Monday, March 3, 2008

Quite The Difference A Year And A Coach Makes

At this time last year I couldn't watch the Gophers men's basketball team. The games were so incredibly infuriating to watch and Jim Molinari, no offense intended, didn't strike me as someone who could turn this program around.

Enter Tubby Smith. A creampuff filled non-conference schedule helped the Gophers get off to a fast start, giving some hope that this team, fresh off a 9-22 season, with a roster comprised mostly of the same kids, could be dancing come mid-March. Since then, the Big Ten season has proved to be up and down. The Gophers have taken care of the team's they were accompanied by last year in the cellar. The Gophers also fought in close losses to the teams in the upper echelon of the conference.

No one expected a Big Ten title or a deep run in March, but we were hopeful Tubby Smith's first team in Minnesota would be competitive. On that charge, Tubby and the Gophers have delivered.

With two games left in the regular season, Tubby Smith has a chance to extend his streak of 20-win seasons, the Gophers can finish the conference season at the .500 mark or above. And, despite what a couple straight-shooting emailers suggest, this team still has an outside chance at an NCAA invite. Sure, the RPI isn't where it should be. And everyone who will chime in stating the Gophers haven't beaten anyone of substance will have a valid point.

But with two games, plus the Big Ten tournament still to come, the Gophers have a legitimate chance. One astute emailer wrote to me that all the Gophers did Saturday in beating Ohio State was to ensure the Big Ten was a 4-bid league, suggesting that if Ohio State had won and claimed the conference's fifth spot, the conference would get that fifth team.

Because the Big Ten is down, I tend to agree with that assessment. But other typically strong conferences are down as well. The SEC? Name me an impressive team that isn't named Tennessee or Vanderbilt? The ACC? I'd say four deep. PAC 10? Anyone after UCLA, Stanford and Washington State contender material?

My point is, there is still time for the Gophers to make a case. Finishing strong has often been a subjective criteria the NCAA selection committee looks at. Because of that, Ohio State would seem to be in trouble. Syracuse isn't helping itself either. If the Gophers can finish 9-9 in the conference, they should get the 5th seed in the conference tournament, meaning they would face Michigan State. While the Spartans were impressive Sunday against Indiana, I feel this is a team the Gophers can beat.

Would a win over MSU get the Gophers in for sure? No. Would a win over Indiana and Illinois on the road to end the conference slate and a win against MSU get the Gophers in. I think it should. And despite what the aforementioned emailer said, I don't think the Gophers need to win the conference tournament.

This is all still a very big longshot. But the fact that I can even write this with a straight face proves the point that I intended to make with this post: Quite the difference a year and a coach makes.


Badger Tracker said...

Truly a turnaround at Minnesota. Once Tubby starts persuading the top recruits to stay in-state, that program is going to climb the ladder. They might even be tourney-bound next season.

Anonymous said...

I think next year could be a bit of a let-down for many people who expect us to be better than this year. With so many new and young players, although talented, will make for a season of ups and downs. I expect us to finish middle of the pack in the Big Ten next year, too.

Two years from now...look out!

PJS said...

That's the same argument many made about Purdue this year, anon. You might be entirely right, but more and more it's young talent that is winning in the Big Ten as opposed to so-called "senior leadership."

alex said...

I'm with you anon, although after sitting through season tickets last year (and this year, although this year was much more satisfying), I reserve the right to get excited about next years squad.

lurker said...

If Sampson3 is even a slight improvement over Tollackson, I don't see why next year's team can't be better. Bostick is supposed to be the real thing. People compare Paul Carter to Quincy Lewis and the Canadian kid is all the rage in the basketball hotbed up north.

I don't see why next year's taem can't be as good or better than this version.

tubtastic said...

Great post. Realistic yet optomistic - which is the way Gopher fans should be about this season and the team in general.

As for next year: I don't think people realize the talent upgrade that is coming in and the lack of talent we'll be losing. The seniors that are going are just not superstars by any means (outside of a few spot performances from LMac). Gophers fans haven't had this nice of a recruiting class in years! Next years team will be more like this year's Purdue team than this year's Gopher team.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Gophers need 22 or 23 W on Selection Sunday for NCAA bid.

Tubby averages 22.3 W and 10.7 L in his 2nd years at Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

PJS & Co.,

Any update on whether Tubby will get these two other recruits we keep hearing about? (I forget names, but one is a big man and the other is a point guard ... one is from the Chicago area I believe)

That would give the Gophs a recruiting class of SEVEN. Purdue seems like a relevant case study for what this squad could look like next year...

Anonymous said...

I agree PJS, you don't need "senior leadership" to win in today's game. And I think unlike this year's squad, next year's team will win some big games over ranked and top 50 rpi teams due to talent. However, I also think they'll be prone to spurts of shaky play and it'll cost them some very winnable games...thus, middle of the pack in Big Ten.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Anon - Minnesota leads for both Kyrs Faber (from Los Angeles) and Verdell Jones (from Champaign IL).

I think both will be Gophers.

Jones is down to Minn, UK, and Tenn.

Faber nearly committed to Minn last fall.

PJS said...

Anon 208: I agree with what Friend of Tubby wrote above. But unless something changes with our roster (like Busch reverting to walk on status or the same for A-S), I think Tubby will have to choose between either another big man (Faber) or a point guard (Jones).

Anon 348: Next year's team could defintley struggle from time to time, but it will have better talent. Sampson and Joseph are top notch recruits. They aren't Eric Gordon's or Greg Oden's, but they are part of the best recruiting class to come to Minnesota since the Haskins era.

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