It was a dream come true for Gopher fans. After several underachieving years under Dan Monson, the men's basketball team was finally going to have a coach who could match wits with Thad Matta, Bo Ryan and the other great coaches in the Big Ten.
The Gophers were no longer going to be spectators in March as NCAA tournament appearances were going to come easier than Big Ten losses during football season.
Top-tier talent would also come to the Gophers and flourish as Smith would prepare them for a lucrative career in the NBA to go with their degree.
And now as we are coming down the stretch in Smith's sixth year as head coach, the Gophers have been to two NCAA tournaments.
That's right. Two.
As the Gophers went to Iowa City and were trounced 72-51 by the Hawkeyes, it's becoming clear that the University of Minnesota needs to part ways at the end of the season.
There have been several moments where the Gophers could have taken that next step to becoming a top program in the Big Ten, but several things have held them back.
The first has been the mass exodus of talent. Whether it's been for circumstances outside of his control or Smith not getting through to a player, the Gophers have seen several solid players including Justin Cobbs and Royce White walk out the door before they realized their potential.
In collegiate sports, a revolving door involving your star players is not a recipe for success.
Of course, it's not like Smith has gotten the most out of the talent that has stayed. The most glaring example of this has been the development of his senior leaders Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams.
Mbakwe and Williams have the talent to carry a team, but disappear when the Gophers need them the most.
A physical presence like Mbakwe has to be able to handle a double-team, but suddenly, he's been known to become possessed like a junior varsity center and winds up committing crucial mistakes that have turned the Gophers from Big Ten title contenders to potential top seeds in the NIT.
The same goes for Williams, who has the freakish athletic ability to get to the rim, but seems tentative, especially when the opposing team switches to a zone defense.
Which brings me to my next point: Smith is no longer getting through to the players.
During Sunday's blowout loss, the Gophers came out and executed their game plan perfectly en route to a 16-point lead.
Then came the zone.
The Gophers reverted to a sixth-grade B team with their inability to break the zone, and it was all Hawkeyes from there.
While the players need to execute better, the fact that they're not is a condemning status on Smith as the team fades out of the hunt for a NCAA tournament berth.
With top recruits and Minnesota natives Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn becoming top priorities for the Gophers in the next year, this kind of regression is not good for landing two players who could help the team get to the top of the Big Ten.
Whether it be Flip Saunders or VCU head coach Shaka Smart, the time for athletic director Norwood Teague to make a move is now.
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