1. Do you expect the Gopher basketball team to be better or worse than their #15 preseason ranking?
Kras: I would be plenty happy with the Gophers ending up in the top 15 or above. That said, I would be happy just to see this team remain ranked throughout the season. I don’t think I have the bar set as high as some and I probably should give them a little more credit. I think this team will finish outside the top 15 this season but I believe they will be close. They have some awesome return talent in Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey, and Nate Mason as well as newcomers Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris. I will be looking forward to watching this team on the court this season. I think there is plenty to be excited about and any top 20 finish will be another step in the right direction for HC Richard Pitino and the rest of the Gophers basketball program.
Nate Leer: I would like nothing more than to see the Gophs be a top 10 ranked team or close to it. However, I think it is more likely that they end up ranked closer to 20 than 10. While this is a talented team, they still have young players in several key roles and that may make it hard to be consistent. Sophomore Coffey and the freshmen are clearly short on experience and Lynch’s continual foul trouble to this point in his career looks like a sign of immaturity. I could see the Gophers having a rough stretch early but maturing into a legit Sweet 16 or better threat by February and March. Enough early season struggles would likely keep them out of the top 15 though.
2. What do you expect the Vikings record to be over the 2nd half of the season?
Kras: I am going to predict the Vikings will go 4-4 the rest of the way. They do have a fairly tough schedule that starts in Washington this coming Sunday. I think they lose that game. I also think they will drop games against the Lions and Rams. I am torn between the Panthers and Falcons. I think the Vikes will lose one of those games, I am just not sure which one. The Vikes should be able to handle the Bengals, Packers and Bears on the way out to finish the season. Whatever the Vikes do, they need to avoid the epic collapse that they met after the bye week last season.
Nate Leer: Kras gives a good guess with 4-4 but I think they can do a bit better so I will say 5-3. All their games look winnable but we know that is unlikely at best. The best team (at least to this point) remaining on their schedule is the Rams and that game is here so very winnable. That game is included in their next 5 that make up the toughest part of the schedule. However, they could easily go 2-3 over those 5 then win out as Kras describes. A 5-3 finish would give them 11 wins, most likely win the North and have a shot at a 1st round bye. Not too bad for a team that has dealt with the QB issues this one has plus the loss of RB Dalvin Cook. They still got to make it happen though so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
3. What is one area of improvement the Vikings need to make after the bye week in order to continue winning games?
Nate Leer: I don’t think there is one obvious area they need to improve. This team has been solid to very good across the board. I am most concerned about the QB position as I doubt that Case Keenum can sustain the level of play he has demonstrated the last several weeks. With Sam Bradford officially out for the year, the Vikes will need to get solid to good QB play from a career backup and/or a player who hasn’t played meaningful football in 22 months. Not a great gamble.
Kras: I would tend to agree with Nate Leer on this one. The Vikes are a fairly well rounded team. They have a nice mix of talent at RB with Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are a top tier duo in the league at WR and the D is playing at an elite level. I think if this team needs anything it would be a bit more consistency out of the QB position. Case Keenum has done a fair enough job and the cries for Teddy Bridgewater need to calm down. I do believe that with a more consistent effort from Keenum, the Vikes will be a tough team for any opponent. Remember, Trent Dilfer once led a Super Bowl winning team, and by led I mean he rode one of the greatest Ds of all time. This team is in good shape but, as discussed above, the schedule gets a bit tougher moving forward.
1. Through 8 weeks of the NFL season, which teams do you think are best built to make a run come playoff time?
Kras: I am going to name the Patriots as the obvious choice to make a deep run. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. Enough said. The other team that I believe is poised to make a playoff push is the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have Carson Wentz at QB and he is playing at a very high level so far this season. On the season, Wentz has 2262 passing yards along with 23 TDs. More importantly, I think the addition of Jay Ajayi to help bolster the run game will prove to be important. Ajayi joins LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood in a crowded yet open backfield. The Eagles D has played well this season giving up just under 20 points per game. It is odd to see Philly at the top of the NFC East but why can’t they get beat in the Super Bowl by the Patriots?
Nate Leer: Kras picked the correct 2 teams. The Pats are clearly the cream of the AFC crop, especially with the Chiefs being unable to slow down opposing offenses in recent weeks. As for the Eagles, their QB seems to be ahead of the Rams QB even though Wentz was taken after Jared Goff in the draft. The Vikings have one of the other top records in the NFC but we just discussed their QB issues. The Cowboys, Seahawks and Falcons are all threats based on their runs last year but have significant holes on their teams (D, OL and D respectively) that are holding them back from being real Super Bowl contenders. An Eagles vs. Patriots Super Bowl is the most likely scenario per the results from the first half of the year.
2. Are the Cleveland Cavaliers still the premier team East or is this the season there is a changing of the guard?
Kras: I think only being 10 games into the season it is far too early to tell if the Cavs are done or not. If I had to guess, I would say no, they are not done. They do have a sub .500 record and the sooner Isaiah Thomas can get back on the court, the better. It has been interesting to see the early success of some of the other teams in the East. The Boston Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward yet have been a force behind efforts from others such as Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford. Two other teams worth noting. The Detroit Pistons, who seem to be running a bit more of their O through their big man Andre Drummond. I feel I also have to include the New York Knicks. They seem to actually be functioning as a team and have managed to win a handful of games already, something I didn’t think they would accomplish all year. Until further notice, Cavs.
Nate Leer: To me they are until they lose a series in the playoffs. End of story. We have seen plenty of teams have great regular seasons in the NBA and flame out in the playoffs. Why? Because they care in the regular season and the best teams don’t. The Celtics, and especially Kyrie Irving, want to be the #1 seed because they feel it will prove something and they probably feel home court will help them succeed in a series against Cleveland. Meanwhile, Cleveland cares not at all about the regular season. They know that the NBA regular season is really just the preseason for true title contenders. It is a time to get healthy, integrate new players and develop overall chemistry. The Cavs have nothing to prove in the regular season at this point and they know they can win on the road in the playoffs. Sure it would be nice for Cavs fans to see their team play well and maybe challenge for some regular season win records but the winningest team ever in the regular season would have traded all of those wins for the title that year. That’s the math the true contenders do so judging them on the regular season does not give a true evaluation of strength. The Cavs are the top dogs until knocked out when it matters in the playoffs!
3. Which NHL team(s) do you feel have been the biggest surprise to this point in the season?
Kras: For me it has to be the start that the Las Vegas Golden Knights have had. Their 9-5-1 record has them in 2nd place in the Pacific Division and tied for 3rd overall in the West. It is interesting to see this expansion team do so well seeing how the players have had little time to prepare with one another being a new franchise. They have had a carousel at goalie this season due to injury. Marc Andre-Fleury and Oscar Dansk have recorded 3 wins each while Malcolm Subban has chipped in with 2 more. Nate Schmidt and Brad Hunt have been the most productive from the blueline, each totaling 7 assists. Along with good goaltending and solid play from the D-men, the O of the Knights has been far better than expected. Players such as Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Erik Haula, and Alex Tuch have all proven to have some talent and been able to help this club. It was far from what I expected to see team doing this year so it is worth noting.