Former Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher predicts Minnesota will defeat UCLA on Friday in its NCAA Tournament opening game in Austin, Texas. “The Gophers got a great draw,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners last night.
The Gophers have struggled against teams effective on the inside but that’s not the Bruins. “They’re not a physical team, and the big advantage Minnesota’s got is their best perimeter player broke his foot in the conference tournament against Arizona,” Dutcher said. “Jordan Adams, he’s their second leading scorer. He’s by far their best three-point shooter.”
Dutcher believes the Gophers are not only more physical than UCLA but also deeper. “Their depth is really suspect,” he said.
UCLA’s games often involve scores in the 70s and beyond, a contrast to the low scoring, grind down the shot clock style Minnesota encountered in the Big Ten Conference. “You’ll get chances (against UCLA) to score on the open floor,” Dutcher said. “You’ll get some open looks from the perimeter. I think style wise it’s really an excellent draw for Minnesota.”
Dutcher not only believes Minnesota will win the game but when prompted he predicted the score. “I say the Gophers 77, UCLA 67.”
The Bruins, Pac-12 regular season champions with an overall 25-9 record, received a major upgrade in talent this season from their incoming freshmen led by two guards, Adams (15.3 average) and Shabazz Muhammad, the team’s leading scorer at 17.8. Redshirt junior forward Travis Wear is the team’s other double figures scorer at 11.2 points per game.
The Bruins lost 78-69 to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament title game last week. It was UCLA’s second loss to the Ducks this year. Dutcher pointed out that Oregon is a No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region while the Bruins are a No. 6 seed in the South Region.
The Gophers, the No. 11 seed in the South with an overall 20-12 record, have lost three consecutive games. They have won only five games since January 9 while UCLA has 13 wins during the same period. But, as Dutcher said, this game could be about styles and UCLA being without a key player in Adams.
If the Gophers defeat the Bruins, their opponent Sunday will almost certainly be No. 3 seed Florida. Dutcher believes the Gators will be too much for Minnesota. “There’s a reason they’re No. 3. They’re a good solid basketball team.”
Dutcher’s Final Four predictions? His choices are Louisville, New Mexico, Kansas and Syracuse. He likes Kansas to win the national championship on April 8 in Atlanta, praising Bill Self’s tournament coaching skills, plus the experience and talent of the players. “I just think they’ve got a lot going for them,” Dutcher said.
Dutcher and some other college basketball experts are leaving the Big Ten out of Final Four predictions despite the league’s reputation during the season of being the nation’s best conference. Dutcher doesn’t discredit the league’s overall strength but he likes the chances of other teams more.
Indiana, Dutcher said, is the Big Ten team most likely to reach Atlanta. “They’re a good team but they’re not a dominant team.”
Dutcher said the Hoosiers, Big Ten regular season champs, don’t have “big man depth” behind center Cody Zeller and that’s a problem in pursuing a national title. “They need Zeller to play a great game for them to win, and when he’s good, they’re good.” Dutcher said. “You saw at Williams Arena when he’s not good, they’re not as good. …”
In the highlight moment of their season, the Gophers defeated then No. 1 ranked Indiana, 77-73, on February 26. Minnesota’s only win since has been against lowly Penn State, beating the Nittany Lions, 73-44, on Senior Day March 2.