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The Big Ten officially announced realignment starting in the 2014 football season, with teams divided into two seven-team divisions -- East and West, mercifully replacing Legends and Leaders. The general reaction is that the Gophers made out pretty nicely in the new configuration, which places the two joiners (Maryland and Rutgers) in the East with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana. The Gophers get Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Iowa in the West.
The logic is sound. Even in their best years, the Gophers would have a hard time trying to compete for a division title against the loaded East. In the West? You could argue the best Gophers team could go 4-2 or even 5-1 against those six teams, and with the right draw from the East crossover games possibly contend for a division title.
As such, we took a look at what constitutes the "Golden Era" of modern Gophers football -- 1999-2006, the final eight seasons under Glen Mason. The Gophers went to bowl games seven times in that stretch and finished at least .500 in the conference four times. We wanted to break down how the Gophers fared during that era against the teams that are now going to be in the West. And, well, the results weren't quite as promising as we might have expected.
Keep in mind, this does NOT count Nebraska, which is certainly one of the power programs in the West but was not part of the Big Ten back then. Here is how Minnesota did against these teams from 1999-2006:
Overall against those five teams: 15-19
During that span, the Gophers were 29-35 against the Big Ten -- 15-19 against the five West teams and 14-16 against the rest.
One could argue that Iowa's program has fallen since then, as had Purdue's. Then again, one could also argue that Northwestern is more established now and that Nebraska's presence looms large.
What should a realistic expectation be for the Gophers starting in 2014? How about this: A good chance at going .500 against West foes in almost every season, with a chance once every 4-5 years or so, when the schedule breaks right, to realistically be a threat to contend within the division -- and also the chance, when the team is young and the East crossover games are tough, to finish near the bottom.
But remember when you get excited to see winnable games against Illinois, Iowa and Purdue on the schedule every year, those schools, at least for now, are also thinking the same thing about Minnesota.
In yet another example of how the national perception of Tubby Smith differs from the local perception (or that in Kentucky, for that matter), here is Pat Forde from Yahoo.com grading all of the coaching hires in college basketball this offseason -- including Richard Pitino and Tubby Smith:
Texas Tech: Hired Tubby Smith after relieving interim Chris Walker, who replaced troubled tyrant Billy Gillispie. Taking an older coach who was fired by a Big Ten school and owns a championship ring? The formula worked once for Tech with a guy named Bob Knight, give or take a salad-bar confrontation or two. Knight made the Red Raiders respectable, with five 20-win seasons and four NCAA tournament appearances. The hope in Lubbock is that the 61-year-old Smith can do the same with a program that has backslid drastically. Smith needs to reinvigorate his staff, and he got a start on doing that by reportedly luring Pooh Williamson (who played for Tubby at Tulsa) away from TCU. Grade: B-plus.
Minnesota: Hired Richard Pitino from Florida International after firing Tubby Smith. There is little doubt that if his name were Richard Pittman, the Gophers would have looked elsewhere. But it's Pitino, and while the bloodlines are excellent so are the early returns on Richard as a head coach. He went 18-14 and nearly made the NCAA tournament at FIU, a school that had not even come close to having a winning record since 2000. The job will not be easy at Minnesota and there figures to still be a significant learning curve ahead, but Pitino has shown signs of having the total head-coaching package: recruiter, tactician, motivator. Grade: B.
What do you think, Gopher Nation? How would you grade Forde's grades?
Want to hear something crazy? Without recruiting being finished for the 2013-14 season ... without a complete list of who is going pro and who isn't ... without TEAMS HAVING EVEN TOUCHED A BASKETBALL AS A GROUP ...
There is a "bracketology" out for the 2014 NCAA men's hoops tournament already.
Yes, ESPN's Joe Lunardi already has it all figured out. Seven Big Ten teams will make the NCAA field, but the Gophers aren't one of them -- but they are, for the moment, among the "first four out."
The Gophers are on the bubble 11 months before the tournament starts.
And bracketology 11 months early is on the bubble of sanity.
H/T: Gopher Hole.
Last night we attended "Rock of Ages" at the Venetian in Las Vegas, finishing off an excellent and warm weekend in Sin City. About nine hours after that ended, we were back in Minneapolis for a scheduled sit-down with new Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino. Here is a taste of what he had to say:
Q It’s been about a week on the job now. What has stood out to you so far?
