Tubby Smith reflecting on what went wrong for the Gophers

Josh Katzenstein

After the Gophers men’s basketball team lost to Northwestern, 75-65, in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Thursday, one reporter asked coach Tubby Smith about the direction of the program.

In answering the question, Smith took a chance to discuss some of the things that went wrong for the Gophers and why, with their personnel, they couldn’t overcome the problems.

“We didn’t expect Al Nolen to break his foot, Devoe Joseph to leave, Maurice Walker to tear his knee up,” he said. “You can’t plan for that.”

The plan for the 2010-11 season, Smith said, was to add rebounders. Junior Trevor Mbakwe led the conference in rebounding, Walker added 2.8 rebounds per game in 9.6 minutes during the 12 games he played and Minnesota had the best margin on the glass in the Big Ten.

However, losing Nolen and Joseph, the team’s top two options at point guard, was difficult to overcome.

“[The freshmen] were recruited to be backups this year, but we’ve had to throw them into the fire,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have guards that can help you get in the offense or bring the ball back out when you have to, get it set up, and we just haven’t had that.”

Freshman Maverick Ahanmisi has started the last three games for the Gophers, all losses in which Minnesota had a lead in the second half. He played 23 minutes Thursday while Austin Hollins played 26 and Chip Armelin added 14.

Smith also mentioned that he kept Elliott Eliason redshirted after losing Walker because “we had made that commitment to him.”

Minnesota also could’ve petitioned the NCAA a second time to make Latvian freshman Oto Osenieks eligible, Smith said, but “we thought, ‘hey, we’ve got a lot of players. We’re going to be fine.’” Smith added that Osenieks is probably the team’s second best shooter behind Blake Hoffarber.

“You bite the bullet now and say, ‘hey, let’s get better in the offseason.’”

Smith said he’s excited about the future and happy about the possbility of an extension, but he’s still working on bringing in recruits to solidify next year’s team.

The hope is that the Gophers can sign point guard Julian Welch from Yuba City Community College in California. As of now, Ahanmisi is the only true point guard in the lineup for 2011-12.

About the possibility of a contract extension, Smith said, “I’m looking forward to being at the ‘U’ for some time, and hopefully this season or this stretch of bad losses doesn’t cause them to pull anything off the table.”