Yes, that was Paul Molitor sitting behind home plate at Target Field

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes the story of the day is too obvious to ignore. Let’s get to it:

*If you weren’t at Target Field for Thursday’s opener but instead watched on FSN, you might have had this thought: “Hey, is that … nah, it can’t be. But … it sure looks like Paul Molitor sitting in the front row behind home plate.”

Your eyes were not deceiving you. The former Twins manager, less than six months removed from being fired, was sitting in those very prime seats and wearing sunglasses. The camera from center field had him in plain sight for viewers to see on pretty much every pitch.

It was … odd? But maybe OK?

Taylor Rogers, who recorded four outs to close the game for the Twins, said after the game that seeing Molitor in the seats took him by surprise but that it “shows the kind of man he is” that he still feels connected to the team.

I can’t imagine Molitor will be there for every game, but as of now the Twins are 1-0 and maybe it’s good luck to have him there? Those seats are about the only way to be closer to the game than if you were sitting in the dugout.

*And yes, those were members of the Golden State Warriors at Target Field for Opening Day. They face the Wolves on Friday at Target Center and were already here. I saw head coach Steve Kerr just outside the ballpark, while cameras found several players — including Steph Curry — in the seats.

*If you were at Target Field, chances are you dealt with pretty long lines to get in — and also some major congestion in the concourses. The long lines were a problem throughout MLB, but it certainly irked many fans at Target Field. One fan told me on Twitter: “It was a disaster. We were stuck on the plaza for almost an hour and then in the concourse for another 45 minutes to reach our seats.”

Here’s an image from another fan on Twitter:

*The long lines were about the only thing folks had to complain about, though — and that includes the rendition of the national anthem by local music legend and fellow Taco Tuesday enthusiast Har Mar Superstar.

Despite confessing to being nervous, he pretty much killed it out there — and the flyover at the end was the icing on the cake. Here’s some video:

*Oh, right, the baseball game.

Jose Berrios was masterful — dominant enough for Patrick Reusse to invoke the name of Johan Santana. He needed to be that good because Corey Kluber was mowing down the Twins — until the 7th inning, when three of the four newcomers in the lineup sparked a two-run burst. And it all happened in a tidy 2 hours, 18 minutes. Who says baseball has a pace of play problem?

There is a tendency to overreact to the events of Opening Day. A sport with 10 times as many regular-season games as the NFL needs to pace itself. But I will say this: The Twins looked legit on Thursday. The lineup will produce plenty of runs when not facing a two-time Cy Young Award winner. Berrios looks ready to be a true No. 1. If the rest of the guys who follow him in the rotation and out of the bullpen are at least adequate, this is a team that can contend.

Minnesota pro sports fan looking for optimism? Your choices have dwindled

Oh, for the professional sports optimism of a year ago at this time. In late March, 2018 …

*The Twins were preparing to open their season, fresh off 85 wins and a surprising berth in the wild card game of the 2017 playoffs.

*The Vikings were a couple months removed from a disappointing end to a fantastic season and had just signed a couple weeks earlier the prize of the QB free agent pool: Kirk Cousins. Super Bowl talk was everywhere.

*The Lynx were the defending WNBA champions and loading up with a veteran roster for what they hoped would be a fifth championship in eight seasons.

*The Wild was barreling toward its sixth consecutive playoff berth and what would be its second consecutive 100-point season.

*The Wolves were battling for their first playoff appearance since 2003-04, a spot they secured shortly thereafter thanks to a clutch performance from Jimmy Butler (31 points, five rebounds and five assists) in Game 82 of the season against Denver.

*Minnesota United was in the midst of Year 2 in Major League Soccer and had shown at least some early progress.

Five of those teams – all but the Loons – had reached the postseason in the preceding year. It was enough to make a fan feel like there were some genuinely good times ahead.

I’ll try to be brief as to not belabor what has happened in the last year, nor am I offering the rewind as a means of making you sad. Rather, it’s just a reminder of how quickly things can change.

The Vikings and Cousins not only didn’t win the Super Bowl, they missed the playoffs. And the early 2019 offseason has offered constant reminders of the pennies the franchise now must pinch thanks in part to the contract doled out to a quarterback whose statistical success was not matched by team success.

The Wolves endured close to two months of Jimmy Butler drama, fired head coach Tom Thibodeau and predictably fell short of a repeat trip to the playoffs. The Wild, too, has its playoff hopes on life support after an uneven season fueled by injuries, uneven play and a roster shakeup. Both of those teams are firmly in transition, and the short-term results could very well be painful beyond this season.

