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Ex-coach Likes U Big Ten Title Chances

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July 27, 2017

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A Thursday notes column including summer optimism about Gophers basketball.

Count former Gophers Big Ten championship coach Jim Dutcher among those who expect a memorable 2017-2018 basketball season for Minnesota.  “At a minimum they’re an NCAA (Tournament) team, with a great chance to win the league,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.

Amir Coffey

Minnesota returns all but one key player (guard Akeem Springs) from last season’s surprise team.  The Gophers, who had a 2-16 league record in 2016, won 11 of 18 conference games last winter.  Dutcher looks at a roster that includes 2017 All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Lynch, and Amir Coffey, who was named to the All-Freshman team, and sees an improved win total next year.

“I would think they gotta be in the 12, 13 range in minimum wins, and could even be better than that,” Dutcher said.

National media have the Gophers included in top 25 rankings for next season.  Sportingnews.com put Minnesota at No. 10 in a listing in the spring, and that’s not too high for Dutcher who sees the Gophers and Michigan State as the favorites to win the Big Ten championship.  The Spartans are a consensus top five team heading into next season.

It might be over 20 years since offseason optimism has been so high about Gophers’ basketball.  In the summer of 1996 Minnesota returned all five starters, including all-time great guard Bobby Jackson.  Minnesota won the Big Ten title during the 1996-1997 season and advanced to the Final Four—with those achievements and others later erased by the NCAA after an investigation involving academic fraud.

Summer optimism about coach Richard Pitino’s program also extends to recruiting for his class of 2018.  Three high profile state of Minnesota high school seniors have committed to Pitino—DeLaSalle’s Gabe Kalscheur, Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturu and Orono’s Jarvis Thomas.  Dutcher believes landing Coffey, who starred at Hopkins, was a “breakthrough” for the Gophers in state recruiting.  Another factor in play is Minnesota’s new basketball practice facility that is expected to open in 2018.

Minnesota’s 2018 class is No. 5 nationally in the composite rankings by 247Sports.  That’s one of the highest rankings in program history.  Dutcher’s five-player 1978 freshman class was recognized as No. 1 in the nation.  The class formed the core of his 1982 conference title team.

Indigo Thompson, the daughter of Gophers all-time leading football rusher Darrell Thompson, is a junior volleyball player at San Diego State.  She started her college career at Virginia Commonwealth.

It wouldn’t be surprising if she has talked with her brother Race Thompson about playing basketball at San Diego State.  Race, a senior at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and among the state’s high profile prospects, has verbally committed to Indiana.

Gophers’ offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was dismissed by head coach Tracy Claeys after the 2015 season but Penn State has turned out to be “Happy Valley” for him.  Limegrover is in State College, Pennsylvania preparing for his second season as the Nittany Lions’ offensive line coach where he will have one of the best “o-line” units in the Big Ten.  Running back Saquon Barkley, a Heisman Trophy favorite, will make Limegrover and the blockers look good on a Penn State team that could repeat as Big Ten champs.

The Vikings are holding their 52nd and last training camp in Mankato this summer before relocating to their new training facility in Eagan.  The absence of the NFL team in Mankato is sure to have an economic impact on the city, with sources as far back as 2010 estimating the annual figure at $5 million.

A July, 2010 Mankato Free Press story reported that in 2009 an estimated additional $5 million in local revenue resulted from Vikings training camp, with more than 50,000 visitors coming to Mankato.  Those figures have likely increased in the years since, but multiple media reports this summer have still estimated the economic impact at $5 million.

Fans can attend practices between now and the close of camp on August 9, but players have off days August 1 and 8.  The Vikings’ first preseason game is August 10 against the Bills in Buffalo.  Fox 9 will televise the game that starts at 6 p.m. Minneapolis time.

Dalvin Cook (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Although much anticipated Dalvin Cook is a rookie, he isn’t that young for a first-year player.  Cook, who declared for the NFL Draft after three seasons at Florida State, turns 23 on August 8.  The Vikings know he could be their replacement for Adrian Peterson after making him the third overall running back chosen in the draft.

Vikings single game home tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. today via Ticketmaster.com only.  Included was the Green Bay game on October 15.

Controversial baseball umpire Joe West, whose confrontations include the Twins, is featured in a seven-page story in the July 24-31 issue of Sports IllustratedPeter Thamel writes that West once ejected Ron Gardenhire before the Twins manager could open his mouth.

Hale Irwin, who will be in town to compete in the 3M Championship next week, will speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers group next Thursday morning.  Irwin is the all-time leader on the Champions Tour in earnings with over $27 million and tournament wins at 45.

Originally known as the Minneapolis Dunkers, the group had its first meeting in October of 1948.  The most famous names in Minnesota sports history have spoken to members over the years—plus some national speakers such as Bobby Knight, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Brokaw and Thomas Friedman.

Minneapolis restaurateur Wayne Kostroski, who founded the Taste of the NFL in Minneapolis for the 1992 Super Bowl, was featured in the July 17-23 Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.  Kostroski, who has started similar events for other high profile sports, comes full circle next year with the Minneapolis Super Bowl.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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