Jim Dutcher Upbeat on Gophers
It’s been a difficult couple of days for the Golden Gophers basketball program after losing two starters indefinitely, but Jim Dutcher is keeping an optimistic perspective for now. News came late last week that senior center Reggie Lynch is suspended from games and sophomore forward Amir Coffey is unable to play because of a shoulder injury.
If Coffey can play again after a short absence Dutcher believes Minnesota could pull off a fourth place final finish in the Big Ten. A return before long by Lynch, too, may result in third place, according to Dutcher who was the Gopher head coach from 1975-1986.
The Gophers struggled last night without Coffey and Lynch, losing to Indiana 75-71. The defeat left Minnesota with a 2-2 Big Ten record, with 14 more games remaining on the conference schedule. “They still got a lot to play for,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.
Dutcher, though, acknowledges “all bets are off” if the Gophers must play without Lynch and Coffey for several weeks. Lynch is appealing a decision by the University of Minnesota to ban him from campus for more than two years for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Athletic director Mark Coyle announced a suspension of Lynch from playing in games on Friday. Although Lynch is practicing with the Gophers, it might be likely he will never play for Minnesota again. Even if the University reversed itself after appeal, Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino could decide Lynch doesn’t meet his standards for being on the team.
Pitino isn’t creating any specific timeline for the return of either Lynch or Coffey, whose shoulder injury apparently is significant enough to cause speculation he could be out for many weeks. Challenging, too, is the schedule ahead that has the Gophers playing five road games between now and February 4. During that period Minnesota plays twice at home and also has a neutral court game on January 20 in New York City against Ohio State.
Senior Bakary Konate replaced Lynch at center last night, while sophomore Michael Hurt had Coffey’s forward spot. Lynch was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season and entered the Indiana game with about three times more blocked shots than any other Gopher. Coffey, a Big Ten all-freshman last season, is Minnesota’s third leading scorer and perhaps the team’s most versatile and unselfish player.
Konate scored two points against Indiana in 27 minutes. He had four rebounds and blocked three shots. Hurt, in 31 minutes, took one shot and didn’t score. He had four rebounds, all of them in the first half.
Late last summer Minnesota lost its best bench player for the season. Promising sophomore forward-center Eric Curry is sidelined following knee surgery. Now with Lynch and Coffey out, the Gophers are without three of their top six players.
“They went from having a Big Ten championship as a goal, to (now) trying to qualify for the (NCAA) Tournament as a goal,” Dutcher said. “They’re not going to win the Big Ten championship.”
Dutcher believes Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan will finish one, two and three in the final Big Ten standings. MSU is not only the league favorite but could win the school’s first national championship since 2000.
The Los Angeles Lakers continue to promote the old Minneapolis Lakers jerseys, and the team wore them in a game last week at Target Center against the Timberwolves. The popular MPLS jerseys prompted a telephone call to Bob Stein, the Timberwolves first president, to ask if franchise ownership and management considered naming the team Minneapolis instead of Minnesota back in the late 1980s. Stein didn’t recall serious discussion about using the city’s name, noting the franchise wanted to represent the larger Minnesota market despite the history of the state’s first NBA team being named Minneapolis.
Regarding the choice of Timberwolves as the nickname, Stein said a naming contest open to the public generated many suggestions including the Minnesota Mosquitoes. Others that drew amusement from the team’s front office were:
Minnesota Taxes$; Minnesota Fats; Minnesota Uff Da’s; Minnesota Loona-Ticks; and Minnesota Yumpin’ Yacks.
Timberwolves was a fan favorite but Stein said the organization’s inner circle “winked” on the final tabulation of voting by the public. The outcome, he suggested, was not unlike some “alleged political elections.”
SI.com’s famous NFL writer Peter King, writing last Thursday, predicted the Vikings will win Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis with a 27-23 victory over the Patriots.
SI.com announced its NFL individual award winners last week including Coach of the Year. Sean McVay from the Rams won the award, while the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer was runner-up finishing 25 points behind in voting.
Patrick Mader, the Northfield-based author who wrote the book Minnesota Gold detailing the lives of many Minnesota Olympians, emailed this historical note to Sports Headliners: “In the late 1940s, a young, energetic, and politically ambitious American city mayor was on an Olympic Committee bidding to host the 1952 Summer Games which ended being runner-up to Helsinki, Finland. The mayor was Hubert Humphrey and the runner-up city (tied) was Minneapolis.”
Next month’s Winter Olympics will be in South Korea. Mader predicted Jessie Diggins, a graduate of Stillwater High School who is from Afton, has “a good chance” to win the first Olympic medal in cross-country skiing ever by an American woman. A 2014 Olympian who has an outstanding World Cup record, the 26-year-old is expected to be named to the 2018 Olympic team later this month.
When the Twins go to spring training it will be interesting to see if Brian Dozier is finally moved out of the leadoff spot in the batting order. The team’s power hitting second baseman has led the club in home runs (76) the last two seasons but has batted leadoff because Minnesota didn’t have anyone more suited for the spot that requires foot speed and consistency at the plate. With center fielder Byron Buxton hitting around .300 for part of last season and showing extraordinary speed, it appears the fourth-year Twin could be the new leadoff man, with Dozier moving down to third or fourth in the batting order.
Carl Pohlad, the deceased Twins owner who passed away in early January of 2009, would be pleased his farm system developed most of the franchise’s promising core of position players that includes Buxton, Dozier, third baseman Miguel Sano, left fielder Eddie Rosario, right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco.