While the Gophers had an impressive victory over UCLA on Friday, it’s difficult to win when a team like Florida shoots 65.2 percent and takes a 21-point lead into halftime.
The Gophers got within seven in the middle of the second half, but a cold Gators team got back to its hot shooting, and the result was a 78-64 victory in the NCAA tournament in Austin, Texas.
So the Gophers, after starting the season 15-1, wound up losing 12 of their final 18 games while still posting a high power ranking and having the top strength-of-schedule ranking in college basketball. Meanwhile, some in the media and some of the boosters who don’t know all the handicaps a coach operates under at Minnesota are calling for Tubby Smith to be bought out.
Yes, the Gophers basketball coach plays his games in an 82-year-old arena, by far the oldest in the Big Ten, an arena the local fans love but which doesn’t impress out-of-state recruits. Unlike most major-conference schools, the university doesn’t have a practice facility to help recruiting, and it has one of the lowest basketball budgets in the conference.
The cry is that with Smith coaching, sales of seasons tickets will fall and so will overall attendance.
Well, by firing Smith, all of the work that has been done recruiting one of the greatest crop of in-state high school players in memory for the Class of 2014 will go out the window, and a new coach will have to start all over.
If former Gophers athletic directors Mark Dienhart and Joel Maturi would want to talk, they would tell you how difficult it is to hire top-of-the-line football and basketball coaches here because of the lack of top facilities and other disadvantages compared to other Big Ten schools. Though they did get lucky in hiring Jerry Kill.
In the short time they have been here, AD Norwood Teague and his staff have learned how difficult it is to raise money. The fact that the Gophers haven’t been able to raise the money for a basketball facility is a good example.
A decision to fire Smith would mean at least a $2.5 million buyout and a long-term contract for a new coach. And if you pay a basketball coach big money, you better give your football coach Mr. Kill a salary at least equal to the basketball coach like most schools.
Those who are calling for Smith’s neck have no idea how tough it will be to get a top-notch coach to replace him.
Memo to my friend, University President Eric Kaler: You will make a big mistake if you allow Smith to be fired and will pay a big price if you do.
Travis family weekend
It was a big week for the Travis family. Jonah Travis was a member of the Harvard squad that upset New Mexico, giving the Crimson its first-ever NCAA tournament victory. Then Reid Travis was a member of the DeLaSalle team that defeated Austin 50-33 to win back-to-back Class 3A state championships.
“Seeing my brother on TV and getting the big [win], that gave me motivation from that to perform at a high stage like this,” Reid said of his great performance in scoring 17 points to help beat the previously undefeated Packers on Saturday at Target Center.
“I texted [Jonah] back and forth. My parents [Jackie and Nate] actually flew out there [to Salt Lake City] so they were actually translating what they talked to him about, to me. Then they just flew back, so they caught the whole [state championship game].”
Reid Travis might be the best athlete in the state, as a great 6-7 quarterback and an outstanding basketball player. He is being recruited for both sports.
Asked if he is close to a choosing a school, the junior said: “That’s a tough one. I have to take some visits and really sit down, and at the end of the summer I should know.
“I still have to take the ACT and get everything set up. Everything is wide open. I have a month here or so where I have to sit down and focus.”
Travis said “the Gophers are always high on my list because, of course, Minnesota, I love what they’re doing with the program. I always consider them highly.”
He added he hasn’t taken any official visits and won’t decide where he will visit until late this summer at the earliest.
• As the top high school junior basketball recruit in the country, Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones is being recruited like I have never seen any other player in the state. Last week, Mike Krzyzewski, the great Duke coach, spent time watching Jones practice and visited with him. Tuesday, a day after losing an NIT game to Robert Morris, Kentucky coach John Calipari flew in to watch Jones play. And Saturday, hours after Michigan State beat Memphis in the NCAA tournament, Tom Izzo was at Target Center watching both Jones and Travis win state titles. … Apple Valley center Brock Bertram is a freshman who turned 15 during the season and is already being scouted by many major basketball programs.
• Not since the days of the eight-team tournaments at Williams Arena did a boys’ basketball tournament draw like this one. Early Saturday, the first deck at Target Center filled up and people were directed to top-deck seats, and those filled up in short order. Then when Austin’s 3,500 fans left after losing to DeLaSalle, the Park Center and Apple Valley fans filled those seats. Attendance for Saturday was announced as 18,782, the highest finals total in five years.
• John Carlson Sr., the father of Vikings tight end John Carlson, coached Litchfield to a berth in the state basketball tournament for the fourth time.
• When the Gophers open spring football practice this week. Marcus Jones will find himself moved from wide receiver to defensive back, Nick Rallis from inside linebacker to outside linebacker and Derrick Wells from safety to cornerback.