aMAILia BAG is a weekly installment on this blog where you send me questions (to @AmeliaRayno on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org) and I answer them here. Questions below are in bold, while my responses are in regular type.
Greetings from Austin, Texas, where the weather is just heavenly. Seriously, I won't even tell you the temperature, but if you Google it I think you'll be quite jealous. And I'll just say that I'm a pretty big fan of the city as well, from what I've seen/eaten/drank.
One of my biggest frustrations from this season has been watching the play of two former Gophers -- Colton Iverson and Justin Cobbs. These two have looked excellent with their respective new teams but while at MN, they were fringe bench players at best. I'll admit that when it was announced they would be transferring, I didn't think it was a big deal. Now that they have blown up, should we blame Tubby for failing to recognize how good these two could be and allowing them to leave the program without a fight?
Criticizing Smith to a degree is probably fair – not necessarily for not fighting the players when they wanted to transfer (why do you want a player that doesn’t want to be there anyway?) but for potentially giving talented players enough reason to leave.
Iverson’s situation is perhaps the most frustrating, considering that Smith chose Ralph Sampson III as his starting center over the current Colorado State big man – and we are all aware of the struggles that ensued (I talked with Iverson about this last year). With each, you can’t deny the improvement, even though they are both in new and different situations and an exact comparison is impossible. Pair that with the fact that some of the current Gophers maybe haven’t developed the way many hoped, well, it’s easy to understand why fans would be frustrated.
All of that said, hindsight is always 20-20, of course, and it’s not easy to always determine who will break out and who won’t. Sometimes, too, a new atmosphere or the surrounding pieces will make all the difference in a player’s success as well.
Certainly, neither are playing in the prestigious Big Ten anymore – Cobbs is in the Pac-12, which does not currently have a reputation as a very strong basketball conference and Iverson in the Mountain West, which has a flurry of talented teams, but probably not the girth and grind of the rugged Big Ten.
But with enough reoccurring examples, I think it’s fair for some of that criticism to fall on Smith.
Which team do we get 4 tourney: Athletic, physical, confident and fast? Or hesitant and shackled by head coach?
That, of course, is the big question. As I wrote about on Wednesday and Thursday, perhaps the Gophers’ greatest weakness is their inconsistent mental focus. If they come out with intensity and keep it throughout a game, they can be highly dangerous. If not, they can look shockingly bad. Too often have we seen the Gophers come out full of life, only to drop off completely or start much to slow and have to play from behind late. It’s pretty simple. Maximum effort equals maximum results. Which one WILL we see? That I’ve given up on predicting. I like that the practices have been more intense lately, according to both Smith and the players, but it really comes down to transferring that energy, which we’ve talked about and analyzed all too much, to gametime.
Do you think Andre Ingram will get more playing time? He seems to be one of those glue guys that every team needs.
Smith has been using Ingram in a substantial role in the last four games – I mean, the forward has gotten 76 total minutes, or an average of 19 a game in that span. You can’t really ask for more than that. It’s been necessary in the last two games, with Trevor Mbakwe getting into foul trouble – and in the previous two, Smith was starting Ingram.
Personally, I would like to see Mbakwe and Elliott Eliason get a great portion of those minutes, considering that the Gophers are going to need the latter to play a major role next season, but Ingram has proven capable in handling spot situations when needed.
Hi, Amelia -- How many tourney games does Tubby need to win to keep his job? Thanks!
There are so many factors that go into any major decision with a coach. First of all, if the administration wanted to let Smith go – less than a year after giving him an extension – it would be very expensive. We’re talking somewhere around 6 or 7 million after buying Smith out ($2.5 million), compensating staff, and then buying out whatever coach they replaced him with. Secondly, you’ve got to be able to find a replacement that a) makes sense and is a good fit and b) at least somewhat energizes a fan base that could see bad basketball next year, regardless.
It’s tough to make your first coaching hire as an administration when you’re bringing in someone that could struggle next year, no matter who it is.
That disclaimer aside, things have been a little rough this season and over Smith’s tenure in general. Norwood Teague and Co. aren’t oblivious to that. There is no magic number of losses that would get Smith fired – the above concerns need to be addressed as well – but for the coach to truly have a fail-proof safety net, I think he would need two wins to achieve that. One NCAA tournament win, even though Minnesota hasn’t had one since the 1990’s (!!!) is not enough to make his job a lock.
With talk of the uncertainty of Tubby's future, how much is that a factor for recruits? And certainly used by rival coaches.
It’s absolutely a major issue. Gavin Schilling deciding to wait until the Spring to announce his choice (spoiler alert: it was Michigan State) was the worst thing that could have happened for the Gophers, because Smith’s job status has gotten ever more shaky in the last several months. In the fall, things were looking pretty good – Smith had just gotten an extension and had high expectation for perhaps his most talented bunch at Minnesota. But when anticipating Schilling’s announcement on Wednesday, it was hard to imagine him saying yes to either Minnesota or UCLA – both of which could be going through coaching searches imminently. There are few things more important for recruits than the relationship with the coach at each institution and if that aspect is undetermined, that’s a big problem. This is another reason why I see the Gophers going after JUCO recruits, at this point, to fill the slot they wanted Schilling to. What recruit could they convince to agree to such an unstable environment? Probably one that just wants to get to the next level.
Do you get a feeling there's friction between players and coaches that might explain the inconsistent play? If not, are they as close as they should be?
That’s a fair question to ask. The relationship between players and coach is different at every school, mostly because personalities differ. I wasn’t around the locker room, of course, before last season (when I came on the beat), so this is based on reading and talking to guys that have been around for longer: At the beginning of the season, there was reason to suggest that this was perhaps one of the teams Smith had been closest with and liked most of all the squads he’s had at Minnesota. Even midway through the Big Ten schedule, when the video of the Gophers dancing in the locker room surfaced with Smith breaking it down at the helm just before Mbakwe plows over and actually picks up his head coach and throws him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry (that scene still startles me). But in recent weeks, as the Gophers have collapsed and looked worse and worse on the court, Smith has gotten ever more frustrated after not just losses, but wins (with his presser after the Indiana game being maybe the best example there). At times, the Gophers really do appear to be playing scared, certainly playing hesitantly and without cohesion. As mistakes have multiplied, we’ve seen that frustrated nature boil over to the players pointing at each other and throwing up their hands after turnovers or botched plays. To absolve the head coach of any blame for those chemistry and attitude shortcomings is overly generous.
Where do the Gophers look now that they missed Gavin? Wouldn't JUCO seem unlikely since it would lead to unbalanced classes?
I’m not sure what you mean. Next year, the Gophers won’t have any junior college transfers on their roster (with Julian Welch and Ingram both graduating), so that won’t be a problem. Otherwise, they will have four juniors: Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman, Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks. It would be a heavy junior class if the Gophers snag another, but at this point, they don’t have a lot of options (and frankly, could use the experience in the frontcourt).
With no "Big" replacements for the departing season, what is a more realistic outlook next year? 10 wins? 15? or 20? #aMAILaBAG
How should I put this? Enjoy this tournament season. Next year, with such a thin frontcourt and so many unknowns, things could be a little rough.