Mbakwe Dominating Around the Rim for Gophers Basketball

Trevor Mbakwe

The Minnesota Gophers Basketball team struggled rebounding the ball at times last year.

While they ranked third in the conference in rebounding, some of their bigger losses came due to a lack of dominant inside force to clear the boards and not give the opponent second chance opportunities.

The last man that could be legitimately considered a competent rebounder for the Gophers was one-and-done Kris Humphries in 2003-04, and no one since has approached the 10.1 boards a game Humphries put up that season.

In fact, the only two people to average six rebounds/gm for the squad since that season were center Jeff Hagen at 6.1 in 2004-05, and shooting guard Vince Grier in 2005-06 at 6.3.

The fact that the team’s second leading single-season rebounder in the last eight years is a guard says a lot, but Tubby Smith may have found the long-awaited answer he and previous coaches had been looking for.

Two full years away from a Division 1 court and one court case later, Minnesota fans will tell you it’s been worth the wait.

Trevor Mbakwe’s journey back to prominence has been a long one, but he has seemed to learn a few things along the way.

Not only has Mbakwe matured physically, now nearly 22 years old as a junior, but it seems his court case and off-court struggles have taught him something.

Mbakwe has been a quiet force for the Gophers, just the way Tubby Smith likes it, on his way to 13 points and 10 rebounds/gm early on.  Not hearing from him off the court is the main issue at this point, because one more injury or suspension could doom the Gophers early conference season in which they face three ranked opponents in their first five conference matchups.

Mbakwe’s is a rebounding maven.  However, he is not just a one trick pony. Shooting an ungodly 61% from the field, obviously aided by his ability to offensive rebound at a 3.3 per game clip, Mbakwe is contributing in a number of different ways.

Creating second chances and getting to the line nearly eight times per game is giving a boost to the other two members of the Gophers front line, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III, who are able to stay within their comfort zones since neither are particularly good offensive rebounders.

ralph sampson

Sampson is more interested in shot blocking, which he does better than anyone in the Big Ten, but that can also be dangerous without a strong rebounding presence to pick up the slack on the boards, leaving the door open for second chance opportunities.

Iverson tends to be rather soft inside at times, not getting physical enough and sometimes shying away from contact.  Mbakwe brings a nice workmanlike attitude and way of playing the game that compliments Sampson’s risk-taking defense and Iverson’s more passive offensive game.

colton iverson

Mbakwe has used his strength inside to get to double figures every game this year and record six double-doubles in the Gophers 10 games.

Not much else needs to be said about how Mbakwe plays after looking at his stat line from the Cornell game.

Mbakwe did not have the offensive touch, going 0-4 from the field, but still managed 12 points and 16 rebounds.

All 12 of those points obviously came from the line, and quite honestly he should’ve done better, with his poor free throw shooting being really the only hole in his game to this point (57%, 12-20 vs. Cornell).

He simply finds a way to be productive, even on his worst shooting day.

Mbakwe has yet to be tested by any dominant big men, but has shown that he can put up these types of numbers against some of the nations top teams (12 and 9 vs. UNC, 16 and 7 vs. West Virginia).

His athleticism should keep him near the top of the Big Ten rebounding stats, which he currently leads at 10.2 per game, with Ohio State Fab Freshman Jered Sullinger checking in at #2 with 9.9.

Considering his points are coming off second chances he creates, if he can continue to rebound at this rate his shooting percentage should be near the top as well, as he sits at 61%, second in the Big Ten to Michigan’s Jordan Morgan (61.4%).

There are no guarantees that Mbakwe can keep up this play in the Big Ten season, which is where his first real test will be, but his athleticism and strength project well in the conference.

Should he be able to find a way to keep it up, it will be a huge asset to Tubby Smith’s team and should be a way to keep some semblance of an offense regardless of what happens.

-Mike Gallagher

The Backdoor Cut Analyzes the Minnesota Gophers Basketball Team’s Hot Start

Blake Hoffarber

The Gophers Basketball Team is 5-0 with a Puerto Rico Tip-Off win under their belts and wins over four 2010 NCAA tournament teams….Trevor Mbakwe was named the Big Ten Player of the Week and the Gophers have smooth sailing to an undefeated non-conference season…The Backdoor Cut breaks down how the Gophers have done it and what they need to do to keep the good times rolling around Williams Arena.

[Read more…]

Minnesota Gopher Basketball Hot, but Can it Last?

Tubby Smith

The Minnesota Gophers basketball team is the hottest in the country right now.

As pretty as those words sound to what Tim Brewster once called “Gopher Nation”, the last two of that sentence are the ones that will matter the most in the long run.

With great success comes great scrutiny, and with great scrutiny you might start to see things that you may not want to.

Is that the case with this team?

[Read more…]

Mbakwe Wins Big Ten POW, Gophers Win Puerto Rico Top-Off, Minnesota Rolling

Al nolen

Losing your 2009-10 leading scorer, your best overall defender, and then right before the season your team’s most explosive scorer sounds like a lot to deal with for a program.

Apparently it’s not.  [Read more…]

5 Reasons Gopher Basketball Finishes in Big 10’s Top 3

Tubby Smith

Royce White gone, Cory Joseph never arriving, leading scorer graduated, no impact recruits.

