Notes from the In-Between Times

First time long time! It’s been a pandemic-age since we snapped off a post on this old blog. Here are some internet sentences for your brain.

Beer for Dutch’s Horses

These next few weeks could be the final form of Brian Dutcher, San Diego State head coach.

Zeigler wrote about this last week. Ricky Pitino the Younger is a dead man walking at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota media thinks Dutch is a top candidate for the job. The Gophers will surely reach out to kick his tires at the very least.

Dutcher graciously dodged questions about it in his media appearances this week. His non-denial denials don’t assuage our hand-wringing. He could easily shoot down the rumors, and by playing it down the middle made a point of not doing so.

And why would he? It’s his alma mater. His dad coached there. His wife and his sisters were Gophers. He has lots of family in the area. He negotiated a $1 million buyout exclusively for Minnesota in his SDSU contract, instead of the $6.9 million poison pill it would cost any other school. He wants the job, philosophically if not actively.

“It’s my school,” Dutcher said of UM last September when he signed his extension.

From an Aztecs fan perspective, it’s hard to imagine wanting to leave beautiful San Diego and rocking Viejas Arena for the cold-ass Twin Cities. And stunning to picture him walking away from the successful program he and Steve Fisher built from scratch.

A successful mid-major program.

Dutcher’s current salary is $930,000 and his contract maxes out at $1.5 million in 2025. Richard Pitino is pulling down $2.46 million this year at Minnesota. So if UM poaches Dutch he’d be making at least $1 million more per year. To coach his alma mater. In the Big Ten. A million more to coach in your hometown against the likes of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State–after 22 years in the dreary Mountain West–is pretty compelling.

Now I’m picturing Dutch spitting rhymes in the MF DOOM mask. Oh my aching hands from raking in grands and breaking in mic stands.

Dutcher has done an amazing job to keep the program humming in the Fisher mold. Last year’s team started 26-0 and was a serious Natty contender. SDSU is the back-to-back conference champ. He could fairly feel he’s done pretty close to all he can do here.

Nobody in San Diego wants him to leave. Still, if you were his agent or advisor and Minnesota came calling, you’d have to tell him to take it. SDSU can’t match $2.5 million per.

Maybe UM will want to make a splash with a bigger name, like our old buddy Eric Musselman, who also has family ties to Minnesota. Maybe midwesterners aren’t all that impressed by someone succeeding at San Diego State.

Savor this March with Dutcher’s hard-nosed Tecs. Maybe it’s not the end of an era. But it might be.

Sorry I’m trying to remove it

The men’s basketball Aztecs remained at No. 19 when the new AP Top 25 poll came out on Monday, despite a voter who mistakenly put the 3-11 USD Toreros on his ballot instead of SDSU. To compound his error, the voter had ranked SDSU at No. 20 the previous week then inexplicably dropped San Diego/SDSU to No. 25, when all the Aztecs had done in the interim was beat UNLV and clinch a conference title.

Thinking that was funny and mockable I looked up who the voter was, then snitch-tagged him in a tweet calling out his error. By online standards it was tame: “I thought people in Indiana knew hoops” was the most acerbic line of the tweet. It got a little traction and presumably the writer saw himself getting dragged in his mentions. 

As the engagement numbers crept up I increasingly regretted it. Yes, the AP ballot is public and fair game. But did I need to put that negative energy into the world? Sports journalism is a tough gig to make a living from. Maybe this person works a regular job while writing about basketball. We’re a full year into a pandemic. I have no idea what kind of experience any stranger has had or what this guy was dealing with when he made a mistake in ranking college basketball teams.

So I deleted the tweet, even though it broke a thread I liked about old oaken buckets. Please clap.

Buddy,,,, You better run the table

College basketball polls are wildly imperfect, deeply unfair and biased against teams like San Diego State. It’s crazy, to me, that SDSU is 50-6 over the past two seasons yet are ranked No. 19 like some little upstart program from a nobody conference. 

Speaking of; after winning the Missouri Valley tournament, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (24-4) jumped from 20 to 18 in the AP poll, passing the Aztecs (20-4). 

Only five teams ahead of SDSU in the rankings have better win-loss records, and most of those teams have more losses this season than the Aztecs have in the last two combined. Yet here the Tecs sit, barely creeping up the polls while being projected as a 7 to 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This is old hat, par for the course, same shit different year. It ain’t fair gosh dangit. However it does highlight the distinction between SDSU and the other power program of the West, the Monsters of the Palouse, those undefeated Gonzaga Zaggie Zags. Despite getting to bully the cupcake West Coast Conference every year, GONZ gets the benefit of the doubt for their long résumé of signature wins and Final Four appearances. They haven’t won a national championship but they are perennially knocking on the door.

The Fisher/Dutcher era has been hugely successful, by local standards. Yet until the Tecs finally crack a Final Four it will be this way every year. National media regards the Mountain West as a western Missouri Valley Conference. SDSU has to win the conference tourney to avoid a dreaded 8/9 seeding or worse. 

Thank the old gods and the new for good things that still exist

The women’s soccer Aztecs went 16 months between games due to the lockdown. They finally got back on the plastic pitch and are still baller as hell. SDSU needed a scorched late strike to beat Nevada 3-2, then benefited from a howler of an own goal in cruising past Boise State 3-1.

I am SO glad for what these results represent: That SDSU Olympic-sport programs like women’s soccer weren’t eliminated during this harrowing public health crisis. I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for the athletic department, coaches, staff members and athletes. Especially the athletes. Huge kudos and gratitude to every one of them. 

There’s a long list of things I would yell at my college-age self if I could and one of them would be: Go to some SDSU women’s soccer games you fool. They win a lot. The games are fun and don’t cost nothin’! 

The defending conference champion Aztecs are playing a shortened makeup season and have just three more home games, all later this month. Get out to the sports deck and enjoy some quality soccer playing.

In conclusion: My kingdom for a clove

This is one of my favorite songs I happened across during pandemic year. Andy Schauf is a singer-songwriter from the lands of Canada. His song “Clove Cigarette” is a nice mood and very evocative of things we’ve all been missing. The video is really cool and uses an innovative mix of technologies, including a video game engine that renders images in a kind of 3-D dot matrix.

Cheers, good health and warm wishes to you all. Here’s to green plastic chairs and tippling a few with good people.

Author: lemonverbena

Californian/Washingtonian, co-editor of Kabeer Thirty.

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