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December 30, 2020

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The University of Minnesota basketball team, playing at home, has defeated No. 4 ranked Iowa and No. 17 Michigan State in the last several days, but the Gophers must prove they can win big games on the road starting Thursday afternoon in Madison against Wisconsin, according to Jim Dutcher.

The 9-1 Gophers have played once on the road this season, experiencing a beat down at Illinois, 92-65.  Since then Minnesota has home wins against St. Louis in a nonconference game and the Big Ten Conference victories over Iowa and Michigan State. The Gophers’ surprising success has landed them at No. 21 in the latest AP ranking of the nation’s best teams.

Wisconsin, 8-2 and ranked No. 6 by the AP, lost to Maryland Monday night in Madison.  Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to a Big Ten title in 1982, remains a close follower of college basketball, and is optimistic about a Minnesota win in Madison if his former team shows up defensively.

“At home your offense will carry you,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners.  “On the road your defense has to carry you.  Those three-pointers that you make at home don’t go down quite as easy on the road.  Defense travels, offense doesn’t always travel, so I think just clamp down (Thursday). I don’t think Wisconsin is that hard to guard.  Their big guys are more perimeter big guys than post up.”

Jim Dutcher

Even with their undefeated record at home, the Gophers have experienced breakdowns defensively keeping opponents in games and certainly did against then No. 13 ranked Illinois. “Can they (the Gophers) bend their knees and stop somebody when they have to?” Dutcher asked. “Because a lot of conference games are going to come down to the last two minutes. Those are the games they didn’t win last year.  Those are the games I think they can win this year.”

Minnesota, 8-12 in league games in 2019-2020, lost 71-69 to the Badgers in Madison last March when Wisconsin was on its way to a Big Ten championship.  Earlier in the season, playing at Williams Arena, the Gophers defeated the Badgers 70-52, holding Wisconsin to under 30 percent field goal shooting. The Gophers made more than 40 percent of their field goals, including three-pointers.

The Badgers, as usual, are among the elite defensive teams in the country.  They are giving up the fewest points per game among Big Ten teams at 60.6, while the Minnesota average is 73.9.  Dutcher, though, offered a strategy for Thursday’s game:

“They (the Badgers) got beat inside by Maryland pretty soundly, and our center (Liam) Robbins is playing really good now so I think rather than start the offense at the three-point range, start the offense in the post.  I just feel they (the Gophers) got a great chance to go and beat Wisconsin.”

Dutcher believes the Gophers are capable of being Big Ten title contenders but to do it they have to be better offensively in road games than they were at Illinois. Against the Illini, the Gophers made only 27.5 percent of their field goals including 25 percent on three pointers.  That’s a different offense than Minnesota has shown at home scoring 90 points or more four times and topping 80 in seven games.

“They’re a great shooting team in Williams Arena,” Dutcher said.  “They weren’t a great shooting team in Illinois.   Hopefully they can get on somebody else’s floor and take their offense with them, but they’ve been impressive (this season).”

Minnesota’s nine victories are the most in the Big Ten.  The Gophers, 2-1 in the Big Ten, have overtime wins against a good St. Louis team and highly ranked Iowa.  In the Iowa game if a Hawkeye hadn’t missed two free throws in the closing minutes of regulation, Gopher junior point guard Marcus Carr wouldn’t have had the opportunity to send the game into overtime with a three-pointer with five seconds remaining.  It was also Carr who made a three-pointer with 31 seconds left in the game to pull Minnesota within 81-78 of Iowa.

And it was Carr who made the winning basket in an early season 67-64 win over Loyola Marymount.  Carr is averaging 24 points per game (third best in the Big Ten) and leading the league in assists per outing at 6.1.  Dutcher believes the Canadian native, who had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his last visit to Madison, could some day be remembered among Minnesota’s best guards in program history.

“He’s not one dimensional,” Dutcher said.  “It’s not just the three; he can really penetrate and finish at the rim.  So he’s definitely an all-conference player and maybe even more than that.”

Badgers point guard Brad Davison, the Maple Grove native, is likely to guard Carr and Dutcher acknowledges he is a capable defender.  But the retired coach said Carr is difficult to handle and is complemented by senior forward Brandon Johnson’s outside shooting and the inside and outside threat of Robbins. “Minnesota gives you a lot of problems defensively,” Dutcher said.

The Gophers’ offense, averaging 84.3 points per game, would be even more effective if junior guard Gabe Kalscheur hadn’t been in a long shooting slump from three-point distance (.188 conversion percentage). Dutcher, though, offered at least a partial explanation. “He’s probably been their best defensive player.  When you’re really concentrating, playing tough defense, sometimes it affects your offense. …”

Minnesota will need defensive help against the Badgers, including on the perimeter. Wisconsin’s key to winning the game is using its trademark assets of solid defense, minimal turnovers and hitting three-point shots. “…They gotta make some threes to beat Minnesota,” Dutcher said.

Maybe, though, it will be Carr and the Gophers who again find good fortune and win the game with a three-pointer.  “He’s really hit some big shots, right when they needed them,” Dutcher said.

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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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