Archive for Jacob Wandersee

Timberwolves 2020-21 Season Outlook

The NBA finished it’s season not so long ago using the bubble format. The Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm worked their way through the playoffs quite effortlessly and won the championship.

In an effort to get the 2021-2022 NBA season back on track to start at the regular time, the NBA is electing to begin the season early this year, considering how recently the Finals just concluded. This December 22nd start should allow the league to catch up this year, as the finish to the regular season is currently slated for May 16th.

Each team will play a 72 game schedule and the Play-In Tournament will be continued for this season, where the 7-10 seeds in each conference play to determine the final two playoff seeds.

With individual player workouts starting this week and preseason games starting on December 11th, let’s take a quick look at how the Wolves roster is shaping up and what we can reasonably expect this year.

Guard/Wings: Ricky Rubio, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Jarret Culver, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman

The Wolves made a couple big moves this offseason to help bring some stability to the roster. First, Minnesota used their 1st overall pick to draft Anthony Edwards, an athletic scorer whose potential is through the roof. Adding Edwards to the mix should help provide another dynamic scorer to the lineup.

Perhaps more importantly for the short term, the Wolves brought back franchise icon Ricky Rubio. I still remember being at the first preseason game after he was drafted and fans kept chanting for Ricky, despite the fact that he was still in Spain.

On draft night when the trade was made, my wife and I had the following conversation.

Me: Hey, guess what the Wolves just did?

Her: Screwed up the draft?

Me: Fair point but no. We traded for Ricky Rubio!

Her: Didn’t we trade him because he sucked?

Her point had some validity as Ricky’s inability to score the ball really made it difficult sometimes to appreciate his elite playmaking ability and defense. While giving him away and replacing him with Jeff Teague was a mistake from the beginning, letting him go wasn’t in theory terrible.

Getting him back is both exciting and actually worthwhile. Ricky has been a respectable shooter in his past few years in Utah and Phoenix, raising his field goal percentage to above 40% and his 3-point percentage to around 34%. Combine that with elite playmaking and leadership and Ricky is a great addition to this young squad.

Bigs: Karl-Anthony Towns, Ed Davis, Juancho Hernangomez, Naz Reid

I actually like what the Wolves did by adding a dynamic defensive weapon in Ed Davis. He leaves a lot to be desired offensively, but Minnesota needs defense to pair with Towns’ offense.

When gauging fan interest and excitement, there seems to be a lot of hype believing that Minnesota can be a legitimate playoff team. While the team should no doubt improve from their 14th place finish in the Western Conference last season, it is hard to know how far they can go.

For perspective, teams that are undoubtedly better than Minnesota include: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets (as long as they have James Harden), Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and the return of the Golden State Warriors. Those are my top seven.

Teams that are in the same tier as the Wolves potential, but are likely still better than the Wolves include: Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. Those are my top nine.

Teams that are in the same tier as the Wolves who I think they can reasonably be better than: Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans. That slates Minnesota hopefully at the 10th spot in the West.

Minnesota is a young team that has a little time to reach their potential. Besides Davis and Rubio, everyone on the roster is under the age of 26, meaning this year probably isn’t their year to make a big splash anyway. However, the Wolves should be in competition for the 10th seed and the Play-In Tournament.

If the Wolves aren’t close to that 10th seed, this year will be considered a failure in my book. However, if Minnesota can stay competitive, show improvement over the course of the year and perhaps even slip into the playoffs, I do like their future outlook. A closing lineup of Ricky Rubio (or Malik Beasley), D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns does get me rather excited.

Realistically, some of these Western Conference teams are beginning to age out and the Wolves could become quite relevant over the course of the next few seasons. It begins with a 36-36 season and a shot at the playoffs.

Cowboys Crush Vikings Playoff Hopes

I’ll admit, I was starting to buy in. I was a little skeptical, but I was starting to talk myself into it. The road was certainly an uphill battle. With seven teams making the playoffs, the Vikings had a ways to go to crack the top seven, but there was a path.

