I’ve never run with the bulls in Pamplona, but there are enough stories out there to believe the annual event can be construed as a metaphor for life (and by extension, sports).
While being chased by a massive beast in an event that has had 15 deaths in its history (three in the past 20 years), the temptation might be to find a quiet corner and play it safe. But sometimes, even amid the chaos, the most dangerous thing is standing still.
That thought crept in while pondering several recent Minnesota sports teams that have been gored — metaphorically, of course — thanks in large part to their own inertia.
This year’s Gophers men’s basketball team is the freshest example of a squad that stood still and paid the price.
The expectation was that Minnesota — fresh off a 25-win season and an NIT championship last spring in Richard Pitino’s first year as head coach — would be poised to make a leap forward with a roster comprised of largely the same parts.
Sure, last year’s team had Austin Hollins and Malik Smith playing big minutes, and those two have been replaced largely by Nate Mason and Carlos Morris. But the presumed starting guards (Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu) are the same, as are big man Mo Walker and forward Joey King.
A year older has not proven to necessarily be a year better. Mathieu has been inconsistent and was benched Saturday at Wisconsin for his attitude. Hollins has failed to top seven points in four different Big Ten games, all losses. King is largely the same player he was last year. Walker has progressed, but not enough to save the season.
More so, the sum of the parts — what some might call chemistry — hasn’t been the same. It’s added up to a disappointing year in which a team with realistic NCAA tourney hopes might not even make the NIT.
But should we be surprised? The Wild was heading down this path, too, after standing still with its preseason goaltending plan (until Devan Dubnyk skated in to save the day).
In the recent past, the 2010 Vikings and 2011 Twins give us more glaring illustrations of holdover rosters unable to even approach the previous year’s success, let alone rekindle any sort of magic.
Those Vikings, with very similar rosters, went from within a whisper of the Super Bowl to a total free-fall from year to year. The 2010 Twins won 94 games. The 2011 Twins expected more of the same with many of the same players and ended up winning just 63.
Let this be a cautionary tale, then, when we make predictions going forward. Continuity can be a good thing, but it can also be dangerous.
There’s a fine line between sprinting to the finish line and getting trampled.