At least the Whitecaps brought a winter championship.

The Lynx made an early playoff exit, then watched Lindsay Whalen retire and Maya Moore take a break. This, too, feels like a franchise in transition.

The Twins and Loons? Out of the six teams mainly referenced here, those might be the two biggest reasons for optimism – in part because their seasons are still in their relative infancy and in part because there are real things about which to be excited.

Cleveland’s reign atop the AL Central is in long-term jeopardy. It might be in the short-term, too. Even after a 78-win season last year, the Twins should be competitive. They are going to score a bunch of runs. If that pitching holds up …

The Loons are putting a better product on the field this season than in either of their first two years, and they will do so in a brand new stadium when Allianz Field opens in a couple weeks.

That’s your spring and summer plan: Hop on the Green Line and hope there’s a party worth shuttling back-and-forth to in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

It’s not nearly as much as you had a year ago, but it’s your best bet.

For allegedly not doing much this offseason, the Twins’ lineup sure looks different

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where it’s nice when facts can be part of a good story. Let’s get to it:

*The last time the Twins were within realistic shouting distance of the Cleveland Indians came on June 3, 2018. The Twins had just defeated Cleveland for the third consecutive time, this time a 7-5 win, to draw within 3.5 games of the AL Central leaders. Pretty much every team in the division was struggling, and things looked wide open.

In reality, though, things never got better. The Twins drifted far enough below .500 to be harmless, while Cleveland got its act together and coasted to another division title.

I mention that game in part because of the lineup the Twins put on the field that day. Here it is, 1-9:

1) Brian Dozier, 2B
2) Eddie Rosario, LF
3) Miguel Sano, 3B
4) Logan Morrison, 1B
5) Eduardo Escobar, SS
6) Max Kepler, RF
7) Robbie Grossman, DH
8) Ryan LaMarre, CF
9) Bobby Wilson, C

Now compare that to the expected starting lineup for the Twins on Thursday, when they open the season against that same Cleveland squad:

1) Max Kepler, RF
2) Jorge Polanco, SS
3) Nelson Cruz, DH
4) Eddie Rosario, LF
5) C.J. Cron, 1B
6) Marwin Gonzalez, 3B
7) Jonathan Schoop, 2B
8) Jason Castro, C
9) Byron Buxton, CF

Seven of the nine players are different, with only Kepler and Rosario being the constants. Of the seven from 2018 who are not in today’s lineup, only Miguel Sano is still on the roster.

Of the seven newcomers to the lineup: Polanco was suspended and returned for the second half of the year, when the Twins were already pretty much out of it. Castro was done for the season with an injury by early May. Buxton battled injuries and poor performance all year.

But the other four are true newcomers — three free agent signings (Cruz, Gonzalez and Schoop) and a waiver pickup (Cron) who is being paid like a free agent ($4.8 million). All are expected to hit for power and produce runs while occupying important spots in the order (yes, No. 7 is an important spot in the order these days).

Long story short: For all the talk about how the Twins didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason, they sure will look a lot different when they take the field for the first time in 2019.

*An interesting nugget unearthed in the midst of thinking about the NFL’s new rule that will allow challenges on pass interference penalties in 2019: Sure, it was motivated in large part by the botched call against the Saints in the NFC title game. But the Saints were also the NFL team last season that was called for pass interference the most times (19) and had the most pass interference calls go its way (14).

*Of the 46 games in the Women’s Professional Hockey League this season, 16 were sellouts — and Minnesota led the way in attendance, per Emily Kaplan.

*Karl-Anthony Towns’ pal Devin Booker put up another 50 point game in another loss Wednesday. He shot a VERY good 19 for 29 from the field and was a plus-8 in the three-point loss to Washington, so don’t blame him.

Are social media breaks for NFL players a good idea?

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where I will try to keep things separated into short, digestible segments so you can get through this without needing a break. Let’s get to it:

*Kliff Kingsbury is 39, just a few years younger than me, and likewise straddles the line between generations. He was born in 1979 so technically he’s one of the youngest members of Generation X, but those just a year or two younger than him are classified as Millennials. And pretty much every player he oversees as the new head coach of the NFL’s Cardinals is a Millennial.

That generation is much-discussed and sometimes maligned — fairly at times, unfairly others. What we should all agree upon is that those born between 1981 and 1996 grew up in a much different world than those older than them thanks in large part to the explosion of the Internet — and the related things it like social media.

