The Minnesota Gophers have finished another disappointing season but does Tubby give himself a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?
Tubby’s seat seems to be getting a little hotter after another poor performance but will he go?
Take a peek at the historic UK legacy that Smith had before joining the Golden Gophers . . .
The Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball team finished Big Ten play on Senior night at Williams Arena this Saturday. After losing the previous 6 match ups against Big Ten opponents the Gophers beat the Nebraska Corn Huskers 81-69 for their first win since beating Nebraska at Lincoln on February 5th. After starting their non-conference play 12-1, Minnesota was 6-12 against Big Ten foes and finished the year with an 18-13 record and will likely find themselves outside of the tournament. Minnesota will have the chance to win the Big Ten Tournament and get an automatic bid into March Madness but realistically that won’t happen.
The future of the Gophers was placed in limbo after PF Trevor Mbakwe went down with a season ending injury in the Championship game of the Old Spice Classic against the Dayton Flyers. The Gopher’s offense was built around Mbakwe and when he was gone for the year Tubby’s offense shifted dramatically. A great deal of the Gopher’s offense fell onto the shoulders of Rodney Williams, Ralph Sampson III and the young guards, Andre and Austin Hollins (no relation), Joe Coleman and JuCo transfer Julian Welch. Minnesota’s 81 points against Nebraska was the most the offense had scored since Mbakwe was injured.
The Gophers averaged just over 67 points a game, ranking 193rd in college basketball, while shooting 46% from the field. Minnesota struggled from behind the arc shooting a dismal .356 and even though the Gophers got to the line 646 times they made only 69% of their free throws. Minnesota had an incredibly difficult time finding someone to lead the team offensively and Tubby Smith’s rotation at the 1 and 2 positions led to an almost even assist to turnover ratio. The Gophers ended the season with 473 dimes and 436 turnovers which average to 15 assists and 14 turnovers a game. Minnesota was led in scoring by Rodney Williams (337) followed by Julian Welch (297).
Those were the only players who averaged more than 10 points a game and they squeaked by averaging 10.9 and 10.2 points per game respectively. Neither player could be relied upon when Tubby needed someone to take control of the team’s offense in the 2nd half or late in close games. Minnesota suffered 8 losses by 10 points or less against Big Ten opponents and was 3-10 in all games decided by that margin. Minnesota held leads in multiple games late in the game but their offense would become stagnant and their defense couldn’t hold opponents scoreless. The Gophers have lost some close disappointing games but is their problem the roster, the coach or all of the above?
March Madness has been more elusive in Minnesota than a snowless January and many thought the tides would turn when Athletic Director Joel Maturi signed ex-Kentucky Wildcat Head Coach Tubby Smith. That was huge news in 2007 but since then Tubby has made it to the dance just twice, only to be bounced in the first round, meanwhile Maturi is finishing his final few weeks as Minnesota’s AD. When Tubby came to Dinkytown Gopher Nation’s expectations for the basketball team reached new limits. The Gophers were getting what they thought was a prestigious coach capable of propelling this team into becoming a consistent competitor in the Big Ten. Tubby Smith came to Minnesota for the $2 million a year contract and the ability to call all the shots and run the Gophers basketball program the way he wants.
Tubby Smith was basically run out of Kentucky but nobody really talks about the legacy he left behind and whether it was really a legacy. Tubby Smith was lucky enough to take over the Wildcats Head Coaching position in Kentucky after Rick Pitino had just led them to become the 1996 National Champs as well as back to the 1997 National Championship game against Arizona. Although the Wildcats won that game, Smith was left with an incredible team while Pitino would go struggle with the Boston Celtics. Smith would post a 35-4 record in 1998 and the Wildcats won the National Championship and Tubby would use it as leverage for the next 15 years.
Smith’s coaching career started in Tulsa in 1991-92 and in his 3rd and 4th seasons he would lead them to the NCAA Sweet 16. Smith was hired as the Georgia Bulldogs Head Coach in 1995-96 and he brought them to the Sweet 16 in his first season. The following season the Bulldogs made it into March Madness but Tubby’s team was bounced in the first round. It was Smith’s 45-19 record at Georgia that made Kentucky feel that Smith was the right choice at one of the most iconic basketball schools in the world. Realistically Tubby won games but after that 1998 Championship his teams never made it past the Elite Eight despite making it to the Tourney for 9 straight years. Rick Pitino was 22-5 in the NCAA Tournament while Tubby was 23-8. Pitino beat 11 teams seeded 5th or higher in his 6 Tournament appearances while Tubby has beaten just 4 in his 11 Tournaments.
Smith had a 263-83 record while at Kentucky and had an incredible record against the SEC conference, winning a handful of titles but in the end his team’s would lose steam in the tournament. Tubby played just 54 games at Kentucky with the Wildcats ranked 5th or higher while Pitino tallied 142 despite coaching for 8 seasons compared to Tubby’s 10. During Smith’s Championship year of 1998 the Wildcats averaged 80.1 ppg but over the years his team manages to score less. In Smith’s last 4 seasons at Kentucky the Wildcats averaged less than 73 ppg and since coming to Minnesota the Gophers have averaged over 68.9 ppg just once. Tubby has been known for his defensive minded style but there is nothing wrong with a little offense every now and again.
