I suppose if I'm not completely shutting this blog down (and I don't think I am but I'm not 100% on that) I should write something after the Gophers lost yet again, but I'm struggling to come up with anything to write. Partially it's because I intentionally avoided paying too much attention to the game, listening to the first half in the car on the radio and half watching the second one at a restaurant with my entire loud distracting family, and partially because I mean what can you even say? I just don't know where to go from here.
I realize as a lifelong Gopher fan that expected a perennial power is pretty silly, but I had always figured the Gophers for the Clem model. Every 3-4 years a good team with the capability to make the Sweet 16, and if everything breaks right even a little further. With Monson on board the failings of the program weren't that surprising given his main goal was to "clean up the program" (whatever that means) but when he finally left and the surprising hire of Tubby Smith was announced I assumed at worst the Gophers would go back to the Clem model of success but, well, here we are.
This was supposed to be the big break-out year. The talent was there at at least four positions, five depending on your opinion of Joe Coleman. Comparisons were tossed out to the 1997 Final Four team, and I was as guilty as anyone. The Gophers basically started the year as a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Now, however, they're under .500 in the Big 10. Although they don't have a disastrous loss (Northwestern on the road is probably the worst) they now have far too many, and needed a miracle to beat a so-so Iowa team at home. The wins over FSU and Stanford have not really held up, and luckily Memphis has come around a bit so the Gophers still hold at least one good non-conference win, but they're currently on a 2-6 slide and haven't beaten anybody of substance in over a month.
It's pretty clear to me that Tubby Smith wasn't the answer. For whatever reason, whether you think he's mailing it in because he's old and doesn't have that fire in the belly anymore, is just trying to keep the seat warm for Saul, or just has never been that great a coach I fear this program has gone as far as it can go with him. The players are in place, and I'm not one to criticize Tubby's recruiting, but his in-game coaching has been terrible since he got here and seems to have hit another low this year. Between his lack of preparation (I've never seen so many guys look confused), his inability to adapt in game, his puzzling substitution patterns, and lack of any offensive coaching chops I just don't know what he's doing. Now their early season strength - defense - has seemingly abandoned them as well. About the only thing that's gone well all season is offensive rebounding, and that's basically all about player ability and motivation.
I couldn't begin to tell you the answer. Gregg Marshall, Shaka Smart, Larry Eustachy? They have to want to come here first. I'd still go after Marshall if I'm in charge, but I really don't know if it matters. Tubby was supposed to matter, and he hasn't. All I really know is the Gophers continue to underachieve while teams like Wisconsin continue to overachieve - at some point that's on the coach. I think that point has arrived.
I've tried to step back and see if I'm being a crazy, pessimistic, sky is falling fan. I mean, given their RPI and SoS and a relatively easy schedule they're still likely to make the NCAA Tournament and that's good, right? I guess it just doesn't feel good given that they were in the "lock" category and have since fallen into "work left to do" or "should be in." The season has been a failure to this point,and it's not the results it's how the results come about. I'm not down on the team because they barely beat Iowa or lost at home to Illinois - I'm down on the team because the coaching has failed. The team is confused, I am confused, and it appears the coaching staff is confused. I'm not saying I could do it better than Tubby, but I am saying there are plenty of people out there who could.
But hey, pitchers and catchers reported today. At least I know this Twins' season won't break my heart.