March 9, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers coach Tubby Smith talks to his team during a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena. Purdue defeats Minnesota 89-73. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Gophers’ Tubby Smith and UCLA coach Ben Howland have more in common than just facing each other in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
Smith and Howland, who have $2.5 million and $2.3 million buyouts respectively, are on the hot seat after years of underachieving.
The winner of No. 11 Minnesota vs. No. 6 UCLA could very well decide which school has to cut ties with their coach – and cut the check in order to do it.
Smith has made it to his third NCAA Tournament in six years with the Gophers, which is respectable until you mention he has yet to win a postseason game in the Big Dance.
Howland is in his 10th year in southern California, but for a UCLA program with the most NCAA Tournament titles all-time – just three appearances in the last five years is not enough to guarantee a job next season. Just ask esteemed L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke.
UCLA gets consistently great talent through their recruiting classes, yet Howland has won two NCAA Tournament games since his Final Four run in 2007-08.
Smith wishes he had the same problem at Minnesota, where recruiting isn’t as easy as saying – “Come to sunny California and play for historic UCLA!”
But talent hasn’t been the issue this season. This time around it’s about consistency.
For a program that was once ranked No. 8 in the nation, the Gophers fell to No. 9 in their own conference and a No. 11 seed in the postseason. Losing 11 of your last 16 games will do that.
The Gophers have beaten Indiana (1-seed in the Tournament), Michigan State (3-seed), Wisconsin (5-seed), Memphis (6-seed) and Illinois (7-seed) in the regular season. However, the same team also lost to lowly programs like Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue — who were all left out of the 68-team Tournament field.
Smith could end Howland’s 10-year run at UCLA with a victory on Friday – or he could designate his own fate with another one-and-done exit.