As the Gophers men’s basketball team prepares for Wednesday’s showdown with Virginia Tech, the news just keeps getting worse.
First, senior forward Trevor Mbakwe went down with a right knee injury in Sunday’s Old Spice Classic championship game against Dayton. Then, Minnesota lost the game 86-70 — its first loss of 2011-12.
On Monday, an MRI scan revealed that Mbakwe’s injury was an ACL tear that would cause him to miss the rest of the season.
Finally, there came news from head coach Tubby Smith that Ralph Sampson III — the team’s only other inside scoring threat — missed practice Monday and may sit out Wednesday’s game with an ankle injury he suffered Nov. 17.
While the situation seems dire, Smith said the team won’t make any drastic changes to the team’s play.
“Everybody has to understand their role and responsibility,” Smith said. “We won’t change much; we just won’t have that inside presence that Trevor gave us.”
Smith said he is wary of players trying to do too much to replace Mbakwe’s impact on the floor.
“That’s the biggest thing you have to guard against — guys getting outside their comfort zone, trying to do things that’s not part of their role,” Smith said. “I saw that in the game [Sunday].”
The Gophers were outscored by eight points over 17 minutes after Mbakwe left Sunday’s game. Their defense was especially suspect, allowing Dayton to score 49 second-half points.
Now, Minnesota (6-1) has just 10 healthy rotation players, and only one healthy player with multiple years of experience at Minnesota.
That’s Rodney Williams, who Smith said could move to the power forward position in place of Mbakwe.
Although he stands at just 6 feet 7 inches, Williams may be the Gophers’ best option at power forward. Andre Ingram (6 feet 7 inches) and Oto Osenieks (6 feet 8 inches) — the two other options — are both in their first year playing Division I basketball, and both have looked uncomfortable at times early in the season.
Osenieks, a redshirt freshman, saw extended court time Sunday after Mbakwe went down early in the second half.
He scored nine points in the loss, but had five turnovers. For the tournament, he averaged 4.7 points and 3.0 rebounds.
“Everybody has a chance to step up,” Osenieks said. “[Mbakwe] averaged like 10 rebounds a game, so we all need to grab two rebounds more to replace him.”
Smith also said Tuesday that other players might have to rotate to a different position while Mbakwe and possibly Sampson sit out.
He said Julian Welch will “probably” earn his first start with Minnesota on Wednesday alongside Andre Hollins in the back court.
Welch combined to score a team-high 40 points in three games at the Old Spice Classic. Hollins had 32 points, 30 of which came in the last two games.
Still, the focus for Minnesota — and likely opposing defenses — will be on its depleted front court.
Redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason is expected to start at center Wednesday if Sampson is unavailable. Eliason played as Sampson’s backup at the Old Spice Classic, averaging 3.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in three games off the bench.
But he didn’t record a single point against Dayton, and recorded just two rebounds in 13 minutes.
“I just have to step up and play a lot better,” Eliason said. “I had a decent game against Indiana State, and then I had a really, really poor game against Dayton. That just can’t happen anymore.
“I’ve got to step up and get rebounds and finish around the rim. It just has to happen for us to be competitive.”
-Virginia Tech (5-1) has won all five of its games against nonconference opponents, with its only loss coming to No. 5 Syracuse on Nov. 23.
Guards Erick Green (14.8 points per game) and Dorenzo Hudson (14.3) lead a balanced Hokies offense that has six players averaging at least 7.5 points.
The Minnesota-Virginia Tech game is one of 12 games in this week’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Big Ten won last year’s challenge 6-5.
-Smith said Tuesday that Mbakwe “had a little strain and stress” to his MCL in addition to the torn ACL he suffered Sunday.
A team source said Tuesday that Mbakwe may have sustained damage in his MCL, but could not confirm whether his MCL was torn.
-Smith said he hasn’t looked into the possibility of returning Mbakwe for a sixth year with Minnesota.
Smith also said that starting shooting guard Austin Hollins did not practice Monday after sustaining a knee bruise, adding that “he should be fine.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
Minneapolis Used Cars
Give back to the Minnesota community with a boat donation at boat4causes.org.
If you have been involved in a car accident call a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer for a free consultation.