Mbakwe fine with coming off bench for Minnesota
Tubby Smith hasn’t made a decision on whether Trevor Mbakwe will
start for the first time since he was arrested, and it doesn’t
appear to matter to 15th-ranked Minnesota’s star player.
Mbakwe said Friday after practice that he told Smith he is
comfortable coming off the bench if need be.
”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.”
It hasn’t really changed it in the last two games. Mbakwe was
arrested on Jan. 11 after he sent an ex-girlfriend a message on
Facebook. The woman had previously gotten a restraining order
against Mbakwe, and she turned him in to police after seeing the
Mbakwe admitted to sending the message, but pleaded not guilty
to the charge of violating the restraining order during a court
appearance on Thursday. His next appearance is scheduled for Feb.
Smith and athletic director Joel Maturi decided against
suspending Mbakwe, but Smith did take him out of the starting
lineup as punishment.
Still, Mbakwe has played 66 minutes in the last two games, so
his actual playing time has not been cut. He had seven points and
10 rebounds in a victory over then-No. 8 Purdue, then had 16 points
and 12 boards in a win over Iowa. He leads the Big Ten in
rebounding with 10.4 per game.
”If I’m a starter or coming off the bench, I have to come with
energy and bring that toughness to the game,” Mbakwe said.
”Regardless of if I’m starting or coming off the bench, I think
it’s all the same.”
Smith said Friday he is still deciding if he will stay with
Colton Iverson in the starting lineup at Michigan on Saturday.
”I don’t know. We may change, we may not,” Smith said. ”I’m
not sure right now what we’ll do, to be honest with you.”
Even though he’s 7-feet tall, Iverson isn’t nearly the athletic,
intimidating presence in the middle that Mbakwe is, and Smith could
choose to go back to him in the starting lineup in hopes of setting
the tone early in what has been a difficult place to play for
The Gophers (14-4, 3-3 Big Ten) definitely could use a road
victory as they try to work they try to keep pace in the
conference. They are currently in sixth place, a game behind
Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State.
The Wolverines (11-8, 1-5) have lost five straight games,
including convincing defeats to Indiana and Northwestern in the
last week. But they’ve lost close games to Top 25 powers Syracuse,
Ohio State and Kansas and have given the Gophers fits at Crisler
Arena in recent seasons, including an 83-55 embarrassment of
Minnesota last season.
”We know they’ll be ready for us,” Smith said. ”It’ll be a
tough place to play.”