Wait, a Minnesota pro team is overachieving in the playoffs?

For those who enjoy a good underdog sports story and also root for Minnesota teams, there was a thin but prominent overlapping slice of Venn diagram in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The 1987 Twins, with just 85 regular-season wins, dispatched the mighty Tigers in the ALCS and then the Cardinals in the World Series to stun the world.

That same year, the 8-7 Vikings (really 8-4, but 0-3 with replacement players) upended New Orleans and San Francisco in the playoffs to nearly reach the Super Bowl.

The 1988-89 Gophers men’s basketball team reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed; a year later, Clem Haskins’ crew reached the Elite Eight as a No. 6 seed.

Throw in the worst-to-first 1991 World Series champion Twins and the North Stars reaching the 1992 Stanley Cup finals after winning just 27 of 80 regular-season games and it is more than clear: That was quite a five-year run of success, much of it of the unexpected variety.

Surprise success is often the sweetest for fans. With limited expectations, any time a season is extended feels like a gift.

For the last three decades or so, though, Minnesota teams haven’t really been in the spirit of giving.

There are a few notable exceptions: The Twins dispatching the A’s in 2002; the Wild reaching the Western Conference finals in 2003 and winning a couple first-round series under Mike Yeo; the Gophers women’s basketball team reaching the Final Four in 2004. The Vikings upsetting the Packers in the 2004 playoffs and upending the Saints just a year ago.

But most of the last 30 years or so has been dominated by:

*Expected victories (the Vikings reaching the NFC title games in 1998, 2000, 2009 and 2017), the top-seeded Wolves reaching the 2004 conference finals and even the Lynx dynasty after seeing just how good they were in winning their first title in 2011.

*Unexpected losses (1998 Vikings, NFC title game) and others that pale in comparison.

*Lopsided playoff rivalries (Twins vs. Yankees, Wild vs. Chicago) that never went Minnesota’s way.

*Seasons so bad that the playoffs were a mere fantasy.

With that history as a backdrop, we can more adequately frame just how stunning Minnesota United’s 3-0 victory over Kansas City in the MLS conference semifinals was.

Not only were the Loons the No. 4 seed facing top-seeded Kansas City … but they had never won an away match against Sporting KC, being outscored a whopping 15-1 in six matches.

And their win wasn’t some hang-on-for-dear-life affair. Yes, they withstood an opening 15-20 minute barrage, when defender Michael Boxall cleared a ball from the goal line less than two minutes in and keeper Dayne St. Clair made two huge saves to keep the game scoreless.

After that? They dominated the run of play for the latter part of the first half, getting all three of their goals on well-touched setups from playmaker Emanuel Reynoso — the first two cashed in on classy finishes from Kevin Molino.

With that skill producing a stunning 3-0 lead, the Loons then went to work on a calm and controlled second half — never really letting the favored KC side even think about making a game of it.

It was, frankly, almost a perfect game — a series of clutch performances when they were needed the most. Imagine if the 2009 Twins had swept the Yankees. That’s how dominant and unexpected it was.

The Loons are now in the conference finals. They are two wins away from securing their first MLS Cup in just their fourth MLS season. But they will be underdogs again Monday when they play in Seattle.

Can they achieve the unexpected again? It would be out of character for a Minnesota team, but maybe this group of United characters is good enough and different enough to make it happen.

Is Kirk Cousins having a Pro Bowl season?

From the “life comes at you pretty fast” department we bring you the headline you see above, wondering if Vikings QB Kirk Cousins is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season.

Wait. Didn’t I just read in this space a month ago a fever dream about desperately trading Cousins because he had been so awful?

You did. At the risk of sounding like a flip-flopper, I will invoke a quote attributed to famed economist John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

While I still think some of the long-term questions about Cousins are valid — in particular whether the combination of his performance and salary will keep the Vikings from truly competing for a Super Bowl — there is little doubt that he has at least turned the season around both for himself and the Vikings.

