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

Pregame: Mbakwe in the starting lineup vs. Lafayette

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: December 22, 2012 - 3:32 PM

Tonight’s game is really kind of a tease, isn’t it?

Gophers fans have suffered through an 11-day break, only to get treated to just one game (against Lafayette) before another extended layoff.

Will the Big Ten season ever be here?

But the fact is, while Lafayette shouldn’t give the 11-1 Gophers much competition, there could in fact be something very exciting to see tonight, and that is Trevor Mbakwe in the starting lineup.

Coach Tubby Smith said yesterday that he was considering inserting the sixth-year senior (finally) into the starting five in the near future, but he wouldn’t say whether he meant tonight vs. Lafayette or for the start of Big Ten play, against Michigan State on New Years Eve. But logic would have it that Smith would want to see his conference lineup in action before the league schedule starts. Tonight’s game could be a good test run for the lineup of the future without as much pressure as a first go-round against, say, Michigan State would carry.

If Mbakwe is in the starting lineup tonight, he would most likely play at center, replacing Elliott Eliason, who has struggled offensively for most of the season. That would keep Rodney Williams at power forward, where he has excelled this season.

We’ll have to see whether it actually happens come game time.

Other notes on tonight’s game:

  • Smith said yesterday that he anticipates Wally Ellenson getting another chance to get his feet wet against Lafayette, but the coach isn’t jumping to insert the freshman into a concrete spot in the rotation just yet. In fact, he seemed to somewhat belie the idea of taking away his redshirt in the first place. “Wally has a lot to learn,” he said. “He’s missed 11 games, he’s way behind in that regard as far as knowing the plays and once you get out there now, it’s got to become instinct, you’ve got to know it so well, because other guys have had such a head start on him, it’s just been tough. And he’s had tough practices because of it. But we’ve been playing him with the first group some because those guys know it pretty well – but everybody knows the plays really well. But again, he hasn’t been on the court and hasn’t been doing much. So hopefully he gets a chance to play. That’s something we said from the beginning, we knew it was going to be tough getting minutes.”
  • Lafayette has played against some good competition this season (Kentucky, Maryland), but has also lost to some really bad competition as well. The Leopards are on a two-game winning streak, but are 5-8 overall.
  • Head coach Fran O’Hanlon has used five different starting lineups this year, most often going with Tony Johnson, Joey Ptasinski, Seth Hinrichs, Levi Giese and Dan Trist.
  • The Leopards have three players scoring between 11 and 15 points, including leader Trist, who is averaging 14.8 points and 4.2 rebounds a game.

Extra points:

*Tonight’s game is on Big Ten Network.
*You can listen to tonight’s game live on 1500-a.m.
*From today’s Star Tribune: a report card for the Gophers through this point in the year.
*On the blog: Is Mbakwe starting tonight?
*Check out a matchup preview here.

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