From the way-too-early-to-be-relevant department, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Minnesota as a No. 3 seed for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, aka March Madness. Lunardi’s latest round of Bracketology pits the Gophers against No. 14 Davidson out east in an opening-round matchup (or Round 2, after the play-in games, as it were).
Thank goodness Stephen Curry has used up his eligibility.
According to this week’s Associated Press poll, which features Minnesota at No. 12, a 3 seed seems about right. Obviously, with more than a month remaining in the regular season, this stuff’s in perpetual flux, but it’s a “talker,” nonetheless.
The Gophers, coming off a challenging stretch that featured games against Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, have showed an ability to hang around with — and beat — the big boys. Slow starts, though, have doomed Tubby Smith’s squad (15-3, 3-2 in the Big Ten), and the Gophers need to rectify that weakness if they want to make a serious run through March.
The next five games on the schedule:
• Wednesday at Northwestern
• Saturday at Wisconsin
• Tuesday vs. Nebraska
• Feb. 3 vs. Iowa
• Feb. 6 at Michigan State
One thing that’s been very encouraging about the Gophers has been their depth, as evidenced by the five players averaging double figures: Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams, Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Trevor Mbakwe (technically at 9.7 PPG, but we’ll round up). Now, we could delve into Tubby’s shortcomings as an in-game manager and his wholly unimaginative offense, or the early second-half no-show against Michigan last week (when the game was lost), but we’ll save those thoughts for another day and instead focus on the positive.
One more thing: Lunardi’s bracket has the Big Ten and the Big East leading the way with seven tournament selections apiece. I can’t ever remember the Big Ten being this loaded. There’s really not many “nights off” in this conference.
• Say this about Minnesota Wild fans: They sure are quick to forget. Saturday’s season opener against Colorado drew the sixth-largest home crowd in Wild history, and it was the highest-rated Wild game ever shown on Fox Sports North. Sunday’s win over Dallas also topped the previous record for FSN, a Dec. 13, 2011, game against Winnipeg.
• Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday in place of Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.