Why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

tubby-smith-minnesota-firedLast night was all about admiring and celebrating Florida Gulf Coast’s historic run to the Sweet 16. The Eagles topped San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to make the round of 16. Of course for every FGC, which is riding a eurphoric wave into Arlington, Texas, there are dozens of teams that fall short of expectations.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are one of these teams since they fired head coach Tubby Smith after six seasons on the job. The 61-year-old exits Minneapolis with a 124-81 overall record and a 46-62 Big-10 record.

What’s surprising about the firing is that Smith led Minnesota to its best NCAA tournament finish since 1996-97 – when the Golden Gophers made the Final Four, only to have this season wiped out by academic fraud. Sure they were ousted in the second round by Florida this year; but still, this is the best they’ve done in over a decade and a half. So the question is, why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

This question seems especially hard to answer since the university signed him to a three-year contract extension in July, after Tubby guided the Golden Gophers to 23 wins and an NIT runner-up finish. However, it may not be so hard to figure out when you look at how Smith’s teams have performed once February starts.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-1This season was a perfect example because Minnesota bolted out to a 15-1 record and was quickly climbing the AP Top 25. However, they suffered through Big-10 play and went 6-12 over the remainder of the season. Their 20-12 record turned out to be just good enough to grab a controversial 11th-seed NCAA tournament bid.

From here, it looked like Tubby might have saved his job with a first round victory over 6th-seeded UCLA, which coincidentally also fired their coach. However, the Golden Gophers looked largely noncompetitive throughout most of their 78-64 second round loss to the Florida Gators.

Rather than go through another collapsing season with Smith, Minnesota chose to buy out his remaining contract for what could be worth up to $2.5 million. So can somebody else succeed where former national champion Tubby Smith has failed? Let’s discuss the prospects as well as who else Minnesota basketball will be eyeing as a head coach.

Pros and Cons

The University of Minnesota isn’t exactly USC or Miami when it comes to weather and scenery. This state sees heavy snowfall in the winter and temperatures that commonly hit below-20 or worse. So right off the bat, the basketball program has this working against them for out-of-state recruits.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-2Another problem with Minnesota is that they’re up against conference giants like Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. So this team is very rarely going to be at the top of the Big-10 – let alone a national powerhouse. And this also works against them when trying to land elite recruits from around the county.

But there are definitely some positive aspects to Minnesota basketball too. And they begin with top facilities, a strong desire to win, and, most importantly, money to spend.

Another big benefit to coaching at Minnesota would be that it’s the only Division I school in the state. Considering that the Land of 10,000 Lakes produces a lot of solid players every year, this is definitely a major plus. But is it enough to intrigue a sought-after, up-and-coming coach?

Who will replace Tubby Smith at Minnesota?

The rumored frontrunner for the Golden Gophers job is VCU coach Shaka Smart. He’s remained one of the country’s hottest candidates after guiding VCU to the Final Four in 2011, and taking the Rams to back-to-back Sweet 16’s. The reason why Minnesota has a chance with Smart is because their current AD, Norwood Teague, hired him at VCU. So the debate here will be if a previous relationship is enough to lure Smart away.

VCU v MichiganOdds are that it isn’t, especially considering that the 35-year-old has turned down several better jobs – including a $2.5 million offer from Illinois. And even if Smart decides to stay in Richmond, Virginia, he’ll receive a $1.36 million salary that includes plenty of bonuses.

Assuming he’s out of the picture, there are still plenty of other quality options such as Marquette’s Buzz Williams, former UCLA coach Ben Howland, and FGC coach Andy Enfield. Williams is being tabbed because of a good relationship with Teague, and a bad relationship with Marquette AD Larry Williams. Enfield is obviously a hot pick because of what we discussed before with FGC’s Sweet 16 run. And Howland had plenty of success at UCLA before succumbing to high expectations and a large number of transfers.

Whoever Minnesota ends up with, it’ll definitely be an accomplished coach who’s capable of leading them to success.

2013 NCAA Tournament Bracket Busters to watch

ej-singler-oregonThe 2013 NCAA tournament has already started with North Carolina A&T winning a narrow 73-72 contest against Liberty. Of course, this is just a play-in game, and the real action is set to begin tomorrow night.

Both sports bettors and bracket enthusiasts are definitely pumped about this since the NCAA tourney represents some great opportunities to win major money. Assuming you’re looking to bet big on the tournament, or just do a little wagering with your buddies at work, here are some potential bracket busters to look out for.

Oregon Ducks, 12th Seed in Midwest Region – Oregon is the truest sense of a sleeper team because everybody is sleeping on them. The Ducks compiled an impressive 26-8 record this season and won the Pac-12 conference tourney to seal their spot in the Big Dance. This is a deep, senior-led team that knows how to play defense. Assuming they can find some offense to go along with the defense (E.J. Singler leads team with 11.6 PPG), they have a great shot at winning a few games.

Davidson Wildcats, 14th Seed in East Region – The Wildcats got off to a rough start this year after opening with a 4-4 record. However, Davidson really took off after winning 17 straight games in the Southern Conference. Plus they weren’t afraid to take on the giants after facing Duke and Gonzaga earlier in the year. They have a stout defense that’s held opponents to 62 PPG, which could cause major problems for Marquette in the first round.

ramon-galloway-lasalleLa Salle Explorers, 11th Seed in West Region – Like Minnesota, La Salle was one of the last teams to earn an at-large bid. However, they were deserving of the selection after knocking off Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and Villanova en route to a 21-9 record. Led by senior guard Ramon Galloway (17.0 PPG), this club is tough to stop as they score over 70 points per game. Furthermore, they force over 15 turnovers a game and could give Kansas State fits if they win a play-in game against Boise State.

Minnesota Golden Gophers, 11th Seed in South Region – The Gophers were one of the most controversial at-large selections in the tournament. They had a losing record in conference play and lost their last three games. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that Minnesota played in the ultra-tough Big 10 and beat Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin this season. The fact that the Gophers can beat top-flight teams is one reason why they’re a bracket buster. Plus they draw an injury-laden UCLA team in the first round and could match up well with Florida if these clubs meet in the second round.

colton-iversonColorado State Rams, 8th Seed in Midwest Region – We realize that Colorado State is a bit higher of a seed than other teams on this list. However, this unheralded club didn’t get a lot of attention after going 25-8 and finishing second in a solid Mountain West Conference. The Rams are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the nation, with Colton Iverson (9.8 RPG) and Pierce Hornung (9.2 RPG) leading the way.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 13th Seed in South Region – Most people are going to look at the Jackrabbits’ first round matchup and immediately dismiss this team. After all, they play a much more talented Michigan Wolverines club that’s led by Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. However, Michigan is on a 6-6 downswing, and South Dakota State has one of the nation’s best scorers in Nate Wolters (22.7 PPG). The Jackrabbits also pulled off an impressive win against New Mexico earlier in the year.

Belmont Bruins, 11th Seed in West Region – One more team with major bracket buster potential is the Belmont Bruins. The Ohio Valley Conference champions can shoot the lights out since they hit 49.4% of their field goals – including 38.6% from the 3-point line. Senior guard Ian Clark (18.1 PPG) is a big reason for this since he shoots 54.1% overall from the field and 46.3% when he steps behind the 3-point arc. What’s great about all of this is that Belmont faces an Arizona team in the first round which is pretty bad at guarding the three. A win here might create a perfect offense vs. defense matchup in the second round since they could face New Mexico, which is holding opponents to 38.8% shooting.