The Twin Cities sports scene has become a co-conspirator in the onset of SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder? Sports Affective Disorder? In Minnesota, they’re the same thing.
Even when packed, the Xcel Energy Center is often quiet these days. Target Center is the definition of the pessimistic term “half-empty.” The Twins are dormant this winter, as they have been for four seasons. The Vikings have won one playoff game in 10 years.
Run into a sports fan these days, and they’ll quickly tabulate the combined record of local teams the past few weeks. Minnesota is giving the old Washington Generals a superiority complex.
True to local custom, the Gophers basketball team started the Big Ten season with four losses. Tuesday night, for a blessed hour, that didn’t matter, as the Gophers rallied from 17 down to take a four-point lead, inciting noise that rattled the old rafters.
In a strangely poetic moment that proved to be no more entertaining than any other kind of poetry, the game ended with Gophers guard DeAndre Mathieu rising for a game-tying layup, just after time ran out.
Iowa 77, Minnesota 75. The Gophers are 0-5 in conference.
“There are guys in the locker room who are bawling, crying, and it’s January,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.
Those tears are evidence that his players have a better grasp of reality than of the strategy for beating a 1-3-1.
At this point, we may as well adopt the approach taken by Pitino late Tuesday night, and search for random positives.
Here’s one: The Barn can still be the best sports venue in the Twin Cities, even during a faith-crushing loss.
Here’s another: After the game, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery uttered a sentence unprecedented in the annals of sport. Asked about a late-game clock malfunction, he said, “I’m a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and I can add.”
Anyone with math skills knows the Gophers are in danger of becoming the rare major-conference basketball program to play a meaningless February schedule.
Before the season started, most local insiders figured the Gophers would be highly competitive because of a lackluster Big Ten and the presence of talented senior guards.
Mathieu had led the team and defined its personality as a junior. Andre Hollins entered his senior year having been his team’s best player for much of the previous two years. Add in powerful post Mo Walker and reserve post Elliott Eliason, and the Gophers seemed ready to reach the NCAA tournament.
Then the Big Ten season started, and Pitino’s veterans blew a lead at Purdue, lost convincingly at Maryland, lost in overtime to Ohio State and blew a lead against Michigan.
Pitino responded to adversity Saturday at Michigan with a brusque, short, quavering news conference. Monday, at the news conference that exists to excite the faithful about another important game at The Barn, Pitino was petulant, walking off the podium as if questions about losing were beneath a man of his stature.
Pitino’s had it pretty good. He grew up rich and privileged as the son of a great coach. He landed a major college job early in his career. Until this month, Pitino had given no indication he was anything but a promising and likeable personality in a bleak sports scene.
Late Tuesday, Pitino displayed that face, eschewing the snippiness, praising his team’s effort and defending Hollins.
“Seniors are tough — they kind of, in my opinion, stress too much, I think, about next year,” Pitino said. “I think he’s doing a lot of really good things.’’
Hollins missed all eight of his first-half shots and finished with seven points.
Pitino sounded another optimistic note, saying his team’s “breakthrough” could come as early as Saturday.
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, Pitino is in the process of flopping in his second year at Minnesota, and there’s no one else he can tastefully blame.
Whether he likes it or not, that’s the nature of the family business.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at souhanunfiltered.com. On