Archive for Jacob Wandersee

The Beauty of High School Sports

This week I am going with a different angle. I’ve written about most of our Minnesota teams the past few weeks so I thought it’d be good to go down another avenue. (Plus, I really didn’t feel like pointing out how the Vikings have ignored their offensive line issues. There will be plenty of time to rip them).

Instead, I decided I wanted to spend some time on this past winter’s high school sports. With another season gone, another great group of seniors across all of the area’s sports have suited up for the last time. After hours upon hours of working out, practicing and traveling near and far for different matches, tournaments or games, these seniors saw their final season come to an abrupt end.

Very few athletes go on to play their sport at college. Seemingly often, for many students the experience at college doesn’t compare to suiting up with their friends and playing in front of their community.

As a varsity assistant for the Watertown-Mayer boys basketball team, I have gotten to witness how special a high school team is first hand the past two seasons.

Our season specifically this year was one of ups and downs. We experienced some great wins and had some games that we felt like we left on the table. At the end of the regular season, we finished with a 10-16 record.

Section 5AA is the deepest section in class 2A, so that 10-16 record got us a 12 seed. We found ourselves matched up with the 5th seed Holy Family. We had lost to them earlier in the year 67-55, but we knew that anything was possible.

The kids practiced hard, bought into the game plan and went into the game with nothing to lose. After a hard fought battle, we came out on top 54-44. 12 seeds very rarely pull off the upset to beat the 5 seed in high school. In terms of QRF, we were ranked 73rd out of 125 teams… Holy Family was ranked as the 10th best team in the state.

In a different section, beating the 10th ranked team in state might mean you are in the section semi-finals or even the finals. Unfortunately for us, our next match-up was against 11th ranked Litchfield and two more top 10 teams awaited. Our season ended with a tough loss last Saturday morning.

I know as a senior, playing in your final high school game is a very emotional experience. What I did not expect was to feel similarly as a coach. Watching the clock tick down to the last second and going to the locker room with our seniors for the last time made my heart ache.

I am now 0-2 in being able to say anything to the seniors in that moment because I know if I tried, I would tear up. Both years I have simply given each senior a bro-hug and thanked them.

Our season, like everyone else’s, ended earlier than we were hoping for. We all dream about winning game after game and taking home a state title, but few of us get to accomplish such a feat. However, success doesn’t need to be defined by whether or not you won a state title. Upsetting Holy Family will be something that our team will never forget and that is the beauty of high school sports.

Towns Needs Help Before It’s Too Late

The campaign for the Minnesota Timberwolves to make the playoffs this season is effectively over. With only 17 games remaining in the season, the Wolves find themselves at 30-35, 6.5 games out of the 8 seed.

The Wolves would need to basically go 14-3 and hope that the Clippers or Spurs limp their way to the end of the season to even have a chance. With difficult matchups like the Nuggets, Jazz, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers, Warriors, 76’ers, Blazers, Thunder, Raptors, and Nuggets all remaining, I’m not going to hold my breathe.

There has been one tremendous bright spot in the midst of this underwhelming season and that is Karl-Anthony Towns. Despite playing his fewest minutes per game since his rookie year (thanks Thibs), he is averaging 24.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Throw in a career high 3.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, and KAT is on his way to another 3rd Team All-NBA award.

He has been even more impressive the past 6 games. After missing his first career game due to a car crash that put him in the concussion protocol, KAT has been an absolute monster.

Towns is averaging 34.3 points and 14 rebounds per game. Even more impressive are his shooting percentages. Karl is 74/125 from the field which is a gaudy 59.2%. He has also dumped in 19 of his 40 3-pointers for an even gaudier 47.5%.

Although it has only been a 6 game stretch, KAT has really flexed how talented he really is. Every team in the NBA is constantly searching for a #1 guy who is talented enough to lead a team to a NBA Championship. It seems like the Wolves have found the best option they could.

So why is Minnesota 30-35? Why did, despite KAT’s tremendous effort, the Timberwolves go 2-4 in that stretch? The simple answer is that Karl needs help.

