This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Outside Minnesota: thoughts on Tubby Smith and what went wrong with the Gophers

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: March 16, 2013 - 9:40 AM

As a general rule, inside a team’s state, everything gets magnified – both the bad and the good. So given the opportunity to chat with some folks outside of Minnesota, I thought I’d share their thoughts.

Given the strong start and early hype for the Gophers, are you surprised at the way this season has culminated?

Brent Yarina, BTN.com: “I was very surprised, I was one of the biggest supporters of Minnesota early. I thought they were going to be such a talented team that could make a deep run. They had talented guards, they had power down low with Mbakwe. I thought Rodney Williams would take another step this year, and instead he took a step back. So I was pretty shocked that they pretty much bit it at the end.”

Eamonn Brennan, ESPN.com: “Absolutely. ... They were never a flawless team or a perfect team – they’ve always turned the ball over a lot and they’ve always been kind of so-so on defense. Earlier in the year, they looked like they were going to be a lot better in that regard. But yes, I’m surprised a) that those things haven’t gotten better over the year and b) they they’ve got these veteran guys like Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, that it’s their last chance … I don’t know if there’s a team that you look at in the Big Ten where you say ‘Wow, those are grown men’ more than the Minnesota Gophers – but they play like the exact opposite.”

Gus Johnson, Big Ten Network announcer: “You’re always going to have struggles in a season. Injuries take place, guys get out of rhythm. You never know what’s going on in the locker room. Am I surprised? Yeah, I’m surprised. They’re a better team than what they showed at the end of the year. But sometimes teams can go into funks and it’s hard to get out of it.”

What’s your take on what happened?

Yarina: “There’s so many flaws with the team. They can’t defend the three. They foul so much. They turn it over a ton. They can’t shoot the threes. But for some reason we all believed in them at the beginning. I don’t know what the reason was … I think one of the keys – next year, who knows what they’re going to have -- but they need Joe Coleman to develop a jumpshot or something because all he can do is drive and get easy dunks and buckets and if he could drive and if he could get a jumpshot and hit a three, I think they’d be a much better team because Austin Hollins can’t be the only one you rely on for threes.”

Brennan: “When you’re a team that’s really, really good at offensive rebounding – that’s the thing you do, you can’t turn the ball over, because you have no chance to get an offensive rebound. There have been a lot of teams in recent history – and this is why I was really bullish on Minnesota at the start of the season – whose only qualities were really offensive rebounds and good defense. West Virginia went to the final four a few years ago. They couldn’t shoot at all – they shot like 40 percent from the field that year. But they grabbed everything on the offensive end, they didn’t turn the ball over and they played great defense and they were ugly to watch, but – I kind of thought Minnesota would be a team like that. But the fact that they haven’t fixed those turnovers, that they’re still making dumb turnovers in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, in crunch time … that is on the players because at some some point you have to realize we need to focus a little bit more on ball control, but I also think it’s on [Smith], because you’ve got to get guys there through the course of the season.”

Johnson: “Whenever you’re the head coach, everything is going to fall in your lap. When you win, that falls in your lap. When you lose, that falls in your lap. Tubby is a hall-of-fame caliber coach, but his guys didn’t perform down the stretch, so you’re going to blame the coach, and probably justifiably so. I don’t know what he can do. Because I’m sure that he doesn’t go into the game with the intention of them turning the ball over 19 times. Get into foul trouble early. Hollins had to sit. Mbakwe had to sit. Those are your best players. You’re doing well, your coach is great. You’re doing poorly, your coach is going to hear it. So I guess that comes with the territory.”

How much of that do you attribute to the coach? How much have coaching decisions impacted the tailspin?

Yarina: “I think that can definitely impact it. Tubby, by his nature, he always has a deep roster, even if players aren’t worthy of playing, he just likes running out the hockey lines. And it’s worked for him and he’s a very successful coach, but this year, and at Minnesota quite frankly, it hasn’t worked. And I don’t know how much that does play into it. You look at a guy like Julian Welch – I’m not at practice every day, but he was a pretty good player last year and you expect him to do something this year, and then he doesn’t paly in an entire game and there’s just got to be minutes for him if there’s minutes for other guys. I thought Illinois was going to be the most mystery team this year, but it’s Minnesota.”

Brennan: “I think Tubby Smith is well-regarded typically, but I think he probably shares a good deal of the blame for this as well because the refrain from Minnesota fans that I just from the signal and constantly on Twitter that he talks about not having any leadership. But I kind of agree with people when they say, well, that’s why you make the big bucks. You’re standing on the side line. It’s not like you’re coaching them from a distance. You’re not up there in a booth looking down and saying ‘Someone needs to take charge of this team.’ It’s like you’re the coach – do it … I think it would be overly generous to Tubby or any other coach to say that he didn’t have any impact on his team’s chemistry. And a rather big impact. Because I think from the time that you take over a job, that’s among your first priorities is not only finding guys that fit your style of play, but fit your personality and fit the personality you want to have around your program.”

Johnson: “Whenever you’re the head coach, everything is going to fall in your lap. When you win, that falls in your lap. When you lose, that falls in your lap. Tubby is a hall-of-fame caliber coach, but his guys didn’t perform down the stretch, so you’re going to blame the coach, and probably justifiably so. I don’t know what he can do. Because I’m sure that he doesn’t go into the game with the intention of them turning the ball over 19 times. Get into foul trouble early. Hollins had to sit. Mbakwe had to sit. Those are your best players. You’re doing well, your coach is great. You’re doing poorly, your coach is going to hear it. So I guess that comes with the territory.”


Where do you see the Gophers going in the NCAA tournament?

Yarina: “Right now, I wouldn’t want to be putting, in my NCAA pool, Minnesota on the next line … They might be in the First Four. I wouldn’t think they’d win a game. Again, if everything goes right, they could be really good, but I don’t see that happening at this point in the season, after everything that’s happened. You would think after they upset Indiana that maybe they turn a corner, but then they lose to Nebraska. They’re just not consistent, you can’t bank on them. With all the flaws they have, it’s hard to trust them.”

Brennan: “There are definitely teams they can play that I think they’ll have a matchup advantage against, but I think that would be the most optimistic outcome. But I don’t think they’re going to suddenly figure it out all the sudden … Minnesota, it’s been so long now, I don’t know that you just get to the tournament and figure it out. Maybe there is that light bulb that can switch on with them like it did against Indiana – but I almost got the impression that that game was just, with the energy in the Barn, that you’d almost have to be like a zombie to not put the effort in.”

Johnson: “I don’t know if they’re going to get into the NCAA tournament. Who knows. That’s an iffy one now, getting bounced out of the first round, so I don’t think that’s a lock at all.

(if they get there) “They can do something. They’ve got good players. They’ve got five wins over top-25 teams this year. They beat Indiana. They can beat anybody on the right day, they’ve got to concentrate and focus and play disciplined. The thing I’ve seen with Minnesota is they just play undisciplined. Sometimes you’ll watch them play and they’ll be the best. You turn the ball over 19 times, that’s just sloppy, lack of focus. If they can do the little things, the mental things, they have enough physical talent to beat anybody in the country.”

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