2-27-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of another week. Even if it is a snowy, frigid ending here in the upper Midwest. It makes me wonder if I'd prefer wintry and no work, or spring-like and too much work? I imagine most of you could guess which side I'd come down on.

The end of the week doesn't just mean 48 hours of work-free frivolity. No, it also means the weekly edition of the wonder that is the DFTU! I'm sorely tempted to add in the Twins and Diamondbacks to this weekly homage to my favorite franchises. But I'll hold off until we get closer to Opening Day and things get a little more meaningful.

I will admit to DVR-ing the Twins Spring Training opener Wednesday night against the Red Sox (whom I hate), and watching it back later that night.

I know. It's sick.

Taping an early Spring Training game is like taping Tiger Woods warming up on the putting green (which I believe was covered by the Golf Channel). But I did it. And I even managed to revel in a Twins victory. Yes, I miss baseball that much.

Incidentally, the Twins/Yankees game tomorrow (4pm Central time) is also being broadcast on MLB Network (check your local listings... this means you Mom and Dad... I checked the other day and I believe it's channel 175... I hope you guys get it!). And yes, since I won't be home, I'm DVR-ing that one as well!

But I digress. Today we've got Badger hoops and Wild hockey to discuss. So let us away!

"No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately."
- Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), French Renaissance writer

Who? Me? Deliberate? Never!

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Speaking of deliberation, it's time once again for everyone's favorite weekly segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 30-24-5, which gives them 65 points and puts them in third place in the Northwest Division. They're a full 13 points behind first place Calgary, but only 3 points behind second place Vancouver. More importantly, their 65 points makes them the 7th seed in the current Western Conference playoff picture. Though to be fair, they're tied with both Dallas, Edmonton and Anaheim at 65 points, holding tie-breakers over those 3 teams.

Whew. That might be the longest "record and standings" paragraph I've ever written. Part of the wonder that is the Western Conference playoff race.

The craziest part of it is that you have the top four seeds (San Jose, Detroit, Calgary and Chicago) and then everybody else. The difference between the fourth seed and the fifth seed is 8 points. The difference between the fifth seed and the 12th seed is a mere 6 points. That means roughly, that if 12th seed St. Louis wins three more games than 5th seed Vancouver, they tie in terms of points. Mind you they'd both probably miss the playoffs in that scenario. But things are so weird out West this year, that maybe they'd both be in under that scenario too!

The bottom line is that the playoff picture changes daily. So any given snapshot doesn't tell you a whole lot about which way teams are moving. It also means that every game against a fellow playoff competitor is critical.

And in an interesting byproduct of the overtime/shootout system, it becomes critical to beat them in regulation. Getting the two points for an overtime or shootout win is nice, but getting them at that point means the other team got a point as well. Beating them in regulation, on the other hand, provides more separation. And at this point, separating yourselves from your direct competitors is key.

What's been interesting for the Wild is that they haven't really been playing teams that they're in direct competition with for the final few playoff spots. If you look at their last four opponents: Calgary, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles, their relative seeds are: 3, 2, 4, and 13. Look, the Wild aren't going to break into that top 4. As much as home-ice would be nice in the playoffs, it's not going to happen this year. And while L.A. is only 4 points behind the Wild, most pundits don't consider them a serious playoff contender.

So while the Wild's recent results are somewhat encouraging (6 points out of a possible 8), games against teams like Edmonton, Anaheim, Dallas, Columbus and Vancouver are the most important ones on the schedule. And of the 23 games the Wild have remaining, 10 of them are against teams who are currently within 3 points of where Minnesota sits in the standings.

My point? There's going to be plenty of shuffling of the 5-12 seeds between now and the end of the regular season. And those people who say the Wild's chances were doomed after that disastrous Ottawa loss? Slow down. To quote the Hammer, "it's way too early to panic."

Next up for the Wild is a 6-game road trip. They play back-to-back starting tonight in Calgary, then tomorrow night in Edmonton. Then comes the West coast run of Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Brutal? Yes. But that's the price you pay for all those home games in February.

By next week at this time, I doubt the playoff picture will be any clearer. But hopefully we'll have a feel for how the Wild might fare in the month of March when they have only four games at home.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 17-10 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten conference. 8-7 puts them in a 3-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.

Another streak is dead. The Badgers had won five in a row heading into last Sunday's tilt on the road against Michigan State, which they lost 61-50. The loss was especially frustrating since, once again, Wisconsin led at halftime.

But after scoring 31 against the Spartans in the first half, the Badgers could only manage 19 in the second half. Due credit goes to Tom Izzo for making adjustments at the half, but that's still a second half that Wisconsin would like to have back.

What worries me is that the "lead at halftime, tank in the second half" bit is reminiscent of what was going on during their 6-game losing streak earlier this year. If there's a sense of "uh-oh, here we go again" in the Badger locker room, then I fear for the final 3-game stretch of the regular season.

As I pointed out last week, the Badgers needed to win three of their last four to get to 20 regular season wins. Well, now they need to win out. And while I think they can feel confident in two of those games (home against Michigan and Indiana), that road game against Minnesota Wednesday night terrifies me. I've tried to scrub the memory of blowing an 11-point lead at halftime at home against the Gophers from my mind. But as you might guess, I've been less than successful.

Now the Badgers have to travel to Williams Arena and contend not only with the inherent advantages of a raucous crowd and a raised floor, but also with a team that on any given night can hang with the best in the Big Ten. Oh, and I should toss in the fact that the Gophers are also fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. You think that might help inspire them a bit?

I think I'll be watching that one through interlocked fingers whilst whispering prayers to whatever deities I can think of.

Does that fully express my sense of foreboding? I hope so.

So the best case scenario is 3-0 and the worst case is probably 1-2 (sorry Indiana... Tom Crean will get you there, but not this year). 3-0 and a couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament has to get them in the Dance. 1-2 leaves them in a spot where they may have to reach the Finals at least to get in.

There have been so many examples of it in the history of sports, that it shouldn't surprise me that over a 30-game schedule, a team's post-season fate could be determined by just 3 games. But I still find it remarkable. And I guess that's why I watch!

As mentioned, the Badgers start that crucial 3-game closing sprint on Sunday against Michigan. Then it's off to Minnesota Wednesday night. (I beg you oh supreme Buddha... please help the Badgers beat the Gophers!)

That's it for this week folks. I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take goodness for you to consume. Until then, thanks for reading!

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