pitinoThe Timberwolves and Gophers men’s basketball teams have a few things in common right now.

Both of them have some young talent, indicating better days are ahead in each case, but both are also struggling more in the present than they probably ought to be.

And in each case, the head coach — Sam Mitchell for the Wolves, Richard Pitino for the Gophers — is searching for answers while trying to maintain the notion that bad times can help lead the path to good times.

In advance of Tuesday’s game at Nebraska, where the Gophers (6-10, 0-4 in the Big Ten) will try to avoid their second consecutive 0-5 conference start, Pitino said: “There’s not going to be, in my opinion, some magic trick thing that I can do to get them to all of a sudden flip the switch. I think they’ve got to understand and trust what they’re doing on the court, believe in each other and it will turn around.”

Two days before Tuesday’s home game against Oklahoma City, where the Timberwolves (12-26) will try to turn around a negative stretch that has seen them go 4-18 after an 8-8 start, Mitchell said:

“When you’re going through tough times, that’s when you find out who you got. That’s when you find out who the keepers are, not when times are good. You don’t know when everything is good, but as soon as you go through tough times, that’s when you find out who are the mentally tough people.”

These struggles — and, let’s face it, the desperate need to think about anything but the Vikings now that the season is over — led me down a strange hypothetical path, one that will never happen in reality: what if Pitino and Mitchell traded places, with Pitino coaching the Wolves and Mitchell leading the Gophers for the rest of the year?

Let’s dish out some pros and cons of each, again with the understanding that in all ways (logistical, practical, dental, etc.) this is the stuff of pure fantasy and not reality:


Pros: He showed in his first season with the Gophers that, when inheriting talent, he can make something of it. That team, remember, won 25 games and the NIT title. … Pitino’s up-tempo style would put to use the Wolves’ athletes, and his offense would yield plenty of three-point attempts. … If his coaching style is more reminiscent of Billy Donovan than his father, the transition to the pros might not be as hard as we think. … He’s already familiar with center Gorgui Dieng from his Louisville days.

Cons: If his Gophers team frustrates him, the Timberwolves might be a new level of frustration. … His dad is a college legend but was a mediocre NBA coach. That should tell us a lot.


Pros: His old-school approach might have a better chance of working with young college kids instead of young millionaires. … Mitchell’s emphasis on defense is a good place to start in the Big Ten. … Imagining Mitchell prowling the raised floor at Williams Arena has a certain aesthetic appeal.

Cons: His offensive preferences, deemed outdated by some, would have a hard time working at the college level. … If the Timberwolves frustrate him, this Gophers team might be a new level of frustration.

Have some other pro/con hypothetical points for Mitchell and Pitino? Want to see other coaches swap jobs? Feel free to have at it in the comments.

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