Let’s be honest – it’s not a hard assessment. There is almost certainly no one on the Gophers’ roster that will step up tonight against Virginia Tech and score 14 more points than they usually do and add nine more rebounds to take over for Trevor Mbakwe’s lost production.
It’s just not going to happen.
And the sooner the Gophers stop thinking about this as a replacement situation, the better.
If Minnesota has a fighting chance, the production will come from a host of players that have not played to the height of their ability, and tonight will likely be our first glance at that, with Ralph Sampson III – who has not practiced the last two days – probably sitting out as well.
The door is open for less-hyped players to get more minutes, to take on a little more scoring and rebounding here and there, to thrive without the best player on the court. The ball has got to go to someone. And then probably someone else, and someone else after that.
“Everybody has a chance to step up,” Oto Osenieks said. “We all need to grab extra rebounds. He had about 10 rebounds per game so we all need to grab two rebounds more to replace him.”
Just like with exhibition games, I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Tubby Smith tries to get a lot of different looks, to try to find the best five-man combination.
I think in some ways, he’s hoping the absence of Mbakwe will give the needed spark to players who have been able to hide in the shadows before now.
“We’d like to see every guy give us his best effort and play above their potential or at least to their potential,” Smith said. “But when you start saying now I’ve got do more because there’s not an inside presence or I’ve got to shoot more and I need you to screen more and rebound more and I need you to pass more, I need you to defend better. Well that’s something you needed whether Trevor was here or not, because those are the areas where we need to get better.
“We just haven’t taken care of the basketball all year long and that’s something we’ve been working on on a daily basis. If we improve in the areas that we struggled in that will mean a lot.”