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Hot seat to Coach of the Year? The case for honoring Ben Johnson.

In late August, long after the dust had settled on a disappointing Gophers men's basketball season but well before this year started up, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle was asked about head coach Ben Johnson.

His answer, to Star Tribune beat writer Marcus Fuller in a Q&A on several subjects, revealed the reality of Johnson's third year as coach.

"What I really appreciate about Ben is he understands there's a sense of urgency. And we're going to do it the right way," Coyle said at the time. "Not for a second do I question Ben Johnson. I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity to work with him."

Translation, at least as I saw it: Coyle likes Johnson and believes in him, but there needed to be some tangible progress this season.

Johnson didn't exactly enter this season on the hot seat, but it was easy to see how the heat could get cranked up with more losing this year. And the outside view was that the losing would continue: the Gophers were picked to finish last in the Big Ten again.

It's an understatement, then, to say the narrative has changed — something I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast after an 88-79 win Thursday over Ohio State improved the Gophers to 17-9 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten.

The first thing I did Friday morning was check to see how much the Gophers improved in the NET Rankings (up to 72 from 76 earlier this week) and guess what it might take for them to get into the NCAA field with five regular season games and the conference tournament still remaining.

On the Big Ten Network postgame show last night, hosts Mike Hall and Trent Meacham weighed in on the possibility that Johnson could be the conference coach of the year.

"Ben Johnson has to be right in that discussion for Big Ten Coach of the Year," Hall said as a lead-in to get Meacham's thoughts.

Said Meacham: "There's no doubt he should be right there at the top."

To reach the NCAA field and for Johnson to win that award, work remains.

The Gophers must finish strong and overcome a weak non-conference schedule to make the tournament. Johnson must keep the Gophers focusing on process over results, while at the same time getting the results.

But to even be having this discussion now is a surprise — and a near-180 from where Johnson and his Gophers started the season.

Here are four more things to know today:

*Friday's podcast also featured Star Tribune Timberwolves writer Chris Hine on several subjects, including Minnesota's pursuit of the top seed in the West and Mike Conley Jr.'s contract extension.

*MLB players don't like the see-through pants that they are being asked to wear, which seems like a pretty reasonable thing to change.

*In suggesting bold moves for all 32 NFL teams, ESPN's Aaron Schatz lays out the case for the Vikings trading Justin Jefferson.

*Roster projections for Opening Day for the Twins might contain a couple surprises.