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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Minnesota's personnel issues carry on

By Eamonn Brennan

File this one under: "From Bad To Worse." According to various reports, Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe was arrested and jailed Monday night for allegedly violating a restraining order filed by an ex-girlfriend. How did Mbakwe allegedly violate this order? By (allegedly) leaving a message on the woman's Facebook wall. True story:
Police said Mbakwe was booked into Ramsey County Jail on misdemeanor charges after he posted a message on a St. Paul woman's Facebook page. The woman had previously filed a restraining order against Mbakwe in Dakota County, and reported the contact to police.

University of Minnesota police took Mbakwe into custody at home near campus and brought him to jail. Bail was set at $500.

Minnesota brass isn't commenting until it receives all the facts about the case, so for now, we don't know much. We don't know about the interaction. We don't know what the Facebook post said. We don't know the details of Mbwake's relationship with the woman, and we don't know how the case will proceed. Until we do, we won't know how this will affect Minnesota's season going forward.

Here's what we do know: Minnesota's streak of unwieldy personnel problems, which has devastated Tubby Smith's otherwise-promising last two seasons in Minneapolis, remains alive and well.

Last year, before Minnesota made its late push and got into the NCAA tournament, the Gophers suffered one of the worst personnel-problem years in recent history. The issues were varied and widespread: Highly touted recruit Royce White faced a host of disciplinary issues, made a YouTube video announcing his retirement, eventually rejoined the team, and then left it, all without playing a single minute for Tubby Smith. Crucial point guard Al Nolen was academically ineligible for much of the season. Mbakwe himself was suspended for the entire year thanks to his role in an ongoing felony battery charge stemming from his days at Miami-Dade Community College. Mbakwe eventually entered a pretrial program in that case, but never admitted guilt and was eligible to play this season.

This was the year the Gophers, finally at full strength, were going to step past the distractions and compete for a Big Ten title. That hasn't gone as planned: After a strong start in the Puerto Rico Invitational, Minnesota has flagged on the court lately. What's worse, the personnel drama hasn't gone away. If anything, following the decision of guard Devoe Joseph, the Gophers' third-leading scorer, to transfer, that drama has intensified.

Now there's this. It's still possible Mbakwe can play this season; again, we just don't know. But it seems unlikely Smith will be able to delay a decision on his talented forward for too long. If Smith is forced to sit the forward for any period of time, he'll be playing the meat of his Big Ten schedule -- right when you'd like your team to be rounding into shape, no less -- without his best player (Mbakwe) and one of his best guards (Joseph).

We'll wait and see how the case plays out. In the meantime, the obvious is true: This is horrible news for Gophers fans.