Cousins on Thursday was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Carolina, which included a late touchdown drive in a 28-27 win. I dare say he’s in the running for conference player of the month honors, too, after throwing 12 touchdown passes with just one interception in guiding the Vikings to a 4-1 November record.

That November turnaround leads to the loftier notion you see above. While I inched close to declaring this is Cousins’ best season of his career during the most recent Access Vikings podcast, I’m not quite there yet.

But building the case that Cousins could be selected as one of the NFC’s three Pro Bowl quarterbacks this season — even though the game itself isn’t going to be played because of COVID-19 — is a surprisingly reasonable task.

Let’s assume for now that the first two spots are reserved for Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, both of whom are having MVP-caliber seasons.

Drew Brees and Dak Prescott were trending in that direction, but both sustained serious injuries. Prescott is out for the season with a gruesome ankle injury and Brees will miss a number of games with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

The rest of the competition is pretty underwhelming. Nobody in the damaged NFC East is in the mix. Same with the rest of the NFC North minus Rodgers.

I’d say someone old (Tom Brady) and someone new (Kyler Murray) are Cousins’ chief challengers, which could hurt Cousins in voting that often amounts to a popularity contest.

But if we look at passer rating, Cousins is No. 3 among healthy NFC QBs at 104.5 (and No. 8 overall in the NFL) above both Brady and Murray. He falls to No. 17 if we look at Total QBR, perhaps a more accurate measure of a passer’s overall contributions to a team, but other advanced stats help Cousins bounce back.

Cousins is averaging 8.7 yards per pass attempt this season — second in the NFL to only the Texans’ DeShaun Watson.

Lest you think that damage is being done on short passes turned into long gains by catch-and-run plays, Cousins is averaging 7.4 air yards per completion — meaning that’s how far past the line of scrimmage his average completion travels. That’s tied for second in the NFL.

There’s still a ways to go. Heck, even his own team didn’t include him in a tweet about Pro Bowl worthy Vikings.

But if Cousins can come anywhere near his November performance over the final five games — always a big question with Cousins, whose up-and-down nature is one of most maddening features — and somehow rally the Vikings back into the playoffs, his final numbers will probably add up to being Pro Bowl-worthy.

Eddie Rosario picked the wrong year — and wrong era — to get paid

In his last full season with the Twins in 2019, Eddie Rosario hit 32 home runs and drove in 109 runs. He batted cleanup a whopping 127 times that season for a team that broke the Major League Baseball record for home runs, became affectionately known as The Bomba Squad and won 101 games.

On a pro-rated basis, his 2020 pandemic-shortened season was quite similar. If he would have had 590 plate appearances — Rosario had 592, 589 and 590 the previous three seasons, so that’s a reasonable benchmark — Rosario’s 13 homers and 42 RBI over 231 plate appearances, more than half of them batting cleanup, would have translated into 33 homers and 107 RBI.

A generation ago, those numbers would have almost automatically qualified Rosario, a 29-year-old power hitter in his prime, as a franchise player in line for a big contract — particularly as a success story who has spent a decade with the organization after being drafted as a teenager in 2010.

Perhaps even a few years ago, before the Twins changed leadership, Rosario would have been in line for a big-money deal.

It’s possible that even a season ago, if faced with the dilemma of either paying him roughly $10 million for the upcoming season or letting him walk for nothing, the Twins would have ponied up the money.

But this era in particular and this year specifically are combining forces to lead the Twins to one of two decisions: either work out a below-market deal to keep Rosario or non-tender him and let him become a free agent when a deadline for such a move arrives Wednesday night.

If you’re wondering: What the heck? Isn’t Rosario one of the Twins’ best players? Why would they just let him go?

Here is a brief explanation:

Baseball has moved in two directions, both of which devalue a player like Rosario: away from traditional counting stats like home runs and RBI in favor of advanced metrics that paint him as more of an average corner outfielder; and away from paying productive non-star players once they start to get older and more expensive.

