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It's Our Turn: Time for Tubby to prove the naysayers wrong

It's time for University of Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith to shut up his critics.

Smith's tenure at Minnesota has been mired in mediocrity for five years now. Many Gopher fans simply look at the numbers when deciding his level of success. His 103 wins through five seasons is the most in any coach's first five years in program history.

But that hasn't been good enough. Not when most of those wins have come in non-conference games. The Gophers have never finished above .500 in Big Ten play with Smith at the helm. His 38-52 record in conference games is a fireable offense for some, regardless of the circumstances.

There have been plenty of distractions he has had to deal with during that stretch. Injuries, transfers and players' legal problems have been well documented. Some of it is Smith's fault. Much of it isn't.

Either way, it has led to a common refrain about his ability to lead this program. The detractors say the game has passed him by, he can't recruit at a high level and the guys he gets on campus don't improve under him.

The latter of those is simply not true. A lethargic Ralph Sampson III didn't improve under Tubby's coaching. That's about it. Almost every other player on the current roster has made great strides in their game at Minnesota.

Rodney Williams came in as an athletic phenom without a jump shot. His points per game, rebounds and shooting percentages have all gone up in each of his first three seasons. Williams is now the unquestioned senior leader on a team ranked 14th in the country after averaging 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season.

Austin Hollins was a mid-level recruit out of Tennessee who averaged 4.5 points and shot 26 percent from three his freshman year. Those numbers jumped to 37 percent from behind the arc and 9.2 points per game as a sophomore.

This year, he's one of four players averaging double figures, along with being the team's best perimeter defender. Sophomore guards Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman have taken similar strides through the first 10 games this year after having up and down freshmen seasons.

The biggest question is can Smith recruit at a level where the Gophers can realistically compete for a Big Ten title? I would say not without a facilities upgrade. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only two Big Ten schools without a practice facility. You're kidding yourself if you think that doesn't matter to kids who are also being courted by perennial conference powers like Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana.

Smith's biggest recruiting challenge will come in state over the next few years. The 2014 recruiting class in Minnesota is one of the best in the state's history. Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn are both ESPN top-10 recruits and Reid Travis is a top 50 player. Tubby needs to do everything within NCAA rules to get these kids.

He can start making a good impression by putting together a memorable year with his current roster. There are no more excuses after a 9-1 start to the season that includes wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State.

The Gophers are loaded with a talented roster. They are deep, experienced and athletic, with a point guard in Andre Hollins who wants the ball in his hands in big moments. There is no reason they shouldn't finish in the top five of a loaded Big Ten if they stay healthy.

The pieces are in place for Smith to quiet some of his critics. It's time for him to show what he can do with a talented roster.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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