The rest of us have adapted to those things; Millennials came of age with those things and experience them differently as a result.

As such, Kingsbury is trying something with the Cardinals that he did with even younger players at Texas Tech: he’s giving them a “cellphone break” after about 20 or 30 minutes of team meetings in an attempt to make sure they are focused when the meetings are happening. He’s blunt about the reason why:

You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix, so we’ll let them hop over there and then get back in the meeting and refocus,Kingsbury told reporters recently.

Whether you think this is a smart way of understanding the different needs and mind-set of a younger generation … or acquiescing far too much to a group of adults that should be able to sit still and listen probably depends on how you feel about Millennials and management in general.

Maybe 50 years ago players got breaks to smoke cigarettes?

Maybe a break of any sort is not a bad idea since in an NFL game you only have to pay attention for a few minutes at a time, anyway?

*The Wild’s slim playoff hopes took another hit Tuesday when Arizona defeated Chicago 1-0. The Coyotes and Avalanche are both two points clear of the Wild — and those two teams play each other Friday when the Wild takes on Vegas. A Wild loss in that one combined with a three-point game between Colorado and Arizona would be devastating.

*Minnesota teams could make history at this year’s men’s hockey Frozen Four. St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State are all No. 1 seeds in their regions. Though the Gophers (21), UMD (6), St. Cloud (1) and Bemidji State (1) have made a combined 29 Frozen Four appearances, there has never been more than one team from this state in the Frozen Four in any year.

*“He needs to play up to his ability level. We’re paying him a lot of money. He needs to play up to that contract.” — That was Mike Zimmer on Xavier Rhodes, talking to reporters Tuesday in Arizona. File that quote away.

The 2018-19 Wild: Extremely unlucky or just not very good?

In sports (and in life), there is a tendency to seek answers to a variation on the question, “Is it better to be lucky or good?” In sports this plays out in attempts to quantify whether certain teams or players had a streak of luck that caused elevated performance or if they’re really just that good.

I’d like to ask the opposite question of the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild: Is this team particularly unlucky or just not very good?

The crux of the question is built around the notion of “expected goals.”

Through various data points involving shot quality – both in terms of shots taken and shots allowed – Corsica Hockey derives the expected goals statistic. Since we have data on both offense and defense for all teams, it’s possible to determine expected goal differential – what you would expect a team’s goal differential to be based on the quality and quantity of shots it takes and gives up.

Taking a look at this data during 5-on-5 play – a fair evaluation – we find that the Wild’s expected goal differential this season is plus-25.62 (144.06 goals scored and 118.43 goals allowed). That expected differential is fifth-best in the NHL.

But the Wild’s actual 5-on-5 goal differential this season is minus-12 (133 scored, 145 allowed). Every other NHL team in the top 13 of expected goal differential this season has a 5-on-5 goal differential of at least plus-12. The Wild is a huge outlier.

And the gap between the Wild’s actual 5-on-5 goals and expected goals is 37.62 goals – by far the largest negative margin in the NHL. Next-worst is Carolina at 28.4 goals fewer than expected.

You can see how all the NHL teams compare in this visualization:

What that seems to indicate is that the Wild deserves a better outcome than it is getting this season, at least in 5-on-5 situations.

Last year, for instance, the Wild’s expected goal differential in 5-on-5 situations was plus-19.75, fourth-best in the NHL. Its actual goal differential was close, at plus-16. The Wild finished with 101 points and made the playoffs.

Here, though, it’s useful to examine how “expected goals” are calculated. Corsica uses several factors, including shot type, shot angle and shot distance but excludes “shooter talent not because it isn’t an important factor, but rather because I fear players may unfairly benefit or suffer from their linemates’ aptitude,” per a 2016 explanation by Emmanuel Perry.

Maybe the Wild is getting plenty of chances but doesn’t have the right players to convert them? That would match the eye test and the ire of Wild fans.

“That sort of epitomizes the way it was going and the season: getting chances to score and not burying them,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Wild’s 1-0 loss to Nashville on Monday, a game in which the Wild had 29 shots and several good chances but no goals.

But most of the difference in the Wild’s expected vs. actual goal differential comes from goals allowed (minus-26.57) instead of goals scored (minus-11.05).

That would imply the Wild’s goaltending is to blame, but there are things about shot type and shot quality – Was it a screen? Who was shooting the puck? – that aren’t clearly factored into the shot quality. And maybe what Corsica deems a quality shot differs from the Wild’s definition.

