It was only three years ago that the Gopher basketball program finished the season at 9-22, and the program was a laughingstock of the Big Ten. There was little hope that the program could be restored to the pre-scandal glory days of Clem Haskins. What would fans have said back then if told that in three years the team would have 14 wins, 6 games to go, and Tubby Smith as the head coach?
Almost everything that reasonably could go wrong for this team, has. Royce White, a heralded five star recruit, never played a single game due to legal issues. Trevor Mbakwe, a desperately needed power forward with talent, is in legal limbo without an end in sight. Al Nolen, the starting point guard, was kicked off of the team for poor academics. Devron Bostick, who was supposed to be a solid scoring option this season, had a late start and hasn't found his shot. It's been a tough year for Gopher basketball, but only relative to expectations.
Is morale on a team that suffers such setbacks going to suffer? Absolutely. Will it impact the ability of the team to play with confidence? You bet. Will cohesiveness and eagerness to play defense be somewhat lackluster for a team that's had a long string of bad breaks? That's usually the way it works.
I doubt that any coach in America could do a better job than Tubby Smith has when you consider the circumstances.
Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press has done a great job covering the Gophers this season with stories like the one at this link, but he may be one of the few who comprehend the extent of the setbacks this team has encountered. Many fans and media members have taken the low road of blaming Tubby, at least partially, for the turmoil.
Every team will occasionally have a down season. At least five years worth of misfortunes have happened in the last few months, and as a result this will probably be one of those down seasons. But please, remember Gopher basketball three years ago. Where would this year's team be with Royce White, Trevor Mbakwe, Al Nolen, and a full season of Devron Bostick? I don't need to speculate the answer to that question.
In spite of all the negativity, this team has 14 wins, 6 games to go, and a Big Ten Tournament to play. While unlikely, it is still technically possible that they could make the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes when a team plays as if they have nothing more to lose they end up having something to win.
Don't be a fairweather fan. Don't blame Tubby Smith for an improbable cascade of setbacks that no coach in America could overcome. When the season is over, I doubt there's anyone else you'll want coaching the team as they head into next season.