Apparently everything other than Richard Pitino is to blame for the Gopher basketball team’s lack of success. At least according to college basketball expert Seth Davis. Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but it might as well have been.
Davis, who is a studio analyst for CBS Sports, is also a lead writer for The Athletic. Part of Davis’ work for The Athletic includes answering subscriber questions in a monthly mailbag. So, I decided to ask him a question, and luckily enough, he answered.
My question was: “Do you ever think that Richard Pitino will end up as good as his dad? Obviously it’s a huge task, but we Gophers fans are dying for something more than a round of 64 win.”
As you can see, my question was mostly directed to compare him and his dad. However, Davis covered that and more in his response. The rest of his answer was interesting to say the least.
SETH DAVIS ON RICHARD PITINO:
“Richard Pitino is used to being asked about, and compared to, his father. Considering that Rick took three schools to the Final Four, won two NCAA titles (though the one at Louisville was vacated) and is in the Hall of Fame, it’s fair to surmise that Richard will fall short of that. The larger question for Minnesota fans is whether he can get that program to the point where they will stop trying to fire him every time his team loses a game.
Richard’s name frequently pops up on hot seat lists, but I’ve never really sensed his job was in danger. However, this is undoubtedly an important year for him. The 2020-21 season will mark Pitino’s ninth season at the helm, and he has just one NCAA Tournament victory to show for it. The Golden Gophers missed out on the tournament in five of his first seven years, and barring a surprising run in the Big Ten tournament they were destined to miss it again in 2020. If Pitino wants to silence the hot seat chatter next spring, he needs to get his team back into the bracket.
I realize it is in fans’ nature to have unrealistic expectations (and I love them for that), but it’s worth noting that Pitino did not exactly inherit a stellar tradition. The Gophers’ first-round win over Louisville in 2019 was just the program’s second NCAA Tournament victory since 1997. That was the year Minnesota reached the Final Four under Clem Haskins, but that was vacated when Haskins was found to have committed academic fraud, bringing on massive NCAA penalties that set the program back a long way.
Williams Arena, aka The Barn, is one of college basketball’s most hallowed arenas, but Minnesota’s facilities have lagged behind those at its Big Ten counterparts. The state does not produce a lot of high-major prospects, and when it does, Pitino has to fend off blue bloods from all over the country. And needless to say, Minnesota isn’t the easiest place to be during the wintertime.
That’s not to make excuses, but to Carson’s question, even if Richard was as good as his dad, I’m not sure it would make a lot of difference. So before the fans run him out of the job, perhaps they should consider whom the school might find who would do any better. Because, to paraphrase a former Celtics coach, Rick Pitino is not coming through that door.”Seth Davis via The Athletic
WHERE HE’S RIGHT
RICHARD PITINO WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS HIS DAD
Obviously I agree with this. As Seth outlined, Rick Pitino is one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time. To think that his son will surpass, or even equal his fathers’ success is simply unrealistic. We can only hope he comes close.
MINNESOTA FANS FIRE HIM AFTER EVERY LOSS
Richard Pitino has a history of under-performing, so it’s very understandable why we do this. However, if a national college basketball writer/analyst points out that Gopher fans in particular “fire” their coach after most games, it’s probably not a good thing.
PITINO NEEDS TO MAKE THE TOURNAMENT THIS SEASON OR ELSE HE WILL BE ON THE HOT SEAT
I think if you ask most Gopher fans, Pitino is already on the hot seat. I agree with Davis on this point. The Gophers probably wouldn’t have made the tournament last if it would have happened. If Pitino doesn’t this year, it would make seven out of nine seasons in which he didn’t make the big dance. Consider also that current Athletic Director Mark Coyle didn’t hire Pitino and the situation isn’t any better.
There is reason to believe the Gophers will make the tournament this year (if there is one). First, Richard Pitino did a fantastic job of recruiting transfers this spring. He added Minnesota native Both Gach (Utah), former 2019-20 MVC All-Conference Second Team player Liam Robbins (Drake), and graduate transfer Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan). Because Gach and Robbins are still waiting to get waivers to see if they’ll be able to play this season, Johnson is the only transfer who will be able to play as of now. However, Pitino has expressed confidence that all three of them will be able to suit up in 2020-21.
Second, Marcus Carr is coming back. Carr entered the draft this past spring but up until recently didn’t announce whether he was staying in the draft or forgoing his last two years of college eligibility. He ultimately chose the latter and will now bring his 15.4 points and 6.5 assists back to The Barn. Like Davis said, it’s make or break for Pitino this season.
