Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tubby's Haymaker



It happens in boxing all the time.  The losing boxer, late in the fight, knows he doesn’t have the rounds left in the match to make up the scorecard difference, starts to throw wishful haymakers in an attempt to end the fight in a knockout.  He’s desperate; it’s his only chance to change his fate that seems all too inevitable.  Tubby Smith and his Gopher’s are a stumbling, punch-drunk team in need of a knockout to turn the momentum of their crumbling season that once held such promise. 

It was just January 9 when I wrote that it was “Nut Cuttin’ Time” for Tubby and the Gophers.  At the time they were 14-1, ranked #8 in the country and heading into a big matchup with then #12 ranked Illinois, with games against Michigan and Indiana also on the schedule in the following week.  We’d all seen the early non-conference success before under Tubby; it was time to prove it could last the full season. 

They actually ended up winning the Illinois game (less impressive now that they are in nearly the same predicament that the Gophers are) and put up a nice comeback fight against Indiana that weekend in Bloomington.  Michigan came to town, and the Gopher faithful were still hoping this year was going to be different win or lose against the then #5 Wolverines.

Then the loss at Northwestern followed the Michigan loss, the robbery loss at Wisconsin, and losses to Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa and most recently Ohio State.  The Gopher knees are wobbling, and even with a great RPI and strength of schedule, the talk of missing the tournament is there for the Gophers.  More stressful for Tubby, the talk of him losing his job, not by choice as many worried early in his Gopher career, but by force of new athletic director Norwood Teague is only increasing in volume. 

What happened?

The same thing that has happened in every season under Tubby Smith, as was pointed out in that January 9 post.  It’s been another great non-conference schedule leading to collapse in conference play, this year in the form of a 4-8 performance in their past 12.  Leaving the Gophers one loss away from the 10 loss mark that always spells “bubble team” come March.

What needs to happen?

Upset Indiana.  It’s the Gophers last chance in the regular season to notch a signature win prior to the B1G Tournament with games against Penn State, @Nebraska, and @Purdue left.  A win against the nation’s #1 team late in February will not be overlooked by the selection committee.  This is the haymaker that needs to land for Tubby to have a chance to win the “fight” that is keeping his job.  It’s been stated that in order for Tubby to “win” he will need to notch his first NCAA Tournament win in his maroon and gold tenure this year.

The conference tournament obviously presents another opportunity to ensure a NCAA Tournament berth, but for a team that seems to lack the ability to sustain enthusiasm for winning more than one game at a time since conference play has started, winning the B1G Tournament seems to be as likely as a Rodney Williams’ three point shot going in (wait, a 24% chance is about 23.9% too high)

You may think that the Gophers odds of winning against #1 Indiana tonight are just as slim.  Indiana is a team with not one, but two national player of the year candidates in Victor Oladipo (David Kahn make note of this guy) and Cody Zeller.  They have two in the same year, the Gophers haven’t had one since Kevin McHale played in the barn. 

Shockingly Indiana, as of writing this, is only a five point favorite.  Either get in on that action now, or keep reading. 

Now that the gamblers amongst us are gone, take a look at Miami this past week.  They were riding high, a 14 game winning streak high, possibly 1-seed in the big dance high, votes for #1 ranking in the country high, and lost to a sub-.500 Wake Forest team…by 15!  You hear it every year, but I’m going to say it again in case you weren’t listening, “One game, anything can happen in college basketball.”  Now, you have a better chance of that “anything” being a win for you if you’re at home.  Wake was, and the Gophers will be tonight.  Unlike the Demon Deacons, the Gophers will actually have something to play for other than just pride.  This is good, because lately they haven’t seemed to have any pride, so relying on the Gophers to play for just that wouldn’t be wise.

Tonight is the last realistic chance in my mind of this team saving this season, and likely, their coach’s job.  Even if they make the tournament without this win, they will be a much lower seed, meaning a much more difficult matchup, meaning a repeat of every other year the Gophers have made the tourney under Tubby, a first round exit. 

The cut man is doing his best to hold the Gophers face together, it’s been beaten to a pulp the last few rounds (weeks).  Their corner (fans) is telling them they can do it, even if in their own mind’s they know that in all likelihood it is over for their guy.  Their opponent (momentum) is only building in strength seeing the Gophers wobble and is likely juicing like Andrei Kirilenko (it’s him right?) in Rocky 4.  A knockout is all they can hope for, will the haymaker land?  Or hit only air?

 

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