It’s not often that a team that wins 21 games fires its coach. But that is exactly what happened to Coach Tubby Smith after a disastrous end to the 2012-13 season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Former Florida International headmaster Richard Pitino will take over the reins for the 2013-14 campaign.
There is not a great deal of optimism about this team, but there should be. Despite losing starting forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, Minnesota can still have a strong season.
For starters, Pitino has had a duo of mentors that have had incredible self on their own. He was an assistant to his father Rick at Louisville and an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida. Those are as good a pair of mentors as a young coach can have. Let’s also not forget the fantastic job Pitino did with Florida International. In his only season coaching the Golden Panthers Pitino turned an eight-win team into an 18-win squad.
This is not to say that Minnesota will win 25+ games next year. That’s just not realistic. It is realistic to think that this Minnesota team can compete for a tournament bid in the always-competitive Big Ten. The team returns key perimeter threats Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman. With three of their top five scorers back, Pitino and Minnesota will surprise some people. The key will be cutting down on turnovers–something the Gophers and Pitino’s Golden Panthers struggled with last year. If Minnesota can take care of the basketball, they will be a tournament team. Pitino is the man for the job.