The second of those directions — the love of cost-controlled young players as cheap replacements for productive veterans — is particularly damaging to Rosario in 2020, as MLB owners stare down an estimated $3 billion in lost revenue from the pandemic with more losses likely to come in 2021.

So while 30 home runs and 100 RBI used to be benchmarks for major success, we now know that Rosario surely benefitted from his spot in the batting order and other factors to achieve those numbers in 2019 (and the pace for those numbers in 2020).

We can compare his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) from the past few years (right around .800) and determine that it’s nothing special. Not bad — but replaceable for a corner outfielder.

We can evolve beyond just knowing that he led AL outfielders in assists as a rookie to find that in many years he’s been a below-average fielder despite having adequate speed and a strong arm.

And perhaps most importantly, we can look at the Twins minor league system and see Alex Kirilloff (and to a degree Brent Rooker) ready to replace Rosario’s production for a tiny fraction of the cost.

Add it up, and leveraging Rosario’s place in the baseball economy to either get him cheap or give him up — despite his popularity and his seeming place as an emotional leader on the Twins — becomes the sort of shrewd business decision an analytics-minded front office would make, particularly in 2020.

It just happens to be terrible for Rosario, a fun player who is productive despite his flaws and who still qualifies as one of the players in the Twins lineup I’d most want to see up with the game on the line.

If you’re in favor of good players getting paid, I’m afraid 2020 isn’t your year — and the 2020s aren’t your decade.

North Dakota hockey players kneel during anthem

Before No. 1-ranked North Dakota’s 2-0 win over Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday, history was made.

Two UND players — Jasper Weatherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker — followed through with their plan to kneel during the playing of the national anthem as a means of protesting racial injustice.

Per a lengthy story in the Grand Forks Herald, they are believed to be the first Division I men’s college hockey players to kneel during the anthem. 

“I think change is uncomfortable for a lot of people,” Weatherby told the Herald before the game. “If this (demonstration) is uncomfortable for you, it’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and look inside and ask yourself, ‘Why does that upset me?’ and ‘Why is someone from my hometown doing this?’ We hope the hockey community knows that we stand with people of color and we are not OK with the way people are being treated in this country.”

In the midst of a year that has seen a remarkable rise in athletes speaking out against racial injustice and matching their words with actions, the words and deeds of these two North Dakota hockey players strikes me as particularly notable for a few reasons.

*In addition to the historical college hockey element noted in the story, there is a sense that in general hockey — far less racially diverse than sports like basketball, football or even baseball — has lagged behind its peer sports when it comes to addressing these issues.

The Wild’s Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel during the anthem in August when the league resumed play. Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, has become a large presence and in some ways the face of the NHL’s social justice movement.

Both UND players are white — the types of allies needed to advance social justice reform. Weatherby in particular has a fascinating back story that has made him an outspoken advocate for reform.

“At the end of the day, we want UND to be a safe place,” Weatherby said. “As athletes who do have a platform, we stand with our brothers and sisters of color.”

*This comes at a time when it feels — at least to me — like the momentum of social justice activism among athletes that was building for a lot of the summer and into the fall is starting to fade. The increasing impact of the pandemic has occupied a lot of the off-field stories on the NFL and other major college sports. The NBA, which was front-and-center with social justice messaging on its courts during its bubbled return to play earlier this year, will not have “Black Lives Matter” on courts when the 2020-21 season starts in a few weeks.

In general, pandemic news and the fallout from last month’s election have dominated news cycles. It’s convenient to lapse back into old habits and avoid the uncomfortable changes Weatherby referenced. But that’s not the path forward to progress.

*As the article notes, UND has not been immune to racial problems. As a Grand Forks native myself, having lived all but one of my first 18 years there, I saw plenty of the problems of my hometown and its major university close up.

But I also saw and participated in a lot of activism growing up as well, so I don’t want to lapse into the narrative that small- and medium-sized communities are the only places that lag behind on social justice issues.

