Tubby Smith Takes Another Team to The Dance
The University of Minnesota is making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament under Coach Tubby Smith. Smith is only in his third season with the Golden Gophers but he has already changed the atmosphere surrounding the program. Young high school players no longer think that Minnesota is just an ice hockey school. They now believe that their basketball program can compete at a high level for championships year in and year out.
The Golden Gophers are seeded eleventh in the West Bracket and open the tournament against Xavier, the number six seed. This match-up is going to be difficult for Minnesota as Xavier will get up and down the court with their fast-paced style of play. The Golden Gophers defense needs to be ready to try and slow down an offense that averages about eighty PPG. Minnesota can shoot from deep and they know how to get open looks for their great shooters. This might be the toughest game to predict thus far because both teams have such opposite styles of play. Smith is one of just nine coaches to have taken three different schools to the Sweet 16. He will definitely take a fourth school, but not this year. Minnesota will lose to a more athletic and talented team in Xavier.
Tubby Smith joined 790 The Zone in Atlanta to talk about how bad he wanted the NCAA bid for his players, how the personality of his players affects the way he goes about his pregame speeches, and whether he had it in his mind going into the Big Ten Tournament that they needed to win a set amount of games to get into the NCAA Tournament.
How bad he wanted the NCAA bid for his players:
“Well we had our fair share of distractions this year. We can’t call it internal turmoil. There was some problems with some players and didn’t really play and didn’t get a chance to be a part of this. This great, excellent season, this good season that we have had. But guys like Lawrence Westbrook who had never really beaten Purdue or Michigan State while he was here. Damian Johnson, who we have felt like is one of the best defensive players I have ever coached and we have coached some good defensive players like Rajon Rondo and Chuck Hayes and Tayshaun Prince. I think our kids felt a little slighted going in because I really felt like we did finish 9-9 in the league; we did finish sixth in it. We lost overtime, double overtime games. We lost by one to Michigan State. We lost to Purdue in one. We lost in overtime to Indiana on the road. So we felt like we were capable of playing with anyone in this league. Finally we beat Ohio State earlier in the year. So we weren’t far off from being a very good team.”
On how the personality of his players affects the way he goes about his pregame speeches:
“It is always different. Each group has a different personality. The players have been doing a lot of playing for us. Guys like Devoe Joseph; he has evolved into a pretty good point guard taking over for Allen Knowles because he is academically ineligible. He has really stepped his game up and made some huge shots in the Mississippi State game, you know Blake Hoffarber, who is second in the nation in three-point shooting. Although he is still a talented player, in those terms because he really didn’t play a lot. He played backup as a freshman and started sparingly last year. I think guys like Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson are both sophomores as well and true post players. So they are starting to mature and come around. We knew it would take time so when you talk about giving that speech prior to NCAA games, it is a little bit different. We want our kids to relax and have a good time knowing that we are in the Dance, so this is icing on the cake. It is no time to really tighten up. It is time to lighten up and have a fun time.”
Whether he had it in his mind going into the Big Ten Tournament that they needed to win a set amount of games to get into the NCAA Tournament:
“Yes we did. We felt like we had to win the tournament or at least get to the championship game. Our kids were focused on that. Obviously you have to focus on one game at a time, but you really don’t know who you are going to play the next game. Other than the first game we don’t know who we are going to play. There is that opportunity to focus on that there is a new season, it is a tournament, and it is single-game elimination. Let’s see if we can play our best basketball. They may not be the best team. It is the team that is playing the best at that particular time.”
Whether it is harder to keep his players from getting into trouble in Minnesota than at other schools he has coached for:
“Well you know I learned a lot from Rick Pitino. You have to embrace it and I think that is important that you can because you can’t live in a cocoon, you can’t isolate them. If you do, for one thing… We may be playing in front of forty-thousand people or seventy-thousand people. You can’t worry about the little bit of distractions are no longer a distraction. We have gone through a whole year. We have been taught to kind of communicate to the media. You have been taught how to act so now is the time. It is the big stage, let’s go ahead and perform… It is like performing at Carnegie Hall. You are practicing up this instinct and you are ready. Have no fear and let’s enjoy it.”