Sometimes I think bloggers and sports columnists protest too much. Some do it with venom while others draw words on pictures . Both can be effective methods, but the point here is that the all encompassing new media world typically chooses to disect most any issue. Ad nauseum.
With that in mind, I want to share my biggest, maybe only, standing complaint about the Tubby Smith era in Minnesota. It's not an original complaint. And this team is 13-1 having bested two top-25 teams. So .... as you can tell, I'm having some difficulty finding the nerve to be hypercritical, but this is bothering me, so here goes.
Tubby's lineup decisions, his elementary five-in, five-out rotations and his dispersal of minutes is absolutely mind-boggling. At times this year we've seen lineups that included both Blake Hoffarber and Jamal Abu-Shamala. We've seen lineups that have seen Hoffarber, Abu-Shamala and Travis Busch on the floor at the same time. Against Michigan State when the Gophers were being out-muscled, Tubby's best big man--Colton Iverson--played sparingly for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, 6'4" Busch played power forward.
Eleven players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game. Only four players--Hoffarber, Al Nolen, Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson--are averaging more than 20. Tom Izzo, Matt Painter and Bo Ryan, by comparison, have played eight players more than 10 minutes per game. The best argument I've heard for Tubby's use of a deep bench has been that his team isn't as talented, but is deeper than others.
I don't buy that. Westbrook has played about 23 minutes per game this season and leads the team with 13 points per game. Ohio State's Evan Turner by comparison (a different position but perhaps similar talent level) plays 34 minutes and puts up about 16 points per game. But instead of keeping someone like Westbrook on the floor for 30-plus minutes, Tubby hands out minutes to players like senior Abu-Shamala.
The AP's Dave Campbell asked Tubby about his lineup and rotation decisions after the Ohio State win.
This has typically been Smith's style, playing as many guys as possible. This is his argument for scheduling so many teams from weak conferences in November and December, for the chance to get his younger players more time on the court and build confidence against less-threatening opponents. When it's time to play the big boys, then they're in better mental and physical shape to succeed.
Unfortunately, I think this is Tubby using the success of his team's depth against Ohio State to belatedly justify the team's fluffy non-conference schedule. And the same logic could be used with an 8 or 9 man rotation. If the Gophers need Lawrence Westbrook to play 38 minutes, is he in the mental and physical shape to succeed? Tubby's logic would suggest he isn't.
Back to the AP.
But don't try to get Smith going on how the rotation will look moving deeper into the Big Ten season. Starting lineups are essentially meaningless to him. He regularly uses hockey-style mass substitutions, and eight different players have started this season. On Saturday, only two of his starting five — Johnson and Colton Iverson — were on the floor to begin the second half.
Starting lineups are meaningless, but Tubby's constant tinkering could also inhibit the Gophers from developing chemistry as a group. Incessant substitutions and lineups that are bound to struggle on offense (think the trio of Hoffarber, JAS, Busch and Ralph Sampson III together).
Tubby has also shown an incredibly quick trigger with his younger players. One mistake from a Minnesota player and they'll soon be seeing the pine. That would seem to work two ways, both providing incentive for fundamental basketball but also an incredibly stressful environment that could have detrimental effects on the court.
"I don't care about playing time. That's the last thing on my mind," Smith said. "I want to know who can help me win the game. If you can help me win the game, fine. If you can't, you ain't playing. It's as simple as that. That's just the way I operate. I've always done that. I've been pretty good with it. So our guys understand that. They may get more minutes. They may not. They'll be rewarded if they can do what they're asked to do."
Honeslty, that's exactly what any coach should say. But those players that are earning playing time deserve it. Iverson deserved to play significantly more against Michigan State. Paul Carter's play against Ohio State should have earned him more than 10 minutes.
And you know who does care about playing time? Any hypothetical big-time recruit. What's going to happen in the next two years? If Royce White and/or Rodney Williams emerge as top Big Ten players, will they see the court for 35 minutes per game?
I had hoped that once the non-conference season ended, Tubby would shorten his bench. That hasn't happened. Going forward, it'd be nice to see the Gophers play an 8 or 9 man rotation.
After the jump I lay out the typical 9-man rotation I'd like to see. I'll be curious to see your opinions.
Al Nolen: One of the best PG's in the Big Ten
Lawrence Westbrook: The closest thing Minnesota has to an all-around offensive threat.
Damian Johnson: Perhaps the Big Ten's best defensive player.
Paul Carter: His energy, leaping ability and athleticism are an ingredient the Gophers currently lack.
Colton Iverson: Has room to improve and gets this nod for being a little more polished offensively compared to Ralph Sampson III.
Devoe Joseph: Back-up point guard and two-guard with three guard lineups. He seems to be filling that role well now.
Ralph Sampson III: Starting Carter allows Tubby to come off the bench with size if need be.
Blake Hoffarber: Instant offense at either the small forward or shooting guard position.
Devron Bostick: A guard with a multi-faceted game (I think he has a knack for scoring inside we've only seen a little bit of), Bostick is probably the last regular off the bench. He spells Westbrook when the team wants athleticism on the floor instead of sharp-shooting (Hoffarber).
Travis Busch: Many agree Busch can play some role on this team. But "role" is the operative word in that sentence. If the Gophers are trying to speed up and press a bigger, slower team, Busch can have a nice role. If the Gophers need someone to come in and throw his body around, Busch is your guy. That should equal 4 to 8 minutes per game max.
Jamal Abu-Shamala: If Izzo, Painter or Ryan were coaching this team, Abu-Shamala would probably play sparingly. If anything, Abu-Shamala could fill in for Hoffarber if the team simply needs a spot-up shooter on the floor. But through two Big Ten games, JAS hasn't been able to get up a three-point shot. His shot isn't quick enough to play more than a couple minutes per game, if that.
Jonathan Williams: Averaging almost 10 minutes per game, Williams should probably play sparingly as he did against Ohio State. I had some faith he could turn the corner his senior year, but it hasn't happened. He's the team's fourth or fifth interior option and plays when we need the extra beef or fouls inside.