What we do know is that if the Wild’s actual 5-on-5 goal differential was anywhere close to its expected goal differential, we’d be talking about a team headed to the postseason for a seventh consecutive season instead of one hanging by a thread in the chase.

And like those strong teams that are probably best described as a combination of lucky and good, the Wild is probably best described as a duality: unlucky but also not very good.

Or at least not good enough.

Five Twins players who should beat their projections in 2019

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where it’s hard to believe the Twins play in two days. Let’s get to it:

*As part of the Star Tribune’s ongoing Twins preview week, the team’s depth chart was published Tuesday along with projections from FanGraphs on how each player is expected to perform this season.

Projections can be difficult things because they are heavily dependent on playing time. But here are five Twins projections I think players will be able to beat this season:

1) Marwin Gonzalez, 60 RBI: Gonzalez is a switch-hitter who can play just about every position. He’ll start the year at third base while Miguel Sano heals, and you can imagine him easily playing 150 games at a bunch of spots. Topping 60 RBI should be a breeze.

2) Jose Berrios, 12 wins and 4.28 ERA: Berrios was a deserving All-Star last season. He made a big jump in innings and strikeouts. This year he makes another leap as a No. 1 guy, moving into that 15-18 win range and keeping the ERA below 3.50.

3) Jake Cave, 5 home runs: In a perfect world, Cave won’t have to play a lot. But he shouldn’t have to play much to top five homers after blasting 13 of them a year ago.

4) Jake Odorizzi, 4.98 ERA: Odorizzi can be frustrating to watch as he labors through five innings, but he has a career ERA of 3.95 — better than Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda or Martin Perez, the other four Twins starters.

5) Byron Buxton, .244 batting average: I’ll take a leap of faith here that Buxton will turn a corner. If he does, hitting better than .244 shouldn’t be an issue.

 

*Kris Humphries, the former Hopkins standout and Big Ten Freshman of the Year with the Gophers in 2004, officially announced his retirement from the NBA in a long essay on The Players’ Tribune.

Humphries hasn’t played in the NBA since 2016-17, the last of 13 seasons spent with eight different teams. His narrative weaves through a very interesting life story: from youth swimming champion to cocky young basketball player to a grinder who made it a long time in the league (and who famously married a Kardashian along the way).

It’s worth a read, but I enjoyed this part in particular because it applies to a lot of aspects of life:

One day my agent, the great Dan Fegan (rest in peace), gave me the best advice I’ve gotten in my entire career. Maybe my entire life. He said, “Kris, I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you want to last in this league for a long time, people have to actually like you. And you know what? Let’s just call it like it is. People don’t like you.” I know it sounds really simple, but I can tell you, after grinding through 13 NBA seasons, that a big part of sticking around, if you’re not a superstar, really comes down to … “Is this a decent dude who’s gonna shut up and work hard?

*Marlene Stollings’ Texas Tech women’s basketball squad went 14-17 in her first season after leaving the Gophers. That is a seven-win improvement over the previous season, but it appears the roster will also look quite different next season as the program recently announced four players will not be returning to the team.

Jets official takes shot at Anthony Barr for backing out of agreement

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr has added to his enemies list.

Two seasons ago, he garnered the ire of Aaron Rodgers and Packers fans when he landed on the Green Bay QB after a legal hit and knocked Rodgers out for much of the 2017 season.

This offseason? Barr had agreed in principle to join the Jets as a free agent, only to reverse course and stay with the Vikings.

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson was asked about Barr during the league meetings, which started Sunday. Johnson made it clear he wasn’t happy about how things went down, though he couched his disappointment.

We want people on our team who want to be New York Jets,” Johnson said, according to the New York Daily News. “Not everybody wants to be in New York. If he didn’t want to be here, that’s fine. It’s disappointing when someone backs out on an agreement, but we want people who are all-in.

The Vikings played the Jets in 2018 and aren’t slated to play them again until 2022, so I imagine whatever bitterness exists now will have dissipated by then.

It could come down to Wild vs. Stars for last playoff spot

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where things are a lot calmer than they were a few days ago. Let’s get to it:

*The Wild’s playoff hopes have faded significantly in the last two weeks because of a 1-3-1 home stand (and, frankly, several other inconsistent stretches to the season).

It might look to some like Minnesota is in a three-team race for just one playoff spot, the last wild card slot in the West, with Colorado (two points up at 81) and Arizona (tied with the Wild at 79).

