Time to find out if the Gophers are for real. The 12-1 record is all-too-familiar for Gopher fans in the Tubby Smith era, can this team earn some real Big Ten wins and finish with a shot at the NCAA Tournament? That is way down the road, but the question of how the Gophers will respond in the Big Ten is a legitimate question.
Game Time: 6:30
|PG||4.7 ||10.6|| Sam Maniscalco ||G|
|G||9.9 ||14.3|| D.J. Richardson ||G|
|F||8.7 ||11.3|| Brandon Paul ||G/F|
|F||Rodney Williams ||9.8 ||7.0|| Tyler Griffey ||F|
|C||8.1||13.4|| Meyers Leonard ||C|
|Bench||6.1||4.4|| Joseph Bertrand ||Bench|
|Bench|| ||2.8||2.4|| Tracy Abrams ||Bench|
|Bench|| ||6.2 ||1.0|| Crandall Head ||Bench|
This really might be the toughest venue in the Big Ten and should be very challenging.
The Backcourt Matchup - The Illini guards and wings are very talented and experienced. Brandon Paul, Sam Maniscalco and DJ Richardson combine for 36 points per game. The Gopher backcourt have been playing well together but they are not in the same class as the Illini. Richardson and Paul are dynamic, explosive and dangerous. With the way we defend I fear they will combine for much higher than their averages.
The Frontcourt Matchup - Meyers Leonard and Ralph Sampson is an interesting matchup. Leonard is a four-star, seven-foot center who barely played last year but is the team's 2nd leading scorer this. Ralph needs to show up tonight and play well on both ends of the floor. The winner of this individual battle might be the one who stays out of foul trouble. I also think this might be another game where Elliott Eliason's toughness inside proves valuable. Rodney vs. Tyler Griffey might be the one matchup I feel like we can possibly take advantage of. Griffey is stronger so Rodney posting up may not be the option but if Rodney continues to be the Gopher leader on the floor and if he continues to play well, he just might be the key.
Team play may also be a key factor in a Gopher win. They have been playing much better as a team and that will have to continue to improved. Playing in Champaign is no easy task. The other night Spencer Tollackson was recalling his freshman year playing in Assembly Hall and how in a game that was out of reach the crowd was still loud enough that the rim was shaking while he was shooting free throws. This game will be tough enough just based on trying to keep up with Richardson, Paul, Leonard and the other four-star Illini; but this is also the first actual road game for the Gophers this year.
I suspect that this team continues to play well together and I think Rodney has a solid game. The game will be competitive but I'd be surprised to see a Gopher win tonight.