He gave sincere thought when asked recently what his team has to do to play well at the Big Ten Tournament, its only chance to get to the NCAA tournament.
With a straight face, Smith, who will likely miss his first NCAA Tournament in 15 seasons, said, "Well, we can't trade anybody."
The coach was joking. Sort of.
Through 30 games the coach still hasn't found a starting rotation that works. All but two players have been starters at some point this season.
Heading into the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers have reason to be proud of their 18-12 finish, twice the number of wins and 10 fewer losses than last season. But battling with a bunch of other Big Ten teams for an automatic bid wasn't the plan to start the season.
Smith said he's happy with the team's progress, although the constant glares and stern tone he employs from the sidelines shows his frustration with Minnesota's output.
And now, the Gophers take a two-game losing streak into Indianapolis, where the up and down Big Ten could very well crown a tournament winner not named Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin. But first things first. Minnesota faces Northwestern in the first round. And with the way they've played lately, the team doesn't have a right to overlook anybody.
IN FOCUS: Minnesota has to beat Northwestern next week, if it hopes to make the NCAA Tournament, a long shot. The Gophers have already beaten Northwestern twice, so they'll be confident going into the game. But the Wildcats have continued to get better since the conference schedule began. And they won't back down. Minnesota has lost its last two games, and if Northwestern can keep it close, they have a chance to pull of the upset.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie, G Kevin Payton. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber; F Damian Johnson.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When Blake Hoffarber is your leading scorer, you've got issues." — Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said after his team lost its 19th straight game against Illinois. The Illini grabbed 45 rebounds compared to Minnesota's 19.
Minnesota 53, Purdue 65
Minnesota 55, Indiana 69
Minnesota 58, Illinois 67
vs. Northwestern, Thursday, March 13.