The Gophers will learn their NCAA tournament fate Sunday evening, and the decision by the selection committee likely will play a role in Richard Pitino’s future as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota.
This is Pitino’s sixth season, and only seven coaches in Gophers history have lasted more than six years.
The seven who have coached more than six seasons are L.J. Cooke from 1897-1924, Dave McMillan from 1927-42 and 1945-48, Ozzie Cowles from 1948-59, John Kundla from 1959-68, Jim Dutcher from 1975-86, Clem Haskins from 1986-99 and Dan Monson from 1999-2006.
Modern era coaches Dutcher, Haskins, Monson and Tubby Smith, who was fired after six seasons in 2013 despite making the NCAA tournament and winning his opening game, are the most applicable to compare to Pitino.
Haskins’ tenure after six years was interesting because he had just an 89-90 overall record (.497 winning percentage) and went 39-69 (.371) in Big Ten play, but he had two tremendous NCAA tournament runs. In 1988-89, the Gophers reached the Sweet 16, and the 1989-90 squad reached the Elite Eight.
Dutcher, meanwhile, was excellent through his first six years, going 108-61 overall (.639) and 60-48 (.556) in conference play. But during his first six seasons the NCAA tournament field was much smaller, between 32 and 48 teams unlike today’s 68-team field.
So his teams made only one NCAA tournament appearance, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1981-1982 after winning the Big Ten title.
Both Dutcher and Haskins, of course, had their careers with the Gophers ended by scandals.
Dutcher resigned in 1986 following a decision by the board of regents to forfeit a game after three players were arrested on rape charges. They were eventually acquitted. Haskins was forced to resign in 1999 after the Gophers academic scandal.
Monson’s overall record through six seasons of 100-86 (.538) and Big Ten record of 39-57 (.406) were better than Haskins, but the former Gonzaga coach had just one NCAA tournament appearance. That came in his sixth season and surely ensured his return for a seventh year, in which he went 16-15 and reached the NIT. He was fired seven games into his eighth season.
Apt comparisons with Smith
The best comparison for Pitino is his predecessor, Smith, who was fired unjustly after reaching three NCAA tournaments in six seasons. He posted a 124-81 (.605) record over six seasons but went just 46-62 (.426) in the Big Ten. That compares favorably to Pitino, who has gone 111-91 (.550) overall and 40-70 (.364) in conference.
Pitino, much like Smith, has had trouble recruiting Minnesota kids. Smith signed just three Minnesota players in his six recruiting class: Royce White and Rodney Williams in 2009, and Joe Coleman in 2011.
That 2009 class was the top-ranked one in the Big Ten, but White was kicked off the team.
Pitino’s highest-ranked class came in 2016, when he was No. 5 in the Big Ten and brought in Amir Coffey, Eric Curry and Michael Hurt.
That’s why this Selection Sunday is so important for Pitino. Reach a second NCAA tournament in three seasons and he most likely will be back as coach for a seventh season. His case was boosted by the Gophers’ strong showing in the Big Ten tournament, beating Penn State in their first game and upsetting Purdue in the quarterfinals before falling to an excellent Michigan team 76-49 in the semifinals.
Pitino excited about future
Even if the Gophers do make the tournament, there are other issues around the program that are concerning. The attendance at Williams Arena is down, and if Pitino gets a contract extension, there’s no doubt that expectations are only going to get higher next season, when the Gophers will be without standout players Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer.
But if Coffey and Daniel Oturu aren’t lured to the NBA and join Gabe Kalscheur, the Gophers will have a strong core coming back and will have three additions who could make a big difference next year.
“Marcus Carr, the kid we signed who we were hoping to get eligible [this year], he’s been terrific,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I mean he’s really, really impressive. Peyton Willis, another [transfer] guard out of Vanderbilt, is another guy who is a gym rat, very, very skilled, that we’re really excited about. I anticipate both of those guys to come in right away and make immediate impacts.
‘‘Tre Williams, the kid we have signed [for next year], a lot of people when we signed him were like, ‘Who is Tre? What’s his rank? It’s a reach they’re taking this kid.’ Then all of a sudden he gets on the national stage at the beginning of the season and every scouting service says, ‘four-star player, top-100 kid, one of the most undervalued, underrated players in the country,’ very excited about those three guys. Plus probably add a piece or two more. I am excited about this team next year. I think it has a chance to be really good.’’
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SID
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• Rumors are that Michael Hurt will leave the Gophers and join his brother Matthew, the Rochester John Marshall standout, wherever he goes to school.
• With the NCAA tournament field being selected Sunday, the oddsmakers have Duke as the favorite to win the championship at U.S. Bank Stadium at 11-4 odds. ... In the Big Ten, Michigan State has the best odds to win the tourney at 12-1. The Gophers’ odds were 150-1.
• CBS Sports talked to NFL scouts following the combine. An AFC scout said of Gophers offensive lineman Donnell Green: “I see him as a right tackle who can bump to guard if he fails outside. He’s a big, wide guy and that is what we look for. We can let our line coach figure the other stuff out if we take him.”
• Meanwhile CBS Sports projects that Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman has a better-than-average chance to make an NFL roster but don’t view him as a draft pick and instead as a rookie free agent.
• The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Ohio State football assistant coaches will make $7.245 million this season. The Gophers assistants will make $3.045 million in 2019.