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

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
UMBC 56
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
SMU 63 FINAL
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
UMBC 71 FINAL
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
SMU 58 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
UNLV 75

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What chance does the Wild have of making the playoffs?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

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

ADVERTISEMENT