That said: The significance of two players kneeling during the anthem for a school that for decades refused to change its racist nickname and in an arena named for a man who hosted parties celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday, should not be overlooked.

Nor should we overlook that the two players have attended protests and spearheaded other initiatives — such as hosting a movie night for teammates to watch a documentary on the killing of George Floyd.

For me and Jasper, it was an opportunity to educate our team,” Bernard-Docker said of the movie night. “We’re trying to learn more every day as well. We’re not perfect. We still have a ton to learn. With our team being mostly white males, we’ve never had to deal with racial injustices. Just to open some of our guys’ eyes and show them the history of the past hundreds of years in America, and around the world, how minorities have been treated is important. It makes you realize how well we have it.”

Much-maligned Carson Wentz costs bettor $500,000 with Hail Mary

As a fellow native North Dakotan, it gives me no pleasure to bring you up to speed on the increasingly downward trajectory of Carson Wentz’s NFL career: From promising rookie in 2016 to MVP-caliber player in 2017 to slightly above-average starter (and still injury-riddled) in 2018 and 2019 to the near-bottom of the NFL (at least in terms of Total QBR and the eye test) in 2020.

What happened? Aside from injuries, which are a simple and probably correct explanation, that question leaves even those closest to him like Eagles coach Doug Pederson at a loss for adequate words.

Wentz’s struggles were on full display Monday night, as the Eagles failed to get a first down on any of their first five drives against Seattle. Things got a little better as the game went on, but there was seldom any doubt that the Seahawks — a team with huge issues on defense all season — were going to hold Wentz in check and win the game.

Indeed, all that was left to decide was the final score in the closing seconds. The Eagles trailed 23-9 and had the ball at the Seattle 33. Wentz lofted a Hail Mary into the end zone that was tipped … and snagged by Hail Mary specialist Richard Rogers (yes, the same guy who caught Aaron Rodgers’ desperation heave against the Lions in 2015) with just 12 seconds left in regulation.

The Eagles decided to go for 2 and they converted. A failed onside kick later, the game was decided. Final score: 23-17.

Wentz had come up short again for the 3-7-1 Eagles, who wasted a chance to once again climb atop the putrid NFC East.

But hold on. Wentz was a hero to some people: Those who run and operate sports gambling books.

The final line for the game had the Seahawks favored by 6.5 points. That was the spread at which a lot of action was wagered on the game — the vast majority on Seattle — including one particularly tortured soul who bet $500,000 at BetMGM on the Seahawks.

The late TD padded Wentz’s stats and helped a tiny fraction of gamblers who wagered on the Eagles. But more than anything, it opened Wentz up to a brand new set of angry fans beyond just those who root for the Eagles.

The Vikings finally got a little bit of luck in 2020

The more fortunate among us are fond of saying that people make their own luck, but reality reveals that luck typically charts a more random path independent of our actions.

What appears to be particularly lucky (or unlucky) at a certain point in time is likely influenced more by sample size and an inadequate opportunity for things to even out than it is by any certain favor bestowed upon one entity.

With that in mind, consider the plight of the 2020 Vikings and this idea: They were pushed to the brink of extinction – at least in any sort of realistic playoff sense – by miserable luck in two key and quite random facets of football.

One of them continued in blistering fashion on Sunday. The Vikings have been unlucky virtually all season when it comes to recovering fumbles, and it doesn’t get much worse than it did against Carolina when they lost fumbles on consecutive offensive plays – with both returned for touchdowns! – and then had a muffed punt covered by the Panthers to seemingly seal their fate.

But the other element of bad luck that had stuck with them all season changed just in time to allow them to escape with a 28-27 victory: An opponent missed a field goal, and a big one at that. Joey Slye’s 54-yard attempt – twice as far as Blair Walsh’s fateful miss in the 2015 playoffs and wide left by perhaps as much as well – was just the third missed field goal of the season by a Vikings opponent.

