A few weeks ago, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were a Top 15 team in the NCAA Basketball polls, and appeared assured of a spot in the upcoming NCAA Basketball tournament. . .perhaps assured of even getting a high seed in that tournament.
Boy, what a difference a few weeks makes.
In the wake of their fourth consecutive Big Ten loss, they've fallen out of the Top 25, and are now likely sliding towards the "bubble" for whether they'll get into the Big Dance or not. . .if they're not already firmly on the bubble. The losses have obviously gotten to Gophers' head coach Tubby Smith, who shredded his team in his press conference after his team's 71-62 loss to Illinois at the Barn on Thursday night.
A couple of things, in particular, stand out about the speech. Here's the first quote from Smith that has me, personally, shaking my head.
"After 37 years, everybody’s going to question when you’re losing. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care if it’s a four-game losing streak or a one-game losing streak. I don’t mind taking it. But I’m not going to take it when guys aren’t doing it the way we say to do it. And that’s what we’re going to get back to, basic fundamentals.
"And I don’t think it’s that they’re not doing what we want to them to do. It’s that physically they’re incapable of doing some of the things that we’re asking them to do. I’ve got to figure that out."
Well, for starters, teaching the "basic fundamentals" and making sure they're executed properly is kind of, sort of the job of the head coach, isn't it? That's always the impression that I've been under. I know it's been a while since I played organized basketball, but when we got into practice at the start of every year, we didn't install anything that even remotely resembled an offensive or defensive play for a week. Why? Because we were re-learning how to shoot, how to pass, how to get down on defense, and all those other things. I just assumed that that was the way it always went. . .of course, I never played anything even remotely resembling major college ball, either, so I guess I don't know for sure.
But here, for me, is the big one.
"We don’t have the same kids," Smith said. "We had some pretty mature kids last year. Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson, Paul Carter, Devron Bostick. Seniors that were men. Right now we’ve got boys. That’s a big difference. We’ve got (freshmen) Chip Armelin, Maverick Ahanmisi, Austin Hollins. It’s a big difference."
Now, don't get me wrong. . .I get that the team has lost Al Nolen, who was a great floor leader and everything else. He also ran Devoe Joseph off of the squad, and hasn't gotten squat out of "men" like Rodney Williams and Colton Iverson for the last couple of weeks. It's not the fault of players Armelin, Ahanmisi, and Hollins that the team has zero depth. They're doing the best they can and being asked to grow up quickly. . .perhaps more quickly than they should.
And, to be honest, this goes back to Tubby Smith as well. He's been at the University of Minnesota for four years. These aren't Dan Monson's players. . .these are his players. If they can't "physically do what's being asked of them," then why is Tubby Smith recruiting players that aren't capable of doing the things he wants done?
Tubby Smith is angry, and with his team in the middle of a four-game losing streak, I guess it's easy to understand why. However, it's entirely possible that he needs to look in the mirror before throwing anyone and everyone else under the bus.