staff, November 29, 2011

At this point, any discussion of Minnesota?s 86-70 loss to mid-major Dayton is academic. Generally, this is the sort of non-conference loss that really comes back to bite an at-large hopeful. Theoretically, I?d talk about how the Flyers appear to be an also-ran in the Atlantic 10, but could end up knocking on the Selection Committee?s door in a few months, vying for consideration among the 68 teams. Hypothetically, I?d point out that, although it should count as just another game, it?s going to be hard for said Committee to give only that amount of weight to the fact that Dayton simply blew the doors off when the two teams matched up in November.

These are all of the things I would say if Trevor Mbakwe were not limping this morning. With his ACL torn, the Gophers are done. There is no replacing the forward. Indeed, let?s assume for the moment that Mbakwe wasn?t shooting at a 60 percent clip, and that he wasn?t a monster on the offensive glass. On the other side of the ball, he?s everything to Minnesota. He?s perhaps the best shotblocker in the conference and the best rebounder. And he also creates quite a few turnovers as well. We?ve referenced the Stops statistic before, and last year, there was Mbakwe, and then there was everyone else:



   Stops per 40 Minutes   

Trevor Mbakwe



JaJuan Johnson



Draymond Green



Jared Sullinger



Mike Davis



Without the power forward, it will be a minor miracle if the Gopher defense ends up in the middle of the pack in conference play.

Reportedly, Tubby Smith and his player are looking into the possibility of obtaining a 6th year of eligibility. But not only are such things granted very infrequently, it?s hard to see Mbakwe pursuing that option. He turns 23 in January, and graduates this December. He?d be the John Uncas of the legendary 2007 class, and it?s fair to speculate that he would rather be playing professionally. Assuming his knee heals fully, there?s no reason Mbakwe can?t play in the NBA.

As for the conference, what was once clearly the class of the nation now suddenly looks very vulnerable, what with Iowa getting blasted by Campbell (at home, no less) and Penn State playing to script. Now with Mbakwe out, there are potentially three teams in the conference racing toward the conference basement. A strong showing by the Big Ten in the Challenge (beginning tonight) would go a long way toward defending its dominance.