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Much of the national media thinks Richard Pitino was a good-to-great hire by Minnesota. Vegas, even, has the Gophers at 35-to-1 odds to win the NCAA tournament next season.
That said, nobody really knows what to expect on the court next year with the Gophers under a new coach with a new system and some pieces conspicuously missing.
The Gophers have just nine scholarship players on their roster as we speak. It is confirmed that both of the recruits who signed in November -- Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster -- who were slated to come in have been released from their NLIs. So there are four available scholarships and no takers at the moment, with the late signing period starting next Wednesday.
On the other hand, the backcourt looks to be in good shape with Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman all returning. That was not enough, however, to convince at least one writer that the Gophers will be competitive next year. In fact, that writer -- BTN.com's Brent Yarina -- has Minnesota dead last in his current Big Ten power rankings for the 2013-14 season:
The Gophers have talent in the backcourt, but they aren’t the greatest shooters, and with forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams no longer around to grab second chances, there will be struggles.
It should be noted, as Yarina did, that this is a VERY early look. The college basketball season just ended Monday. With that in mind, though, how do you predict Minnesota will finish next season in conference play?
The NCAA men's basketball season was barely over last night when an e-mail arrived from the good folks at Pregame.com detailing the odds for the 2014 champion. Always looking ahead, Vegas is. That's probably why there are so many shiny buildings there.
In any event, there were 23 teams listed. There weren't a ton of surprises until we got to the very last one:
Kentucky: 4/1; Duke: 8/1; North Carolina: 8/1; Ohio St: 9/1; Louisville: 12/1; Memphis: 14/1; Michigan St: 15/1; Arizona: 18/1; Michigan: 20/1; Florida: 20/1; Syracuse: 20/1; Colorado: 22/1; New Mexico: 25/1; Kansas 25/1; Creighton 28/1; Indiana 30/1; Kansas St 30/1; Marquette: 30/1; NC St: 30/1; Pitt: 30/1; UCLA: 30/1; UNLV: 35/1; Minnesota: 35/1.
That's right. The Gophers have 35-to-1 odds to WIN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT. Sure, these are very preliminary. But for now, at least consider Minnesota in the Vegas top 25, or some such thing.
We're fairly sure Vegas knows it's Richard, the son, not Rick, the 2013 title coach, leading the Gophers in 2013-14. But we're also fairly sure there is at least a small Pitino bump in play here. Richard's hire was a subject brought up multiple times at the Final Four, and the young man even got some camera time at the end of Monday night's game along with a mention of the Gophers. Afterward, he tweeted "What a week!!! So proud!!" Aside from his Tim Brewster-like use of exclamation points, all is well so far.
We're not sure what happened in Atlanta after all the cameras were shut off, but we can at least guess based on a quote from Rick's postgame presser, the full transcript of which was e-mailed to us: "We celebrate together. My children, they have a lot of Irish in them the way they celebrate."
Did somebody say celebrate?
We'll leave most of the impressions to others. Here are some facts:
*Pitino starts out with a salary of $1.2 million a year ($500K base plus $700K supplemental) on a six-year contract. The base portion of his salary will increase by at least 5 percent every year.
*He will get a lump sum bonus of $400,000 on April 30, 2016 and the same date 2019 if he is still coaching at the U of M.
*He has the use of a private jet for recruiting. Expenses for the jet cannot exceed $50,000 in a fiscal year. We're not sure how many jet rides that can buy a guy, but we'll look into it.
*If Minnesota fires him, it owes him (buyout) half his base salary plus all supplemental salary remaining. However, if Pitino gets another "comparable" job, Minnesota's payments to Pitino would end. That's a good provision for Minnesota and one it did not have for Tubby Smith, who walked away with a $2.5 million buyout and a big contract at Texas Tech on top of it.
*If Pitino wants to get out of his contract early, he has to pay $1.5 million before April 30, 2016, and $500,000 anytime after that for the length of the contract.
*Pitino also has rather modest bonuses in comparison to Smith. We won't get into all of them. He does get $50K if Minnesota has a winning record in the Big Ten -- something Smith never accomplished.
Also, we had a chance to speak with current Marshall head coach Tom Herrion, who was the head coach at College of Charleston back in 2005 and hired Pitino for his first college job. Pitino was an admin there -- director of basketball operations is how Herrion remembers the title, though he wasn't positive.
There has been some question, sparked by an e-mailer, about how long and when Pitino was at the school. His bio at Florida International, Florida and Louisville said he was there for the 2004-05 season. That was an administrative oversight, Pitino said through a Gophers spokesman, and will be corrected. Pitino said through that spokesman that he was at Charleston for three months between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. That was the same thing Herrion said. Pitino was hired in the summer shortly after graduating from Providence and stayed until early fall, when there was an assistant coach opening at Northeastern that he filled. So he was certainly at the school; the time frame needs an adjustment.
