This is huge news for a Golden Gophers team who struggled without Mbakwe during the Big Ten season. At times this year, it was almost maddening to think of what the Gophers could have been with the double-double machine patrolling the paint.
In the 2010-11 season, Mbakwe averaged 13.9 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game as the Gophers got off to a similar hot start only to fall apart during the Big Ten season. He was performing very well at the beginning of this season (14.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG) before tearing his ACL against Dayton.
The addition of Mbakwe should do nothing but help a young Gophers team who has started to find their way during the NIT. The Gophers have advanced to the semifinals and will play Washington next week, but this story revolves around what the Gophers are bringing back.
Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman have both emerged for Minnesota during the postseason. Although the NIT is commonly referred to as the "Not Important Tournament," the experience should help them as they get their senior leader back.
Mbakwe won't be alone in the paint, either; sophomore center Mo Walker should return after being redshirted this season as he recovered from his own torn ACL.
If Tubby Smith can figure out how to use all of his weapons effectively, the Gophers could shockingly be competing in the Big Ten next season after back-to-back disappointments.