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Updated: January 23rd, 2014 11:53am
Zulgad: Richard Pitino making a smart play by embracing The Barn

Zulgad: Richard Pitino making a smart play by embracing The Barn

by Judd Zulgad

Richard Pitino might have some disadvantages being a Division I basketball coach at the age of 31, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in other areas.

This includes his ability to identify with players who aren't that much younger than he is and embracing a multitude of statistics that Tubby Smith would have had little interest in sorting through after games.

Given his age, it also would be easy to assume that Pitino is all about having the most modern, up-to-date things at his disposal.

It appears this assumption is wrong in at least one area and this is what shows that the Gophers basketball coach clearly gets it.

Pitino not only hasn't bashed Williams Arena since taking over at the University of Minnesota in April, he appears to have grown fond of The Barn.

This is a smart play for two reasons. One, bashing your home arena only hurts your ability to recruit. Two, Pitino knows that when Williams is rocking for a Big Ten game that it can provide an environment that makes it a very difficult place to play.

The Gophers need a practice facility, something Pitino isn't talking about but clearly knows, but they don't need a new home court.

The Gophers capped a four-game stretch against ranked opponents on Wednesday night with an 81-68 win over Wisconsin at Williams. That gave Minnesota a 2-2 record in those games, including home victories over No. 11 Ohio State and the ninth-ranked Badgers.

The Gophers are now 12-1 at home this season with the loss coming in the Big Ten opener against a Michigan team that is better than many anticipated and is 6-0 in the Big Ten after beating Iowa on Wednesday.

This is not to say that The Barn is the only reason the Gophers upset the Buckeyes and Badgers but it certainly didn't hurt them.

Here's the lesson we've learned, again: The most important thing isn't a new venue, it's having your team in a position to win and then having the home court come into play. You can put the Gophers in any building, new, old, middle-aged, and if they don't win it's going to be dead.

The Gophers' ability to use Williams to their advantage is reminiscent of the early years with Clem Haskins when Clem started to turn around the struggling program. That was long before Haskins' ethics began to be questioned.

Pitino was able to add a few players of his choosing for this season, but the personnel he's working with was mostly inherited.

He needs every advantage he can get if he wants to win games and, despite his young age, Pitino is smart enough to realize that a building that was in its 54th year the year he was born can give him a significant edge.

The key is to embrace that building and so far Pitino is doing that.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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