A The thing that stood out to me the most is the love for the University of Minnesota and all the programs. It’s very unique. Normally places I’ve been it’s divided in the fan bases. Hey, we may love the football team but we don’t love basketball. Or we love basketball but we don’t love baseball. This is the first place I’ve worked where [fans] love every single sport and are passionate about it. … It’s impressive, the pride of this place.
Q You’re coming into recruiting kind of late. How do you divide your time between the class of 2013 – of which the Gophers have zero incoming kids after two de-committed – and the class of 2014?
A We certainly have immediate needs now that we need to try to address. Then we also have to make sure we’re doing our job to jump on rising seniors. The most important thing is getting a great staff in here and being organized with our time. I experienced the same thing last year at FIU, but it was much more difficult because I had six guys walk into my office and transfer or drop out. Here I don’t have that. We have some nice pieces still here. Being able to work the guys out has helped. I can get a feel for what I want and what I think we need. I don’t want to take the wrong guy. I don’t want to just fill a roster. Scholarships, they’re like gold.
Q How does the current roster fit the up-tempo style you want to play, which is different that the previous system?
A I think we have some pieces to be able to do that with Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, they have good speed. Joe Coleman has good athleticism. Maverick can shoot the ball. A guy like Oto can shoot the basketball from what I’ve seen. That was why we won last year at FIU. We brought in guys who fit the style, and I think the style took over. We have to do the same here in a couple weeks.
Q When the Minnesota job first became a reality, as in it could happen, what was going through your head?
A My wife [Jill] and I would always joke, we’d sit in the house in Miami and say, “where are we going to raise Ava, our daughter?" I always said, "Jill, you will never be able to predict what’s next." Sure enough, the Minnesota opportunity comes up. It was a great opportunity in a special place with a special fan base and a great university with a great AD in Norwood Teague. When the opportunity came, I ran with it. … I think she’s excited now because we can have some stability. She’s excited about that. As an assistant coach, you never know where you might turn. At Florida International, it was great, they were great to us, but you never knew if an opportunity would present itself. She’s excited to establish a life here. I’m excited to settle down and build a life here.
Q This team is coming off an NCAA tournament berth and a win in its first game. That said, some key pieces are missing. What are your expectations for next year?
A My expectations are that I am hoping to develop a culture of hard, hard work. My expectations are that these guys get better every single day, that they do the right things in the classroom and on campus. My expectations are the kids get better and I can establish my brand. It’s really hard when you take over a job to set goals from wins and losses. Certainly Coach Smith established a lot of great things here. But I’m not going to look at wins and losses in year one. We’ve lost some pretty big pieces. Mbakwe and Williams are two very good players.
Q Does it worry you that Tubby Smith had a certain level of accomplishment here and that it still wasn’t enough for Norwood?
A No, because we have a lot of things we can reference back on that Coach Smith did. What would worry me is if he never won any games or didn’t go to the tournament. Coach Smith showed you can do it. We have a lot of things to be proud of.
Q But that wasn’t enough for Smith to keep his job.
A Coaches don’t think that way. I think they get excited about what could be and the potential of this place. When you get a great athletic director … the sky is the limit. Norwood Teague is going to take us to that. I really believe it.
Q You’ve brought in a few assistants so far. When you bring up Kimani Young to administrators, how does that conversation start considering his past that everyone knows about?
A They were great because it you look at Kimani’s story, Kimani made a mistake 14 years ago. And if you ever met Kimani you would be shocked by it. When you look back to what he’s done over the last 14 years, he’s rebuilt his life from the ground up. … I had an opportunity to get to know him when I was at Florida, and when I got to know him as a person, I had zero doubts. When I took the job at FIU, I brought him along. When I took the job here, I had no problem fighting for him because I believe in him and the influence he can have on kids.
Q You brought up practice facility in your introductory press conference and you downplayed it, but how important will that be eventually here?
A I’d say this: I’ve recruited at Louisville and Florida, and they’ve had practice facilities. And I don’t think one kid has come because of a practice facility. When the time comes and we get it, it will probably help my life in the fact that it will be easier. But guys aren’t going to come here because of practice facility. Guys are going to come here because of conference – best in the country. Great fan base? One of the best in the country. A great university? Certainly one of the best in the country. And then they’re going to come because of me and my staff. All those [facilities] are nice, but that’s not what’s going to build a program.
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