The second came earlier in the game when the Vikings blocked a Slye attempt. The only other miss was a 46-yarder by Matt Prater a few weeks ago when Minnesota beat Detroit, as kickers entered Sunday having made 24 of 25 field goals against the Vikings.

Through Week 10, per Sharp Football, Vikings opponents had made 3.1 more field goals this season than would have been expected based on distance and league accuracy marks. No other team in the NFL had worse luck at that point on opponent field goals.

At that same Week 10 benchmark, the Vikings had recovered 2.1 fewer fumbles than expected. Only three NFL teams had worse luck corralling an oblong ball in 2020.

If Sunday had played out the way the rest of the year was trending, the 1-2 punch of fumble luck and field goal luck would have finished off the Vikings.

(And indeed would have carried on a 60-season tradition, Vikings fans might say, in which the purple have never once benefitted from any sort of good fortune).

Instead, Slye gave them a reprieve.

Sure, a 54-yarder is hardly a certainty. But NFL kickers have made 84 of 122 (69%) from that distance this season. Kicking indoors on turf in an empty stadium, Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had calmly drilled a 53-yarder at the end of the half to give Minnesota a 10-7 lead.

An NFL kicker more often than not makes that kick. Against the Vikings this season, opponents had been a perfect 5-for-5 from 50 yards or more before that Slye attempt — including a 3-for-3 mark from that distance for Stephen Gostkowski in a 31-30 Titans win over the Vikings earlier this year.

But after all the twists and turns Sunday, including a brilliant go-ahead touchdown drive engineered by Kirk Cousins and capped with 46 seconds left, it was good old-fashioned luck that kept alive whatever hopes the Vikings have of making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than a decade.

It was fitting that the final difference was one point — the Vikings’ third such margin this season after not playing a one-point game since, you guessed it, that infamous Walsh miss five years ago.

Unless you consider Slye getting his cleat stuck in the U.S. Bank Stadium turf to be an example of making your own luck – it is the Vikings’ home stadium, after all – the only thing left to conclude is that the random nature of fortune and the NFL happened to go the Vikings’ way for a change.

Rocco Baldelli’s cap adds fuel to Twins-Saints affiliation reports

A few weeks ago, our La Velle E. Neal III reported that the Twins and Saints were working on a deal to have St. Paul replace Rochester (N.Y.) as the organization’s Triple-A affiliate — a fairly seismic shakeup for the two biggest baseball entities in the Twin Cities.

While a lot of questions remain — including how to finance the up to $20 million required to become an affiliate and exactly what becoming an affiliated team would mean for the Saints’ brand — we seem to be inching closer to a final decision.

Baseball America, which has been ahead on the reporting on the massive nationwide overhaul of the minor league affiliate system, reported recently that a full list of 120 affiliates for the 30 MLB clubs could be announced this week.

But in between La Velle’s report a few weeks ago and the official announcement sometime in the near future, the Twins-Saints story was advanced in a different way — via a hat tip, literally and figuratively, from Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.

In a video message posted on Twitter on Saturday, Baldelli thanked Twins fans for their support, told them how much the Twins miss them and reminded them that because of Covid-19 the organization had to cancel TwinsFest and the Winter Caravan this season.

The text of the 88 second video was nice. The subtext was far more interesting.

In the video, Baldelli is wearing a vintage St. Paul Saints cap. If that was some sort of mistake, I’m sure Baldelli wouldn’t have tweeted it out — nor would the Twins’ official Twitter account have retweeted it just minutes after he sent it.

So we are left with the possibility that it’s just a massive coincidence and Rocco just likes vintage caps … or that the Twins-Saints affiliation is close enough to being a done deal that Baldelli is already wearing the merchandise of the new Class AAA team.

“I’m really excited to see what the Twins have in store and are coming up with right now,” Baldelli says in the video.

As Wolves search for a star, there are many paths — but no sure thing

The Timberwolves just spent eight months doing practically nothing interesting, followed by an intense week where they added a great deal to their roster via the draft, free agency and trades — all of which will lead to training camp starting in a week and a season starting in less than a month.