Most critically, Minnesota needs their other max player Andrew Wiggins to step up and play like a max player. Over the past 6 games, Wiggins is averaging 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 43% from the field and 27.5% from 3. I can think of plenty of better ways to spend $25.5 million.

Personally, I’d use that $25.5 million to build a house with a basketball court in it, but that’s just me. I think that’d be more helpful to the Wolves than what Wiggins sometimes is.

Anyway, the reality is that Wiggins is not a max contract player and has shown little to no signs that he can become one. Minnesota will always be facing an uphill battle to fill the roster with talented pieces due to the cap situation they are in.

Many guys on the roster are talented players that can be valuable on a good team. Tyus Jones and Taj Gibson are great role players, Josh Okogie has really improved and could be a solid starting 2 guard, Dario Saric is a talented mystery and I am really excited to see Robert Covington in an extended role next season.

If Minnesota can find a way to dump Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng to get their contracts off the books, the Wolves could really come back next season with an improved roster. There will be no more time for excuses as KAT will be entering his 5th season.

Minnesota needs to improve the roster and make the playoffs. They need to grow up and prove they can accomplish something before the time comes to blow it up and start over. They can’t waste any more of Towns’ prime and need to get him some serious help before it’s too late.

 

The Wild Finally Shake Things Up

This column is going to start with a saying credited to the one and only Albert Einstein: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

As a casual hockey fan, I’m not going to pretend that I know the in’s and the out’s of the game. However, from viewing the game and team from afar and most importantly a non-biased point of view, there were some glaring issues with the way things were being done.

The Wild have made the playoffs every year since 2012, a feat that is impressive in any professional sports league. However, there comes a point where making the playoffs simply isn’t good enough.

Minnesota has not been a serious threat to even make the conference finals during this span. They have lost in the first round 4 times and the second round twice and have only won the division once in franchise history.

Recently, they have mostly held steady year over year with their roster. Head coach Mike Yeo was let go because he couldn’t perform in the playoffs. GM Chuck Fletcher was fired after 9 seasons because he couldn’t make the necessary changes to get over the hump.

But yet, the roster stayed mostly the same. The Wild were playing out Einstein’s definition of insanity year after year and it was starting to get old.

This past week, new GM Paul Fenton (and owner Craig Leipold ) decided that enough was enough.

First, the Wild decided to ship LW Nino Niederreiter for Center Victor Rask on January 17th. Both were underperforming players who might benefit from a fresh start. This was nothing groundbreaking, but definitely was the type of move they had not made in the past.

This week, with the trade deadline approaching, Minnesota finally made some jolting trades.

First, the Wild sent forward Charlie Coyle to his hometown team the Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Ryan Donato. This move turned some heads as Coyle has been heralded as a piece of the young core that would lead Minnesota.

The 26 year old had hot and cold stretches in his career and never seemed to be able to become a consistent contributor. Trading Coyle shedded $3.2 million off the cap for next year and allowed the Wild to see what the 22 year old Donato could bring.

The biggest move the Wild made was trading fan-favorite and 2nd highest scoring player this season Mikael Granlund for Kevin Fiala. This major shake up allowed the Wild to get 5 years younger and save over $5 million in salary the next year.

I’ve seen some fans really angry about trading Granlund and Coyle, arguing that Donato and Fiala are not a good enough return. These same fans would be angry if the Wild had not traded anyone, so I don’t really take their opinion too seriously.

Only time will tell if the players the Wild got back will be more useful than the players they shipped out, so let’s not pretend we can already judge these trades (although the Wild are on a 4 game win streak, so obviously they were great trades).

What we can judge is that Leipold and Fenton are serious about improving this team. They sent a message to the players, coaches and fans that they will not live by Einstein’s definition of insane any longer.

Minnesota Sports Are Stuck in Limbo

There is nothing worse than being stuck in limbo. Some common limbo situations that are not fun: Having a crush on your friend who is friend-zoning you = stuck in limbo. Getting really hungry at about 3 pm and you aren’t sure if you should ruin your dinner or stay hungry = stuck in limbo. Charging in on a fly ball as an outfielder and unsure if you should try to dive or slide, you trip and miss the catch = stuck in limbo.

