The honeymoon is apparently already over for Tubby Smith at Minnesota.
Smith led the Golden Gophers to a 20-14 record and a berth in the NIT last season, his first as coach after leaving Kentucky. That came after Minnesota went 9-22 in 2006-07.
However, Smith is taking heat from Minnesota fans for putting together what they feel is a weak non-conference schedule that includes an opener against Division II Concordia-St. Paul along with home games against such minor-conference schools as High Point, Southeastern Louisiana, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
Smith, though, believes the schedule is the best way for his team to gain some confidence before jumping into Big Ten play. Minnesota lost its three leading scorers to graduation. Smith, the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, also says teams from major conferences cannot afford to put together a difficult non-conference schedule for fear of missing out on postseason play.
“This is what you’re going to see happening at a lot of schools,” Smith said. “Now, you beat up on each other and you only take four schools from your conference. The same thing happens in football. Nobody’s going to add another Notre Dame to their schedule.”
Minnesota does play Louisville in Phoenix on Dec. 20 in what will easily be the Gophers’ toughest challenge before conference play. There are also home games against Virginia on Dec. 2 as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Cornell, the defending Ivy League champion, on Dec. 6.
Pope Transfers to Seton Hall
Herb Pope, considered one of the top 50 recruits in the country by most services and ranked higher by many, pulled quite a surprise when he signed a letter of intent with New Mexico State out of high school over Maryland, Oklahoma and Texas. After being academically ineligible during the first half of last season, and also being arrested for driving under the influence, Pope made an impact for the Aggies last winter as a freshman as he averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in 24.3 minutes.
Alas, Pope’s time in Las Cruces didn’t last long as he has transferred to Seton Hall. Pope has petitioned the NCAA to waive its rule that a transfer has to sit out one year, claiming he made the move for family reasons to be closer to his daughter in his hometown of Aliquippa, Pa., near Pittsburgh.
“Herb will fill a huge need for us because the one area we haven’t been able to address is big-time power forward,” Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “He is a special recruit and a talented young man. He has been through some rough times in his young career but he is looking forward to a new start at Seton Hall. We believe he has a very bright future with unlimited potential.”
Pope is the second impact transfer for Seton Hall since the end of last season as New Jersey native Keon Lawrence, a guard, has joined the Pirates after two years at Missouri. Lawrence averaged 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 29.2 minutes a game last season as a sophomore
Nee Lands at Rutgers
Former Nebraska coach Danny Nee, who spent the past two years scouting for the Utah Jazz, has returned to college basketball as Rutgers’ director of player development.
Nee was a Division I head coach for 26 years with stops at Ohio, Robert Morris and Duquesne. He was fired at Duquesne following a 3-24 season in 2005-06.
“Being an ex-high school coach in New Jersey and a guy from Brooklyn, I feel like I’m coming home,” Nee told the Newark Star-Ledger. “I’m very comfortable here. It’s like I’ve come full circle.”
Rutgers coach Fred Hill was happy to add Nee.
“He’s a guy with an unbelievable amount of experience,” Hill said. “So he’s going to be a great asset for our players. For me, he’s a guy I can bounce ideas off of. His experience is invaluable.”
Midnight Comes Early
Kentucky will conduct Midnight Madness one week earlier than the rest of college basketball, holding its first practice Oct. 10 at Rupp Arena.
While the NCAA does not allow teams to begin practice until Oct. 17, Kentucky found a way around that rule. NCAA rules also allow two hours of practice a week with a basketball team after Sept. 15. So, the Wildcats decided to hold their two hours of practice for the final week of that period on Oct. 10.
“What better to do that than put it on a date when no else is having a Madness,” Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Hoops in Indy
Lucas Oil Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, will host its first college basketball event on Dec. 6 with a doubleheader. Gonzaga will play Indiana in the first game and Notre Dame faces Ohio State in the nightcap.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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