So naturally, I’d like to talk about … their quest to add a third All-Star to a roster featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, an endeavor that might not ever bear fruit and which could take, at minimum, at least another year.

Sure, I’m interested to see how all the current parts fit together, including the return of Ricky Rubio. But long-term, I’m more intrigued by President Gersson Rosas and his staff’s pursuit of the highest-level talent. Because that is the only thing that ultimately will mold the Wolves into anything other than a fringe playoff team.

As such, here is a primer for the paths the Wolves can take to unlock another transcendent player in the relative near-term, in order of easiest to most difficult.

1 Top overall pick Anthony Edwards becomes that guy and does it quickly. History tells us that the No. 1 overall pick has a good chance to become a franchise player. A total of 18 former No. 1 overall picks are in the Hall of Fame.

More recently, the drafts from 2003 (LeBron James) through 2016 (Ben Simmons) have yielded 10 out of 14 players who made either at least one All-Star or all-NBA team.

As the Wolves’ luck would have it, they acquired two of the four who didn’t (Anthony Bennett in 2013 and Andrew Wiggins in 2014) in the Kevin Love trade. But they drafted Towns No. 1 overall in 2015, and he has delivered two All-Star appearances, one all-NBA nod and the right to be considered a franchise cornerstone.

The dilemma with Edwards is that he’s only 19 and doesn’t match up with the KAT and D-Lo timeline so often referenced by Rosas. The Wolves don’t just need another All-Star caliber player. They need one by the 2021-22 season in order to keep those other two players happy and interested.

Will we really learn what we need to learn about Edwards’ future outlook during a hurried 72-game season in a pandemic? Maybe. But if not, another option could be in play.

2 The Wolves gather up their best assets and make a run at a franchise-altering trade for a star next offseason. Next summer will be interesting. Some of it will depend on what happens this season, but some of it requires only a look at contracts to see what could happen.

Namely: Rubio’s feel-good return could become a dilemma for Rosas as it turns into a juicy $17 million expiring contract before the 2021-22 season. Combine that with, say, Malik Beasley’s $15 million or a couple smaller contracts, and you have enough – plus draft picks and/or young players – to match both salaries and assets in the pursuit of another mid-20s star.

Just who would be available – and whether the Wolves get traction with their current lineup and don’t want to change the core — is again likely dependent on what happens this season. But if you’re a Wolves fan you are watching to see if Phoenix (Devin Booker) or Philadelphia (Ben Simmons) does a major faceplant this season.

If one of those players was available and Rubio was a logical trade chip, it would set up the possibility of him being traded away for a second time.

3 The Wolves, by some combination of luck and development, find a player on their roster other than Edwards who elevates and becomes a star. Beasley seems like the most likely candidate after thriving in a small sample after last February’s trade (20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 42.6% on three-pointers in 14 games). He turns 24 on Thanksgiving and, with a larger role, could develop into a bona fide All-Star thread as a third option.

That said, Beasley has already been in the league five seasons. If he had star potential, he likely would have shown it already in Denver. It’s more likely he’s a solid starter on a good team. And the Wolves might really need more like a No. 1 or No. 2 option instead of a No. 3-level star to add to their mix.

Other options theoretically include Jarrett Culver (still only 21), who is coming off of a rookie season that would be described, if you were giving it a compliment, as uneven. The Wolves other 2020 first-round picks Leandro Bolmaro (No. 23) and Jaden McDaniels (No. 28) could be home runs, but we probably won’t know that for at least a couple years.

Then there’s always someone way out of left field – like, say, undrafted guard Jordan McLaughlin, currently a free agent, who was the subject of an amazing email I received Tuesday: “My husband and I are asking you to use any influence you may have, to keep Jordan on the team.  He is a fan favorite and without him, I don’t think we will attend any future games.”

It’s not unheard of for a player to make that sort of transformation. But it’s not something for which the Wolves should plan.