That path essentially involved winning their next three winnable games, continuing this winning streak against the 2-7 Dallas Cowboys, the 3-7 Carolina Panthers and the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars. Getting to 7-5 before the final four games was going to allow for some margin of error down the stretch.

However, the Vikings stumbled in the first step to that plan, in a 31-28 loss to the Cowboys this past Sunday afternoon. Now at 4-6, Minnesota’s playoff chances have plummeted to around 10%, according to playoffstatus.com.

Weirdly enough, Minnesota didn’t play that poorly. For the first time since quarterback Dak Prescott was injured, the Cowboys actually showed up and played a solid game.

In the four games since Prescott’s injury before the Vikings game, the Cowboys had scored two offensive touchdowns. However, the Dallas offense was able to string some drives together, as quarterback Andy Dalton finished with 203 passing yards and three touchdowns while star running back Ezekiel Elliott finally had a solid outing with 103 yards on the ground

Kirk Cousins actually played outstanding. Cousins finished 22/30 for 314 yards to go with three touchdowns. Also, despite promising less work for Dalvin Cook to try to save his body, he finished with 27 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown along with 5 catches for 45 yards.

What went wrong during the game was turnovers. In the first quarter, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on a short field after a Cousins fumble. Right before the half, a Cook fumble gave the Cowboys a chance to chip in a 19 yard field goal, giving Dallas 10 points off turnovers.

Another dagger was the fake punt that was called back via penalty. Clearly this was something the Vikings had talked about during the week, where if the Cowboys showed a certain punt coverage look, it could be exploited with a fake punt pass to the gunner. However, our gunner got excited, stood up and was still shifting when the ball was snapped. More potential points off the board.

Other than that, I’m afraid there isn’t that much more to say. I think analyzing this team is pretty simple. First, Cousins is a solid quarterback. He played a great game Sunday and he is by all accounts a great dude. However, he is exactly what he always has been over the course of his career. You’re never going to win less than 6 games with him as long as you have a decent team around him but you’re also looking at a peak of a divisional playoff round exit. That’s just the inevitable truth.

The rest of the offense is fine, but also could use some work. First, Justin Jefferson is obviously a bonafide stud. While Stefon Diggs is tearing it up in Buffalo, replacing him with a rookie who has All-Pro potential has worked out phenomenally.

Dalvin Cook’s usage is incredibly concerning. While he might be the best running back in the league, they definitely need to learn how to protect him as an asset. Cook can’t continue getting 30+ touches per game.

Lastly, the defense is a work in progress. Aside from Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Eric Kendricks, this defense is young and inexperienced. As the season has progressed, many different players have stepped up and actually started to play well. Mike Zimmer has slowly started to work his magic making this defense somewhat presentable given the circumstances.

So where does that leave us for the rest of the season? The Vikings basically need to win out to get to 10-6 to really have any shot at the playoffs. While matchups with the Panthers, Jaguars, Bears and Lions are certainly winnable, games with the Buccaneers and the Saints are likely to be the Vikings final nail in the coffin.

Minnesota needs to keep developing this youthful defense, manage Cook’s usage so he doesn’t get hurt and start considering how they can improve for the 2021 season. Now that the Vikings are likely out of the playoff race, fans can just relax and watch the team develop without the stress of thinking this season can actually amount to anything.

 

I’m Thankful For Sports

It’s certainly cliché, but 2020 hasn’t exactly been the most normal year in human history. The pandemic has put a strain on small businesses, families, communities, students and educators and has touched everyone in some shape or form.

In the big scheme of things, sports are something that can be easily pushed aside as insignificant. There are bigger things in life that are going on; more pressing needs.

Life doesn’t hinge on a Vikings win, the Wolves probably are still going to be below .500 and the Twins probably didn’t sign that pitcher that everyone pretended they were actually going to sign.

However, sports are an important reprieve from our everyday lives. Life is complicated enough. It is refreshing sometimes to sit down on the couch and enjoy (or hate watch) a Vikings game.

Even more important than professional sports are youth and high school sports. Their worlds have been turned upside down. Sports seasons were cancelled, graduations were virtual, school dances were eliminated; many of the aspects that make being a kid fun were ripped away from them.

