Dutcher Predicts 4th Place for Gophers
Jim Dutcher told Sports Headliners on Monday that coach Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers will finish fourth in the Big Ten standings this winter. Dutcher, Minnesota’s Big Ten championship basketball coach in 1982, also predicted the Gophers will defeat Wisconsin tomorrow night in Madison on the way to earning an invitation in March to the NCAA Tournament.
Dutcher, who coached some of the best teams in Gopher history, believes Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana are the top three programs in a loaded Big Ten that this week has seven teams ranked in the Associated Press and USA Today top 25 national polls. Minnesota, 11-2, isn’t one of those ranked teams yet but Dutcher likes the potential of Pitino’s group.
The Gophers’ physical size is one of the team’s attributes and their rotation of lengthy bodies got a boost this week with the return of injured power forward Eric Curry. He adds size, depth, experience and skill to a group that includes Daniel Oturu, Matz Stockman, Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey.
Dutcher refers to Murphy and Coffey as potential all-conference players who can lead Minnesota back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years. As of Monday, Murphy was leading the nation in rebounding at 12.6 per game. The senior forward is eighth in Big Ten career rebounds with 1,065. He is also Minnesota’s leading scorer.
As a three-position player at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, Coffey can defend, pass, dribble and score inside and outside. Dutcher considers the Minnesota junior as “probably the most versatile player in the conference.”
While Murphy is consistent in his play, Coffey needs to be steadier. Dutcher and others want to see more of the performance Coffey had in a December Big Ten win over Nebraska, 85-78. Coffey scored 32 points, with six rebounds and six assists against the Cornhuskers. Dutcher said the 6-foot-8 former Hopkins star “almost single handedly won” the game for Minnesota.
A front line of Coffey, Murphy and Otru is a strength for a Gophers team that some experts don’t rate as highly as Dutcher. Guard play beyond Coffey is a bit suspect, although Dutcher and others like the accurate long range shooting of freshman Gabe Kalscheur. The two guards that Dutcher said need to come through are senior Dupree McBrayer and sophomore Isaiah Washington.
McBrayer usually starts games, with Washington playing significant minutes off the bench. When McBrayer is on the floor, the team often defers to Coffey as its point guard or playmaker. McBrayer and Washington have struggled to score this season, making 41 and 27.6 percent of their field goals. On three-point shots their percentages are .29.3 and 13.8.
“I think if there’s a question mark on this team it is the ability to make the three and ability to defend the three,” Dutcher said. “That’s where they gotta get better.”
(Minnesota’s team three point percentage is 30.6, while opponents are making 35.3 percent.)
Washington has impressed with his playmaking including assists. He leads the team with 53 and has been at his best in recent games.
Minnesota is 1-1 in Big Ten games, while the Badgers are 2-0 and 10-3 overall. The Badgers are ranked No. 22 the AP poll and No. 23 by USA Today.
Dutcher doesn’t hesitate when predicting a Minnesota win. “They should beat Wisconsin,” he said. “Wisconsin maybe overrated.”
The Badgers are led by senior center Ethan Happ, who is one of most productive players in the country. He is averaging 19.2 points per game, 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
The Badgers, though, may not have as much talent as Minnesota. “We’re a lot deeper than Wisconsin and we should give them some real problems guarding us on the inside if we can get Happ in a little foul trouble,” Dutcher said.
WCCO Radio and TV sports personality Mike Max speaks to the CORES lunch group January 10 at the Bloomington Event Center (formerly the Knights of Columbus building), 1114 American Blvd. For reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth by next Monday, firstname.lastname@example.org. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.
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