The last time we played the Illini the Gophers earned what was probably their second most significant win of the season. Obviously ending a 20 game losing streak makes for an important win, but as it turns out this was a tournament resume boosting victory. Since the Gophers dominated the Ilini these teams have gone in different directions. Illinois is 5-2 while we all know the recent struggles of Minnesota who has won only two games since and they were home wins over Indiana and Northwestern.
This game is intriguing when looked at from the standpoint of what this does for getting us a bid. Since Illinois is ranked, has 10 conference wins and is the consensus #3 team in the league; a loss is almost expected. As long as this game remains competitive this won't hurt us in regards to getting a bid. It would effect our seed but it shouldn't effect our status. A win on the other hand gets us in. Get this huge road win and what we do the rest of the year won't matter.
What will it take to get this win?
Defense. In the win at The Barn we held Illinois to under 30% shooting and only 36 total points which was their lowest point total in 24 years. To date it is no longer even their lowest point total of the season. In their two losses they struggled to score getting only 50 and 36, both were poor shooting performances. Minnesota's hallmark this year has been their defense so if they can keep the Illini cold from the outside they will at the very least be in the game till the end.
Find another scorer. When we are playing our best basketball offensively we are getting contributions from two or three guys offensively. Joseph has been something we can depend on offensively lately so I'm counting on him. Westbrook is our leading scorer and he'll need to hit double figures but he'll need some help. That help, when it comes, seems to come from someone different every time. Maybe Bostick (9 first half points vs. NU) or Carter or Hoffarber or Johnson or Nolen. Maybe even one of the freshmen centers will surprise us with a 12 point night. I don't care but we need someone to have a big game on BOTH ends of the floor.
Play with passion. I think most of us can tell you how the Gopher games are going to go within about the first five minutes. Some games we come out and want it more than the opponent, it is evident in the way we play defense and attack offensively. Other games we are content to let the other team dictate tempo and as fans we sit and watch 40 minutes of turnovers while the other team has their way with us. "Wanting it" is really pretty lame because obviously both teams want to win. It isn't about wanting it more it is just about playing with passion and enthusiasm.
Will we win? I doubt it. Illinois is poised to come out with a bit more fire after getting beat down by 23 the first time around. We have to match their intensity and execute well on both ends of the floor. Even then I'm only willing to say we'll be in the game till the end. I hope it is a great game and I hope we win but I won't be overly concerned should we lose this game. A win and you can start writing your "I'm sick with (insert mild disease here) and can't make it to work today." e-mail for Thursday or Friday or opening weekend.