1. Even though the Golden Gophers did not win the BIG 10 basketball tournament, do you think it was a good showing for them and will it help them in the NCAA tournament?
Nate Leer: Yes and yes. Being able to beat Michigan State was an accomplishment for the program and should boost their confidence as well. Plus, the extra game they played helps a young team develop and will help with the transition to life without Akeem Springs. They should have a good seed so may not have to play their best to win a game. If they bring effort to the first round matchup and their A-game to their second round challenge, they could get into the Sweet 16. How about that for some March Madness!
Kras: I do believe it was a nice BIG 10 showing for the team. Being able to get past Michigan State alone was nice to see but then to watch them battle back against Michigan a day later without Akeem Springs was also encouraging. I think the experience this team gotten from the BIG 10 tourney will definitely help them going into the NCAA tournament. However, I also think not having Akeem Springs and his ability to shoot the ball will hurt them. I like the idea of a Sweet 16 run but unless they get another player involved off the bench, preferably someone who can shoot, I think the Gophers will be too thin only using 6 players to make a serious run. Good luck to the Goph’s!
2. How would you grade the Vikings free agent signings so far and what/who should they try and add in the coming weeks?
Nate Leer: I give them a C+ so far. I understand not going crazy with spending on average players. Some evaluators have T Riley Reiff as the best OL available. If the Vikes agree, then they got solid value in his signing. Backing that up with another solid veteran OT in Mike Remmers makes their OL significantly more solid than last year. Plus the Vikes signed arguably their most important free agent in the defensive backfield in Terence Newman. Bringing in a WR such as Alshon Jeffrey or Terrelle Pryor would have bumped their grade up by at least full letter but what they accomplish in the next phase of free agency could also help their final grade.
Kras: I would grade the Vikings B-. As Nate Leer stated above, I also believe it was important to get Terence Newman resigned to help out a group of DBs that looked below average at times. I think Vikings being able to get 2 Ts out of the free agency pool is a significant move for them as well. With the signing of Remmers, one would assume the Vikings believe Reiff can make the move back to LT and that is where I get a bit unsure. As for the coming weeks, I will be interested to see what the market price is for the RBs. Then whether the Vikings choose to try to work something out with Adrian Peterson or if they move in another direction. Truth be told, they may not do anything at RB in free agency and wait until the draft. I have to imagine though, with no RBs signing with any teams so far, the price will start to fall.
3. Have the Minnesota Timberwolves shown enough improvement this season to make you believe they will be a playoff team next season and moving forward?
Nate Leer: Definitely not. The West is too stacked to guarantee the playoffs next year even if the T-pups would make the playoffs as the 8 seed this year. The team clearly has talent and potential but sometimes that doesn’t translate to wins, just ask New Orleans. In the East a team with 1 or 2 young, elite-if-undeveloped talents can make the playoffs. However, in the West, it takes a solid team with some upside players to be a real threat. Sometimes that can come together quickly but often it takes longer than expected or never happens. The Timberwolves have a long way to go before they are a surefire playoff team.
Kras: I completely agree with Nate Leer on this one. The West is too deep with good teams to guarantee a spot in the playoffs unless you are one of the top 4 teams, which the Wolves are not. Moving forward into next season, I will be interested to see what happens with this club. Will Ricky Rubio be traded this offseason? What will Zach Lavine’s roll be with this team next season? The Wolves have played some of their best basketball this season after Lavine went down with the knee injury. Will he be the same player or do the Wolves feel they can play better without him? The point is, there are still a lot of questions that surround this team and they have only just started to play .500 basketball after the All-Star break. They still need improvement.
1. With LaMarcus Aldridge out indefinitely, are the Spurs still a legitimate threat in the West?
Nate Leer: They are not. It was always debatable whether they were actually a threat to Golden State in the West. Now the loss of Aldridge damages the Spurs more than losing Kevin Durant hurts the Warriors, relative to their overall talent. As much as I like Kawhi Leonard’s talent and respect head coach Gregg Popovich, San Antonio just doesn’t have the talent to compete with Golden State or even a couple of the other top teams in the West (Clippers, Rockets).
Kras: Without Aldridge I don’t think they will be the team to come out of the Western Conference but I think they are still capable of competing and winning a 1st round playoff series. Beyond that I don’t think they will fair well. The NBA playoffs are a grind and, with vets such as Pau Gasol and David Lee having to play the bulk of the minutes, I believe teams will be able to run up and down the floor on the Spurs. Who knows how long LA will be out, if he even comes back this season and if he does what kind of minute restrictions will he have. The West is tough and if a team is not 100% going into the playoffs it is hard to maintain a deep run.
2. What NFL team has had the best free agent signings so far?
Nate Leer: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a sneaky good offseason. WR DeSean Jackson brings a needed deep threat to their passing attack. Having a player that can take the top off of defenses will make their collection of talented skill players even better and he’ll the running game. Plus they added defensive playmakers to a D that had some good stretches in 2016. If they can improve the O-line and/or add anything else to their young, up-and-coming D, this team could make some noise in the NFC South this year.
Kras: I have to go with the homer pick and say the Detroit Lions. Bringing in OG TJ Lang and OT Rick Wagner is a pretty good trade off for losing OT Riley Reiff and OG Larry Warford. Wagner came cheaper than Reiff and Lang is more proven than Warford. I also like the signings of DTs Akeem Spence and Cornelius Washington to replace potential losses of Tyrunn Walker and Stefan Charles. Last but not least, I like the signing of DB DJ Hayden. Hayden was a former 1st round pick and has not lived up to the potential. Hopefully the change of scenery will help both him and the Lions. Hayden brings much needed depth to the secondary.
3. Who is your pick to win the NCAA basketball tournament and why?
Nate Leer: I think Arizona is a team to watch. They are a hot, talented team with about as favorable of a road to the Final Four as a 2 seed can have. The fun and challenge of the NCAA tournament is that it is a crapshoot as to who will emerge as the top teams. This season does not have a dominant regular season team so it is really anybody’s guess who will make the Final Four much less win it all. I will take a team with a pretty clear path to the Final Four and the talent to win against the other top flight teams. Go Wildcats!
Kras: I am going to pick the Wildcats as well. Except I’m going to pick the Villanova Wildcats to repeat. Villanova may have to face Duke or Baylor but that wouldn’t be until the Elite 8. It is a pretty clear path for the Wildcats to that point. Beyond that anything can happen but Villanova is a tournament tested team that was there last year and knows what it takes to win it all. I think we are in for a repeat winner this year.