With Thursday’s 51-49 loss to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Minnesota Golden Gophers find themselves with a 20-12 record and firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. It has been a season of extremes for the Golden Gophers, with wins over Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin along with losses to Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska. Simply put, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota was once ranked eighth in the country with a 15-1 record.
The Golden Gophers entered the season with their most talented team of coach Tubby Smith’s tenure, but another run of poor play in February yielded a lackluster conference record (8-10 after Thursday’s setback) and unmet expectations. A lack of production offensively has been particularly noteworthy, as Minnesota has scored more than 65 points in just three of their last 11 games, including six games with less than 55 points over that span.
The players are not without blame for the team’s struggles, but ultimately the lack of preparation they seem to have falls on Smith. In multiple games this season his players have looked lost when faced with a zone defense, and while Smith does not have a strong offensive acumen as a coach, there has to be some blame levied on him for that.
Smith has shown a routine willingness to blame players during his tenure, surely in an attempt to absolve himself from blame, but a closer look reveals his shortcomings as a coach and recruiter. On multiple occasions players are asked to take on roles they are not suited to, or simply do not know how to handle situations within games. That falls on Smith, and maybe to a lesser degree his assistant coaches.
Smith usually offers canned, non-descript responses to questions from the media, and often comes off as distant and disinterested in how things turned out. The only time he seems engaged is when singling out a player that did not perform well or made a critical mistake. In fact, distant and disinterested may be the most apt description of his six seasons as coach of the Golden Gophers.
That’s why I feel it’s time for Smith to simply resign and find another coaching job, or perhaps retire and move on with his post-coaching life. He seems to have little interest in being a high-level college basketball coach at this point, and multiple players have simply not continued to develop during his time at Minnesota. I don’t see Smith calling it quits with the money he has coming to him over the next few years, but perhaps forcing him to make changes to his coaching staff, most notably firing his son Saul, would change his tune.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.