With Trevor Mbakwe out for the season with a right ACL tear, coach Tubby Smith went on 1500ESPN on Monday evening and hinted at substantial lineup shakeups ahead as the Gophers prepare for the ACC Challenge against Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
Some highlights from Smith:
- Despite acknowledging the significant setback, Smith seemed optimistic about going smaller sans Mbakwe moving forward, noting that the Gophers had some of their smallest lineups of the year – playing four guards at one point – in the two wins against DePaul and Indiana State in Orlando.
- Julian Welch could be the newest starter, Smith said. He was clearly impressed with the guard’s performance against Indiana State, in which Welch scored 17 points and added six rebounds.
- Rodney Williams could move to power forward, where Smith said he thought “he’s more comfortable, maybe.” Smith pointed out that Williams will be expected to be more of a rebounding force now. “[Mbakwe is] a great rebounder, probably the best rebounder in the country, I know in the Big Ten he was,” Smith said. “So that’s for a guy like Rodney, he’s got to get more than one rebound in two games. He’s got to do a better job than that and he’s got to get on the boards.”
- Smith said with Mbakwe gone, it creates an opportunity for someone else to make a big impact. “You hate to say it, but this is an opportunity for somebody to step up,” he said. “Those minutes have to go somewhere … I play a lot of guys and that’s why we play a lot of people, so they have the confidence. And so now they know I have the trust and I believe in them that they can get the job done. And so now, consequently, it’s their turn.”
- Smith would not say whether Mbakwe would be eligible for a medical redshirt, but said “That’s something we’re checking on now also. I don’t want to speculate on it, but obviously that is an option if there is an option.”
- Mo Walker’s rehab is going very well, Smith said. He did not insinuate when the center would or could return to games.
- Ralph Sampson III did not practice with the team again on Monday, Smith said. No news yet on whether he will start Wednesday against Virginia Tech.