Mental health is something that is very important and the past year has not exactly been a clinic on how to make sure our kids are okay mentally. The difficult part is that a lot of it is inevitable. Nothing about life in a pandemic is going to be regular; hard decisions need to be made in order to keep everyone as safe as we can.

However, thankfully starting in the fall, sports came back. Thousands of kids across the state were able to continue playing the sport that they love at least in some capacity. It might not have been perfect, but it has been important to return to some form of normalcy.

This year, I was able to coach the 8th grade football team at Watertown-Mayer. I had never coached football before and didn’t really know what to expect. After installing an entire offense in just a few days, our team hit the ground running.

Those kids are going to remember the battle they had with New London-Spicer, where down 8-0, a 50 yard bomb got us into the red zone as time was ticking away. A few plays later, we had about a minute left with four chances to score from the 5 yard line. A goal line fade to our 6’6 tight end didn’t go exactly as planned and we had to pick ourselves up after a 105 yard interception return.

The outcome didn’t go exactly as we had wanted, but I guarantee you those kids made a memory. I know losing my first game coaching in that fashion is certainly a memory I won’t forget.

A few weeks later, we had our last game against Mound Westonka. After losing badly in 7th grade, our team was laser focused and wanted to finish the season with a win. The team played inspired, stifling them defensively and moving the ball up and down the field to a 28-6 victory. Those kids are going to remember that game.

At the varsity level, the WM football team had been on a 29 game losing streak. Losing some close games, the Royals just needed to make that final play to get over the hump to get a win.

After an incredible performance, the Royals upset the Glencoe-Silver Lake Panthers 28-10 in a game that I can absolutely guarantee you, those players and coaches remember for their lifetime.

What if these memories hadn’t happened? What if these kids weren’t given the chance to do the things that they love and compete with their friends?

I’m happy that the MSHSL and government  worked to let these kids play. Their decision allowed these kids to have some kind of normalcy in a world right now where that is very much needed. It allowed these kids to make memories and be kids in an environment that is as safe as it can be.

Sadly, fall sports are coming to a halt after Friday and winter sports are being delayed indefinitely. I understand that these are difficult times and there are so many factors to consider when trying to figure this all out. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sadden me.

As a high school basketball coach, we will now have to wait at least four weeks to get our season underway. I feel for all of our players who just want to play the sport they love and the parents who just want to see their kids have fun and be kids.

To be frank, it sucks.

But sports will return at some point. Our athletes will be back in the gym, parents will be watching their kids play and coaches will get back to doing what they love; coaching.

This is a difficult time for everyone but stay the course. Stay positive. Sports will be back and I know I’ll be appreciative when they do.

I’ll appreciate the late nights of watching film. I’ll appreciate the 50 minute drive from practice to home. I’ll appreciate when our kids run the play wrong. I’ll appreciate the bus ride from Watertown to New London-Spicer… Okay I still won’t appreciate that, but you get the point.

I’m thankful for sports and I simply can’t wait for them to return.

 

MVP Effort Saves Vikings

Just a few short weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings season seemed dead in the water. Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons, all hope seemed lost (rightly so I might add). With a matchup with the division leading Green Bay Packers, the season was hanging in the balance.

What Vikings fans didn’t see coming was Dalvin Cook’s MVP campaign. Against the Packers awful run defense, Cook ran the ball 30 times and mustered up 163 yards and three touchdowns. Cook wasn’t done, as he was the leading receiver on the team as well, turning two catches into 63 yards and a touchdown in a 28-22 win.

An encore to that performance was going to be tough to do… unless you are Dalvin Cook. Cook ran for 206 yards, only the third Viking to do so (Adrian Peterson a NFL record six times and Chuck Foreman once), on only 22 carries. That is a 9.4 yards per carry if you were struggling with the math. Dalvin also notched two touchdowns as well as another 46 yards through the air in the dominating 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions.

Again, if you struggle with math, let me help you out. In the past two games, Cook has logged 52 carries, 369 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Not too shabby.

