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Minnesota Basketball Preview: Discussing Coach Pitino

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Several of The Daily Gopher’s writers try to make sense of Pitino’s Status heading into the season

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball season is quickly upon us. We threw out some questions to the staff to see what their thoughts were heading into what looks to be an interesting year for the Golden Gophers.

What are your thoughts in regards to Coach Richard Pitino and what he has accomplished thus far in his tenure as Minnesota’s head coach?

mowe0018: While people initially said that Tubby Smith left the cupboard bare of talent, it would seem counter-intuitive then that Pitino’s most successful team to date was the one he inherited in his first season. That season was fun and competitive to watch. But the ones that have followed the 2013-2014 season have been harder and harder to watch. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of discipline that has been displayed off the court. I’ve been frustrated by the poor execution during end-of-game scenarios. I’ve been befuddled by the complete lack of a presence at the five-spot and the big swing and misses that have been Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou.

Pitino is definitely beginning to recruit at a very high level. But there hasn’t been much indication that he is ready for the a Big Ten coaching position, especially considering that the defense of the team has gotten progressively worse during his three year tenure. Defense doesn’t require as much talent, especially a quality team concept. The most frustrating thing for me about Pitino has been his lack of defensive principles and the fact that while he has recruited athletes who are supposed to push tempo, Minnesota ranked 162nd in the nation last year in Adjusted Tempo (per KenPom).

GoAUpher: I was ok with the move away from Tubby, but last year is what I feared could happen if the right hire wasn’t made. At this point I’m pretty darn apathetic about the program, which is not something I was ever sure I’d see myself write. I’m pretty sure that Pitino isn’t the answer, I’m very sure he’d be gone after another underwhelming season if Teague hadn’t expanded his buyout, but I’m not all that sure that he’s gone after this year for the same reason.

What’s that? I’m not talking about specific things about the team? Yep, that was by design. Didn’t want to think about it.

zipsofakron: Technically Pitino has won the NIT during his tenure, so while I’m ever the apologist, if we’re judging him on accomplishments that’s gotta factor in. Now, if you’re in the “what have you done for me lately” camp then clearly alarm bells are ringing. But, long story short, the guy has done well on the recruiting trail compared to what the team has accomplished on the court. And no, I don’t really care too much about closing the borders, which I believe is a straw man argument and misses his overall successes in recruiting.

I also believe that, while last year sucked, the 2-16 record wasn’t entirely representative. I mean, they lost SEVEN games by seven points or less. That’s a lot of close games for a team that didn’t have a whole lot of weapons. And while I’m totally on the side of giving him this year to show some growth, it’s put up or shut up time. He’s got the weapons and the continuity to where his coaching chops and some results have got to show up. If they don’t? Well, then it’s just a lot of noise.

UStreet: He won the NIT in his first season, and he pulled in the best recruiting class since Tubby Smith’s first. Other than that, not much that is positive.

GopherNation: I think that after his first class, he has done a very nice job recruiting. I like the young talent on this roster quite a bit. They are talented players who aren’t so talented that we only have them for a short time. This team will have the talent to be competitive in the coming seasons. The problem I have is that I’m not sure this is the right staff to teach them how to execute well on both ends of the floor.

If the question is specifically about what has he accomplished thus far? I’d say very little and the program last year was arguably the worst in my lifetime. Recruiting helps but he’s going to have to actually coach them and develop them if we are going to see any fruit from these recruiting classes.

What do you think is required to occur this year for Pitino to keep his job? Do you want him fired?

mowe0018: I honestly think Pitino needs to avoid any off-court issues with players for the entire season and show drastic improvement in the product on the court. No more being blown out by Nebraska and Northwestern. I don’t think wins and losses are as important as being competitive and getting a sense that the team is headed in the right direction. Since the conference schedule is severely unfavorable, I would hope that AD Coyle wouldn’t look solely at record. If the teams seems to have cleaned up its off-court image and appears to have a competitive product on the court, I think Pitino survives through next year.

