Even though they failed to beat the Stanford Cardinal in the NIT title game, it is clear that coach Tubby Smith has the Minnesota Golden Gophers finally back on track to consistently contend in college basketball's postseason.
Smith took over the program at the start of the 2007-08 season and immediately took the team from failure to success. They turned a team that went 9-22 in the previous season to a team that went 20-13 and made the NIT.
Since then, the team has continued to thrive under Smith, going 83-50. They did make the NCAA tournament from 2008-10, but missed out on postseason play during the 2010-11 season.
The Gophers bounced back though, and Smith took the team to their best season since he took over, going 23-14 and making it all the way to the title game of the NIT.
Even though they lost 75-51, one can't ignore the strides that the team has made, especially given what they have gone through as of late.
It wasn't just a huge accomplishment for Smith, but also for the entire Gophers basketball program. They haven't had much recent success because the program is still recovering from the scandals in the early 1990s that rocked the university.
Smith's success breathes a new light into the university and should have people excited once again about Gophers basketball.
They have continued to struggle against their Big Ten opponents, winning just 12 of their 36 games in the last two years, but their success outside of the conference is a positive factor worth noting.
While the team is still far away from becoming a force in college basketball, it is becoming quite clear that the hire of Smith was the best move for this program, and will have them moving in the right direction sooner than anyone would have thought.
Jeff Chase is a Featured Columnist for the Chicago Cubs and Arizona State football.
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