So... let me make sure I have this right: Gophers' center Ralph Sampson III couldn't grab a key rebound with 30 seconds left against Michigan State on Tuesday night because of, what, all the snow this week? Would it be too much to ask him to walk across the street to lift weights with 10+ inches of snow on the ground?
There are rumblings that Gophers' coach Tubby Smith badly wants a practice facility; that he quietly wishes that "The Barn" would be replaced; and that North Carolina State and/or Georgia Tech will call soon. But what about evidence that he's getting better at designing plays; that more guys than not improve under him; or that he has some semblance of an offense?
I am not yet ready to offer Colorado State's Tim Miles his dream job, or to beg Flip Saunders to come back home. Despite a 26-37 Big Ten record against all schools not named "Iowa," I will not be calling for Tubby's head like some misguided souls on Twitter. I am only slightly bothered by Tuesday night's collapse; the worst in Smith's three-plus years here. I just want some accountability.
“I can’t say enough about our lack of ball-handling,” said Smith after their sixth loss in the last eight games. “We’ve been doing ball-handling work in practice, trying to be strong. But I guess we have to do more of it.”
Tubby on forward Trevor Mbakwe: "He's got to learn to post up and hold his seal."
Just once, I would love to hear him say, "I did a poor job of preparing my team, and could've done a better job in-game." Smith was said to be very soft-spoken and short with his responses. Why do you suppose that is? This year is not all his fault, but to suggest that he is blameless is asinine. That's why, just once, I would like to hear him accept some responsibility.
Reality: Tubby is having a bad year coaching. It's hard to remember any key play out of a timeout even appearing as if it had a chance to succeed.
The Gophers have three consecutive single-elimination games. Win them all -- which is possible -- and Smith will likely accomplish what none of his predecessors could: take the Gophers to three straight NCAA tournaments. According to the Big Ten Network, the entire conference has just four non-conference wins vs the RPI Top 25. Two of them belong to the Gophers: North Carolina (11) and West Virginia (21). But slip just once, and a below-.500 Big Ten record will produce a date with the National Invitational Tournament.
Maybe at that point Smith would accept blame for failing in a college basketball season where more teams than ever -- 68 -- make the only tournament that matters.
To suggest that 2010 was an interesting sports year -- at least locally -- is like calling Milwaukee the drunkest city in America, saying that Hugh Hefner needs to take Viagra, or that Doc Brown never ages in the Back to the Future movies.
In other words, it would be stating the obvious.
Brett Favre broke hearts. There were coaching changes, postseason failings, and regular-season ineptitude. We saw a beautiful new baseball ballpark open, and the can-do-no-wrong hometown hero sign the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. We even experienced Wolves VP of basketball operations David Kahn get fined $50,000 for talking about Michael Beasley's former love of the wacky tobacco.
With 2010 drawing to a close, I wonder what might 2011 bring.
In no particular order, here are some guesses:
• Bert Blyleven will finally (and rightfully) enter the Hall of Fame. Foolishly, Jack Morris will not.
• The Gophers football team will score a meaningful victory. The more people I talk to, the more I hear about what a great hire Jerry Kill was. With Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium, Kill will find a way to win one of those three true rivalry games.
• After saving a ton of money by hiring Kill, Maturi finds a way to get basketball coach Tubby Smith the practice facility he was promised years ago.
• Smith, in his fourth year with the Gophers, finally will win an NCAA tournament game.
• Smith will be wooed by a couple of ACC schools, and at least one NBA team (Charlotte?).
• Former Gophers recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz will somehow continue to berate local reporters.
• The Gophers hockey team will unfathomably miss the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive year.
• Leslie Frazier will be named Vikings head coach.
• Ray Edwards, among others, will be a former Viking.
• The Vikings draft a quarterback in the first round -- either Arkansas' Ryan Mallet, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, or Washington's Jake Locker.
• The VIkings play the 2011 home season -- because there will be no lockout -- at TCF Bank Stadium.
• The Legislature will reach agreement on a new Vikings stadium bill.
• The Twins will not be as bad as many fans think -- still lots of time to make moves this offseason -- but won't win the A.L. Central.
• Wild TV analyst Mike Greenlay will blame the officials for at least one loss.
• Wild coach Todd Richards, whether deserving or not, will be the scapegoat for a non-playoff season.
• Forward Andrew Brunette, among others, will leave during free agency.
• Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, and Sebastian Telfair all become ex-Wolves.
• Ricky Rubio won't be with the Wolves -- yet.
• Ted Robinson and Bob Kurtz will do a great job on the Twins radio broadcasts.
