The Golden Gophers men’s basketball team put up a decent fight at the Big 10 Tournament this past weekend. It showed flashes of the promise that has has both encouraged and frustrated its fan base during the reign of current head coach, Tubby Smith. Although, it was not enough to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. That is right, your Minnesota Golden Gophers are headed to the NIT (please….please…hold your applause until the end).
While Coach Smith has definitely upped the ante in terms of the athletes lacing them up for the maroon and gold (Spencer Tollackson anyone???), unfortunately, Tubby has failed to capitalize on that talent, making it to the Big Dance only once during his tenure. That is not to say there have not been a handful of signature wins: UNC, Indiana, and that memorable run to the Big 10 Championship game in 2010. However, those wins have been too few and far between for a coach who took Rick Pitino’s studs to a national championship. Under Tubby’s direction, it always seems like this team is one big win away from leaving mediocrity behind it.
Full fairness in savagery, Tubby has been recruiting with a bit a stacked deck. As he has never failed to point out, he is missing the “state of the art” facilities that many other squads in the Big 10 boast. And, the Twins Cities are not exactly the warm weather destinations that attracts top recruits from basketball hotbeds like Florida and California. In fact, “I am taking my talents to Minneapolis” is a phrase reserved for recruits heading to Mariucci or Ritter to skate for one of the hockey teams. It takes athletes with a little hardier stock to brave the unpredictable and occasionally unforgivable Minnesota seasons.
Perhaps those best equipped to deal with the weather extremes that Minnesota has to offer are those individuals who were born and raised in the region. Tubby has done a decent job of recruiting the Midwest’s best basketball talent: Trevor Mbakwe, Royce White, Joe Coleman, etc. There have been circumstances outside of his control that have limited those players’ impact on the team (i.e. White’s defection and Mbakwe’s injury). And even though we have covered this before (in probably too great of detail), it is going to be painful to watch The Mayor and Royce lead ISU in the Big Dance.
Ultimately, the decision that the new administration has to make is whether Tubby is the man who can lead the Gophers to more than just annual appearances in the NIT. Anyone claiming to know whether he is equipped for that job, probably also has some investment opportunities for you in New York City bridges. Personally, I am of the opinion that Tubby should be granted the opportunity to soldier on. Though, to say he is a on a short lease is more of an understatement than saying that the cast of Jersey Shore drink a bit too much.
Despite Tubby’s more publicized shortcomings in recruiting (and retaining) top talent, he has done a decent job with the squads he has had. And, he has shown a penchant for cobbling together the pieces that could be the base of something special. Dre Hollins emerged, late in the year (just ask Gus Johnson’s blood pressure), as the solid PG Tubby has not had since Al Nolen. Elliot Eliason, with added bulk, could be a sturdy player in the low post next year. Plus, Tubby added solid recruits Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs for next year. Both could contribute immediately to the Gophers success next year. The level of that success will ultimately determine whether or not Tubby is around to try and cut down the nets in 2013. Here’s hoping he is.