Victories have been hard to come recently for the Gophers basketball and hockey teams, both men and women.

The Gophers men's basketball team, after losing 77-74 in overtime to Northwestern on Sunday, has been defeated in six of its past eight games.

There have been a lot of tough losses for Tubby Smith's team like Sunday, when the Gophers had a 13-point lead against Northwestern with eight minutes to play before getting beat in overtime.

It's didn't help Smith that his top two recruits, Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe, weren't eligible to play this season because of legal matters. Then his best defensive guard, Al Nolen, was declared academically ineligible last month.

The chances of the Gophers earning an NCAA berth are not very good with games coming up with Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois, teams they won't be favored to beat.

I can't remember when a Gophers basketball team had as many distractions. It's hard to coach and win when that situation exists.

Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia has spoiled the fans with his great record until last year. They are now 8-12-2 in the WCHA after getting swept by Denver over the weekend, so it doesn't appear they will see any postseason action. And hockey fans are a lot tougher on coaches than in any other sport. They have all the answers and worked hard to get rid of former Gophers coach Doug Woog. Now a lot of the hockey geniuses are after Lucia.

The women's hockey team is still leading the WCHA, but it has one tie and three losses in their past four games. And the women's basketball team lost 64-59 to Ohio State on Sunday and definitely isn't going anywhere for the postseason.

"Well, I think for our visible sports, it has been a little rough," Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said. "Our football wasn't what some people expected. Our men's and women's basketball teams have been challenged for lots of different reasons and women's hockey has been on a roll the other way recently -- they're still in first place in the WCHA but had a couple tough weekends -- and obviously the men have not done well.

"But we've got a lot to celebrate as well. Some of our other teams are nationally ranked -- the swimming teams, our wrestling team. That's the great thing about being an AD. You know that when you have 25 sports, you're fortunate to have some of them do well."

However, Marturi admits things have not been what a lot of people expected.

"It has been a challenging year," he said. "I'm not going to deny that. I think all of us had expectations to be a little more successful in some of the sports than they have been.

"I've got to be consistent and try to do what I can to help them [the coaches] to succeed and not push the panic button because we're not being as successful at an individual time when people might expect us to be."

Jottings

Twins president Dave St. Peter said Target Plaza, a two-acre site over Interstate 394 between Target Field and Target Center, won't open until March 13, which also coincides with the first day of single-game ticket sales. "It's really the front door to the ballpark," St. Peter said.

While a lot of Twin fans were surprised when veteran free agent Jim Thome was signed, General Manager Bill Smith said Thome had been on his radar for a long time. "We talked about him back when he was with Cleveland, and he's just one of the consummate professionals in the game," Smith said. "He's a leader, he's a winner, and he's been through everything a player could go through -- injuries, success -- and we think he's going to add a lot to this club. He's a definite threat off the bench. He'll get some at-bats as a DH and we just think he's going to bring an awful lot to our ballclub."

Infielder Toby Gardenhire, son of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire who did well last year with Class AA New Britain, has received an invitation to major league spring training with the Twins. Toby can also catch, and the Twins are short of catchers in the organization. Toby is driving to Fort Myers, Fla., with his dad, and likely will wind up with New Britain or Class AAA Rochester.

One thing John Randle did after the former Vikings defensive tackle was voted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame was call Randall McDaniel and thank him for how much he learned while going against the Hall of Fame guard in practice. Randle also had a chance to go against former Vikings and Broncos Hall of Fame tackle Gary Zimmerman during his career here.

Vikings Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson and a couple of the Vikings mascots are being featured in ESPN promotions these days.

All is quiet on the Vikings assistant coaching front, with all of them on vacation for one more week before returning to work. It wasn't any surprise that Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers was passed up after being interviewed for the Bears offensive coordinator job. Bears head coach Lovie Smith worked for Mike Martz as his defensive coordinator when Martz was head coach of the Rams, so they had a longtime connection.

Ryan Wittman, former Eden Prairie basketball player and son of former Wolves coach Randy Wittman, has led Cornell to No. 22 in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 college basketball poll, the first time an Ivy League team has been ranked since Princeton in 1997-98. Wittman is leading Cornell and the league in scoring with an average of 17.0 points per game. ... Former Gopher Rick Rickert is averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian National Basketball League. Another ex-Gopher, Dusty Rychart, is averaging 11.9 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Cairns (Australia) Taipans in the same league. ... Former Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson has his Long Beach State team tied for fourth place in the Big West Conference standings with a 6-6 league record.

Gopher Illustrated reported that Gophers basketball recruit and 6-11 center Elliott Eliason is averaging 16.8 points per game, 9.9 rebounds and making 68 percent of his field-goal attempts. His Chadron (Neb.) team is 18-2 and currently has a 10-game winning streak.

The Gophers baseball team was picked to finish second (behind Ohio State) in the Big Ten in Baseball America's preview. According to the publication, four Gophers are ranked in the conference's top 10 prospects for the 2010 amateur draft: outfielder Michael Kvasnicka (third) and pitchers Seth Rosin (fourth), Scott Matyas (ninth) and Cullen Sexton (10th). The Gophers open their season on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com