Now that we're getting closer to having a full slate of teams making news of one sort or another, it feels like a fine time to look at the most popular teams in town -- and judge both their postseason hopes and the sense of buzz surrounding them.
Call it the Star Tribune's Postseason Fevermeter.
Or call it an attempt to match expectations with excitement. As always, you should feel free to use the comments to judge us right or wrong as we sort through the highest-profile local teams.
HOTTEST OF THE HOT:
Gophers football: Yes, there are quarterback and depth issues, But that won't excuse the Gophers from expectations of becoming playoff eligible. Don't let any of the uncertainties make you forget that Minnesota went 9-4 last year (with quarterback issues). And even though ticket sales haven't gone bonkers in the wake of coach P.J. Fleck's hiring, we know that most anything he does is being watched closely by people, many of them intrigued but not part of the Gophers football fan base at present. Fleck's salesmanship and showmanship have driven up the temperature here more than anything. The expectations for more than a Quick Lane-type bowl game are very high, and the excitement will grow if the Gophers can bring back some Trophy Game swag back to campus.
Lynx: They'll enter the WNBA playoffs as the No. 1 or 2 seed, meaning they'll get a bye to the semifinals -- and they're playing the final week of the season for home-court advantage in the finals. Fans are extremely excited and understandably wary. Will Lindsay Whalen be 100 percent for the playoffs? Are the Sparks simply better than the Lynx? Could they even withstand a semifinal challenge from Connecticut or New York? Does a home-court advantage diminish by having to play at Williams Arena in the postseason? So many questions, But if the Lynx answer them by winning their fourth title in seven years, conquering those issues would make the celebration that much sweeter.
VERY, VERY WARM:
Twins: The surprising playoff run hasn't yet translated into crowds from the years when Target Field was still a novelty. Buzz is tempered by the reality that Twins' management pivoted from buyers to sellers during the team's ugly week before the nonwaiver trading deadline in July -- and that the Twins haven't made any waiver deals since to give more hope to the skeptical. Give this one until September 15. If the Twins are still looking good, that weekend's games against Toronto could be the beginning of a rush on the box office.
Timberwolves: The Jimmy Butler deal, as well as adding veterans Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford, have created expectations of making the playoffs both locally and globally. The excitement is tempered, of course, by the fact that Golden State is likely to win the three or four or 10 NBA titles. Fans need to ask themselves how excited they'll get merely by making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. Don't get us wrong: There's no penalty for deciding to be excited about just qualifying after all these years of losing.
Gophers volleyball: Two straight Final Four appearances mean there are only a couple of more rungs for the U. Those would be getting into the finals, after semifinal defeats in 2015 and 2016, and winning the whole thing. The Gophers got off to an impressive start last weekend, beating North Carolina (ranked No. 8 at the time) in three games and Louisville in four. Minnesota moved from No. 4 in the initial national rankings to No. 2 on the strength of that weekend. Give the Gophers a couple of months to reach the hottest of the hot and, again, expand their base beyond the ardent.
Wild hockey: Making the playoffs has become a ritual. The next step is for the Wild and Bruce Boudreau to get beyond the first couple of rounds. Stretches of excellent play for a few weeks no longer moves the needle for most Wild fans.
Gophers men's basketball: What's the encore performance after last season's Big Ten turnaround by coach Richard Pitino's team, which lost only one key player? Do the Gophers have a stronger NCAA tournament run to be deemed a success after March's first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State? Pitino has had enough recruiting buzz over the summer to get people talking about them already.
MORE CHILLS THEN THRILLS:
Vikings: We're looking at the data here. There's a (non-scientific) poll on startribune.com asking fans how confident they are about the Vikings making the postseason. As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, 72 percent were either not very confident or not at all confident. The buzz of the pending season isn't matched by excitement over how things will end up. Also, there's an office optimist here who came in last week and announced, "Vikings: 5-and-11." (No, it wasn't Sid Hartman.)
Minnesota United: The top six teams in each conference make the MLS playoffs. The Loons are ninth of 11 teams in the West and trail the eighth place by 10 points. Nobody expected them to be a playoff factor. The thrill that's sufficient for fans right now is that major-league soccer has come to town.
HOT AND COLD:
St. Thomas football: The Tommies enter the season ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division III and have established themselves as consistent national powers. Why hot and cold? If you have a connection to the school, you love St. Thomas. If you don't, it's a pretty good bet you're rooting for the other team. (We've been circling the Carleton game on the schedule for the last couple of years, ever since the Tommies fell behind early in the 2015 game before rallying to win by 77, complete with a two-point conversion in the third quarter.)
It's too soon to think about Gophers men's and women's hockey, although we'll expect a national championship from the women, and Gophers women's basketball. We'll get back to them later.