Fingers point, blame spreads and Gophers basketball loses.
Those are just a few motifs of late-season Minnesota hoops that continue as coach Tubby Smith’s February monkey has grown into a gorilla. The proverbial ape could likely throw the 61-year-old out of Williams Arena by season’s end if Smith can’t resurrect his team with four Big Ten games left.
The Gophers have lost eight of their last 11 games after a 15-1 start had many fans relating this season to the 1997 group that made it to the Final Four. Expectations were high – and rightfully so -- because these Gophers weren’t going to be like the rest.
They had veteran leadership, a healthy Trevor Mbakwe and a team Smith claims is the best group of guys he’s ever coached at Minnesota.
Fast forward six weeks and the Gophers have dug themselves another trench in the most important stretch of college basketball’s regular season.
Now fans are relating this season to the previous two – in which Minnesota went 1-7 and 1-6 in February.
As if it couldn’t get worse for Gopher faithful, a quick numbers crunch reveals the most recent tailspin is more catastrophic than past blunders; aside from the fact this team is wildly more talented and healthy than any in the Smith era.
Tubby Smith's history in Big Ten games 6 through 14
Avg. points per game: 55
Scoring margin: -43
Avg. loss by: -11.6ppg
Avg. points per game: 66
Scoring margin: +2
Avg. loss by: -9.6ppg
Avg. points per game: 65
Scoring margin: +3
Avg. los by: -8ppg
2009-10 (NCAA Tournament appearance)
Avg. points per game: 69
Scoring margin: +8
Avg. loss by: -7.4ppg
2008-09 (NCAA Tournament appearance)
Avg. points per game: 60.5
Scoring margin: -34
Avg. loss by: -11.5ppg
Avg. points per game: 66.5
Scoring margin: -4
Avg. loss by: -16.3ppg
If anything, this Gophers team resembles the 2008-09 squad that limped into the NCAA Tournament with a 9-9 conference record after starting 4-1. However, that group finished with two wins in its last four games -- which is no guarantee in this year's Big Ten.
Minnesota’s next chance to turn it around is Tuesday, when No. 1 Indiana comes to Williams Arena.