Herrion said the admin job at Charleston didn't even have a salary. Pitino had his rent paid at a one-room studio apartment and had a meal card at the school cafeteria. That was it, Herrion said. Taking the job at Northeastern was a no-brainer, Herrion added.
"I made it clear to him that the job (at Charleston) was what it was. It was an entry level position. It was the bottom of the food chain. Laundry, class checks. There was a lot of non-glamorous stuff. But he never rode his dad’s coattails. He's a humble young man who worked really hard," Herrion said.
The Gophers' coaching search barely lasted a week. No, honestly. They fired Tubby Smith last Monday, and they came to an agreement with Richard Pitino on Wednesday. It felt like months, but it was really just a handful of days. Now that the short but twisty path has arrived at Pitino -- who, at 30, is roughly a month younger than Bill Musselman was when he took over the Gophers in the early 1970s. Pitino has only been a head coach for one year, but he impressively took Florida International to its first winning season since 1999-2000 and navigated the program out of the shambles Isiah Thomas left it in. He also has assistant stops at many locations already, including five years combined at Louisville and Florida. Let's take a look at five quick questions when it comes to Pitino and whether he will succeed here:
1) Has he paid his dues? Some coach's kids ride the coattails of success and never learn hard work on their own. Others are driven to be just as good or better than their old man. We can't say definitively which one Pitino is, but it appears to be the latter. After watching Richard Pitino’s rise, Billy Donovan told the Palm Beach Post: “His dad made him start from the ground floor and work his way up. He wasn’t a guy that was just given a silver spoon and went right out of college into a high-major coaching position.” Indeed. He was a student manager at Providence. He was an assistant coach at a high school. He worked low-level administrative jobs. He was an assistant coach at Northeastern and Duquesne. Combined with the experience at Florida and Louisville as well as head coaching at FIU, he has the resume of someone five years older.
2) Can he recruit the Midwest? Tubby Smith did well outside the area, landing Austin/Andre Hollins from Memphis and Ralph Sampson III, a prized recruit at the time, from Georgia. But with a ton of great recruits in Minnesota and nearby western Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, Pitino will also need to work his way into the local scene quickly. Pretty much every job he has had so far has had an East Coast bent to it. Louisville is the only one that's even borderline. You could call Louisville either North, South, East or Midwest depending on where you live.
3) Will current players buy into what he's selling? Let's not forget that while Tubby Smith wasn't perfect, his squad did make the NCAA round of 32. Hollins (x2) and other talented players return. It's important for Pitino to gain their trust quickly. This isn't a rebuild. It's a build higher -- unless there are mass transfers, in which case it is a rebuild. We could imagine Andre Hollins, in particular, flourishing in an up-tempo system, which Pitino should bring.
4) Will he energize the fan base and donor base enough to get facilities built? The best argument for a coach like Flip Saunders, other than experience, is it was suggested he would be the easiest path to short-term revitalization of the donor base, thus helping build crucial facilities such as a practice gym. Pitino, a youngster coming from the outside, doesn't bring that immediate jolt, so he'll have to win folks by demonstrating a new energy and enthusiasm.
5) If he does all these things and turns the Gophers into a Big Ten contender, will he bolt? Rick Pitino was only at Providence two years, the latter being a Final Four season, before he left. Is this Richard's Providence? We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but he clearly doesn't mind moving from job to job. That said, it would be a nice problem to have.
Forwards Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish are going pro, on day after defenseman Nate Schmidt announced the same thing.
Bjugstad's deal with Florida is official, and the U of M put out a press release this afternoon:
“I can’t thank the University of Minnesota enough for three great years. I loved every minute of my time here, and I am thankful for the opportunity to play for the Gophers,” Bjugstad said.
No Gopher tallied more goals over the last three seasons than Bjugstad with 54 while the junior tallied 98 total points in 109 career games. In Bjugstad’s final two seasons with the program, the Gophers earned two-straight MacNaughton cups as Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular-season champions and two NCAA tournament berths including the team’s run to the Frozen Four in 2011-12.
“Nick is certainly ready to take his game to the next level,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “We appreciate his loyalty and dedication to Gopher hockey. He has grown a lot in his three seasons with the program, and he clearly has a bright future ahead of him.”
Budish, meanwhile, is going to sign with Nashville. No formal deal has been announced, but our own Michael Russo tweeted this morning. Erik Haula could be next, which means the Gophers would lose a lot of offense:
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