But I think Dallas might be just as vulnerable to a late Wild push, which could set up a very interesting Game 82.

The Stars had their own recent 1-3-1 home stand, a stretch during which the Stars could have cemented a playoff berth but instead left it open to question. Now Dallas plays its next four games on the road — the first two at Winnipeg and Calgary — where the Stars are a below .500 team this season.

Dallas does have 82 points and has played one fewer game than the Wild, Arizona and Colorado. But if the Wild can gain two points on Dallas in its next five games — three of them at home, where admittedly Minnesota has been strangely bad — Minnesota could catch and pass Dallas with a regulation win on the season’s final day when the teams meet in the finale in Dallas.

The bitterness Minnesotans feel toward the Stars isn’t quite as acute as it was around the time the Wild franchise was formed, but stealing a playoff spot from Dallas would still be a boon for fans.

*Francisco Lindor could be in line for a huge payday when he is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. But will that happen with Cleveland?

Enjoy him,” Cleveland owner Paul Dolan recently said. “We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens.”

That should pique the curiosity of Twins fans hoping Minnesota can catch and pass Cleveland in the AL Central in the coming years. It should also serve as a reminder that MLB is rigged in favor of the teams able to spend more.

*With the Wolves being eliminated officially from the playoffs over the weekend, injured point guard Jeff Teague also officially will miss the postseason for the first time in his career.

He made it to the playoffs each of the first nine years of his career — seven with Atlanta, one with Indiana and one with Minnesota — and has appeared in 71 playoff games total.

Teague is not expected to play the rest of this season, the Wolves announced last week. He’s appeared in just 42 games this year while battling various ailments. The Wolves are 23-19 when Teague plays, and they are just 10-21 without him. Keep that in mind as you consider whether Teague will opt-in to the final year of his contract at $19 million next season.

*ESPN has a cool feature that takes a look at the “five pitches that would make the ultimate MLB pitcher.”

Fans will miss Marcus Sherels; Vikings might miss him even more

Marcus Sherels became a Vikings fan favorite for a number of reasons after arriving with the team in 2010. He was “one of us,” hailing from Rochester and playing for the Gophers; he was an underdog, making the team as an undersized and undrafted free agent; and most importantly: he was good at what he did.

That last part underscored why Sherels, seemingly on the roster bubble season after season, last as long as he did with the Vikings — performing as their primary punt returner, a punt gunner and lightly used cornerback.

He handled 473 total kicks, most of them punts and including fair catches, from 2011-18 with the Vikings. He ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in punt return yard average in five of the last six seasons and is third on the NFL’s active list for total punt return yards (not to mention No. 26 all time).

Perhaps having a true specialist was a luxury the cap-strapped Vikings could no longer afford. Perhaps they decided the 31-year-old Sherels was on the decline or due for one. What we know for sure is that Sherels now plays for the Saints after agreeing to a one-year deal in New Orleans.

Quantifying how much fans will miss Sherels is difficult, though the basic answer is “a lot.” Quantifying how much the Vikings might miss Sherels is a little easier. But the answer is the same: “a lot.”

That’s not to say the Vikings can’t fill Sherels’ shoes. It is to say it will be difficult and that letting him go might have been a sneaky but large mistake. Why?

*Mike Zimmer values field position: By virtue of their stout defense, the Vikings tend to force a lot of punts. They were No. 10 in punts forced in 2018 and No. 5 in 2017, meaning there are generally a lot of opportunities for their punt returners.

The average NFL team returned 28.4 punts in 2018, and the average length of return was 8.5 yards. Sherels in the last six season has averaged 11.3 yards per return. So let’s say Sherels is worth about 80 yards per season more than the average punt returner — five yards per game over the course of a 16-game season.

That might not sound like a lot, but if they come at the right time they can make a huge difference. Not only that, but Sherels was adept at running up to grab line drives that otherwise might have rolled and had a good feel for when to fair catch and when not to fair catch. It’s safe to say he was worth more than 80 yards a year when taking those subtle skills into account.

The Saints, by the way, averaged a dismal 6.5 yards on punt returns last season, No. 24 in the NFL. Sherels will be a major upgrade.

*Sherels was a game-breaker. Though he wasn’t flashy and didn’t look particularly dangerous, Sherels has five career punt returns for touchdowns — second among active NFL players and No. 14 all-time.

He didn’t take one to the end zone last season in an injury-marred year when he only played 12 games, but Sherels did bust out a 70-yard return that changed momentum in a victory against the Dolphins.

