Minnesota-Michigan Preview

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith may give Trevor Mbakwe his first

start since being arrested last week. The Big Ten’s leading

rebounder, though, said he’s also satisfied with coming off the

bench again.

Whatever his role, Mbakwe will try to help the 15th-ranked

Golden Gophers win their first game as a Top 25 team in three weeks

Saturday night at Michigan.

During a court appearance Thursday, Mbakwe pleaded not guilty to

the charge of violating his ex-girlfriend’s restraining order but

admitted sending her a message on Facebook, which led to his arrest

Jan. 11. His next appearance is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Smith and athletic director Joel Maturi decided against

suspending the junior forward, but the Minnesota coach took him out

of the starting lineup as punishment.

“It was just me trying to reach out and be generous, but it

backfired on me,” Mbakwe said. “I know it was really stupid on my

part. I’m just glad they gave me a chance to play.”

The benching hasn’t seemed to affect Mbakwe too much. He’s

averaged 33.0 minutes as a reserve in the past two games after

averaging 27.5 in the first 16 this season.

“I told coach that anything I need to do to help this team I’m

fine with,” Mbakwe said. “If I continue to come off the bench, I

don’t think it will change my game at all.”

In his first game after being arrested, he scored a season-low

seven points but had 10 rebounds in a 70-67 upset of then-No. 8

Purdue on Jan. 13. Mbakwe followed with 16 points and 12 rebounds

in Sunday’s 69-59 win over Iowa after Colton Iverson started in his

place again.

“If I’m a starter or coming off the bench, I have to come with

energy and bring that toughness to the game,” said Mbakwe,

averaging 13.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. “Regardless of if I’m

starting or coming off the bench, I think it’s all the same.”

His efforts helped the Gophers (14-4, 3-3) overcome a

season-worst 2-of-10 shooting performance from leading scorer Blake

Hoffarber (13.8 ppg), who finished with nine points just three days

after scoring 26 against Purdue.

Sunday’s win also helped lift Minnesota back into the Top 25

after being left out of the previous two AP polls.

The Gophers would likely stay there if they can avoid a fifth

straight loss to the struggling Wolverines (11-8, 1-5) and win for

the second time in six games at Crisler Arena.

“We know they’ll be ready for us,” Smith said. “It’ll be a tough

place to play.”

Michigan has dropped five straight, but its two home games in

that span were close losses against highly ranked teams – 67-60 in

overtime to then-No. 3 Kansas and 68-64 to then-No. 2 Ohio State.

The Wolverines, though, have lost their past two games by a

combined 33 points at Indiana and Northwestern.

They’re 10-3 at home this season with all three defeats coming

to Top 25 opponents and have dropped 11 in a row to ranked teams

since beating then-No. 15 Connecticut in Ann Arbor last season.

Michigan has averaged 59.0 points on 39.6 percent shooting in

its last five games but leading scorer Darius Morris (15.7 ppg) has

averaged 18.0 in the last four. He scored 16 in the 74-60 defeat at

Northwestern on Tuesday night.

Morris, second in the conference with 7.1 assists per game,

totaled 12 assists in last season’s two-game sweep of


Michigan leads the series 77-58.