Minnesota vs. Illinois - TDG Preview

I'm not sure if you have heard but the Gophers have lost 20 straight to the Illini. Can the Tubby Smith Gophers end this incredible streak?  That is the question, not sure I can answer it but on paper I'm not so optimistic...

Efficiency Stats

Illinois Minnesota
Off Efficiency 1.102 1.102
Def Efficiency 0.860 0.947
Differential 0.242 0.155
eFG % 53.3% 52.5%
Def eFG% 43.7% 45.8%
TO% 19.1% 21.0%
Off Reb % 31.4% 36.0%
Def Reb % 66.4% 63.3%

If you look closely (or even just glancing at them) you'll see that those numbers are bad for us.  They hold teams to fewer points per possession, shooter with greater effective FG%, defend a better eFG%, have fewer turnovers and rebound on the defensive end better than we do.  This set of stats do not paint an optimistic picture, I'll expand much more later.

Key Players

PLAYER POS PTS REB AST
Demetri McCamey G 12.5 2.8 5.1
Mike Tisdale C 11.7 4.1 0.5
Mike Davis F 11.1 7.3 1.7
Trent Meacham G 10.9 2.6 2.7
Dominique Keller F 5.9 2.4 0.2
Calvin Brock G 5.6 2.8 1.0
Chester Frazier G 5.6 4.4 5.5
Alex Legion G 5.5 1.9 0.8

Jeff Jordan left off the list, he plays significant minutes but is more of a defensive addition to the team.  He very likely will not contribute much in the scoring column.

What makes me pessimistic...

They have multiple scorers.  The Illini are balanced and have guys like McCamey, Tisdale, Davis and Meacham who can all score in bunches.  We are a good defensive team but we have greater success versus teams who have just a couple significant scorers.  Wisconsin's primary scorers are Hughes and Landry, both were good matchups for us.  Penn State has Battle and Cornley, also good matchups for us.  Michigan State has a handful of dangerous offensive players like Lucas, Morgan, Suton, Allen and Summers.  Purdue has a number of dangerous offensive players as well.  We are much better suited to defend and succeed against teams with a couple scorers, Louisville being the biggest exception. 

I have great faith in Nolen and Johnson's ability to defend but that will still leave a couple more Illini scorers ready to fill it up.  Maybe Westbrook and Carter can slow them down but I'll get very nervous when JAS, Busch, Bostick, Joseph, Hoffarber are guarding one of their scorers.

I also have great faith in Tubby.  I am sure we will see multiple defenses in an effort to keep their offense out of rhythm  and find something that works.

Year to date stats paint an ugly picture.  I generally use the efficiency stats above because they paint an accurate picture of the team on both ends of the floor.  How well they shoot, how well they rebound and turnovers are generally the three most telling stats in a box score.  Typically you will find teams that win two of those three stat categories win the game.  If you have more turnovers and are outrebounded but still win, then it was likely that you shot a crazy high percentage or made a lot of threes.  Something like that. 

The KenPom efficiency stats are pretty accurate in telling us what teams have done this year on a per possession basis.  Based on YTD numbers we stand a good chance of shooting a lower percentage, getting outrebounded and turning the ball over more than they do.

What I don't typically show are the steal % and block % stats, where Minnesota ranks top 10 nationally.  If we can get some steals and continue to dominate the lane defensively that will help to win the stat that matters the most which is having more points than they do.

They killed us from behind the arc last year.  In the two games we played with Illinios they shot 15/28 from three!  In case you are a hockey guy and accidentally stumbled upon this post, that is really good.  And some of you may remember that heading into the first game  the Illini were considered a poor three point shooting team.  They are currently making 37.2% of their threes, last year they shot 31.9%.  So a year ago we made a poor three point shooting team look very good, this year they are much better.  Besides rebounding and turnovers, this will be a huge key to watch tonight.

Tonight...

Fortunately for us they will still play the game.  Stats are great and can tell us a lot but they also really don't truly predict anything.  More than once we have seen Tubby outcoach his opponent, so lets hope he has a great game plan that the kids can exectute.  I don't have a good feeling about this game and fear that one of the most incredible streaks I've seen will grow to 21 and likley 22.  Fortunately for Gopher fans I had a good feeling about the Michigan State & Purdue games and then a bad feeling about the Louisville & Wisconsin games.

By no means do I think Illinois is a lock (Paint the Town Orange isn't taking us for granted).  We've seen better defensive teams and they have a couple guards who are not afraid to turn the ball over.  I expect the game will be close and to get us over the top we'll need to see a big game from one of the X-factor guys.  Bostick and Hoffarber are two candidates, maybe one of them can step up with a few huge shots.

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