The Gophers earned a resume-building win yesterday defeating Northwestern 75-66 in overtime at Williams Arena. Minnesota, 14-7 overall and 5-5 in Big Ten games, enhanced its goal of receiving the school’s first NCAA Tournament invite since 2019 with the victory. “That was a significant win for the program,” former Gophers head coach Jim Dutcher told Sports Headliners.
Northwestern, 15-7 overall and 6-5 in conference games, went into Saturday as part of the projected 68-team tournament field posted on ESPN.com by bracketologist Joe Lunardi. He had the Wildcats, who hold one win and an overtime loss against national title favorite Purdue, as a No. 7 seed.
The Gophers have won two straight games to reach the halfway mark of the Big Ten schedule. They outscored Penn State by 23 points in the second half to win on the road last weekend. Yesterday the Gophers trailed most of the second half but were clearly the better team than the Wildcats who turned over the ball an uncharacteristic 17 times.
Coach Ben Johnson, talking on the KFAN postgame radio show, said his team is improving and growing more confident. “We’re really good (in) second halves. We just have like a calmness to us. We have a belief. …They don’t get rattled. They don’t get flustered. …When it’s on the line and we gotta get a win they found ways to win games, and that’s a great sign of a team that’s maturing as the season progresses.”
The Gophers also have a win over Nebraska who Lunardi has as one of his last four teams making the tournament field that will be announced March 17. Minnesota can keep the resume building Tuesday night at Williams Arena against Michigan State. Lunardi has the Spartans, who defeated the Gophers 76-66 in East Lansing last month, as a No. 8 seed. They are 14-8 overall, 6-5 in league games.
Dutcher is clearly on board with how the Gophers helped themselves yesterday beating the Wildcats. “Yeah, absolutely. You know if you beat some of the lower teams it doesn’t mean as much. But when you beat a team as good as they are—not only this game but they had a really good shot at winning the Wisconsin game (lost 61-59 to the Big Ten’s second best team). …They played them (the Badgers) even pretty much all night.”
Wolves Could Trade for PG They Should Have Kept
Gersson Rosas made savvy moves when he was the Timberwolves president of basketball operations. It was a mistake, though, during the 2019 offseason when the club let hometown hero Tyus Jones move on via free agency to the Grizzlies.
The Rosas regime hired Chris Finch as head coach and his 2024 Wolves have a 34-15 record, tied with the Thunder for best in the NBA Western Conference. Personnel acquired by Rosas includes multiple contributors to the current Wolves starting with NBA All-Star shooting guard Anthony Edwards and another talented lineup regular in small forward Jaden McDaniels. Also, still with the Wolves and contributing off the bench are power forward Naz Reid and playmaking guard Jordan McLaughlin.
But oh, how the Wolves could use Jones, now playing point guard for the Wizards and a possible Minnesota target before the NBA tradeline of Thursday afternoon. Rosas, who parted ways with the Wolves in September of 2021, apparently didn’t believe Jones, then a reserve, fit in his personnel and pay roll plan.
The Wolves are a talented bunch but need help off the bench including for scoring and decision making. Jones is an exceptional offensive leader able to help others score and is averaging a career high 12.1 points per game. His presence with the Wolves would significantly help a roster short on basketball IQ and ability to make the best decisions in clutch situations.
When the Wolves face some of the biggest moments in the playoffs this spring, they will need basketball smarts to do important and subtle things on the court. Mike Conley Jr., the team’s 36-year-old starting point guard, aces the role but help is needed. If Jones were on the team, he could even play clutch moments with Conley and help direct the team. If Conley needs rest, is in foul trouble or not able to play because of injury, Jones becomes even more valuable.
Some players just know how to play the game and that’s been the profile on Jones dating back to Apple Valley High School, Duke and the NBA. The 27-year-old has led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the past three seasons, including a league-record 6.96-to-1 figure in 2018-19.
To make the salary cap numbers work, Wolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly will likely have to send a player like guard Shake Milton to the Wizards. But what will be of more interest to the Wizards is having the Wolves offer a high future draft choice—perhaps multiple picks.
That’s giving up a lot but it’s likely a safe assumption Connelly and ownership see a window now to contend for an NBA title. They have to aggressively sort out possibilities this week as the trade deadline nears.
Minnesota’s options could also include Tyus’ brother Tre from the Spurs. Like the Wizards, the Spurs are building for future seasons and presumably interested in draft choices. Tre, at reported salary of almost $9 million, earns an estimated $5 million less than his older brother. Tre has that Jones DNA of playing with intelligence and poise. The 24-year-old might be a lesser offensive point guard than Tyus but he’s probably better defensively.
