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The Gophers handled UCLA in the second round of the tournament only to be thumped by Florida in the next round. A common refrain from fans was that the players, and the team, never seemed to improve as the season went on, instead either stagnating or regressing. The Gophers never finished with a Big Ten record above .500 and finished in seventh place or worse four times in his six seasons.
Undaunted, Smith always pointed to his reputation for running a clean program and the empty cupboard he inherited when he arrived. He has long been lobbying for a practice facility and improvements to historic, but outdated, Williams Arena and has said the lack of investment in the facilities have led to some setbacks in recruiting.
"I don’t apologize or I don’t defend anything," Smith said last week. "We do the best we can. We do a good job. That’s why we’re NCAA bound."
The decision to part with a big-name coach after a rare tournament victory for the program is a bold one for Teague, who is in his second year on the job. It requires a cash-strapped athletic department to raise $2.5 million for Smith’s buyout.
With a bevy of highly touted recruits in the state, Teague is acting quickly partially to give a replacement time to forge relationships with high school players including Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones, one of the most sought-after juniors in the country.
Teague and his top assistant, Mike Ellis, are considered to be plugged in to the college basketball world and are believed to have a strong list of candidates to replace Smith at the ready.
Teague came to Minnesota from Virginia Commonwealth, and it has been speculated almost since his arrival that he would eventually bring Shaka Smart with him. But Smart may have higher profile suitors waiting for him as well with openings already at UCLA and USC.
Other names that could come up are former Timberwolves coach and Golden Gopher alumnus Flip Saunders, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Marquette’s Buzz Williams.
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