There have been family gatherings on occasion throughout the winter to watch Brian Dutcher's San Diego State basketball team. Last week, Jim Dutcher, the family's basketball patriarch, was left to watch as a single as the Aztecs competed at the South Regional in Louisville, Ky.
"I had a bad cold and I didn't want to pass it on to anyone else,'' Jim said.
Thus, the combination of joy and anguish and long-distance strategic suggestions was contained by Jim alone inside his residence at the Presbyterian senior center that overlooks Minnesota Valley Country Club.
"I had told the family that if Brian's team somehow wins the regional, we're all going to Houston for the Final Four,'' Dutcher said. "So, we're leaving Friday, 11 or 12 of us.''
The man called "Dutch'' probably figured it was a long-shot promise for picking up the tab, what with his son's Aztecs facing No. l overall seed Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen.
Then again, Dutch knew that Brian had himself a team that would not go down without fighting fiercely.
"He has a team that really lives its motto: 'Lock 'em up,' '' Dutcher said. "They are dedicated to defense. The four teams they've played in the tournament had their lowest point totals of the season.
"Plus, they don't turn the ball over … eight or nine times a game.''
The Aztecs locked up Alabama and star Brandon Miller to rally for a 71-64 shocker. Then, to get to the Final Four, they turned a battle with Creighton — an offensively gifted team — into a scrum and a 57-56 victory.
“Brian has an excellent ability to look at game tape and tell his team, 'These are the three things we have to do to win this game.'”
Houston … here come the Dutchers, first to see the Aztecs vs. Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
"Everyone that can be there is going,'' said Judi Dutcher, the oldest of Brian's three younger sisters. "Barb, Diane, our husbands, a couple of the grandsons, a granddaughter. … We've been crying in happiness for our older brother for two weeks. It's amazing. This team takes years off your life, because the games are so close.
"We were just hoping this was the year when Brian's team would win one game. 'Please, let Brian win a tournament game as a head coach,' we were saying.''
Brian Dutcher was Steve Fisher's assistant for nine seasons from 1989-1998 (including the Fab Five years) at Michigan. Then they went to San Diego State after that brouhaha at the finish in Ann Arbor.
For almost two decades, Brian was there as Fisher's right-hand, and building Aztecs basketball into something important in San Diego.
This is Brian's sixth season as head coach. The Aztecs were 0-3 in the NCAA, with an outstanding team in 2020 that didn't get a chance to play when the tournament was canceled by the pandemic.
Brian's first tournament victory came in Orlando, 63-57 over Charleston. The next opponent was supposed to be Virginia, another team of tough defense, but Furman pulled off a first-round upset of the Cavaliers. Furman was no match for the Aztecs: 75-52, and on to Louisville, and now to Houston.
Jim Dutcher, who will turn 90 on April 17, has missed hardly a minute of watching the Aztecs.
What is his son's secret as a coach?
"Brian has an excellent ability to look at game tape and tell his team, 'These are the three things we have to do to win this game.' " Jim Dutcher said.
"There isn't a guaranteed pro on this team, but they are going to fight. They don't shoot great — they can go through stretches where you wonder if anyone will make a shot — but then they will go on a run, 10-0, 14-0.''
Let me interject this, Dutch: Often those runs are not based on sprints; rather five minutes of defensive stops. Is that correct?
"That is true; it's old-school basketball in a way,'' Jim said. "And they don't give away the three, that's for sure.
"And, there were games early in the season, where those of us watching in Minnesota wanted to send Brian's new point guard, [Darrion] Trammell, back to Seattle … his school before he transferred.
"Brian kept playing him, kept saying he was the player to run the point, and Trammell's probably become their most-important player in the tournament.''
The coach putting an arm around Trammell as tears came from the point guard during a TV interview after the Creighton win … you're going to see that in a round-up of Madness moments next Monday night.
Jim Dutcher coached the Gophers from 1975 until late in the 1985-86 season. Brian is a Minnesota graduate and, Jim said, had a contract at San Diego State that called for a $5 million buyout if he left for another job — with a single amendment the buyout would be $1 million if it was to Minnesota.
"The Gophers contacted Brian after Richard Pitino left [March 2021] and said they wanted him to come in to meet people after his team was done playing in the tournament,'' Jim said.
"Brian's team was in Indianapolis and lost to Syracuse in the first round. While he was there, Brian got a call from the Gophers saying they were going with Ben [Johnson].
"He's so locked in at San Diego, 25 years out there. His family loves it, he loves it. He's 63 and not going to coach forever. And now this … I'd say that phone call wasn't a bad thing.''
What it did result in was Jim Dutcher's recent response when someone involved with the University of Minnesota called his home, asking for a donation to the Gophers' late-breaking NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) fund.
Dutch's comment: "I said, 'Haven't you been watching the NCAA tournament? If I'm going to make an NIL donation, it will be to San Diego State.' "