I was thrilled that Minnesota landed Tubby Smith, but unlike most people I was not shocked. As I described yesterday, it was clear Minnesota had extra money to spend and wanted a proven coach this time around. Tubby was in the right place at the right time.
Most people are shocked because they believe that it is difficult to win at Minnesota. And while Minnesota does not have the tradition of an Indiana, Minnesota is in better position to win then some other struggling BCS teams:
1) Minnesota is no Northwestern. It is much easier to recruit at Minnesota than Northwestern. First, Northwestern has local competition for players from DePaul. Minnesota is the only major university in the state. Meanwhile, while schools across the country can easily fly into the Chicago airline hub and recruit the top players, Minneapolis is not nearly as convenient. While Minnesota has lost some good players like Kammron Taylor to Wisconsin, Chicago players are raided by all the top national programs. Moreover, part of the reason players like Kammron Taylor have chosen to leave the state has been a lack of faith by the local high school coaches in the local program. Just as Kelvin Sampson should do a better job recruiting Indiana players than Mike Davis, I expect Tubby Smith to do a solid job keeping the top in-state talent. Finally, while Northwestern must overcome the stigma of never having been to the NCAA tournament, even during the recent down period, Minnesota still made the NCAA tournament three years ago.
2) Minnesota is no Penn State. Minnesota has proven in the past that the fans will show up and support the team. Even during the Crispin years, Penn State struggled to build up a fan base. While fans are willing to travel from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for 7 Penn State football games, they have never shown a consistent interest in traveling to see Penn State basketball games. Located in the heart of a metropolitan area, Minnesota fans are quite willing to support the team whether or not the team makes the NCAA tournament. Minnesota could pack the Barn for NIT games and had a multi-year waiting list for basketball season tickets under Clem Haskins.
3) Minnesota is no Clemson. Minnesota is not cursed. (Well, actually the football team is cursed, but that’s a blog for another day.) Unlike Clemson, which year after year has a great non-conference performance but always fails to break through in the ACC, Minnesota basketball usually performs equally well in the non-conference and conference part of the schedule.