When will Al Nolen return?

Multiple sources close to the program believe plantar fasciitis could keep him out of the team's Big Ten opener at Wisconsin Dec. 28.

Before the Eastern Kentucky game, I talked to another source close to the program who said he expects Nolen to miss "a couple [more] weeks," a potential timeframe comparable to the one I reported last week (possibly six weeks total, beginning with his most recent game against North Dakota State Nov. 24).

Tubby Smith, however, didn't rule out an earlier return during Monday's Big Ten media teleconference. Nolen practiced Monday, Smith said, although he was only allowed to participate in non-contact drills.

"He worked out some today, he looked pretty good, he looked good," Smith said. "I think the biggest issue is going to be his stamina and endurance, it's always been an issue for him. But he had a good workout."

But Smith added that he's still not sure if the Gophers will have their best perimeter during his team's first Big Ten matchup, but he sounded more confident about Nolen's status Monday than he did last week.

The Gophers face Akron Wednesday and South Dakota State next week. Big Ten play begins two weeks from Tuesday.

Nolen has been on the sideline the last four games with a boot on his right foot.

It doesn't make sense to bring him back against Akron. And Smith said he probably wouldn't use Nolen in that game, when asked about the senior guard's status after Saturday's victory over EKU.

If they bring him back against South Dakota State Dec. 23, Nolen would have an opportunity to get a game in before a crucial two-game road trip at Wisconsin and at Michigan State.

Stay tuned

League's coaches like Mbakwe

During the Big Ten's first media teleconference Monday, the league's coaches had a lot to say about Gophers power forward Trevor Mbakwe.

"The kid from Minnesota, I haven't seen much of until this year ... Mbakwe, if I'm saying that correctly, but he just looks like he's just a stud, man, the way he can rebound, just a physical presence to go along with Iverson and Sampson and then they have another big kid Walker who comes off the bench," said Purdue's Matt Painter. "They've just got unbelievable size."

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan said he's not surprised by players like Mbakwe and Jared Sullinger. The league's coaches recruited them in high school because they expected them to excel at the Division I level.

"Well, you gotta remember we saw these guys when they were 15, 16, 17 ... a Sullinger, Mbakwe .. guys like that who were really putting up numbers," Ryan said.

Barn one of the league's toughest venues, Penn State coach says

Most of the coaches shied away from my question about the toughest places to play in the Big Ten. But Penn State's Ed Dechellis listed The Barn among the dreaded venues for Big Ten road teams.

"I think the Barn is very, very difficult. I think Wisconsin is very difficult and obviously The Breslin Center and you could go on and on and on," he said. "I know one thing, when you go to Wisconsin it's going to be filled. I don't care what time of the year, I don't care if they've lost the game before or what time of the day, it's gonna be filled and if you go to Breslin Center, I think it's the same thing. And I think [the Barn] … It's a huge city and other than the snowstorm the other day, they're always going to have a great crowd"

Big Ten misses mark with new logo, division names

"Legends and Leaders," the new names for the Big Ten's divisions, sounds like an event on the Senior PGA Tour.

What's wrong with East and West? North and South? Or my picks: Real Deal and Holyfield.

"'Legends' is a nod to our history and to the people associated with our schools who are widely recognized as legends: student-athletes, coaches, alumni and faculty. 'Leaders' looks to the future as we remain committed to fostering leaders, the student-athletes who are encouraged to lead in their own way for the rest of their lives, in their families, in their communities and in their chosen professions," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. "We're proud of our many legends and even prouder of our member institutions that develop future leaders every day."

I understand why the Big Ten decided to go outside of the box. But the division names don't work.

And the logo is questionable.

Don't get me started on the new football trophies. The Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year?