*Sure hands shouldn’t be taken for granted. Sherels was dangerous as a return man, but he was pretty careful with the ball.

In eight years as a return man, he had just eight regular-season fumbles and lost just two of those — so one fumble a year, and one lost fumble every four years.

In the NFL last season, there were 83 total fumbles among the 32 teams on punt returns — about 2.6 per team.

The Packers led the league with a whopping eight punt return fumbles last season and were Exhibit A of what can go wrong without a dedicated and sure-handed return man. They had five different players fumble at least one punt and lost three total, including Tramon Williams’ lost fumble in their 24-17 loss to the Vikings. Guess who recovered that fumble for the Vikings?

Sherels.

Among those mentioned as in-house candidates to replace Sherels are running back Ameer Abdullah, cornerback Holton Hill and receiver Brandon Zylstra.

Those three players have combined for SIX punt returns in their NFL careers — four by Zylstra and two by Hill last season when Sherels was injured, for a combined 6.5 yards per return. They didn’t fumble, at least. In 2016, when Sherels missed time, Adam Thielen had a key fumble on a punt return against Dallas in a Vikings loss.

Maybe one of those in-house guys — or someone else the Vikings draft or acquire between now and September — will do a great job next season and the Vikings won’t miss a beat.

But maybe the Vikings will miss Sherels just as much as it sounds like their fans will miss him.

Sites duped by fake tweet about NCAA hoops star missing flight, taking Uber

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where the smell test is still an important one. Let’s get to it:

*On Wednesday evening, a Twitter account claiming to be run by a breaking news expert in Tennessee posted a somewhat plausible and want-it-to-be-true item about Colgate freshman standout Jordan Burns allegedly missing the team flight to Columbus, Ohio for Friday’s NCAA first round game against Tennessee and deciding to hop in an Uber for a 500-mile drive to join his team.

The tweet from @RGW_News was viral enough (more than 2,000 retweets and 14,000 likes as of Friday morning) that I remember seeing it Wednesday night as I browsed my timeline even though I certainly don’t follow that account.

It piqued my curiosity because it sounded like a great story, but also because it sounded a little fishy. An Uber? And the team didn’t notice it left its second-leading scorer (15.8 ppg) behind? I couldn’t find any other outlets reporting the story upon a quick search. I stopped investigating and just let it go, deciding I wouldn’t make any mention of it unless there was more corroboration.

Turns out the story was completely fake, which isn’t a surprise but does offer social media cautionary tale No. 589,430 about not believing everything you read.

As Awful Announcing notes in a more detailed post, the tweet was picked up by a few CBS local sites and spread quickly enough that Burns’ mother believed he had actually missed the flight and taken an Uber. A reporter from an actual media outlet in Knoxville wrote about it:

Colgate guard Jordan Burns was in Ohio on Wednesday just as he was supposed to be. Then his mom called.

“She was like, ‘Wow, I know if you would have missed this flight I know you would have picked up the phone and called me, right?’ ” Burns said Thursday. “I was, like, ‘Yeah, Mom, I’m in the hotel and things like that.’ “

Burns soon found out the reasoning. A fake tweet circulated rapidly on Twitter late Wednesday saying the Raiders guard missed the team flight and had to take an Uber to Columbus to join his team.

Even worse? The original tweet is still up, and the account is still humming along. If you scroll through it, you see several more tweets that are somewhere between “kind of plausible” and “almost definitely not true” but there’s no attempt at all to brand it as satire.

It’s the very definition of fake news.

*I’ll do more on this later, but Sean Tierney made a bunch of fascinating NHL visual charts that basically tell us (or want us to believe) that the Wild has been incredibly unlucky this season. Basically there’s a huge negative variance between the number of goals the Wild is expected to score/allow and the number it actually has scored/allowed.

*The Wolves are 10 games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with 10 games to play. Their next loss, which could come as soon as Saturday at Memphis, will officially eliminate them from the playoff race. Thursday’s loss at Charlotte put the Wolves into the 11th spot in the lottery standings, flip-flopping with the Hornets who are now a half-game better than the Wolves in the actual standings.

*The Gophers are 8-1 (including 4-1 against major conference teams) when Gabe Kalscheur attempts at least seven three-pointers in a game — as he did Thursday in going 5-for-11 in the NCAA tourney win over Louisville. Keep feeding him, and let it rip. He was 3-for-4 from long distance, by the way, when the Gophers lost 79-55 to Michigan State earlier this year.