Now that we have the negatives out of the way, it’s time to flip the script and turn our attention to the optimism flying around the Minnesota Gophers Basketball program with the top five things that could lead the Gophers to the top of the Big Ten conference. [Read more…]

2010 Minnesota Gophers Basketball Season Preview

Minnesota Gophers 2010 season preview

Some would say that the Gophers basketball team overachieved last year. [Read more…]

Paul Carter Leaving Minnesota

By Mike Gallagher

Gophers Basketball junior forward Paul Carter is leaving the University of Minnesota to move closer to his family, the University announced earlier today. [Read more…]

Gophers Basketball Season Recap

By Mike Gallagher

In a season full of more ups and downs than a VH1 Tool Academy marathon, the Gophers strangely faded off into the college basketball offseason without a peep. [Read more…]

NCAA Tournament Preview: Minnesota vs. Xavier

By Mike Gallagher

So begins the most exciting sports event of the year.

Yeah, there’s the Super Bowl, the MLB playoffs, the BCS, but none compares to an event like this.  There’s simply nothing else like it. [Read more…]

Gophers Dominate Penn State, Dominoes Begin to Fall

By Mike Gallagher

After an up and down end to the regular season, no one really knew what to expect heading into a match-up with Penn State that posed a few problems for the Minnesota Gophers basketball team. [Read more…]

Tubby Smith Not Letting Gophers Bubble Burst

By Mike Gallagher

The buzzer sounded, and the battle of two bubble teams ended with the Gophers coming out losers once again.

Surely their 77-74 overtime loss to Northwestern doomed their hopes of making the tournament, as they dropped to 14-10 (5-7) and still had two Big Ten stalwarts (Wisconsin, Purdue) coming to The Barn. [Read more…]

Five Reasons Gopher Basketball Will Be Alright

tubbysmith

By Mike Gallagher

In a weekend filled with excitement for University of Minnesota basketball, some came out of the third annual 76 Classic a little disappointed.   The Gophers haven’t played in a tournament this publicized and full of big name programs in recent memory, so just being in it at all was exciting.  Two losses, both to unranked teams, wasn’t exactly what Tubby Smith had in mind.

Having played three creampuff programs, there was really no measuring stick as to how good or bad the team can be.  This tournament was going to fuel a lot of speculation about the Gophers possibly being a top three Big Ten program.  While the two losses left a little something to be desired, there’s no need to fret Gopher fans, and here’s five reasons why.

1. The win over Butler. This was the game everyone pointed to in the non-conference season as the one to watch.  This is the only ranked team the Gophers have on the non-conference schedule, and they showed a lot of maturity and poise on their way to an 82-73 win.  The main thing that should be taken from this game is the depth they showed.  All ten guys came to play, and the difference was bench scoring, which the Gophers dominated 46-8.  This is the second year in a row the Gophers have beaten a top ten program in the non-conference season.  Before they beat Louisville last year, they hadn’t even scheduled a top 25 non-conference program since 2002-03.

2. The play of Colton Iverson. While being used off the bench in the first two games of the tournament, Iverson played well.  Specifically his 13 point, 11 rebound effort versus Butler was what earned him the start Saturday against Texas A&M.  He took advantage of the opportunity and looked very solid in the post on his way to a 14 point, 12 rebound effort.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as last year he showed offensive flashes on his way to shooting over 60% from the field.  If he can sustain these kind of performances along with Ralph Sampson III continuing to play consistently (seven points, seven boards per), it would add a very nice element inside for teams to think about on both ends of the floor.

coltoniverson

3. Rodney Williams Jr.’s disappearance. The man hyped to be the #3 pick in the 2011 NBA draft and the 18th best talent in the country according to nbadraft.net, took only three shots the whole tournament and was a non-factor.  So why exactly is this a good thing?  Because he produced absolutely nothing for the team and they still managed to beat a ranked team and play two other solid programs close.  Williams has proven to be an explosive scorer as well as a solid defender on the other end of the floor.  This is the first time he has faced legitimate competition, and now he has a feel for it.  He has plenty of time to adjust to the high level he faced against the three teams this weekend, and can hopefully get acclimated in time for the Big Ten season.  When he comes around, and he will come around, he’ll be yet another great weapon off the bench for Tubby’s squad.

4. The pending return of Trevor Mbakwe. That’s right, it looks like it’s right around the corner.  ESPN’s Andy Katz spoke with Tubby Smith before the start of the 76 classic, and Smith indicated that it looks as if the charges against Mbakwe are going to be dropped.  Some believe that when Mbakwe joins the team he should start right away, supplanting Williams/Paul Carter.  Of course it will take a little time to get him back in the flow of the game, so he’ll probably come off the bench at first.  However, if he is reinstated soon, don’t be surprised if he’s starting by the end of December.  Devron Bostick, who is also currently suspended, is supposedly going to be reinstated in time for the Miami game Wednesday, another tidbit Katz got out of Smith.  Bostick will bring another shooter to the team, and he’ll be able to stretch the floor so the lane will open up for Sampson and Iverson.  As for Royce White, his trial for the Macy’s theft is December 2nd and Smith indicated no timetable as to when his issues would be resolved.

trevormbakwe

5. Defense. Holding three extremely competitive programs under 41% shooting from the floor is very impressive.  Making them turn the ball over a combined 54 times in three games isn’t too bad either.  Damian Johnson is the most complete player the Gophers have and that is especially evidenced on the defensive end.  He is averaging three steals and two blocks, both team highs. Paul Carter and Williams are very opportunistic, lanky, athletic defenders who have quick hands, so they can lock up the other teams best wing.  With Sampson and Iverson patrolling the paint and Nolan locking down the point with 2.5 steals/gm, opponents just don’t get anything easy.  At this point, the Gophers are allowing just 57 points/gm.

Even though the weekend could’ve been a little more lucrative in the wins department, don’t be discouraged Minnesota fans.  It’s still early, and if anything could be learned from this weekend, it’s that, for the first time in a while, the Gophers are a legitimate top 25 program.

For Tubby Smith and company, that’s something to be proud of.