Unless coach Tubby Smith has a big surprise up his sleeve for today’s game against Duke in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Trevor Mbakwe will be coming off the bench once more, despite playing a season-high 27 minutes in the Gophers’ most recent game against Richmond.
“The lineup is going to stay the way it is,” Smith said on Monday. “It’s just going to stay the way it is until I decide differently. Elliott [Eliason] has been giving us everything he has, just like everybody else has. So I’ve been impressed with Elliott and the way he’s been playing. I like Trevor coming off the bench.”
And if Smith’s comments from the past couple of weeks are any indication, it might be that way for a while – well into the season anyway.
But Mbakwe said he’s fine with this role if that’s what the team needs. Minutes and contributions matter more. It’s a new perspective that his odd situation this season has helped him embrace.
“In high school, everyone’s like, 'Oh, I start,’ and obviously it’s always good when you’re a starter,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I think most of us, we’d rather be one of those guys who are making plays down the stretch (rather than) on the bench cheering your teammates on. I feel more of a role when I’m actually out there, diving on the floor, getting a key rebound or making the key shot. That’s more important to me than starting the game at this point.”
To his credit, Eliason has been giving his usual gutty, intense performance for the Gophers, and while the center isn’t super productive on the stat sheet all the time, he does the little things – the effort things – really well. Mbakwe, off the bench, has made the best of the minutes he does get. The sixth- year senior is averaging six points and six rebounds in 16.3 minutes a game (a number that shot up after Sunday).
Other notes on today’s game:
- Mbakwe said he feels like his knee is 90 percent, with the only hang up being the clunky brace he still wears during games. “It’s just a reminder, every time I have to play around with it,” he said. Mbakwe said after games his knee can get stiff, but there hasn’t been any swelling.
- Quinn Cook is expected to start at point for the Blue Devils for the second time today. Cook started against Florida Gulf Coast and scored eight points and added four rebounds and nine assists.
- Seth Curry should be set to play today, as Coach K said yesterday. Curry has been dealing with pain in his right shin, and his status is undetermined for the rest of the tournament.
- Tubby said earlier this week that he planned to “tweak” the offense a bit in this game against Duke to try to minimize turnovers, which have been a big problem for the Gophers. Essentially, Smith wants to limit the ball-handling of the big men at the top of the post in the high-low, which has contributed to more than a few blunders.
Where to watch the Gophers tonight:
· If you have Direct TV: channel 340
· If you have Dish Network: channel 362
· If you have Comcast: channel 420 and 875 (Mpls); 268 and 875 (St. Paul)
· Listen to the game on 1500-a.m.
- My story today on the Gophers challenges ahead.
- My notebook from yesterday’s media access: contains everything from VCU coach Shaka Smart’s relationship with his “mentor,” Gophers assistant Ron Jirsa to why Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s wife is banned from road trips (she’s not here).
- My blog containing more notes from yesterday, including a comparison of the Mbakwe situation to Missouri’s Laurence Bowers.
- The Gophers have plenty of thoughts of their own on the Blue Devils. Here they are.
- Ken Pom says this game could go either way.