Minnesota Still in Post-Scandal Era

It's been more than 12 years since The St. Paul Pioneer Press broke the story of Minnesota basketball's rampant academic fraud under Clem Haskins on March 10, 1999.

Most of Gopher nation has forgotten, or at least gotten over, the scandal that resulted in the loss of postseason and individual awards spanning eight seasons due to NCAA sanctions.

"It usually comes up when referencing the 1996-97 team that went to the Final Four. And then a comment is always made about how that never really happened," said Tom, lead basketball writer for The Daily Gopher

But if the specter of the scandal doesn't still hover over the program, it is at least a checkpoint from which Gopher basketball can be divided into "before" and "after."

Minnesota hasn't been able to get back to that level of basketball since. In fact, in the 12 seasons since, the Gophers have struggled. Only three times has Minnesota been to the NCAA tournament during that stretch and only twice has it finished over .500 in the Big Ten. 

But Gopher fans say the reason for the team's problems is easy to see.

"The lack of success right now has little to do with the scandal," Pioneer Press reporter Marcus R. Fuller said. "The Gophers just haven’t had a coach put together a team with the right combination of talent and chemistry since Haskins."

Whatever combination is necessary, Minnesota hasn't found it. 

The 2010-11 season may be the most disappointing of all. 

Heading into the year, expectations were high. An early win over then 8th-ranked North Carolina and an 11-1 record had Gopher fans excited. A series of injuries, transfers and poor play made Minnesota irrelevant once again and the Gophers missed both the NCAA tournament and NIT. Of the last 11 games, 10 were losses.

Tubby Smith's tenure has been a  bit better, with three consecutive 20-win seasons before the 2011 implosion. Still, some grumblings about Tubby Smith, once thought of as the program's savior, being the wrong man for the job have begun to surface.

"I think Smith’s best opportunity to get back to (a Final Four-caliber level) might have passed," Fuller said. "There were so many off-the-court issues, injuries and other factors that prevented the Gophers from competing for a Big Ten title and making a run in the NCAA tournament the last two seasons."

In four years at the helm, Smith has never finished above .500 in the conference or taken his team past the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

So what will it take for Minnesota to get back to playing that level of basketball?

"We are really close to that level right now, if Al Nolen doesn't break his foot we may have been a 4, 5 or 6 seed in the Tournament this year," Tom said. "Getting to the level of being a Final Four team is a whole different thing and that will take some luck. Tubby will have to get a big name recruit or two who actually live up to their hype and then he'll have to land a couple 3-star guys who turn into very good players. This program is competitive but taking it to another level is the next step."

 

Follow Marcus R. Fuller at twitter.com/gophersnow. Read Tom at www.thedailygopher.com

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