Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe gets help off the court after he hurt his knee against Dayton.
There is still the matter of an MRI, of course, which Mbakwe will undergo Monday. You never know: The doctors may find something positive in Mbakwe's diagnosis. Maybe, just maybe, the apparent knee injury that knocked Minnesota's star forward out of the Gophers' 86-70 loss in the Old Spice Classic Championship game to Dayton Sunday nightwon't be of the season-threatening variety.
Needless to say, if Mbakwe loses a large portion of the 2011-12 season -- or even all of it, which appears to be the consensus outcome here -- it would be utterly devastating to Minnesota. Mbakwe is the Gophers' star forward, a double-double machine who drives the offense forward despite the Gophers' struggles throughout the rest of the lineup. Without Mbakwe, an already thin frontcourt gets much thinner, Smith loses his team's lone post advantage, and the Gophers' path to the NCAA tournament, hardly an easy one in the first place, suddenly looks far more arduous.
Assuming the injury is that bad, not only is it devastating in a vacuum, but it's devastating in context, too. The last two seasons at Minnesota have carried with them major opportunities for program progress under Smith, and each season has brought with it a host of injuries, personnel defections and ultimate disappointment. Two years ago, top recruit Royce White was arrested, benched, and ultimately left the program. That same year, guard Al Nolen missed the second half of the season thanks to academic ineligibility. Last season, Nolen lost most of his senior season to injury, while guard Devoe Joseph transferred and Smith was left playing shooting guard Blake Hoffarber at point. Minnesota entered the season with a balanced, intriguing lineup, but ended up missing the NCAA tournament after late collapse.
Not quite as much was expected this season, but the upside was there. And now this. We'll see if the MRI brings Gophers fans some positive news. But if it's bad as it seems -- if it's as bad as Mbakwe's locker-room tweet -- then it could be very bad indeed.