Smith, Gophers doing best to reward fans for dedication

With just a few games remaining, getting a boost from the sixth to the fifth seed is key.

by Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith has accomplished plenty in his first year at the helm of the Gophers.

Smith has transformed a team that went a program-worst 9-22 last season into a 17-win squad with postseason aspirations.

He’s also locked down arguably the most anticipated recruiting class since the Clem Haskins era.

And for his efforts, he’s re-energized a once fading fan base.

With two weeks left in the Big Ten regular season, Smith said he hopes he and his team can reward all those who have made his first year in Minnesota a special one.

“The players have been giving us all they have. Our fans have been very involved and the student body has been coming out in gold,” Smith said. “We just want to give back and do all we can to make them feel good about what we are trying to accomplish here.”

What the Gophers are trying to accomplish now is a better seed in the Big Ten tournament in March.

Minnesota is currently seeded sixth, but if they could jump up to the fifth-spot, where Ohio State currently resides, that would mean a first-day bye – something Smith said goes a long way to having a legitimate chance of winning any conference tournament.

“We have loftier goals than just winning 17 games. Expectations are a lot higher, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Tough week fallout

It was as tough a week as they come in college basketball for Indiana last week.

When coach Kelvin Sampson was bought out of his contract after facing five major NCAA rules violations on Friday, Sampson was able to go home. His team, however, had to move on without him.

That task wasn’t an easy one, according to interim Indiana coach Dan Dakich, who had six of his players sitting out during practice Friday in support of Sampson.

“It’s hard for kids to all of the sudden say, ‘Yeah, we’ve lost our coach 25 games into the season, let’s go and have a really good practice,’ ” he said.

“You’re an 18- to 22-year-old kid, you’ve worked every day since last year for a coach who has brought you to 22-4, and now he’s gone; that’s hard,” Dakich said. “I’m 45 years old and been through a few things and it wasn’t easy for me.”

On Saturday, one day after the Sampson fallout, Dakich led the Hoosiers to a thrilling 85-82 win at Northwestern.

“Any adult knows when you have been through a lot you are able to handle more. And these kids have been through a lot,” he said.

“I’m very proud of our kids for the way they came together (Saturday) in a tough situation.”

Conference award winner

Iowa forward Cyrus Tate was named Big Ten Player of the Week after averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds during the week.

The junior from Chicago, Ill. scored a career-high 26 points during a 66-52 loss at Michigan State on Saturday.

Tate, the Hawkeye’s first conference award winner since Adam Haulska in February 2007, helped Iowa to a 53-51 win over Northwestern on Tuesday, with 18 points and 11 rebounds.