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Physical Teams Take It to Gophers

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January 12, 2017

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The Gophers have surprised their critics this season with 15 wins in their first 18 games but there is a message in the three losses. Minnesota, winners of only two Big Ten games last season and now much improved, has lost those three games to more physical and aggressive top 20 ranked teams.

Michigan State, after last night’s drubbing of the Gophers in East Lansing, has now defeated Minnesota twice. The Gophers other loss was to Florida State, a team with big guards and four front court players 6-9 or taller including 7-1, 304-pound center Michael Ojo and 7-4 (not a typo) center Christ Koumadje.

Few teams, if any, can match the size of Florida State but Michigan State has bruising freshmen Nick Ward (6-8, 250) and Miles Bridges (6-7, 230). And what the Spartans may lack in inches and heft is made up for in aggression.

Last night the Spartans flummoxed the Gophers, shutting down driving lanes and contesting shots. When the Gophers did have decent looks at the basket they couldn’t make enough shots. The Spartans also beat up Minnesota on the boards and made more hustle plays.

Richard Pitino

“We just could not find a way to get an easy basket,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said during his postgame interview on 1500 ESPN. “I thought we had a couple decent looks, but you know overall we’re not the toughest team, even from an offensive standpoint of screening, being strong with the ball. …”

It doesn’t help when Minnesota’s most physical player, 6-10, 260-pound junior center Reggie Lynch, is consistently in foul trouble and on the bench. Last night in the 65-47 loss Lynch fouled out for the fourth time in the last five games. He has fouled out of both games against the Spartans.

The Gophers were behind 39-17 at halftime and looked frustrated. Maybe there was a hangover feeling from the overtime loss to the Spartans in Minneapolis on December 27. Minnesota led 39-26 at intermission and was clearly the superior team in execution, if not effort. The Spartans, though, were by far the more assertive players in the second half. Among the telling final stats was MSU scored 12 more points in the lane than the Gophers.

The Gophers, now 3-2 in Big Ten games, face a momentum test Saturday at Penn State. Minnesota needs to stop its losing streak at one against a Nittany Lions team that has been at home all week preparing for Saturday’s game. With an 11 a.m. Minneapolis start time, the Gophers won’t have to wait long to see how things go against a 2-2 PSU group team that defeated MSU last week, 72-63.

Worth Noting

Tom Izzo has been Michigan State’s head coach since the 1995-1996 season. Early on he competed against Minnesota coach Clem Haskins, and he got to know legendary Minneapolis newspaper columnist and radio personality Sid Hartman. When Izzo was in town a couple of weeks ago he was asked about the 96-year-old Hartman, who is recovering from a broken hip.

“I get a kick out of Sid,” Izzo told Sports Headliners. “…He always was good to me. There were wars when Clem was here, when I first started, and Sid always had something to say. He wasn’t afraid to tell you how he felt, but I thought he listened and understood. There are a couple people up here (in Minneapolis) I really appreciate and he’s one of them.

“He’s still an ornery (guy). He still doesn’t belong in heaven yet. That’s why he’s not there, because God is negotiating the terms. But someday he’ll end up there and I just hope it’s not for a few years yet.”

Hartman wrote his first column for 2017 in today’s Star Tribune.

Ryan James, the prep basketball authority from GopherIllustrated.com, has watched both Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris play. The two high school guards signed National Letters of Intent with the Gophers last fall, and James is impressed with their skills. Washington (from New York City) is among the nation’s elite point guards, while Harris (New Brunswick, New Jersey) is a combo guard.

“Isaiah Washington is a guy you describe as having New York juice,” James told Sports Headliners. “He has so much shake, so much burst with his initial attack. It’s matched by very few. He is one of the best players I saw all summer in transition. He makes the right decision in pushing the ball nine times out of 10, whether it’s a quick pitch, attack and dish, or if he goes at the rim.

“Outstanding pull-up jumper. Streaky shooter at the arc but he can be a good shooter out there. …He’s just an aggressive playmaker, and he has the capability of being a great defender. He just has to do it more consistently.”

James believes Harris could average double figures in points as a Gopher. “The first thing you think of is shooter. …He is really strong, high character guy—like he was looking at Stanford. He was looking at the Ivy League.”

James believes Washington definitely has all-Big Ten potential. He also said Harris could be an all-Big Ten academic selection.

In 13 home games this season the Gophers are averaging 9,091 in 14,625 capacity Williams Arena. In 10 games the Gopher women’s team is averaging 3,065.

Steve Fritz bobblehead (photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

St. Thomas will celebrate Steve Fritz Bobblehead Day Saturday during a home basketball doubleheader with Concordia College at Schoenecker Arena. Fritz enrolled as a student at St. Thomas in 1967, and he has worked at the St. Paul school since 1971, including 10 years as an assistant men’s basketball coach, 31 years as head coach and 25 years as athletic director. St. Thomas will sell the bobbleheads for $15 each during the 1 p.m. women’s game and the 3 p.m. men’s game against the Cobbers. Fritz, who is still the AD, will greet fans and sign bobbleheads (also available in the Tommie Shop in the Anderson Student Center as of next Monday).

GopherIllustrated.com publisher Zach Johnson talking about how the ultra optimistic and turbocharged personality of new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck could prompt media cynicism: “…I hope the media doesn’t beat him down—force him to create a shell around the program and around himself, and sort of try to protect himself from that (type of) media. I hope he just continues to be who he is. If he wins, he can make those columnists eat crow.”

Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who may announce his retirement this offseason, turns 34 today.

Vikngs defensive tackle Linval Joseph has been named to the Pro Bowl replacing the injured Aaron Donald of the Rams.

Bruce Boudreau, the Wild’s first-year coach who has directed Minnesota to the second best record in the NHL’s Western Conference, earns $2,760,000, according to Otherleague.com, a website listing compensation for league coaches. He is the first head coach in NHL history to lead three different teams (including the Wild) to win streaks of 11-plus games.

The Wild will play eight of their 12 games in February at Xcel Energy Center. After February 7, the team has only one game away from home during the month.

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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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