We should expect more from Tubby, Gophers

MILWAUKEE — For Minnesota Gophers men's basketball fans, Tubby Smith's second NCAA Tournament appearance with the team proved to be a tremendous upgrade over the first.

The drive home was shorter, and Tubby was kind enough to get the tourney "run" over with well before rush hour, so there was plenty of time to get back to the Twin Cities to follow the exploits of the Gophers women's hockey team.

Friday offered plenty of reminders of what it's like to have Tubby in our town.

Get used to constant rumors about his future. Get used to squads that, 35 games into the season, still look confused on offense. Get used to NCAA Tournament appearances that are better-looking on his resume than on a neutral court. And get used to twenty or more victories every year, and a team that is relevant nationally as well as locally, for as long as Smith deigns to stay.

The Gophers' 65-54 loss to Xavier on Friday at Bradley Center proved these Gophers were who we thought they were.


Facing a Xavier team featuring stellar guard play and not much else, the Gophers often looked confused on defense as well as offense. At one point, after getting beat on a backdoor cut, Gophers point guard Devoe Joseph debated Smith from midcourt, with both finally turning away in disgust.

Smith has revitalized the Gophers' program and he's never been accused of running anything other than a clean ship. He's won 21, 22 and 20 games the past three years at Minnesota. He's resuscitated the program so quickly that a handful of years after Dan Monson resigned, we can feel disappointed by a first-round loss in the Brief Dance.

We can thank Smith for what he's done so far, although we are left to wonder what his players have taken from Tubby's three years at Minnesota.

Gophers senior Lawrence Westbrook was so impressed by his persistence in surviving a tumultuous career that he said, in the postgame news conference, "I would like to thank myself for sticking through it."

We should also expect more from Smith.

He's one of the best-paid coaches in the country. He reputation is commensurate with his salary. He's reached a point in his Minnesota tenure where he's going to be coaching mostly his own recruits.

Hiring a power coach has its pitfalls, though. An Internet report linked Smith with the vacant Auburn job on Friday morning.

Asked about the Auburn job and whether he intends to return to Dinkytown next season, Smith said, "Obviously that's just talk, because I'm very pleased with what we've accomplished here. I'm pleased with where we are in the program. I'm looking forward to coming back to Minnesota."


We needn't parse that statement. Coaches who might someday change jobs can't be too vehement in denying false rumors, because then we'd be able to tell when the right rumor came along.

I can't see Smith coaching at Minnesota until he retires. What do wealthy native Minnesotans do in the winter? Leave. Why would a guy born in Maryland lock himself into permafrost for the rest of his career?

I will, however, parse his comments on the glories of coaching college basketball.

"We have a job to develop and raise these kids the right way," Smith said.

Later, he added: "Everything is not measured in wins and losses and how far you go in the tournament. It's about doing things the right way."

Actually, it's about wins and losses and how far you go in the tournament.

There are lots of social workers and sociology teachers who do good work with young people and make five figures. Smith is making seven figures because he can win games and sell tickets.

Smith's last comments on Friday represented classic power-coach maneuvering: "There's some things we have to continue to do recruitingwise, facilitywise, all kinds of things we can get better at, a lot of areas we have to get better at."


That was a shot across the bow of absentee athletic director Joel Maturi, Smith's way of saying, "Build me a practice facility or I'll start taking those calls from other schools."

The way his team played on Friday, maybe it's time for one of those rumors to come true.

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