Jim Dutcher predicts the Gophers will finish seventh in the Big Ten and likely will play in a post-season tournament, but he said 0-2 Minnesota needs to win its next two conference games starting tonight against Iowa at Williams Arena.
Dutcher, the former Gophers coach whose team 30 years ago won the Big Ten, is a passionate follower of college basketball and watches many games on TV. “Minnesota is not a Big Ten (title) contender but can get into a post-season tourney (NCAA or NIT),” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.
He believes a 9-9 conference record is possible for the Gophers, and that would give Minnesota a 21-10 overall record before the Big Ten Tournament. He said the Gophers might finish their conference schedule with a 6-3 home record and 3-6 on the road.
After opening conference road losses to Illinois and Michigan, the Gophers are home for games against Iowa and then Purdue on Sunday. “You gotta win your home games,” Dutcher said. “Go at least 6-3 at home and 3-6 on the road.”
The Gophers played better at Illinois and Michigan than Dutcher expected. Minnesota lost to the Illini, 81-72 in double overtime, and 61-56 to the Wolverines. “I was more impressed (with Minnesota) after the two losses than I was before,” Dutcher said. “One game (Illinois) they should have won and one (Michigan) they could have won.”
Obvious in both games was the Gophers don’t know who their clutch player is, and also Minnesota struggles to make outside shots, including three pointers. But Minnesota has athleticism, depth and plays with effort.
That could be enough to keep the Gophers just ahead ofIllinois in the final conference standings, a program Dutcher describes as “always a work in progress.” He thinks the Illini will finish eighth in the conference followed by Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska and PennState.
Purdue has “marginal” talent” but Dutcher has been impressed enough with the Boilermakers to think they will finish sixth in the Big Ten. His top five teams are: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The Buckeyes could be a Final Four team, and the Spartans and Hoosiers might also make deep tournament runs, according to the former Gophers coach.
Neither the Badgers nor Wolverines have consistent inside scoring threats and that will be problematic. “Wisconsin (also) can’t play from behind (in a game) and get to the free throw line,” Dutcher said.
The Badgers’ deliberate offensive style and tenacious defense could be enough to push Wisconsin just ahead of a more talented Indiana team in the final standings, according to Dutcher.
Love Blossoms, Trade Rival Fades
It’s never too late to say thank you. How about tonight when the Grizzlies play the Timberwolves at TargetCenter?
In the hours following the 2008 NBA draft, Wolves executive Kevin McHale made a multi-player trade with the Grizzlies that brought power forward Kevin Love to Minnesota. The cornerstones of that trade were Love and shooting guard O.J. Mayo.
Love has become an NBA All-Star while Mayo doesn’t even start for Memphis. A league source told Sports Headliners McHale wanted to draft Love but instead the organization chose Mayo with the No. 3 pick in the draft. But Love, who was the No. 5 pick, soon became a Timberwolf when McHale and team owner Glen Taylor worked out a deal that involved eight players.
At the top of McHale’s things-to-like list back in 2008 was Love’s skill in rebounding. Love led the league in rebounding last season at 15.2 per game. In five games this season he’s second in NBA rebounding, again at 15.2.
Now in his fourth season, Love is maturing into one of the NBA’s best offensive forwards. He’s averaging a career high 25.4 points per game, making 47 percent of his field goals including 44 percent of three point attempts. He not only shoots with accuracy, but is the team’s best inside scorer.
Love’s passing is timely and accurate. At 6-10 he’s the best of the team’s big men passers and other than point guard Ricky Rubio, nobody on the Wolves is more unselfish.
During the off-season Love reshaped his body and reflected on his leadership skills. He’s become both the franchise’s definitive leader and best player, now even drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett, the former Wolves All-Star forward who will be a certain Hall of Famer.
Love may or may not one day make the Hall of Fame, but you have to like his odds much better than Mayo’s who during the last three seasons has seen his scoring averages decline from 18.5 to 17.5 to 11.3. This season he’s averaging 8.6 points in five games.
McHale is no longer working for the Wolves and is coaching the Rockets, but he will be remembered tonight.
Speculation is the National Collegiate Hockey Conference will announce former USOC CEO Jim Scherr as its first commissioner today at a news conference. The conference begins play in 2013-14 and consists of eight teams—Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, UMD and Western Michigan.
Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery’s wife Margaret was a Minnesota prep basketball star who later played and coached at Notre Dame. She grew up in St. Paul as Margaret Nowlin and met McCaffery when he was an assistant coach for the men’s team.
Michigan has opened a $20 million-plus basketball practice facility, leaving the Gophers and Northwestern as the only Big Ten schools without such a building. Minnesota is trying to raise funds for a $15 million facility.
The defending champion Mavericks have made personnel changes since last year including allowing point guard J.J. Barea to join the Wolves. Dallas is off to a slow start (2-4) and it doesn’t surprise Barea.
“No question. I knew they were going to have a tough time,” Barea told Sports Headliners. “It’s going to be a long year for them. They’ll win some games because they got enough talent and they like to compete and they like to win. …”
Derrick Williams, the Wolves 20-year-old rookie forward, said the difference between the Pac-12 where he played for Arizona and the NBA is a player needs to use his basketball intelligence in the pros or “get left behind.”
The Vikings promotion of Rick Spielman to general manager didn’t prompt a late afternoon headline yesterday on ESPN.com.
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway talking about teammate and defensive end Jared Allen who set a new franchise single season record for sacks with 22: “It comes back to what makes him great is his ability to play hard every snap. …”
Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin commenting about the quarterback competition between Christian Ponder and Joe Webb: “It will be tough to keep Webb off the field, but Ponder did some great things for us this year. It’s a good scenario to have two quality quarterbacks like that. That’s not my job, though. I will show up and do whatever they ask me to do.”
Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings rookie tight end, considers himself fortunate to have played one season having Jim Kleinsasser—the 13-year veteran tight end who retired on Sunday—as his mentor. Rudolph has referred to Kleinsasser as dad.
The MIAC is one of only three Division III conferences to have seven schools in the first 2011-12 Division III Learfield Sports Director’s Cup Standings of the season. The MIAC schools are St. Thomas, St. Olaf, Concordia, Saint Benedict, Carleton, Bethel and Hamline.