1. With the Gophers basketball season ending, what is an area of strength and a weakness looking ahead to next season?
Nate Leer: I think one of the strengths of this team will be it’s experience. While they lack a bunch of seniors, one of the ones they have is the starting PG, Nate Mason, at the most important position for having an experienced player. The rest of the team gained valuable experience as well by winning a game in the BIG Ten tournament and playing in the NCAA tourney. A weakness could be shooting. While they lacked depth this year, their recruiting class and the fact that virtually everyone is back should help deepen the bench. However, without any proven, pure shooter on the squad, fans will have to hope that their young Gs and wings can develop their shots over the summer.
Kras: I think Nate Leer hit on it pretty well with the experience. This group of guys, minus Akeem Springs, now know what it takes to get there and how easy it is to get bounced. Both the BIG Ten and NCAA Tournaments will help this team moving forward. One area of weakness for this team heading into next year could be their frontcourt. If Reggie Lynch continues to get into foul trouble throughout games, it makes it easier to teams to attack the rim. Lynch being on the bench also makes it hard for him and his teammates to find an offensive rhythm. Beyond Lynch and Jordan Murphy, there was not a lot of depth so the more those guys can stay on the floor, the better off this team will be.
2. Are the Wild more likely get back on track and finish in 1st place in the West or continue to fall off?
Kras: At this point I would have to say that they will continue to fall off the cliff. There is still time for this team to rebound and get back to playing quality hockey but they need to do it soon. The losses are starting to pile up and they are close to being the 3rd place team in the West. Devan Dubnyk has not been the same goalie over the last month and a half that he was earlier in the year. I’m not sure if he is battling a bit of an injury or it may just be a bit of fatigue. Whatever it is, it needs to be addressed. The Wild can’t afford to go into the playoffs at any less than 100%.
JJ Bens: The Wild, as of 3/20, have lost 5 games in a row and have 11 games left on their schedule. Meanwhile the Blackhawks have won 5 in a row and have 10 games left with a 7 point lead on the Wild. I believe that the Wild still have a chance to hang a banner as Western Conference champs. However, 7 points will be hard to make up in 11 games. The more important question is whether they can go into the playoffs playing their best hockey. I don’t believe that the Wild will continue to fall because the team hasn’t been all that bad in the last 5 games. The team is only playing together well for 40-50 minutes. The other 10 or 20 minutes they clash with each other which I believe is frustrating Devan Dubnyk. The Hawks have a tougher schedule to finish the season, I believe that nobody is going to want to play the Calgary Flames(won 10 in a row) the first round of the playoffs( Which should be the 1st or 2nd seeded team). The regular season doesn’t mean much come playoff time I hope for the Coaches and franchise sake they can turn it on and distinguish the reputation that comes with 0 success in the postseason.
3. How do you like the signing of Latavius Murray and do you think it helps rejuvenate the Vikings run game?
Nate Leer: After hearing Murray discuss his approach to his job and learning more about his well rounded game, I actually like this move quite a bit. Sure he won’t have the flash of AP but he is a more complete back who should immediately help in pass pro, check downs and goal line/short yardage conversions. The man seems to be the ultimate pro so he should help improve the inconsistent O along with the additions to the line.
Kras: I do think it is a nice signing for the Vikings. Murray is by all accounts a better pass blocker and pass catcher than Adrian Peterson and that alone is enough to make me believe he should have some success in Minnesota. As far as if he will rush for 1000+ yards, that remains to be seen. A lot of that will depend on how well the O-line comes together and performs. Murray’s ability to pick up a blitz along with his pass catching ability, will allow him to be more than just a 2-down back. That should help open up what has been a rather conservative O.
1. With RB Joe Mixon reportedly blowing up his pro day, do you expect him to be a 1st round pick, get drafted in the mid rounds or should he not allowed to play in the NFL?
Nate Leer: We obviously do not know how Mixon’s interviews with team personnel went behind closed doors and that may affect his draft status as much as anything at this point. That said, he is a 1st round talent and NFL teams have shown a willingness as recently as last season with Laremy Tunsil to overlook character issues in favor of elite talent. I think Mixon is the most complete RB in the draft so I expect him to go in the 1st or early 2nd rounds as long as he said the right things in interviews and doesn’t have anymore issues.
Kras: I don’t think it is a big secret that Mixon has 1st round talent. The big question will be what team cares the least about the negative publicity that will come with drafting him. I think Mixon very well could go in the 1st round and his football talent would indicate that. I would be a bit surprised if Mixon made it to day 2 of the draft and I would be shocked if he made it to the 3rd round.
2. What remaining NFL free agent are you interested to see find a new home and what team do you think they would best fit?
Nate Leer: There are a few intriguing players still on the market including some QBs who could alter the fantasy football landscape depending on their final destinations and subsequent performances. However, as an All Day, everyday fan of AP, I will be interested to see if he goes to a team where he can be a legit contributor to a team that makes a deep playoff run. I think Tampa Bay could be the best fit but they would likely need to move on from Doug Martin. Another interesting possibility is Dallas if super stud Ezekiel Elliott’s antics catch up to him. Otherwise, there are not a lot of great opportunities for an aging back and other options such as Legarrette Blount available as well.
Kras: I would have to go with the aging RB Jamaal Charles. It is hard to believe he doesn’t have a year or two left in him. That said he hasn’t played much in the past two seasons. Charles would be an interesting fit on a team such as the Colts, a pass heavy team with plodders Frank Gore and Robert Turbin at RB. Charles would be a nice change of pace back that would be an asset for Andrew Luck to give the ball to. Charles also has the ability to take a short screen pass and break it 90 yards for a TD.
3. What is your favorite NCAA tournament moment from the first 2 rounds?
Kras: My favorite tournament moment from the past weekend would be the continued success of the Michigan Wolverines. They walked through the BIG Ten Tournament a week ago. Now, in the NCAA tournament, they played and won a thriller against Oklahoma State in the 1st round and then went on to beat a tough Louisville team. Michigan has been playing some pretty good basketball lately and they seem to be getting contributions from everyone. They will be a fun team to watch moving forward as they take on the Oregon Ducks in a Sweet 16 matchup.
JJ Bens: I agree with Kras on the Wolverines take (I picked them to beat Louisville). Unfortunately, not my favorite moment but what has stuck out to me is the poor officiating. The Gonzaga non call for goaltending against Northwestern was absolutely inexcusable. The Gonzaga player to put his arm through the rim to block a shot that would have cut the Zagas lead to 2 points. Also, seeing the officials give fouls to the wrong player or not call them at all so the player doesn’t foul out is also hard to swallow. Otherwise, my favorite topic has been the failure of the ACC and the success of the Big Ten.