Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rah, Rah, Rah, for Ski-U-Mah

According to multiple sources, Tubby Smith is now the new coach at Minnesota! With openings at Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota scored the rare coup by scoring the perfect coach for the team. Last time Minnesota had a coaching vacancy they went with the hot young coach in Dan Monson, but Minnesota did not want to take that risk again. Instead, Minnesota brings in a veteran coach who has taken 3 different teams (Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky) to the Sweet Sixteen.

Some of the national media outlets list Minnesota’s recent failures and may wonder why (other than job security) Tubby Smith would be interested in the Minnesota job. But, Minnesota has been able to attract talented players in the past including current NBA alumni Bobby Jackson, Joel Przybilla, and Kris Humphries. In fact, as recently as 10 years ago, Minnesota was playing in the Final Four with Bobby Jackson leading the way. That team was both the high point and the low point for the program as allegations of tutors writing papers for players and the coaches’ knowledge of wide-spread cheating put the program in a downward spiral.

Monson, "I'm amazed that Bruce Webber is able to coach such talented players."
Dan Monson who led Gonzaga on a deep tournament run was the hot coach when the scandal hit, but it turned out he was the wrong coach for the program. Monson's biggest problem was that he did not seem to know how to get his star players (see Ric Rickert and Kris Humphries) to buy into the team concept. For me, the low point came when Monson was playing the 2005 Illinois Final Four team and Monson uttered the above quote. Monson essentially admitted that he did not know how to coach talented players and it was clear from that point onward that he needed to go. Somehow he survived a Star Tribune story at the end of the 2006 season saying he was fired, but after his team lost to Marist earlier this year, Monson was let go. (As it turned out Marist was a 2nd round NIT squad, but the loss looked really bad at the time.)

While speculation has been rampant that Minnesota would steal the head coach from Xavier or Southern Illinois, neither of those coaches has a lot of experience. After the way the Dan Monson experiment ended, Minnesota wanted to get a veteran coach who was a proven winner. Tubby Smith may not have been able to consistently reach the Final Four at Kentucky, but he has been able to get talented players to play together and he should be a vast improvement over Monson from an X’s and O’s standpoint.

Some may question whether he’ll have the desire to put in the recruiting hours at Minnesota, but the question was never his recruiting desire at Kentucky. The problem was that he seemed to pick the wrong players. (See Chris Lofton). Tubby Smith won’t have the same type of recruiting options as he had at Kentucky, but by simply keeping the best players in the area and adding a few national recruits he should have Minnesota competing for the NCAA tournament on an annual basis. The Barn will soon be rocking again and I can’t wait!

Congrats on an Amazing Prediction
Back when Dan Monson was fired, MVC correspondent Lynn Gottschalk predicted that Tubby Smith would be the next Minnesota coach. Sadly, this blog did not exist at that time so I have no official proof, but I'm amazed anyway! One thing that may have been missed in the speculation is the fact that Minnesota likely saved quite a bit of money with the new football coaching staff. (Glen Mason had two offensive coordinators that were paid like some Division 1 head coaches.) With that extra money in hand, I've felt like the Gophers were going to go after a big name basketball coach, and they did!

While talking about the blog's favorite teams:

Is Roy Hibbert the next Dee Brown?
Just as Dee Brown helped recruit Deron Williams to Illinois, in a sweet sixteen press conference, we learned more about Georgetown's dynamic duo. Apparently Roy Hibbert was instrumental in recruiting Jeff Green to Georgetown. What? Were you expecting me to make some comparison of playing styles?

Tommorrow night, John Thompson the 3rd will be coaching just 50 miles down the road from Princeton, his former coaching home.

Continuing the SI Lookback
Midwest Region
2 Florida vs NR Butler
40 Oregon vs NR UNLV

This was the region that SI's preseason predictions missed. Butler was not picked to win the Horizon league or make the tournament and they clearly surprised teams early this season. UNLV was not one of the two MWC teams picked as tournament bound either. After losing a number of close games last year, SI felt Oregon would play better, but rated at 40, they received no preview story either. Only the Gators received a long article.

With defending champion Florida returning most of their starters, the article had few statistical questions to ask about the Gators. Clearly they could play with the elite teams, the only question was whether or not they could repeat. Ah, but SI did sneak in one statistical question. Could Taurean Green improve his 33% two point shooting to match his 38% three point shooting? In fact Green improved both. He still shot more three point shots, but he upped his two point shooting to 51% while shooting 39% on threes. Green's overall offensive rating raised from 108.8 last year to 114.5 this year.

East Region
3 North Carolina vs NR USC
7 Georgetown vs NR Vanderbilt

SI correctly pegged North Carolina and Georgetown, but missed the other two teams. The pre-season articles on Georgetown and North Carolina didn't have any interesting questions and these teams are pretty well know at this point, so I'm going to end the SI lookback here. On to the games!