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Opponent Gets Hype, But Gophers to Win

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March 13, 2017

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Jim Dutcher disagrees with those who think the Gophers, a No. 5 seed, are going to lose their opening NCAA Tournament game on Thursday to No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State.

The Blue Raiders are an upset fave after being a No. 15 seed last year and taking down No. 2 seed Michigan State. Charles Barkley, talking on the CBS TV tournament selection show yesterday, said the Raider upset was “no fluke” and argued that the 2017 Conference USA champions, with a 30-4 overall record, should be seeded higher. Seth Davis, also part of the CBS analysis crew, had bad news for Gophers fans: “The Blue Raiders are going to win this game.”

Dutcher, the former Gophers coach who led Minnesota to the 1982 Big Ten title, isn’t buying Davis’ prediction. “I look for the Gophers to win the game,” Dutcher said.

Dutcher is optimistic because he says the facts show Minnesota is better than the Blue Raiders, and what MTSU did last year needs to be put in perspective. The Gophers, 24-9 overall, played a much more difficult schedule than the Blue Raiders, a team that hardly played a “whose who of college basketball.” MTSU’s signature win was over Vanderbilt, a team the Gophers also defeated, and Minnesota counted impressive wins over Big Ten champion Purdue and four other league teams who earned their way into the NCAA tournament. Minnesota’s strength of schedule is No. 42 while the Blue Raiders’ is No. 120, according to Teamrankings.com.

Jim Dutcher

Yes, the Raiders had a Cinderella tournament win against Michigan State but Dutcher remembered that was followed by a 25 point loss to Syracuse. “They’re a 12th seed (this year) for a reason,” he said.

Dutcher called MTSU a “bracket-busting darling” to some tourney followers, but he points out the Blue Raiders got that Michigan State win when there were no expectations. Some of the basketball world is looking for an encore performance against the Gophers. MTSU had bad losses, including to Georgia State and UTEP, but odds-makers figure the Minnesota game is about a toss-up. Dutcher concedes the Blue Raiders are a “good team” but just doesn’t expect history to repeat. “They’re not going to sneak up on anybody (this year),” he said.

Tournament games are typically close in score, with the margin of victory often 10 points or less. Dutcher believes Minnesota will win by six or seven points. “I would be amazed if they don’t beat Middle Tennessee State,” he said.

The NCAA selection committee couldn’t have been kinder to the Gophers, sending them to Milwaukee for Thursday’s South Region game and giving them a surprising No. 5 seeding. Milwaukee is the nearest site to Dinkytown of any tournament host city in the country. A six hour drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee will maximize the turnout of Gophers fans for Thursday’s game like no place else would have.

Other than Purdue, who received a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, the Gophers have the highest seeding among the seven Big Ten teams invited to the tournament. That’s a two hands head scratcher to Wisconsin followers who saw the Badgers beat the Gophers twice and finish higher in the Big Ten final standings. Former Badger All-American Frank Kaminsky took to Twitter last night to blast the selection committee not giving more value to Wisconsin’s second place regular season conference finish and runner-up placement in Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament. Kaminsky tweeted: “AND MINNESOTA GETS A 5 SEED?? HAHAHAHA….”

“If I was sitting in Madison, I would say we really got hosed with an eighth seed,” Dutcher said. “An eight was way too low for them.”

The tourney selection committee, though, must have looked long and hard at Wisconsin’s RPI of 36. Minnesota’s position on the Ncaa.com/rankings is No. 20.

Part of the seeding story for Big Ten teams is not only who you play in the first game, but also in the second and beyond. If the Gophers beat the Blue Raiders, they likely will play a good but certainly beatable 23-8 Butler team from the Big East. Butler is a No. 4 seed.

If the Badgers can win (no certainty) their opener against No. 9 seed Virginia Tech, they can expect to play No. 1 overall tournament seed Villanova. Purdue is likely to play Iowa State in a second tournament game, and the Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country and just won the Big 12 Tournament. If they advance after opening games, Northwestern will likely play No. 1 West Region seed Gonzaga; Michigan State will probably meet up with No. 1 Midwest Region seed Kansas; Michigan could have to face that region’s No. 2 seed in Louisville; and Maryland may have to take on Florida State, a No. 3 seed in the East Region.

“On paper the Gophers got a very favorable seeding with not only who they play, but where they play,” Dutcher said.

Dutcher is optimistic about the Gophers but there is a limit. He doesn’t see them in the finals next month. He predicts the Final Four teams will be Arizona, Louisville, UCLA and Villanova. The national champion, he said, will be UCLA.

“I saw a game where they beat (basketball blueblood) Kentucky in Lexington and dominated the game,” Dutcher said. “I thought, ‘Holy cripe.’ To beat Kentucky is a handful anyplace. In Lexington is near impossible.”

Barkley’s Final Four teams are Arizona, Louisville, North Carolina and Villanova. He predicts Arizona, a Pac-12 team like UCLA, will win the national title.

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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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