4 The Wolves wind up in the lottery again this season and nab a top-three pick that they convert into a star. The 2021 draft is said to be quite deep. The problem is the Wolves will owe their first round pick to Golden State as part of the Andrew Wiggins trade unless it’s a top-three pick – in which case it stays with Minnesota.

The bad news is a top three pick would likely mean the Wolves had a disaster of a 2020-21 season – further clouding their path even with Towns and Russell – unless they happened to just miss the playoffs and get lucky in the lottery drawing.

And even if they did get such a pick, it might be another young unproven player who takes time to develop. By the time it happened, KAT might be frustrated enough that another rebuild was ushered in.

All that said: Rosas has proved to be patient. He didn’t give up in his pursuit of Russell after losing out in free agency, instead circling back several months later via trade.

Adding another top-flight player could require similar patience and perhaps even more acumen from Rosas to pull off.

Amazing college football finish leads to epic gambling moment

If we are being honest, there aren’t a lot of great studio shows in sports right now — particularly in this specific moment as the coronavirus pandemic limits the options and energy for programs like ESPN College GameDay.

But the late night edition of SportsCenter, hosted by Scott Van Pelt, continues to be one of the rare exceptions. It’s funny. It’s informative. The interviews hit the right tone. And the planned segments are often memorable.

If you’ve watched the show even casually, you have probably noticed a bit called “Bad Beats,” in which Van Pelt runs highlights from the ends of games — many of them seemingly lopsided and/or meaningless — to show how a strange twist impacted tens of thousands of dollars switching hands based on gambling lines.

I don’t watch the late night SportsCenter every night. I haven’t seen all the Bad Beats segments. But one of the games from the segment Monday might have been the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) that I’ve ever seen.

First, the premise: That you would wager on Virginia, favored by 39.5 points, to either cover or not cover the spread against Abilene Christian. I mean, I’ve plopped down a few wagers in Vegas on weekend trips, but I can’t imagine ever touching a game like that.

So what happened? Abilene Christian was trailing by 42 points late, but scored a late touchdown to pull within 36 with just under 90 seconds left. They’re going to cover! Abilene Christian gambling fans rejoice!

They were so excited to score a TD that they got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the extra point was blocked. But still: Up 36. When Virginia gets the ball back, it’s going to be three kneel downs and an Abilene Christian cover, right?

You would think so. Abilene Christian didn’t even bother trying an on side kick. Instead, the ball went deep, where a Virginia player had to go retrieve it and fall on it at the 5 yard line. Fine. No worries. 1:25 left, Abilene Christian has just one timeout. Three plays and the game is over.

But then the first of two amazing things happened. Virginia, up 36, attempted a double pass from its own end zone.

Wait, what? You have to be kidding. I am not. Watch it for yourself, but be sure to pause the full segment after the double pass so you don’t spoil the ending yet.

Why on earth did they do that? Um, it was an accident. From Dailyprogress.com:

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae looked at the wrong line on his play sheet while being a little distracted trying to juggle substitutions. “Robert Anae was off a line,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall laughed. “He called in the wrong play at the end. We’re trying to run out the clock and we end up getting a double pass called out of our end zone.

The resulting play ended up as a safety. So then it was 49-15 Virginia. The Cavaliers were still comfortably ahead, but Abilene Christian was for sure going to cover, right?

Well … Abilene Christian got the ball on the ensuing free kick and started marching down the field. But on the very last play of the game, Abilene Christian’s QB was hit as he threw the ball. It was intercepted and returned 84 yards for a touchdown as time expired. Final score: 55-15. Virginia wins by 40 and covers by half a point.

Honestly, I don’t know when I will stop thinking about the end of this game.

Ed Davis might be the Wolves’ most important new player next season

A flurry of moves over the last five days has served to further reshape the Timberwolves’ roster.