WHERE HE’S WRONG
PITINO IS STILL SUFFERING THE EFFECTS OF THE ACADEMIC SCANDAL UNDER CLEM HASKINS
Theoretically you could argue this is true, but I’d argue it isn’t. I’m not disputing the fact that it set the program back a long way, like Seth said. But the academic scandal was over 20 years ago. Both Dan Monson and Tubby Smith have coached here since then, and both of them have had pretty similar results to Pitino. as shown below. On top of that, Pitino was set up way better than Smith was when the former took the job. Smith had just made the postseason when Pitino took over the Gophers job. So, to me, Pitino just hasn’t maximized the talent he has had.
DAN MONSON’S TENURE (*RESIGNED IN 2006-07)
TUBBY SMITH’S TENURE
RICHARD PITINO’S TENURE
I would bet that most of the kids Pitino has recruited don’t even know about the academic scandal. In-state kids? Maybe. Out-state kids? Highly doubtful. Additionally, I don’t think kids make a decision based on something from over 20 years ago. Look at Penn State’s football program, for example. In wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky, the program was fined $60 million, banned from the postseason for four years, reduced scholarships, and had victories vacated from 1999-2011.
Even with those sanctions, Penn State has never experienced a losing season from when the sanctions were initially handed down until now. So to act like Minnesota is still suffering directly from those sanctions is just not true.
IN STATE TALENT
Clearly Seth hasn’t paid attention to the talent that has come out of Minnesota in the past few years. His exact words:
“The state (of Minnesota) does not produce a lot of high-major prospects, and when it does, Pitino has to fend off blue bloods from all over the country.”Seth Davis via The Athletic
While the latter part of his sentence is true, the former is way off. In the eight years since Pitino took the job, the state of Minnesota has produced 32 high-major prospects. That averages out to four per year. And for the most part, the state has been steadily increasing the number of high-major prospects, as shown below.
|Year||# of high-major players|
Of those 32 prospects, only six have committed to the home-state school: Jarvis Johnson, Amir Coffey, Michael Hurt, Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur, and Jarvis Omersa. Just 18.75% of in state recruits. The state of Minnesota does produce high-major talent and it’s high time that Pitino starts landing it.
MINNESOTA’S FACILITIES LAG BEHIND THAT OF OTHER BIG 10 SCHOOLS
This may have been true when Pitino first got here. But the argument that Minnesota doesn’t have the facilities of other Big Ten schools no longer rings true. In 2018, the ‘U’ built the Athletes Village, a state of the art training facility that cost Minnesota a whopping $166 million. That is not lagging behind.
It is hard to tell though if it has helped Pitino a whole lot, like Seth implied it would. Amir Coffey has gone on record saying it’ll help with recruiting. However no player in the class of 2019 and 2020 has echoed that same feeling.
“I think a lot of guys are looking for facilities and things like that coming out of high school — the newest this, the newest that,” Coffey said. “This just being built, I think it’ll have a big impact.”Amir Coffey via Star Tribune
It looks like it has only helped the 2018 class, which landed Oturu, Kalscheur, and Omersa. Even so this argument just is no longer true.
DOESN’T MATTER IF RICHARD WAS AS GOOD AS HIS DAD; MINNESOTA AIN’T WINNING
Maybe the most egregious statement Davis made was this one. Said Davis:
Even if Richard was as good as his dad, I’m not sure it would make a lot of difference. So before the fans run him out of the job, perhaps they should consider whom the school might find who would do any better. Because, to paraphrase a former Celtics coach, Rick Pitino is not coming through that door.”Seth Davis via The Athletic
This just isn’t true. To me, Davis is implying that Minnesota is such a bad place to coach that it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. First, there is no reason that anyone that coaches at Minnesota shouldn’t make the tournament at least every other year. Minnesota has the facilities, history, location, resources, and local talent to make it a perennial top half of the conference team. The only thing holding it back is the coach. Also, to act like no one could do better, like Davis is implying, is absurd.
Richard Pitino is at the very least somewhat to blame for Minnesota’s struggles. He probably will never be as good as a coach as his father, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be more successful than he has been thus far in his Gophers tenure. I have gone on record saying that Richard’s time to win is now, and that hasn’t changed. I respect Davis, but he is wrong on this account.
Carson Ruen | Minnesota Sports Fan