This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Mbakwe in the starting 5? Smith just might not want to fix something that isn't broken.

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: December 20, 2012 - 11:52 AM

 

 

When Trevor Mbakwe takes ice baths now, it’s just regular athlete maintenance, not rehab, he said on Monday.

As the Gophers head toward the Big Ten schedule start on New Year's Eve, the sixth-year senior has been indicating in the last couple weeks that all is back to normal. His leg doesn’t get sore anymore (only a little stiff sometimes), his explosiveness is returning and he’s starting to feel like himself.

But the reality is, nothing is normal about a situation in which Trevor Mbakwe says he’s fine, and coach Tubby Smith continues to bring him off the bench.

That’s not to say there isn’t an argument to keeping things the way they are. Keeping Mbakwe as a sixth man gives the team real pop in their second surge. It creates some matchup problems for opponents who have to decide when to play their strongest big man.

But the simple answer for why Mbakwe isn’t in the starting lineup right now is that this team – riding a wave that has thus far exceeded preseason expectations – hasn’t needed him.

You can say what you want about better combinations, fully utilizing his strengths – heck, I’ve gone on and on about that. But the blunt fact is, the Gophers have CRUISED so far with him in an often minimized role. They’ve looked pretty darn good.

Is it really surprising, then, that Smith might be thinking If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

Last year and before this season, I speculated a lot about whether Mbakwe’s absence was in some ways good for a team that was young and raw and timid and trying to figure things out. Now, 12 games in, we’re seeing the benefits of every player having to take the burden. The confidence of the individuals in the starting five is light years away from where it was a year ago, and the offense is ticking. Each guy that stepped up with Mbakwe out has carried over that momentum to this year and has continued to grow.

Smith might not want to mess with that.

Mbakwe, ever the vocal leader and good sport, has voiced his view that he’s fine with wherever and whenever he plays, and as long as he gets good minutes – even if he occasionally pauses before telling the media it’s fine, and his face gives us hints that for his ultra-competitive nature, this is probably a little tough.

“I don’t know about starting, I just want the minutes,” he said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. It’s not something – I don’t care much about starting. Coach always says you want to be the guy that’s in the last five minutes of the game, that’s who you trust and I’d rather be in the last five minutes of the game rather than starting the first five and being that second wave type of guy. That’s more my goal.”

That nothing is normal has had positive influences on Mbakwe’s game as well, he said. He’s not always playing with the starting group, so he’s expected to create his own shot a little more and he’s transitioned mostly to a center role, meaning he’s going up against even bigger guys.

“I definitely think my game has developed since last year,” he said. “In the past I’ve been able to depend on my athleticism a lot, just jumping over people and stuff like that. And now, I wouldn’t say I’m a below-the-rim type player, I wouldn’t go that far, but just getting more smart. At the next level, I’m going to be playing against bigger guys and guys that are more athletic than I am and the game of baseketball is a game of smarts. You’ve got to be able to out-work people and out-smart people.”

Considering Mbakwe’s Dec. 30th surgery last year was on the exact same date as Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson ACL surgery was, the comparison is a popular one. But the situation marking each star’s return was pretty different. This season, Peterson has been the light of a Vikings team that has otherwise struggled offensively For Mbakwe, he’s merely a contributor now, one of many in a roster full of balance.

“The way he’s been playing has been tremendous,” Mbakwe said of Peterson. “His team needed him a lot more than what my team has needed me this year. I’ve had the luxury of having rest … coach doesn’t want to overwork me at this moment. Obviously I want to play a lot more, but I’ve just got to be smart about the whole situation. I trust coach and he wants what’s best for me and the team and as long as we’re winning I’m happy.”

And winning they are. As long as they do will anything change? My guess is no.

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia 0 Top 6th Inning
Oakland 0
Toronto 4 Top 6th Inning
NY Yankees 2
Arizona 1 Bottom 6th Inning
Colorado 5
Boston - R. De La Rosa 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Milwaukee - M. Garza 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Washington - J. Zimmermann 6:10 PM
Miami - J. Cosart
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Cleveland - T. House 6:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Seattle - C. Young 6:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Wacha
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 20 3rd Qtr
East Carolina 35
Army 21 3rd Qtr 0:00
Wake Forest 14
Virginia 16 3rd Qtr 7:31
(21) BYU 20
(6) Texas A&M 48 3rd Qtr 5:47
SMU 3
Rutgers 31 3rd Qtr 6:20
Navy 17
Central Mich 3 3rd Qtr 13:10
Kansas 7
Utah 20 3rd Qtr 2:25
Michigan 10
Florida 14 3rd Qtr 13:15
(3) Alabama 21
Louisville 14 2nd Qtr 5:12
FIU 0
Texas State 14 Delayed 13:35
Illinois 6
Indiana 17 3rd Qtr
(18) Missouri 17
Massachusetts 0 3rd Qtr
Penn State 34
Fla Atlantic 6 3rd Qtr 9:25
Wyoming 10
San Jose St 7 3rd Qtr 7:10
Minnesota 17
Georgia State 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 1st Half
Portland 1
Houston 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
New England 6:30 PM
Columbus
San Jose 6:30 PM
Montreal
Seattle 6:30 PM
Red Bull New York
D.C. 7:30 PM
Chicago
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT