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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Illinois

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Gophers look for second straight in winnable game in Champaign

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers righted the ship in a Saturday matinee against lowly Rutgers, in what may very well have been a trap game. Coming off a loss to Maryland, Minnesota came out swinging against the Scarlet Knights in a win that was never really in doubt. In fact, the Gophers never trailed and asserted themselves at home in a game they absolutely had to have. Oh, they shot better than 39% from the line. So that was a plus.

Wednesday brings another winnable game and another match up where they come into the game as favorites. Call the schedule what you will, but January is an important month to rack up the wins against teams like Rutgers, Illinois and Penn State before things get markedly harder.

Illinois may well be the worst team in the conference. The Illini sit at 0-5 in the B1G, and while they’ve faced some of the better teams in the conference along they way, they also sport home losses to likes of Georgetown and Florida Atlantic. Ish.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Illinois Fighting Illini (0-5, 4-12)

What time are they playing?

Wednesday, Jan. 16 @ 8 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KFAN 100.3-FM.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Things haven’t been rosy in Champaign in quite a while. The Illini haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and spent the 2017-18 season in the conference basement with the Gophers. And while the Gophers welcomed back a substantial amount of talent, the Illini welcomed back just four of ten players from a team that posted the program’s worst record since ‘98-’99. You could say things haven’t gotten much better.

For their warts, Illinois is getting a ton of help from its top returner, sophomore guard Trent Frazier, and five-star freshman Ayo Dosunmu. Frazier, a B1G all-freshmen team inclusion last year, leads the team with nearly 15 ppg, while Dosunmu is living up to the hype, averaging nearly 14 ppg while delivering nearly four assists per game.

Dosunmu may be turning into the most dangerous player on the team. He’s scored 20 or more points in three of the last four games and playing 33 or more minutes in each. Of course, each of those performances have come in losses, so do with that what you will.

What to Watch For

The Gophers inside
Amir Coffey has become the team’s most dangerous scoring threat, which is a welcome development for a team that often lacks a take-charge scorer. But you know who’s been spotty? Jordan Murphy, who has registered single-digit outputs in two of his last three games. He was dwarfed down low against Maryland, but could get a reprieve against the Illini. The Gophers have shown themselves to be a fantastic offensive rebounding team, whereas the Illini are giving up a ton of offensive boards, and Murphy is set to take advantage.

Additionally, given his propensity to get to the free throw line, Murphy could well have a field day. Minnesota is one of the best teams in the nation at drawing fouls and getting to the line, and the Illini are showing themselves to be God awful at keeping teams away from the line.

Predictions

KenPom likes Minnesota in this one, but just barely, giving the Gophers a one-point edge, 74-73. Illinois isn’t a team to take lightly, they have good scorers and have played other conference opponents tough. And any conference road game will be challenging. Still, I like the Gophers in this one by six, 66-60.