Trevor Mbakwe a bright spot for Team USA

It had to be at least somewhat bittersweet for Purdue coach Matt Painter to get to know Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe this summer.

On one hand, Mbakwe was the star of the Team USA during the World University Games. The Americans settled for a fifth-place finish, but the 6-foot-8 forward stood out while averaging 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds.

On the other hand, Painter now has a better appreciation for what he and his team have to go up against when the Golden Gophers come up during the Big Ten schedule.

"They really fouled him the whole tournament," Painter said in a statement from China. "He’s tough to guard. He’s very strong. We just wanted to keep pounding the ball inside and try to get the ball to the basket as much as we could."

That's probably what Tubby Smith probably has in mind as well now that expectations are sky high for Mbakwe, who at this time last year was best known for his legal woes. After averaging a double-double (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds) in his first season with the program, he now enters his senior season with momentum and the understanding that he could put up those numbers on the international stage as well.

From The Star Tribune:

"It's just a confidence-builder knowing that I’m able to compete," he said last week about his World University Games experience. "These same guys are some of the best players in the country and other countries, too."

Since Mbakwe earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year, I think it's fair to expect him to achieve first-team all-conference honors and to play his way into the All-America conversation by the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

The Gophers coaching staff believes Mbakwe can have a special year that ends with national honors.

"We're going to be able to take something we learned from here and be able to use it when we get back home for our college teams," Mbakwe said in a statement from China. "It's just been a wonderful experience and I'm really grateful to be able to have this opportunity."