For some perspective, Cook leads the NFL with 858 rushing yards, despite missing a game. Cook also leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12 on the season. If you are currently thinking to yourself “12 rushing touchdowns in 7 games seems like a lot of touchdowns,” you’d be correct. That pace of 24 touchdowns would be tied for the 5th most all time in a single season.

Quarterbacks tend to throw for more touchdowns than running backs are able to rush. That is the simple nature of football. However, Cook currently has more total touchdowns (13) than the following starting quarterbacks on the season: Daniel Jones (8), Cam Newton (10), Phillip Rivers (10), Nick Foles (11) and the same as fan favorite Teddy Bridgewater (13). If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks, I’m not sure what will.

Being 3-5 certainly isn’t anything to write home about. However, when looking at the remaining schedule, it’s difficult not to let a little optimism creep in. First, the Vikings are favored by 2.5 points at Chicago this Monday night. While the Bears offense is downright terrible, their defense is phenomenal and the Vikings never win in primetime against the Bears.

However, if they can sneak away with a victory, the Vikings are going to be favored in the next three matchups with the Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars.

Fun fact time; the next four opponents for the Vikings have lost their past 18 games, carrying losing streaks of 3, 4, 4 and 7. It isn’t unrealistic to say that Minnesota can (and quite honestly should) go 4-0 and get to a 7-5 record.

The last four weeks include difficult matchups with the Buccaneers and Saints as well as rematches with the Bears and Lions. If you want to chalk them up for 2-2 in that stretch, Minnesota has a reasonably clear path to 9-7. Heck, you can even throw a mishap game into the mix to finish 8-8 and Minnesota still has a great shot at the playoffs.

With seven teams qualifying this year, a .500 record likely is going to be good enough to grab that 7th seed. Dalvin Cook should absolutely be in the MVP conversation, especially if Minnesota has a strong second half and pushes for a playoff spot the way we expect them to.

In a season that seemed all but lost, Dalvin Cook swooped in to save the day with one of the most impressive two game stretches in NFL history. It seems unlikely that Cook can continue this historic pace, but even 80% should be good enough to keep the ship righted and to make a legitimate playoff push.

 

Ski-U-Nah

After blocking a punt and scoring on their first drive against Michigan, I thought the Minnesota Golden Gophers were heading toward another elite season. However, the oars were quickly taken out of the water and the boat is now stranded.

Michigan went on to rack up 481 yards, a poultry 8.6 yards per play and 49 points in a route at TCF Bank Stadium on College Gameday.

There were plenty of reasons for the route that could be reasonably argued. The Gophers were missing their starting right guard and right tackle, which meant the offense would be slightly less effective. Minnesota was also missing their kicker and punter unexpectedly, meaning that special teams were a disaster all night long. Lastly, the defense lost three draft picks from last year and had to replace the bulk of the starting lineup, meaning that it might take some time to gel as a unit.

Everything would be fixed when the Gophers were favored by 19 points Maryland… right? For perspective, the Terps were coming off a 43-3 loss to Northwestern, where starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa finished with 96 yards and three interceptions. By the way, did you know he had an older brother in the NFL? But I digress.

Maryland jumped on the Gophers early, taking a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. After the Gophers defense finally started to show some signs of life, Minnesota was able to take a 38-21 lead into the 4th quarter.

The Gophs then decided to play the most conservative quarter of football, gave up 17 points, and went to overtime. After Maryland effortlessly scored, the Gophers responded with a fairly easy touchdown of their own, on a Seth Green option keeper.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I’d have to imagine thousands of Gopher fans had the same thought that I had. “We cannot stop Maryland from scoring. It’s not happening. Go for the win now because Maryland has proven they can’t stop you.”

Wouldn’t you know it, the backup kicker missed the extra point, Minnesota lost 45-44 and fell to 0-2 on the season. Teams down by 17 or more in the 4th quarter were 0-73 before last Friday evening… Maryland only had 675 yards of offense, including 394 passing yards from Tagovailoa and a cool 10.2 yards per play.

