, which will likely stand as the worst sports year of my lifetime.

The Twins plummeted. The Vikings hit rock bottom. And those five aforementioned winter sports teams 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 for the postseason.

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. And yes, the Star Tribune is aware there are other Division I hockey programs aside from the Gophers.

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 went into Tuesday with a 14-35 record. 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 26-6 down the stretch to have a shot.

• 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 need to string together some quality wins to make it.

• Gophers men's hockey: Losses last weekend to Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato 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.

But 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.

michael rand