Tubby is notorious for what he has accomplished at Kentucky but even with his 1998 Championship (whose roster was all Pitino recruits) Smith holds some dubious records in the bluegrass state. By not making it to the Final Four after 1998 he set a school record for most seasons without appearing at 9. He was the first coach in history to have 2 and 3 consecutive 10+ loss seasons and the first Wildcat coach ever to have 5 total 10+ losing seasons. During his 10 year tenure became the first UK coach to lose 6 straight games against an SEC opponent and allowed Vanderbilt to sweep them for the first time in 32 years. He lost to Ole Miss for the first time in Lexington since 1927 and owns the record for most home court losses than any other UK coach. They spent one entire season without beating a ranked opponent since 1974 and when he didn’t make the SEC Tournament in his final two seasons that was the straw that broke the camel’s back as that hadn’t happened since 1936.
Many Kentucky fans grew upset with Tubby’s style of basketball but it was his inability to recruit the elite talent out of high school despite being the prestigious University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. Tubby Smith lasted 10 years at Kentucky but he had just 2 1st round draft picks in his entire tenure and while Pitino recruited 10 players who were selected in the NBA Draft. Tubby had a problem pulling in big names at Kentucky and he had 14 players transfer while he was coaching for the Wildcats. The same problems that surrounded Smith in Kentucky have come to fruition in Dinkytown.
Tubby Smith is 38-52 against the Big Ten in his 5 years as Golden Gophers Head Coach but is 7-22 in his last 29 games in conference. The Gophers have had back-to-back 6-12 seasons in Big Ten conference play and although Tubby is 116-79 overall as Minnesota’s head coach they often play extremely weak non-conference schedules. In Tubby’s first season their most difficult matchup was against Florida State in the confines of The Barn and they lost that game by 14 points. The following year Tubby returned to Kentucky and his Gophers beat the #9 ranked Louisville Cardinals, which to this day is one of Smith’s biggest victories in Minnesota. To round out the rest of top 3 non-conference wins for Tubby Smith led Gopher teams would be their win over #10 Butler in 2009-10 and a victory over #8 North Carolina in 2010-11. Normally the Gophers are trouncing teams like Wofford, Siena, South Dakota State, St. Peter’s College, Mount St. Mary’s and other power houses like Appalachian State.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for Tubby Smith and his staff to travel across the country to find recruits and be able to persuade them into attending the U, they really are modern day snake-oil salesmen. Smith has vocalized many times about his frustration with the University and their inability to build his team a practice facility. Not only would it help improve the players that are already committed to Tubby but it would help get better talent to come to Minnesota. Winters are brutal and Tubby Smith is allegedly leaving us for (Insert Mediocre University Here), these are two things that reign true every year. The issue comes up nearly every off-season as Tubby Smith’s name begins to be the center of rumors with him leaving for another University. Tubby’s name has come up for jobs like Oregon, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Virginia and North Carolina State and to be honest it’s complete bullshit.
Tubby Smith is retracing his footsteps from Kentucky and all the allegations of his mediocrity have risen from the Gopher hole. Tubby’s recruiting has been abysmal and his inability to land 5-star recruits may be the reason why Minnesota hasn’t made the steps in the right direction like they thought they would when signing the head coach. Tubby took one of the most iconic college basketball programs and literally drove it into the ground. Minnesota doesn’t have nearly as much prowess as UK does when it comes to basketball history and Tubbyball may not be as reliable as it’s advertised to be. I understand that Tubby has dealt with many issues involving players, but so does every other college basketball coach. For Tebow’s sake the guy not only recruited his son Saul to UK, he brought him on as Assistant Head Coach at the UofM. I understand having your kid be the towel boy, handing out Gatorade, but drawing up plays?
That shit has got to stop.
I completely understand the frustration that UK fans went through involving recruiting because Tubby doesn’t bring in big name kids and when he does their talents are either wasted away or they get so discouraged that they transfer. In 2007, Tubby’s first year as Gophers coach, he signed Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III and Devoe Joseph among others. Two of the three transferred while Sampson plays so soft that one wonders if his body is filled with feathers. In 2008 he got Trevor Mbakwe who has been incredible for the Gophers until getting hurt early this year.
He also signed the high flying Rodney Williams and the greatest recruit in years 5-star Minnesotan Royce White. Rodney has struggled in his collegiate game and although he has NBA talent in him Gophers fans have just seen flashes of that greatness, not to mention the kid struggles to hit a jump shot. Then there is White, a phenomenal player that had great upside but he did have a lot of off the court issues. Tubby would suspend him and eventually White would transfer to Iowa State where he is a national standout. In 2010 he was able to sign two Mr. Basketball’s Minnesota’s own Joe Coleman and Tennessee’s Andre Hollins as well as getting JuCo transfer Julian Welch. They all have shown flashes of greatness but Hollins needs to see more floor time while Joe could learn a little more of Tubby’s defensive prowess and Welch needs have a couple more years of eligibility.
Obviously the situation in Minnesota is a culmination of things and as much as I have bashed Tubby Smith I can’t say that there is a better option out there. Tubby may need his practice facility to encourage better players to come to Minnesota but he should be able to coach some of these kids up. It seems like rather than making kids better than they were thought to be, Tubby drives them out of town or sits them on the bench for too long. I want nothing more than for the Gophers to have a successful basketball program but when Maturi exits as Athletic Director, the new AD whoever it may be will have a big decision to make when it comes to Tubby.