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Gophers host Illini in key battle for Big Ten positioning - OPEN THREAD

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The Illini are just 2-5 in their last seven games and they haven't won on the road since a Dec 29th win at Iowa. They too lost at Indiana and have been slowly descending back to the bubble. This is a pretty big game for both teams especially considering this is the only match-up between the two. The winner likely keeps themselves north of the bubble (at least for a week or so) and has the inside track on the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

TV: ESPN
Game Time: 8:00

Pos #25 - Minnesota Pnt/Gm Pnt/Gm Illinois Pos
PG Blake Hoffarber 14.2
14.7 Demetri McCamey
G
G Austin Hollins 4.2 9.5 D.J. Richardson
G
F Rodney Williams 6.4
8.3 Jereme Richmond
F
F Trevor Mbakwe 13.0
11.3 Mike Davis
F
C Ralph Sampson III 10.9 9.7 Mike Tisdale
F
Bench Colton Iverson 6.3 8.9 Brandon Paul
Bench
Bench Chip Armelin
4.2 5.7 Bill Cole
Bench
Bench Maverick Ahanmisi
1.9
2.5 Meyers Leonard
Bench

There are two key matchups I see in this game. The first is Demetri McCamey vs. whoever we have guarding him and the second is Mike Davis against Mbakwe.

Mike Davis is the Illini's second leading scorer BUT he has had trouble defending good forwards lately. In three recent games he allowed Christian Watford to score 16, Jon Leuer scored 19 and Jared Sullinger racked up 27 points and 16 rebounds in a recent game. So the question is, can Trevor Mbakwe have a big night on Mike Davis? He has been rather quiet lately but one big scoring night where he wreaks havoc in the paint would go a long way towards getting the Gophers back into the W column.

Demetri McCamey is arguably the most dangerous point guards in the Big Ten. One thing though that has held him back is his lack of consistency and that is playing out lately where he is averaging just under eight points per game in his last four games. Our problem is that we really don't have anyone to guard McCamey and I'm sure we will see a heavy does of zone tonight, which creates other issues for us.

I'm very nervous about our zone tonight against the Big Ten's best three-point shooting team. Maybe we can count on McCamey shooting poorly (he did shoot 2/11 against both Indiana and Ohio State), but then we still have Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson and Bill Cole to defend out to the arc. These guys can shoot and we tend to give up open shots. And then rebounding has become a real issue with our zone as well. This can be resolved with some effort but I don't think we can afford to give up double-digit offensive rebounds again.

KenPom Efficiency Stats Minnesota (41) Illinois (15)
Record 16-7 15-8
Pnt / Poss 1.128 (32) 1.137 (24)
Def Pnt / Poss 0.963 0.905 (25)
Off eFG% 51.4% 53.4% (30)
Def eFG% 47.0% 45.2% (33)
Off Reb % 38.7% (13)
34.3%
Def Reb % 67.3% 67.9%
TO % 20.6% 19.2%

Offensive eFG% is the stat that matters most for the Illini. Basically if they are shooting well, they win. The magic number is 50% (remember this is effective FG%, not straight FG%). If they are over 50% they win, if they are under they lose and this has been true in 22 of the 23 games they have played this year. As you probably know eFG% is kind of like regular FG% but it gives you a boost for making a three (because threes are worth more than twos).

Our zone has to get to shooters or we are just depending on Illinois missing shots. And when (if) they do miss shots we have to rebound. Offensively I'm counting on Mbakwe to get back to his double-double ways. This is his first two-game stretch without scoring double-figures and I expect he'll break out big time tonight.

Big game tonight in the Barn. This win will allow all of Gopher Nation to breath a collective sigh of relief for a few days, a loss means I have to start writing bubble-ology posts again.