Though rumors swirl, Tubby stays put

After a tough season, the coach is negotiating a contract extension.

Though rumors swirl, Tubby stays put

Josh Katzenstein

The rumors have started again.

Will Tubby Smith stay or go?

If the coachâÄôs words following MinnesotaâÄôs first-round exit from the Big Ten tournament hold any merit, heâÄôs not going anywhere.

âÄúIâÄôm looking forward to being at the U for some time,âÄù Smith said after Minnesota fell 75-65 to Northwestern.

The Gophers ended the season on a 1-10 run, winning only two of 12 games after senior point guard Al Nolen broke his foot. They missed the NIT after appearing to be a lock to make the NCAA tournament earlier in the season.

Smith, meanwhile, is looking for an extension to his contract that currently runs through the 2013-14 season.

âÄúHopefully this season or stretch of bad losses doesnâÄôt cause them to pull anything off the table,âÄù he said.

While Minnesota floundered down the stretch, Smith and the Gophers players remained optimistic that they could find a way into the NCAA tournament. After the loss, they accepted their fate, saying they were hopeful to make the NIT âÄî a wish they learned last Sunday would not come true.

âÄúItâÄôs always easy to find someone to blame it on, but weâÄôve just got to hold ourselves accountable,âÄù junior Trevor Mbakwe said. He had 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats, his 19th double-double of the season.

Smith blamed the stumbling on what the Gophers didnâÄôt have instead of the players he did.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt expect Al Nolen to break his foot, Devoe Joseph to leave, Maurice Walker to tear his knee up,âÄù he said. âÄúYou canâÄôt plan for that.âÄù

Without Nolen and Joseph, Smith had to rely heavily on senior Blake Hoffarber and three freshmen for his backcourt. Hoffarber struggled at times with the transition to point guard, and freshman Maverick Ahanmisi started the final three games âÄî all losses âÄî as the floor general.

âÄú[The freshmen] were recruited to be backups this year, but weâÄôve had to throw them into the fire,âÄù Smith said after the freshmen shot a combined 5-for-16 in MinnesotaâÄôs lone conference tournament game. âÄúYouâÄôve got to have guards that can help you get in the offense âĦ and we just havenâÄôt had that.âÄù

Minnesota also didnâÄôt have anyone who could match NolenâÄôs defensive intensity. In the Big Ten tournament, Northwestern guard Juice Thompson scored 35 points to carry Northwestern to victory, setting a single-game tournament record for scoring in the process.

Over the final six games of the season, opposing point guards scored at least 17 points against the Gophers, finding holes whether Minnesota played a 2-3 zone or man-to-man.

âÄúWe donâÄôt have someone thatâÄôs orchestrating our offense or our defense,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe just donâÄôt.âÄù

The Gophers held a second-half lead in each of their last six games, but their inability to stop late runs cost them the postseason.

âÄúIt just seemed like we were out of page, especially when they were going on the runs,âÄù Hoffarber said after the Big Ten tournament. âÄúIt seemed like we were all over the place and just not concentrating on what we were supposed to be doing.âÄù

Asked if someone had told Smith the Gophers would finish the season as they did, the coach said, âÄúIâÄôd think they were crazy. I would say they were crazy.âÄù

Now the focus shifts to the offseason. Smith has already found a potential point guard for next season in junior-college transfer Julian Welch. The former California-Davis and Yuba College (Calif.) guard told the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press he plans on coming to Minnesota next season.

The Gophers must also await MbakweâÄôs decision to stay with the program or enter the NBA draft. Mbakwe said he would consider the move this offseason, but if he came back he would be an All-Big Ten first team candidate.

Smith could also have some decisions to make. Georgia Tech, Arkansas and potential other openings might appeal to the coach. However, the idea of an extension might be tough to turn away.

âÄúIt certainly makes me feel good that the University believes in me and believes in what weâÄôre doing,âÄù he said. âÄúCertainly IâÄôm excited about the future.âÄù