While Mohamed Ibrahim had a game to remember, running the ball 41 times for 207 yards and 4 touchdowns, the offense couldn’t do enough in the 4th quarter to seal the deal. Coach PJ Fleck also didn’t trust them to get two yards on a two-point conversion either.

If I were the coach, I’d think about trying to get the ball to my top 10 NFL pick next year in Rashod Bateman. But I’ve also only been an 8th grade football coach for one year, so what do I know?

While the beginning of the season has been disappointing to say the least, there are still winnable games on the schedule. The Big10 Championship is likely out of reach, but soft matchups with Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Nebraska and a down Iowa squad are all ahead of the Gophers. Who knows what will happen with Wisconsin regarding their COVID situation.

Could the Gophers run the table to finish 6-2? Absolutely. Do the Gophers need to figure out how to play defense and how to get the ball to their best player on a consistent basis? Absolutely.

Maybe after all the excitement from last season, everyone’s arms are just still a little tired from rowing.

 

Who is Minnesota’s 2021 QB?

With the Minnesota Vikings on bye this week, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. I had some time to think, which is always a dangerous proposition, and started wondering what options the Vikings would have at quarterback for the 2021 season. Let’s take a look at some options – some of which might happen, some of which could happen and a few that will never happen (but one can dream).

Kirk Cousins
The highest likelihood is that Kirk Cousins is still your quarterback next season. If I understand his contract correctly, Kirk carries a dead cap number of $41 million next season. You aren’t cutting a $41 million player unless you are insane. It drops to $10 in 2022 which is possible to cut, so it is safe to say that barring a dramatic and unlikely trade, Cousins will be on the roster next season.

Statistically, Cousins is having a pretty awful year. His 64.6% completion percentage is his worst in his time in Minnesota and he is on pace to throw almost 30 interceptions. His QBR is the worst of his career as a starter. Without improving the offensive line and providing a facelift to the offense, we know that Kirk doesn’t improvise well and doesn’t do well under pressure. He is an above average quarterback who can look great when things are great around him, and things certainly aren’t great around him right now. And let’s face reality – he’s not a Super Bowl caliber quarterback.

Potential QB Free Agents
There are a few quarterbacks that are due to be free agents in 2021, including Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. In two years as a starter in Indianapolis, Brissett posted reasonable numbers for a rebuilding Colts squad. The 28 year old has some mobility and has shown to be a decent player but wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Cousins.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is kind of a fun name. The old gunslinger was having a pretty good season with Miami until they decided to bench him for rookie Tua Tagovailoa. The only way the Vikes would snag Fitzpatrick would be if they drafted a quarterback and wanted to do the same thing to him that the Dolphins did. I love Fitz and wish it was meant to be, but I guess he’ll have to find somewhere else to dominate.

This brings us to Jameis Winston. Only 25 years old, the Bucs moved on from him to sign Tom Brady, which every team would have done. Last season, he threw for 5109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, the first quarterback to ever do that. Winston actually did something clever, which was sign with the New Orleans Saints. As a backup this year, Winston is learning from Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton and I think that could be really valuable.

While the floor of Winston is a three win season, I do think his ceiling is significantly higher than many of the starting quarterbacks in the league, including Cousins. Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Winston might be a horrendous fit, but I’m all about it. At least games would be exciting to watch. I’d be in favor of signing him to a one year deal and letting him and Cousins battle it out.

Draft a QB
The last option is to draft a quarterback. Right now, the Vikings at 1-5 are definitely heading toward a top 10 pick. Sadly for Minnesota, teams like the Jets, Giants and Jaguars are all really bad teams who also likely would draft a QB.

Trevor Lawrence is a potential generational quarterback who is a sure-fire 1st overall pick. I don’t think the Vikings pass up the Jets for stinkiness. However, quarterbacks Justin Fields from Ohio St. and Trey Lance from North Dakota State are both legitimate dual threat options that might spark the offense, much like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and even Joe Burrow have.

If the Vikings remain in the top 10, I would hope they would snag either Fields or Lance and would give them some time to get acclimated to the NFL. Once they are ready to go, I think the Cousins era is over in Minnesota.