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The Monday Perspective is Depressed After Gophers Drop Home Game to Illinois

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Your Gopher basketball team is 2-6 over their last 8 games and dreams of a top 3 or 4 finish are now turning to hoping we can finish .500 in the Big Ten. Yes the league is difficult and I said it long ago that there will be a very talented team who finishes 6th (or 7th). But this team is trending the wrong way and part of what makes this conference so tough is that good teams beat each other up; we have just been on the wrong side of these beat-downs far too often.

I do think expectations rose too high, too quickly in early January. But in order to maintain any sort of positivity or optimism with this team you need an occasional win over a quality opponent. Some indication that we are still capable of beating a good team at home. But as I said we are trending the wrong way, fading in the Big Ten. The resume peripherals are still there (RPI of 13, SOS of 3) but gap between what the numbers say and what is actually on the floor is widening dramatically.

The poor play, mistakes and inability to execute when it matters continues to bog down the Gophers. Yesterday's home loss to Illinois illustrated many of our issues. But painting with a broad brush this is exactly what we see this time of the year from every Tubby team since he has been at Minnesota. A team unable to execute offensively when it matters most and a team that plays with very little confidence during a crucial stretch of the season. The difference this year is that he has no built in excuses. No significant transfers that were out of his control and no major injuries that really were out of his control.

On paper things really are still not that bad. We will make the NCAA Tournament and likely have a seed high enough to win a game or two. Our record is solid, our peripherals are good and the losses we have endured are not bad losses (with one exception).

BAD Losses Losses Solid Wins Good Wins BIG Wins
RPI 100+ RPI 1-50 RPI 50-100 RPI 11-49 RPI Top 10
@ Northwestern (102) Duke (1)
Michigan (5)
@ Michigan State (9)
@ Indiana (11)
Illinois (27)
@ Wisconsin (31)
Standord (57)
Florida State (65)
NDSU (67)
SDSU (68)
Richmond (79)
Iowa (92)
Nebraska (98)

@ Illinois (27)
Memphis (32)

Michigan State (9)

But things are worse than they appear right now. And unfortunately there are not easy answers to provide immediate help, nor are there easy answers for the future of the program. Of course there are plenty who think they have it all figured out from the comfort of your living room with a keyboard at your finger tips (myself included). But the reality is, there are no easy answers.

For the short-term I would offer these simple suggestions. GoAUpher e-mailed me after yesterday's loss and I can't help but fully agree with him.

I'm pretty sure things aren't going to get better with him (Tubby). But I can see all the reasons why firing him would be a bad idea. I wish he'd win or lose in a fashion that just made this easy. This in between "make it hard to decide on the best course of action" shit is going to be the death of me.

We are in a state of mediocrity. Good enough by some standards but not likely to take that next step. There are no easy answers, but this is why Norwood Teague is being paid the big bucks.

Were I to offer some short-term solutions, this is what I would suggest. (long-term solutions coming below)

  • Start playing a full-court game. That means press your opponent, regardless of who that opponent is, until they beat you silly and you are forced to retreat to the half-court. When things were going well against Illinois, we forced (or were simply the fortunate recipient of) turnovers that resulted in lay-ups (thanks to Austin Hollins). Illinois is prone to being careless with the ball. Michigan State struggles with turnovers like we do. Even with our bench, let them press and maybe they'll be able to generate some offense for a change. This is something we are capable of doing well but Tubby somehow thinks this is against some Big Ten Code and retreats to the half-court. We will be playing right into the hands of Bo Ryan on Thursday unless we do something to speed up the game and get the Badgers out of their element a little bit.
  • Run your half-court offense from the inside-out. This was the goal yesterday and it worked until Illinois started doubling the post and Mbakwe didn't know what to do with the ball. But this has to be the plan going forward (while getting TM to move the ball quickly when the double comes). This will be easier to run when Rodney returns and we can execute the high-low.
  • Reward aggressive offense. I can live with turnovers if they are of the aggressive nature. Get the ball in transition and get to the rim. If we throw the ball away in the process, so be it. Don't get down on the guards because of aggressive turnovers, instead tell them "good job" and on to the next possession.

Tubby Smith's teams love to play to our strengths during the non-conference part of the season before deciding there is a certain way to play in the Big Ten, which isn't exactly a strength of ours. Let your players play! Let them have some fun on the court and build some confidence. I think these things will help in the short-term. And really when we get to the NCAA Tournament, I actually think this team is primed to be successful against non-Big Ten opponents. A Sweet 16 run is still not out of the question in my mind, in fact I'm still expecting it.

But the long-term outlook for the program might look worse than the short-term. My hope is that Mr. Teague can look at this program and realize that the status quo is unacceptable. I'm not exactly sure that firing Tubby is the right answer, but I see two possible long-term solutions.

A - Shakeup the Assistant Staff. In my mind the only assistant to bring back next year would be Vince Taylor. The rest (including Saul, which might get ugly) are free to move on. This isn't a shake-up for the sake of shaking things up. It is to find guys who fill our greatest needs. If you can find two openings in the staff you need to bring in an offensive guru and you need to bring in an ace recruiter. Two things we do not have and two things that we absolutely need. The head coach, like an NFL quarterback, often gets too much blame when things don't go well and too much praise when they do. Tubby needs some help from his staff and things might start to look much better with some internal changes. Dan Monson's best run came when he brought in Jim Molinari to teach his team some defense. Tubby needs his offensive Molinari and he needs a dynamic recruiter to help him land a couple of the 2014 in-state gems.

B - Move on with a new staff IF AND ONLY IF you have a home-run in place. If Teague can land Shaka Smart on May 1st, then pull the trigger. If we can't land Smart (or Chris Mack or Brad Stevens) then I'd rather move with some variation of Plan A. An entire new coaching staff for the sake of a new coaching staff is not a good idea. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you hire Tim Brewster. The problem with moving on is as much about getting the right guy as it is about the money. For instance, to land Smart it will take $600,000 plus a guarantee home-and-home series with VCU. That isn't very much money, but the real kick in the teeth comes with Smith's buyout which will be $2,500,000. And all of that is IF you can convince Smart to make the move to the Big Ten (one he has repeatedly rebuffed).

C - Maybe there is a plan C where Tubby finally accepts the annual offer from a southern BCS conference school.

But next season is a long ways away. I'd still love to see this team have some success in 2013. I really do think this team is good enough to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. A nice little run to the 2nd weekend would still make this a successful season in my mind. I would love to see one unforeseen win somewhere along the way (Wisconsin on Thursday, @ Ohio State or Indiana at home) but I think getting 4 wins in our final 7 to finish .500 might be a difficult. Last year I think we had a team that we wished was capable of more that was playing about to their level. This year the squad really is capable of more that is playing below where they should, which is maddeningly frustrating.

There is no easy answer other than status quo is not OK.