President Gersson Rosas and his staff drafted three players in the first round Wednesday — most notably Anthony Edwards with the No. 1 overall pick — added Ricky Rubio in a headline-worthy trade, then re-signed priority restricted free agents Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez.

Amid all that, it might be easy to overlook what seems like an “oh by the way” transaction Sunday: trading salary/roster fillers Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, along with a future second round pick, to the Knicks for veteran big man Ed Davis.

While Edwards is the most important move (by far) for the long run, Rubio is the most interesting and fun move and deals for Beasley and Hernangomez are the types of deals that can make the Wolves more competitive for the duration of Karl-Anthony Towns’ contract, Davis might end up being the new player who has the most significant impact on how the Wolves play in the short-term — a season that begins in less than a month.

Davis has proven adept over the course of his career in both offensive and defensive pick and roll situations. At 6-9, with a 7-2 wingspan, Davis is good at contesting shots, grabbing rebounds and snaring both putbacks and passes for dunks.

So? There are a lot of players like that in the NBA.

Yes. And the Wolves haven’t really had one for a while. That single deficiency doesn’t explain all of their defensive woes in recent seasons, even as Tom Thibodeau and then Ryan Saunders (and staff) looked to improve it with schemes and effort.

But a player like Davis is particularly useful in the modern NBA — and perhaps even more so when paired with Towns, an offensive unicorn and a defensive albatross.

Davis knows what Wolves assistant David Vanterpool, in charge of the defense, wants on that end of the court after playing three seasons in Portland while Vanterpool was an assistant there. And he knows what Pablo Prigioni, in charge of the Wolves’ offense, wants on that end of the court after playing with the Nets in 2018-19 while Prigioni was there.

Perhaps even more importantly, Davis thrived in 2018-19 with the Nets while D’Angelo Russell was enjoying his best NBA season there and making an All-Star team.

Local NBA writer Dane Moore has the valuable numbers: The Nets were 11.7 points per 100 possessions better in 2018-19 when Davis and Russell were on the court together than when Russell was on the court without Davis. Almost all of that positive difference came on the defensive end, but they were slightly better on offense as well.

Without poring through thousands of Nets possessions from that season, my hunch is that Davis’ work as a team defender and his ability to cover in pick-and-roll situations was a huge boon on defense to the similarly challenged Russell. And on offense, he was a willing target for dunks and putbacks — as you can see on this highlight package.

In that season, Davis finished No. 9 out of 96 power forwards in defensive real plus-minus. The two main power forwards the Wolves employed — Dario Saric and Taj Gibson — finished No. 89 and No. 91, respectively.

Last year’s Wolves featured a lot of Robert Covington and Jake Layman at power forward — then eventually some James Johnson and Hernangomez after the trade deadline. All of them functioned more as “stretch fours,” making up for being undersized to varying degrees by being able to create favorable offensive matchups with their shooting ability.

Covington is gone. Layman and Hernangomez return and figure to function nicely as stretch fours during certain parts of the game, with Hernangomez getting the bulk of the minutes as a presumed starter with his new contract (two years plus an option). No. 28 pick Jaden McDaniels is a long-term project.

Davis should have a clear and important role: Give the Wolves 15-20 minutes per game as a backup — either alongside Towns as a power forward or in place of Towns at center — while delivering valuable offense and defense at the rim and sometimes even being in a game-closing lineup.

Davis is not a stretch four in any sense. He has attempted exactly four three-pointers in his 668-game, six-team NBA career. Davis has made none.

But I dare say the Wolves haven’t had a player with a similar role since the second coming of Kevin Garnett in 2015-16. I would not suggest Davis, a career backup, should be a straight 1 for 1 comparison with a Hall of Famer legendary for his defense and intensity.

But as a player type, particularly at that stage of KG’s career? He is a fair enough match. The Wolves were a very good defensive team when Garnett was on the court that season. Then Thibodeau decided he didn’t want him any more, and the middle became a mess for the back half of the decade.

If Davis can restore some order, he could end up being the most important new player on the court next season.