• JJ Hardy will have significantly better numbers than Alexi Casilla.
• Pam Borton will struggle mightily, but Maturi won't cut the chord.
• In spite of a horrific performance on Thursday night vs. Stanford, UCONN's Maya Moore will be the Lynx top pick in the WNBA draft.
• A prominent local sports anchor will plagiarize verbatim Jon Krawczynski's work again.
We can look back on these predictions a year from now -- I promise to not hop into Jake Nyberg's DeLorean and travel back in time to ensure 100% accuracy -- so list your local sports prognostications for 2011 below.
Seems strange to say this, but Middle Tennessee State should be embarrassed.
How did they lose to the Gophers? For five straight home games, and counting, the Gopher faithful have chanted "Fire Brewster!" Why? Because the Gophers own a 7-15 record in their last 22 games. Why? Because this year the Gophers have lost three straight non-conference home games, including losses to perennial powerhouses South Dakota and Northern Illinois. Why? No wins in rivalry games (0-9), no wins against ranked opponents (0-9), a losing record at TCF Bank Stadium (4-6), and a losing record against Dakota schools (1-2).
The line was used by a handful earlier in the week, but it applies more than ever now: If wide receiver Troy Stoudermire can be suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team," then can't some Gophers coaches be suspended for "coaching detrimental to the team?" All Stoudermire did was voice his opinion. Was he wrong?
For those who think that this is piling on, it is duly-noted, but when you become the first coach to lose three non-conference home games since 1898, after telling us in August that the program was "light-years" ahead of when you took it over, and that this was your most athletic team, it begs for a response.
Here is my opening from my 1500espn.com preview on Thursday:
What could've been: Bo Pelini, the head coach of No. 6 Nebraska, desperately wanted to interview for the Gophers job after Glen Mason was fired. He never had the chance. USC coach Lane Kiffin got an interview, but was told he wasn't worthy. Fourth-ranked TCU's coach, Gary Patterson, was reportedly offered a monster contract but eventually said no.
A powerbroker in the college coaching business, but far from a household name, agent Gary O'Hagan of Minneapolis turned Brewster into an idiot savant, capable of executing a solid enough interview to convince athletics director Joel Maturi, associate athletic director Marc Ryan and others to hire him.
I had a first-hand visual to the vitriol against Brewster in the game against USC (section 211), and people think I'm negative.
If Brewster loses to another opponent -- Northern Illinois -- that he's supposed to beat, former All-American Bob Stein won't be the only luminary who will go on the record with his disdain for the direction of the program. In other words, to halt the bitterness and backbiting, Saturday is a must-win.
Two years ago, the Gophers were barely good enough to beat Northern Illinois. That was with mostly Glen Mason's players. Last night, with 98 percent of the personnel his, Brewster got destroyed by Northern Illinois. He is now 4-6 at the new, beautiful stadium. All built-in excuses are gone. In spite of what you've read elsewhere on this site in the last few weeks -- a story made-up by someone, hmmm -- the Gophers spend plenty of money on the football program. Do they spend as much as Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan? No, but they spend more than enough to succeed.
Keeping a lame-duck coach around accomplishes nothing. The notion suggested that letting him go now ruins your chances with some recruits is mind-boggling. These high school juniors and seniors are well aware of the situation. If they're not, an opposing coach will tell them about it. Plus, can these recruits play? Look at the players Brewster has brought in. What makes you believe that this next class is the one that will lead this team anywhere?
This isn't personal. The few interactions I've had with Brewster have been pleasant. I can’t imagine that anybody would ever want to see someone get fired. But with his coaching connections, he'll land an assistant coaching job somewhere. He will also get a very nice check when he goes away. The ones to truly feel sorry are his assistants who won’t be able to find jobs for a while (Kevin Cosgrove, etc.)
It is time to start researching some of the potential candidates to take over: Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and Alabama coordinators Kirby Smart and Jim McElwain are just a few of the names that make sense. Georgia coach Mark Richt is the ultimate dream. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach will coach again somewhere. But would president Bob Bruininks and athletics director Joel Maturi take a chance on him?
This much is known: hiring another coach with no previous head coaching or coordinator experience won't, or at least shouldn't, happen again.
My sincere apologies for the lack of movement on this blog over the past few weeks. I have been basking in the glory of my career highlight; a mid-March interview of adult film star Joslyn James on ESPN-1500. James would've fit in perfectly Sunday night alongside Miss Colorado and Miss California during the Miss USA pageant. A sidenote: could you imagine having your fate decided by Johnny Weir and Carmelo Anthony?