Right now, it looks like Finch is in a two-man race for NBA Coach of the Year with the Thunder’s Mark Daigneault whose roster includes Minneapolis native Chet Holmgren. The former Minnehaha Academy superstar is in his own two-man race, vying with the Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama for Rookie of the Year.
The Wolves are the No. 1 NBA team defensively, giving up the fewest points per game. A lot of that success is because of center Rudy Gobert who looks like a favorite to be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Connelly will draw major interest for NBA Executive of the Year. Sam Presti of the Thunder and Brad Stevens from the Celtics look like Connelly’s major rivals.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Twins also make trade news this week. Starting pitching help seems likely between now and the start of the season.
Veteran right fielder Max Kepler, rumored to be an offseason roster casualty, is a favorite of Twins management but might have been part of trade talks with the Mariners before a deal was finalized last week sending second baseman Jorge Polanco to Seattle.
Burnsville native Shawn Schlechter will be the St. Paul Saints hitting coach in 2024. He had that role for High-A Cedar Rapids in 2022 and Double-A Wichita in 2023 but now returns to Minnesota to work for the Twins’ Triple-A farm team.
Toby Gardenhire, son of Twins Hall of Fame manager Ron Gardenhire, returns for his fourth consecutive season leading the Saints.
Jonathan Mekonnen from Eastview, and Kyle Jorgensen from Washburn, plan to be roommates at Colorado State next summer when they start their college basketball careers. They are two of four scholarship Rams in the class of 2024 and have formed a friendship after being recruited by Colorado State head coach Niko Medved, the Roseville native and former Gopher student manager.
Mekonnen, a wing averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds as of late last week, is expected to be a top 10 candidate for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Award. Jorgensen entered this season as a lower profile college prospect, but the Washburn center has been impressive. Eastview coach Danny Olsen, whose team lost to the Millers in December, told Sports Headliners Jorgensen has skills and a playing style that reminds him of NBA superstar center Nikola Nikola Jokić. Olsen said Jorgensen can “score on anyone” and is a “great passer.”
Norwood Teague’s tenure as Gopher athletic director didn’t end well but it’s interesting that two administrators who he hired at Minnesota are now athletic directors at prominent schools: David Benedict, Connecticut; and Beth Goetz, Iowa.
Remember when Nevada (the site of this year’s Super Bowl) was the only state where you could legally wager on the outcome of sports events? Now such gambling is legal in 38 states, with others including Minnesota likely to soon join the ranks. With the gambling fun comes financial setbacks and addiction but who would wager sports betting will be in decline anytime soon?
Because of a labor agreement signed years ago between the NHL and its players, salaries pale in comparison to other major sports leagues. Wild star Kirill Kaprizov, the team’s lone representative in Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game, is compensated at an annual value of $9 million while so-so Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy reportedly earns nearly as much.
Mark Whicker, writing for The Morning After, detailed the NHL compensation situation in a recent article. He pointed out NBA Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reportedly makes $15 million, a figure that exceeds many NHL players including Kaprizov.
Word from a valued hockey source is if the Wild don’t start fast after the All-Star break, there will be personnel changes by GM Bill Guerin that include parting ways with Marc-André Fleury. Near untouchables, the source said, are Karprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek and Brock Faber.
A former NFL team executive, asking that his name not be published, predicts the Chiefs will beat the 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl. He told Sports Headliners the Chiefs’ defense has been consistent and effective, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes is “so good on that big stage.”
One in six American service veterans and their families are hungry and not receiving minimum nutritional requirements to live healthy, contributive lives, according to promoters of the “Chefs for Vets” initiative going on now through Super Bowl Sunday February 11. Edina-based Heritage Gear is stepping up to help. During the campaign every purchase of a bag, accessory or any item found at the Heritage Gear website (http://heritagegear.com) raises money to feed veterans and their families.
Minnesota hockey icon Natalie Darwitz, general manager of the Minnesota team in the startup Professional Women’s Hockey League, speaks to the Twin Cities Dunkers February 15. Minnesota drew a record professional women’s hockey crowd of over 13,000 at its first game in early January and the league has been averaging close to 5,000 fans per game, according to a recent online report by The Hockey News.
The eighth annual Guns-N-Hoses game benefiting the Front Line Foundation will be February 23 at the Blaine Super Rink, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. The hockey game matches Minnesota police and firefighters who entertain to help the Foundation that monetarily supports dependents of fallen heroes from law enforcement, fire departments, EMS and the National Guard. Admission is free but sponsorships, donations and other support is welcome, with more information available at the Guns-N-Hoses website.