HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 4, 2006

Christmas has come early for Gophers

By Matt Kane

Many Gopher fans can cross something off their Christmas lists a little early. Or maybe the resignation of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson is just another thing to be thankful for, albeit a week late.

For some fans, the resignation or a firing of Monson is a lot longer than a week late.

In his seven-plus seasons as the head man of the Gophers, Monson compiled a 118-106 record and five winning seasons, but just one trip to the NCAA Tournament, giving the term March Madness a little different meaning to Gopher fans who can remember when the Golden Gophers were actually a competitive team, even in Big Ten play.

Oak Street and 4th is still the place to be during winter weekends, but, in recent years, only the boys on skates at Mariucci Arena have been keeping fans warm with competitive play.

Across 4th Street, Williams Arena has transformed from THE BARN to just a barn.

Watching the final seconds tick away on the Gophers’ 90-68 loss to Clemson in Minnesota’s final (Thank God) game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, I couldn’t help but notice the dozen or so fans who stuck around to hear the final buzzer. It must have sounded like the alarm clock waking them up from a bad dream.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if those same fans convinced themselves that, instead of watching Clemson versus Minnesota, they were actually watching the Harlem Globetrotters (played by Clemson) against the home town Washington Generals.

Maybe the Clemson isn’t the right game to choose when picking on the Monson-led Gophers. Fine, let’s take a trip down memory lane then, all the way back to Nov. 26, 2006, a 72-65 loss to Montana in the seventh place game of the Old Spice Classic (I use the word classic lightly). What about two days earlier — a 69-53 loss to Southern Illinois? And a day before that was a 63-56 loss to Marist.

Marist? Who the heck is Marist?

Marist, a.k.a the Red Foxes, play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference — that’s right, the old MAAC — where it finished 12-6 (19-10 overall) last season.

“Marist Knocks Off Big Ten Power Minnesota” reads the headline of the Nov. 23 game story on goredfoxes.com, the official site of Marist athletics.

I know it’s November sweeps, but using the terms “Big Ten Power” and “Minnesota” in succession in a headline is going a little overboard with the sensationalism.

I hate to just rip on Monson in this column, but it was so difficult to watch the recent Gopher teams and not wish the man patrolling the floor in front of the Minnesota bench was Clem Haskins.

So Clem’s teams got into a little trouble with the NCAA; it was a small price to pay in exchange for quality play.

Haskins led the Gophers to the Final Four in 1997 and to the Big Dance a total of five times.

Minnesota also won the regular season Big Ten title in 1997 for the first time since 1982. (In all, the Gophers have won or shared the regular season championship eight times.)

Names like Willie Burton, Ernest Nzigamasabo, Ariel McDonald, Hosea Crittenden, Voshon Lenard, Sam Jacobson and Quincy Lewis easily roll out of the brain when thinking of Haskins’ tenure with the Gophers.

What players come to mind when thinking of Monson? Joe Przybilla; Rick Rickert; Vincent Grier?

Maybe, but compare the Haskins list to the Monson list and there is no comparison.

Who will replace Monson is the big question now. Monson’s assistant, Jim Molinari will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season, but it’s doubtful he will be brought back for the 2007-08 season.

I do give Monson credit for one thing, at least he knew when his time was up.

Eh, Glen Mason?


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