GoAUpher: I honestly have no idea. I think it really comes down to the buyout more than anything. IMO he’d definitely save his job with a tourney berth, but I don’t see how that could be considered reasonable. Anything less than that and I could see him gone, but again, it really comes down to whether Mark Coyle is looking to pay off the buyout. Obviously I think he will if he finds the situation to be hopeless moving forward, but I have no idea what number of wins or what other performance metrics would get him to that point.

I don’t want Pitino fired, but I won’t be sad if it happens. Essentially I’m where I was with Tubby, feeling strongly that he’s not he guy but recognizing that firing him brings us right back to the uncertainty of a new hire.

zipsofakron: There’s no magic number of wins that’s going to save his job, nor is it as simple as a tourney berth. Kind of like Tubby’s final days, you just knew it was coming based on expectations and results. No one really expects this team to be in the tournament this year, but if Pitino has them consistently playing above the bottom tier of the conference, beating a couple of top teams and staying competitive with the rest then he’ll be in good shape. This is still a very young team, so to expect them to be world beaters from day one isn’t realistic. However, I’d say having them finishing the season strong will do wonders for Pitino’s job security.

UStreet: Minnesota has to make the tournament for Pitino to keep his job. He’s the easiest major program coach to fire, even with the buyout, and Coyle cannot look at the dwindling fan numbers and general view of the program positively. He will have had four years to make his mark, so tournament or bust. I don’t want Pitino to be fired because that implies that the Gophers have been bad again and I would like the teams I support to do well.

GopherNation: I’m not going to answer if I want him fired or not. Ultimately I want to see him succeed here. But for him to come back the following season I’m going to need to see a lot of improvement. My threshold won’t necessarily rely on a specific win total, but I need to see a team that is much better fundamentally on the defensive end and make things difficult on an opposing offense. And then I’d like to see if they can execute an offensive play at key junctures. I want to see improvement and that should lead to more wins.

Would you prefer Pitino fired or allow him to continue to build?

mowe0018: I used to be all aboard the “Fire Pitino Immediately” bandwagon but, after thinking it over the last part of last year and watching what the staff has been doing on the recruiting trail, I’ve had a bit of a change in thought process. I’m really curious to see what happens this year. If the team is competitive throughout the season and springs a couple of upsets and our tempo numbers increase, I think I want to see what he can do with just about all the important components returning for 2017-2018, including a highly touted freshman in Isiah Washington.

GoAUpher: All my apathy aside, if the team is competitive and the areas they’ve struggled with in previous seasons see improvement, I’ll support him continuing to build even if the W/L record isn’t the best.

That said, further off the court issues, continued struggles on defense/etc, or a regression in play or W/L from last year and I won’t need convincing to seek a new head coach.

UStreet: I don’t have a preference. I think that three years of regression should be a reason to move on in college basketball when the turnaround time is dramatically shorter, particularly with new facilities coming in for the next coach. At the same time, if Pitino does succeed this year then I hope he stays for awhile. He’s a good recruiter, and if he improves as a teacher then Minnesota should have a steal.

GopherNation: I’m happy to let him build, but as stated above I need to see improvement. I would not be upset if a move was made, but I’m also not calling for it to be made yet.

Any more thoughts in regards to the coaching staff as a whole entering this season?

mowe0018: Hopefully someone on staff has taken on the role of “defensive specialist.” While the offense is often atrocious to watch due to a lack of consistent outside shooters, the roster is athletic enough to play capable defense against just about anyone on their schedule. Defense doesn’t require an immense amount of talent, it just requires teamwork, communication, and dedication to the craft. If the addition of assistant coach Ed Conroy can help firmly establish that identity throughout the team this year, better results could be in store in the win-loss column.

GopherNation: One thing that is rarely talked about is the coaching staff. Pitino lacks a quality assistant that he can lean on to take over one aspect of the team (this is 100% opinion here). I think the loss of McHale after his first year was a significant loss. I like Ben Johnson quite a bit for perimeter development and Kimani Young is an excellent recruiters. But in my opinion he needs a defensive guru (or offensive) to come in and make one side of the court a real strength. Perhaps the new assistant, Ed Conroy, will be that guy.

UStreet: I agree with GopherNation.