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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Illinois

Can the Gophers get their second Big Ten win?

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings everyone. After a trip across the pond I have returned to find the Gophers won a basketball game. That was pretty great. I also watched the Nebraska game. That was less great. Next up on the docket is Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 3-4 in Big Ten play with wins over Maryland, Northwestern, and Purdue.

Game Details

Who: Illinois Fighting Illini

Where: Williams Arena

When: 1:15 CST

Watch: BTN

Listen: 1500ESPN

Three Points

1. Make Free Throws

Many words have been writtten about Minnesota's free throw shooting. I'm going to write a few more. mowe0018 had a nice post on this topic. While I like luck metrics at the end of a season, I'm more skeptical about them in the short-term. What I can say unequivocally is that the Gophers have to make free throws to win games. KenPom's luck rating is an off shoot of Dean Oliver's, the premise of which is to look at the difference between in-game efficiency and win percentage.

The Gophers have such "bad" luck because they simply cannot make free throws when it matters. Minnesota shoots 58.6% in losses this year despite getting to the free throw line more often in losses than win. The national average is 68.8 percent. For the year Minnesota is shooting 63.3%, which is worse than 93% of the teams.

Sometimes basketball is a simple game. Make free throws and the Gophers have 4 more wins this year.

2. Contain the Illini Back Court

Rayvonte Rice is still out with a broken hand, but the Illini have a strong back court. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate, and Malcolm Hill form a solid trio. Nunn has added a nice dribble drive game to his arsenal, and is a great shooter. Hill is the leading scorer for the Illini now that Rice is out, and does so relatively efficiently. Hill's been able to keep his eFG% and TS% high while finishing 24% of Illinois's possessions when he's on the court.

Containing the back court can occur in one of two ways. The Gophers can either outscore them with big games from Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, Nate Mason or Carlos Morris, or get them in foul trouble. This means being aggressive and trying to be as vertical as possible on offense. I'd prefer both.

3. Develop an Inside Game

There was an extended stretch of time in the Nebraska game where the Gophers had not made a single layup. Mo Walker was held in check by Nebraska, and he will face a similar test in Nnanna Egwu and Leron Black are both having solid defensive seasons. Walker performs better at home than on the road, and Minnesota is a much better team when the front line plays well. If nothing else, the Gophers have much better spacing when teams send doubles and triples at Walker.

Predictions

  • Minnesota loses 68-64.
  • The Gophers shoot less than 70% from the line
  • Andre Hollins continues his scoring resurgence