Column: Pitino is what Gophers fans need, ya feel me?

Samuel Gordon

He’s only been here six months, but it’s becoming clearer as the season approaches: Richard Pitino is the anti-Tubby Smith, and that’s encouraging for everything Minnesota basketball.

Pitino’s hiring injected life into a program and fan base that was lethargic under Smith.

He’s exactly half Smith’s age, and he’s certainly handled the job, at least publicly, with a new-school swagger.

Pitino’s Gophers were on display for the first time Friday night in an intrasquad scrimmage.

It was evident from the jump that Pitino’s preferred playing style is nothing like his predecessor.

Smith was known for his walk-the-ball-up-the-floor offense that often resulted in low-percentage shots. That grind-it-out style frustrated fans and failed to maximize the abilities of some of the marquee players Smith managed to woo.

On Friday, Minnesota guards looked to push the ball up the floor after both makes and misses, resulting in more high-percentage shots.

And a more entertaining brand of basketball.

It may take a while for Minnesota to compete in the Big Ten, but if the Gophers play at the same pace they did Friday, they’ll always be watchable.

That wasn’t always the case under Smith, who often compromised his players’ talents by forcing them to play within the confines of his lifeless offense.

Smith did his part to bring Big Ten-caliber players to Minneapolis, but Pitino has made a point of recruiting elite players across the country — and more importantly, guys he can fit into his offense.

Sure, he’s swung and missed so far, but a handful of four- and five-star recruits had Minnesota on their short list.

Pitino was also aggressive in landing transfers to fill out this year’s roster. Deandre Mathieu, who led all scorers Friday with 26 points, opted to play for Pitino over top programs UCLA and Memphis.

Mathieu, a junior transfer, seems to be a natural fit for up-tempo basketball, and Pitino confirmed that in the post-scrimmage press conference.

Pitino wore a microphone during the scrimmage, too, and talked to fans before the game, at halftime and afterward.

He goes out of his way to connect with supporters in a way Smith never did.

Pitino is active on Twitter and candid about his team’s performance in practice and in scrimmages. He also maintains a blog on the Minnesota athletics website with similar insights.

Tubby had a Twitter account at Minnesota but only tweeted a handful of times, amassing just 15 tweets since March 2012. Since taking over at Texas Tech, he’s been slightly more active.

The jury’s still out on Pitino as a coach, but right now he’s just what the doctor ordered for entertaining the Minneapolis hoops community.

Ya feel me?