But onto the point: alongside hard-hitting questions about the new Arizona immigration law, or whether birth control should be paid for through your health insurance, this little doozy could've been added: what is Adam Weber's legacy? Miss Michigan could've said, "He torched my Spartans last year for 416 yards and five touchdowns; I'd say he's pretty good." Miss South Dakota could've offered this rebuttal: "Did you see him against my Division I-AA Jackrabbits? In the 36th start of his college career, he looked scared to deliver the ball. 94 yards -- are you kidding me?"
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a Weber apologist. From Jedd Fisch foolishly tweaking his throwing motion last year, to poor offensive line play and the lack of a running game, there are many reasons to explain his below-average 2009 season (13 TDs, 15 INTs). Losing go-to receiver Eric Decker during the season also didn't help. But at some point, if Weber is to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in Gophers' history -- his numbers have him in the conversation -- he has to make more plays and, more importantly, win more games. He is as much of a sports enigma as we have in this town, and those who disagree with the decision to start him in 2010 have lit up the message boards. The vitriolic ill will is intense.
He is 14-24 as the Gophers' starting quarterback. But he also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008, an indication that he has shown flashes of brilliance.
Weber is onto his fourth offensive coordinator in five years. Everything I've heard about Jeff Horton is positive. One of his colleagues on the Detroit Lions staff last year has nothing but endless praise for him. Now it's on Horton to ensure that Weber reaches his full potential. It's also on assistant coach Tim Davis to do the same with his offensive line and Thomas Hammock with his running backs. Football is the sport with the most moving parts. Weber needs a lot of help. But if he gets that help, he could shatter many school records and save head coach Tim Brewster's job. This is exactly why Weber is Brewster's guy this year; his job is on the line, and Weber gives him the best opportunity to win. Weber's college legacy will be written this year. It's up to him to make it an easier answer at next year's Miss USA pageant.
There is an unwritten rule in college basketball: When your favorite team beats an opponent that is not in the Top-25, not in the top-five in its conference, has no historical relevance, or is not your bitter rival, you don’t rush the floor.
Nevertheless, when the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Gophers two Sundays ago, we saw the Hoosiers faithful storm the court. Such debauchery should be reserved for a special win. Beating the Gophers does not qualify.
So when will beating the Gophers matter?
Head coach Tubby Smith will deservedly enter the Hall of Fame one day. He won a national championship in his first year at Kentucky. He is one of just six coaches who have guided four schools to the NCAA tournament. Eight more wins this season and he'll have his 17th consecutive 20-win season, which is the longest active streak. Smith also had three Sweet 16 appearances in four seasons at Tulsa and Georgia.
Smith has been so good at what he does that I can’t help but wonder when his iconic touch will translate to my alma mater.
Losing Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe to suspension hurts. White is a natural scorer and a gifted rebounder, two areas in which the Gophers need help. And the way Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson are playing, Mbakwe would play 25-30 minutes per game and likely lead the team in rebounding.
Mbakwe, who is sidelined until his felony assault case in Miami is resolved, will very likely redshirt this year. In November, athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune "I'd be surprised" if Mbakwe were found guilty. I wonder, if Maturi has done his homework in this matter and truly feels this way, why not let him play now?
Of the Gophers currently playing, have Sampson III, Iverson, Paul Carter, or Devron Bostick shown any improvement? Has Carter been given a fair shot?
Lawrence Westbrook on a good team would be featured as a spark-plug sixth man, but on the Gophers he has to be "The Man."
I have questions about Tubby’s ability to coach a productive half-court offense. After blowing a double-digit lead, the last possession against Michigan State on Saturday was a failure. They were down one, yet the final shot appeared to be for Blake Hoffarber from 23-feet. When that broke down, Westbrook went one-on-one, something that floundered for a seventh time in that game. An option might have been Sampson III on the low block, but Westbrook had no thoughts of giving that ball up.
Tuesday night against Northwestern, Hoffarber, like he has so many previous times this season at "The Barn," delivered. Oh by the way, he was a Dan Monson recruit.
Yes, the Gophers are second in the Big Ten in scoring, but that is a misleading statistic when you consider their soft non-conference schedule and propensity to score off defensive pressure.
Landing top-10 recruit Cory Joseph -- Devoe's brother -- would help immensely, but he might end up at Villanova or Texas. The two commitments Tubby has garnered -- guard Austin Hollins and center Elliot Eliason -- are not considered to be significant.
Further, two of the team's three most important players -- Damian Johnson and Westbrook -- are seniors. If the team does not make a deep run this year, when will they?