The Gophers women’s basketball teams’ mid-year swoon, which included four losses in five games to drop their Big Ten record to 6-5, has given way to a torrid stretch as Minnesota heads down the stretch run of its regular season.
The Gophers have won five consecutive games — scoring at least 85 points in every victory (and allowing at least 77 in every game, too) — to sit at 11-5 in conference play, tied for third in the standings.
As a result, Minnesota has moved up in the NCAA tournament bracket projections as well. The Gophers were still teetering a week ago as a No. 10 seed in ESPN’s projections; this week, after big wins over Iowa and Michigan, they’re a much firmer No. 7 seed.
With two more games to go — at likely NCAA tourney teams Nebraska and Iowa — Minnesota figures to be locked into the NCAA field.
The big question now is whether the Gophers can finish in the top four in the Big Ten and make their conference tournament path easier. That will be difficult considering their two tough road games to finish the year, but the Gophers have also shown all year that — in spite of losing Rachel Banham — they can’t be counted out.
The NFL scouting combine is over, and the GMs, coaches, scouts, agents and pesky reporters have vacated Lucas Oil Field, the fancy hotels and expensive steakhouses where their business is done.
So what did we learn? Who helped themselves? Who hurt themselves?
Here is a quick wrap-up of the week in Indianapolis, with a Vikings slant:
FIVE VIKINGS TAKEAWAYS:
1. The relationship between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson is rockier than they had been making it seem. The team embarked on a media campaign to voice its support for the suspended running back and GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that he expected Peterson to be back. A day later, Peterson pumped the breaks in an interview with ESPN, saying that he feels “uneasy” about a return. And then there was that reported dust-up between Peterson’s agent and a key Vikings exec. While I’m sure Peterson means what he said about feeling betrayed by the team’s decision to get him placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, this conflict will probably come down to money. Both sides will dig in their heels and it’s too soon to say how this saga will end up playing out.
2. There is a 99 percent chance that the Vikings are going to take a running back in this draft. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday that the team won’t have much interest in free-agent backs, so Peterson being suspended until April 15 won’t really impact their offseason plan at the position. Spielman likes the top-end talent and depth of this running back class, and while I don’t think he will like Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley enough to use the 11th overall pick on one of them, I do think the Vikings will come away with a running back they like. Yes, even if Peterson does return.
3. The Vikings are doing their due diligence on some of the top linebackers. We shouldn’t obsess too much over who the Vikings did and didn’t speak with at the combine. After all, they get 60 formal interviews there and had informal talks with other prospects. But still, it was noteworthy that they chatted with a number of linebackers who could go in the first round. That list included Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the top middle linebackers in Miami’s Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, and a pair of edge rushers in Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Florida’s Dante Fowler. Which prospects they bring in for workouts will be more significant, but it seems the Vikings are open to drafting a linebacker early for a second straight year.
4. If the Vikings were hoping Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White would drop to them at No. 11, they left Indianapolis disappointed. Both of those wide receivers likely solidified themselves as top-10 selections with strong workouts. Cooper ran well and, as expected, looked good in receiver drills. White showed off 4.35 speed and athleticism to go with his 6-foot-3 frame, and now draft analysts are saying he has more upside than Cooper, the more polished player right now. If the Vikings want one of those guys, Trader Rick will probably have to do his thing again.
5. The Vikings probably aren’t going to go crazy in free agency. Zimmer admitted as much last week, saying the team isn’t likely to sign a top-tier free agent and stating his preference to sign lower-level free-agents and coach them up as best as he can. Organizationally, that makes sense, not just because few, if any, teams that “win the offseason” ended up winning the Super Bowl. Remember how the Vikings have gotten praise for drafting Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Teddy Bridgewater and four other young guys in the first round the past three years? Well, those guys aren’t going to be young for much longer, meaning they will be up for contract extensions soon. The Vikings, who prefer to give big bucks to their own players, will be conscious of that as they enter free agency.
FIVE WINNERS (IN NO ORDER):
1. Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback did his thing in throwing drills and reportedly fared well in team interviews, too. He is the clear favorite to go first overall to the Buccaneers.
2. Top-12 teams that don’t need a quarterback. With Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota both answering the bell in Indy, they will go early, pushing two talented non-passers down in the draft.
3. Trae Waynes. The Michigan State cornerback might have locked himself in as the top corner in this class with a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Could he be of interest to the Vikings at No. 11 overall?
4. Cooper and White. See above. Louisville’s DeVante Parker did well, too. They’re all top-20 picks.
5. Edge rushers. Prospects such as Fowler, Beasley, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa had strong workouts. This looks like a good year for teams in need of an impact rusher.
FIVE LOSERS (IN NO ORDER):
1. Running backs. While this is a deep class, their times, outside of a few exceptions, weren’t exactly eye-popping. But will that prompt teams to maybe check out some tape again? Maybe. Maybe not.
2. Tight ends. Maxx Williams fared OK with a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, but beyond him, this looks to be an underwhelming tight end class, which actually makes Williams a winner. He seems likely to go in the top 30 picks at this point, and he could even sneak up into the teens with a strong pro day.
3. Devin Funchess and Shaq Thompson. These two guys entered the combine as two of the most versatile players in the draft. But they might have left as prospects without a position. Funchess, the Michigan wide receiver, ran like a tight end. And Thompson did not run as well as hoped.
4. My offseason diet. I had been doing so well, but scouts left town disappointed with my physique.
5. The Vikings and Adrian Peterson. With Peterson sounding off on the Vikings and his agent and a team exec getting into a public spat, this week was not a good one for either side as the extent of their frayed relationship became public. This does not mean this relationship cannot be repaired. But as my colleague Mark Craig wrote a couple hours ago, it is going to take some compromise.