There is something more entertaining about being Historically Good or Biblically Bad (to borrow a phrase from the Common Man).

It is entertaining to cheer for the Vikings when they make a run to the NFC Championship or when the Wolves or Wild make the Conference Finals. It is thrilling knowing your team has a chance to win a title.

On the flip side, it is also worthwhile to be biblically bad. The Wolves from 2005-2017 fit this bill as well as the Twins from 2011-2016. It is actually kind of entertaining to see how bad our teams can truly be while they accumulate assets and think about the rebuild for the future.

The Wild, Timberwolves and Twins are all being friend-zoned and it isn’t fun.

The Wild have made the playoffs for 6 straight years, an impressive feat to accomplish. However, in that stretch Minnesota has only won 2 first round series. Both second round series were blowouts and the Wild are 5-16 in the other 4 first round exits.

Year after year, the Wild have tweaked a roster spot or two, changed coaches and general managers and yet they always run into the same result. The 2018-2019 season has been even worse. Trying to claim the final playoff spot, the Wild are 27-28-6, notching 1 win in their past 10 games since the All-Star break, a team stuck in limbo.

We could also take a look at the Minnesota Timberwolves. This case is different than the Wild but will likely lead to a similar outcome. The Wolves made the playoffs last year with the addition of Jimmy Butler to the young core of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

After trading Butler, the Wolves are finding themselves hovering around the .500 mark at 27-30. Although it seems that the team is truly improving, what will it mean in the long run? What is the peak of a team led by KAT and Wiggins?

Odds would say that with those two at the helm, the Wolves will likely be a 4-8 seed for the next couple of years without ever being a serious contender for the title. A team likely heading towards limbo.

Lastly, we have the Minnesota Twins. After bottoming out for for 6 years, the Twins were a wildcard team two years ago. They took a step back last year, but are trying to build on a young core.

The problem here is the Twins inability to spend money on the team. The 2019 payroll will be the lowest, relative to the rest of baseball, since 2009, their final season at the Metrodome (courtesy of Aaron Gleeman). After shedding Joe Mauer’s $23 million salary, the Twins 2019 salary is exactly $23 million less than it was last year.

As long as the Twins aren’t willing to spend money to add to their youth, they will be another team stuck in limbo.

It isn’t easy to get out of limbo; to truly become a title contender. But I can’t be the only one tired  of being friend-zoned by Minnesota sports.

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance

The Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time last season since 2004. After the Jimmy Butler saga to begin the season, the playoffs seemed to be nothing but a dream for 2018.

Injuries have not helped Minnesota’s cause. Robert Covington has been out since January 1st with a knee injury, Tyus Jones has been out since January 18th with an ankle injury, Derrick Rose has missed 14 out of 24 games since Christmas while Jeff Teague has missed 17.

With all of these injuries, the rotation game to game has been out of whack and wins have been hard to come by. No offense to the following players, but if your lineup down the stretch of a must win game against an inferior opponent consists of: Isaiah Canaan, Luol Deng, Dario Saric, Anthony Tolliver, and Gorgui Dieng, you’re probably in big trouble. (And they were, they lost 122-112 to the Magic).

As Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague have finally returned, things have began to look a little more normal. Minnesota is going into the All-Star break on a two game win streak, boasting an impressive win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

Against the Rockets, rookie Josh Okogie shined pestering James Harden all night. Although Harden still finished with 42 points, Okogie smothered and frustrated him all night. The highlight of the evening was Okogie stopping Harden’s drive and then blocking his signature step-back shot, an impressive defensive feat.

Jeff Teague was a spark returning to the starting lineup to go for 27 points and 12 assists while Karl-Anthony Towns got his usual 25 points and 9 rebounds. Add in double figure scoring from Deng, Okogie, Saric, Rose, and Gibson and this was potentially the most balanced and impressive win for Minnesota this season.

