Thursday, November 8, 2007

Preaching Patience

With the tipoff of the 2007-08 men's basketball season just days away, Minnesota fans would do well to not set their expectations through the roof.

Certainly there is reason to be optimistic with Tubby Smith taking over the program. And there is reason to cheer because Tubby Smith's first recruiting class with the Gophers has been better than anything that Dan Monson ever put together. But that doesn't necessarilly mean the Gophers will drastically increase the numbers of wins from last season.

Two posts down I put on my homer hat and went through the games and suggested an 18-12 season is possible. And I believe that it is. But I want to make one thing clear: We shouldn't judge Tubby Smith on this season, or even next season. There are four things I think we can judge him on. They are:

1) Recruiting: This is an area the Kentucky faithful savaged Smith. He didn't get the cream of the crop, they said. Tubby didn't like recruiting, they argued with little basis in fact. So far, Tubby has done well to land Ralph Sampson III, Colten Iverson and two JUCO players that many say will be able to have an immediate impact. But this class is just a warmup for Tubby, who needs to land local stars Royce White and Rodney Williams in next season's recruiting wars.

2) Improvement: As a former AAU coach, I watched many of Dan Monson's teams with a certain disgust. Rarely did I see great improvement from any player, or the team in general. If ball-handling, scoring and rebounding was a glaring weakness in the first month of the season, it was still a glaring weakness by year's end. Talent certainly had something to do with this, but good coaching can mask some weaknesses. Monson was never able to do that. So, I'll be watching closely as freshman point guard Al Nolen progresses. Will Tubby have an impact on Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie? If Tubby can turn those three players from decent Big Ten players into difference-makers, I'll be impressed. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea.

3) Winning Winnable Games: There was a reason Athletic Director Joel Maturi jettisoned Dan Monson before conference play began last season. The Gophers had lost to Marist, Montana, UAB and Arkansas-Little Rock. There were other losses too, but I'll excuse a loss to Iowa State and Southern Illinois. My point is, for Tubby Smith to keep Gopher fans interested and supporting his team in the long run, he must take care of the teams that Minnesota should beat. That starts with a victory agaisnt Army Saturday afternoon. It means beating teams like Central Michigan, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Santa Clara, among others. Beating up on those cupcakes is paramount to getting this program back on the right track and keeping the progress Tubby has made in the recruiting department going.

Intangibles: This is where I think Tubby has the biggest impact this season. No longer should the Gophers get destroyed on the defensive boards. Tubby's players should be fundamentally sound enough to find a man to box out. This drove me nuts under Monson. This also means working hard, hustling, diving on the floor, taking charges and playing with Bobby Jackson-like intensity. Too often during the Monson era we didn't see that. Sometimes it was because the team was distracted by a selfish star player (think Rick Rickert). And sometimes, I think, it was because the team had given up on itself and the coaching staff. In published reports, all Tubby is promising for 2007-08 is that his players will bust their respective asses. That alone would be an improvement over Gophers teams of the past.

So, what will it take for me to argue 2007-08 is a success? A realistic improvement in the win-loss department, player development and hard work. And I can't wait for Tubby to deliver that, and maybe more.

Last weekend I gave a rundown of the upcoming schedule and some lofty predictions. That link is here. Next--later this afternoon--I'll take a look at what the rotation might look like as we enter this new season.


Chris said...

All I want is .500 and being somewhat competitive. It's good to see you being positive PJS. It must have been those election victories!