MINNEAPOLIS – Tubby Smith hasn't made a decision on whether Trevor Mbakwe will start for the first time since he was arrested, and it doesn't appear to matter to 15th-ranked Minnesota's star player.
Mbakwe said Friday after practice that he told Smith he is comfortable coming off the bench if need be.
"I told coach that anything I need to do to help this team I'm fine with," Mbakwe said. "If I continue to come off the bench, I don't think it will change my game at all."
It hasn't really changed it in the last two games. Mbakwe was arrested on Jan. 11 after he sent an ex-girlfriend a message on Facebook. The woman had previously gotten a restraining order against Mbakwe, and she turned him in to police after seeing the message.
Mbakwe admitted to sending the message, but pleaded not guilty to the charge of violating the restraining order during a court appearance on Thursday. His next appearance is scheduled for Feb. 7.
Smith and athletic director Joel Maturi decided against suspending Mbakwe, but Smith did take him out of the starting lineup as punishment.
Still, Mbakwe has played 66 minutes in the last two games, so his actual playing time has not been cut. He had seven points and 10 rebounds in a victory over then-No. 8 Purdue, then had 16 points and 12 boards in a win over Iowa. He leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 10.4 per game.
"If I'm a starter or coming off the bench, I have to come with energy and bring that toughness to the game," Mbakwe said. "Regardless of if I'm starting or coming off the bench, I think it's all the same."
Smith said Friday he is still deciding if he will stay with Colton Iverson in the starting lineup at Michigan on Saturday.
"I don't know. We may change, we may not," Smith said. "I'm not sure right now what we'll do, to be honest with you."
Even though he's 7-feet tall, Iverson isn't nearly the athletic, intimidating presence in the middle that Mbakwe is, and Smith could choose to go back to him in the starting lineup in hopes of setting the tone early in what has been a difficult place to play for Minnesota.
The Gophers (14-4, 3-3 Big Ten) definitely could use a road victory as they try to work they try to keep pace in the conference. They are currently in sixth place, a game behind Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State.
The Wolverines (11-8, 1-5) have lost five straight games, including convincing defeats to Indiana and Northwestern in the last week. But they've lost close games to Top 25 powers Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas and have given the Gophers fits at Crisler Arena in recent seasons, including an 83-55 embarrassment of Minnesota last season.
"We know they'll be ready for us," Smith said. "It'll be a tough place to play."