Noticeably gone from this account of the game is Andrew Wiggins, as he was out with an illness. I’m not going to turn this into a negative Wiggins column because that is a pretty tired bit. However, it can’t go unsaid how hard the team played and how cohesive they looked without him.

Anyway, with just 25 games left in the regular season, Minnesota is 4 games back of the 8th spot in the playoffs. I wouldn’t bet my life savings on them notching their second straight playoff berth as they will need to play much better more consistently, but it isn’t impossible. They have to pass the Lakers, Kings, and Clippers and that is going to be a very tall task.

I know you are probably thinking to yourself “Who cares if they make the playoffs? They will just be the 8th seed and will get swept by Golden State.”

You are probably right, but it matters to the team. This young core of Towns, Wiggins and coach Ryan Saunders need to break this losing culture. They need to continue to build on successes, improve, and get a bigger taste of playoff basketball.

One of my favorite scenes from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind. Lloyd Christmas is asking Mary, a married woman whom he loves dearly, what the chances are that a guy like him and girl like her end up together. Her response is heart crushing: “1 in a million.”

Lloyd’s response is priceless: “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

The NBA Playoffs are Mary and the Timberwolves are Lloyd. Even though Lloyd definitely does not end up with Mary, let’s just pretend he does and have Lloyd’s optimism.

There is no debate with Tom Brady

After all the hype and hooplah, the Super Bowl has come and gone. Two weeks of endless storylines repeated over and over again. The old school coach against the offensive guru. The experienced team against the newcomers. The greatest quarterback of all time against… Jared Goff.

Two weeks of debating, contemplating and observing accumulated in a 13-3 win for the New England Patriots over the Los Angeles Rams. Most people were utterly bored with this game, and to a certain extend, I don’t blame them.

The explosive Rams offense could only muster up 3 points on 260 total yards. They didn’t even run a play from the red zone. The Patriots weren’t much better until a late game touchdown drive where they finally moved the ball.

The casual fan found the whole night a bore. The commercials weren’t exceptionally exciting and the game was a yawner… But was it?

The Patriots Dynasty is something rarely ever seen in sports. This level of success is not easy to come by. Even rarer, potentially, is a franchise trotting out the same Head Coach and Quarterback combination for the past 19 years. Oh, by the way, having that duo make 9 Super Bowls and winning 6 of them is pretty astounding as well.

Tom Brady is 30-10 in his career in the playoffs. If Tom Brady was his own franchise, here would be the NFL’s most playoff wins by franchise:

1. Steelers 35.

T-2. Packers, Patriots*, and Cowboys with 34.

5. 49’ers 31.

6. Tom Brady 30.

*In reality, he would be 5th because the only reason the Patriots make this list is because of him.

Some other records he has include; most regular season wins by a quarterback (207), most passing yards in regular season & playoffs (81,693), most passing touchdowns including playoffs (590), most division titles (16), most playoff wins (30), most Super Bowl appearances (9) and most wins (6), and most Super Bowl MVP’s (4).

I’d be hard pressed to try to find another quarterback to try to compare those numbers with. One of my favorite stats about Brady is that has thrown the most touchdowns to different receivers with 71. I’m not sure the Vikings have thrown touchdowns to 71 different receivers in the history of the franchise.

This shows how much the world has changed around Brady but how his world somehow stays the same. Many different linemen, running backs, receivers, coordinators and defensive players have cycled through the Patriots organization the past 19 years. Heck, Brady threw 23 touchdowns to Randy Moss in 2007 to set the receiving touchdown record and casually threw 3 touchdowns to former Viking Legend Cordarrelle Patterson this year. If that doesn’t prove his greatness, I don’t know what will.

But with all of these changes, two things have stayed the same. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. At 41 years old, we keep waiting for the year where Brady suddenly just doesn’t have it. But this year proves one thing: as long as Tom Brady is suiting up, the Patriots will be there in February competing for a Super Bowl. There is no debate. Tom Brady is the greatest NFL player of all time.