Just as soon as the Gophers rose to the occasion to take down Ohio State on the road, they returned home to the Barn and promptly laid an egg in front of a raucous crowd against Michigan State. Once again, Minnesota was outplayed in basically every facet of the game, shooting a dismal 28% from the field including 5-28 from deep, while the Spartans, while vulnerable in the beginning, ran circles around the Gophers down the stretch.
The Gophers are in the midst of a very difficult, but very important stretch of their schedule, with Quad 1 opportunities in each of their next four games. No one will fault them if they don’t pick up wins on the road against Illinois and Penn State, but drop home games to Wisconsin and Iowa and the natives might start getting restless, and opportunities to rack up crucial conference wins will start to evaporate.
That said, Minnesota gets another bite at the apple on Thursday as they face a red hot Illinois team that has rocketed up to #19 in the country and is on a six game winning streak. They’ve won three road games in that span and haven’t lost at home since Dec. 2 against Miami. The Gophers have another tough one in store in their one and only meeting with Illinois this season.
Illinois Fighting Illini (7-2, 15-7)
Date and Time:
Thursday, Jan. 30 @ 6:30 p.m. CT
State Farm Center (Champaign, IL)
Tell me more about the opponent.
The Illini nearly sit atop the Big Ten standings at 7-2, just behind the 8-2 Spartans. Illinois has rose astronomically from last season’s effort thanks to a number of returners that include Ayo Dosunmo, who is averaging a cool 16 points per game. Kofi Cockburn and Andres Feliz round out the players scoring in double digits. Cockburn is coming off being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week and is nearly averaging a double-double with 9.4 rebounds per game to go along with 14.5 points.
Daniel Oturu has entered perhaps his roughest stretch of the season and it doesn’t get any easier in Champaign. Illinois is one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, ranking third in rebound margin (+9.8) and leading the Big Ten in that category. They are also 19th in the country and second in the conference in rebounds per game (40.5).
Meanwhile, the Illini are on fire and head home after sweeping their road trip against Michigan and Purdue. Not exactly easy places to play.
The Illini rank 28th in KenPom in offensive efficiency and 39th in defense. Unlike the Gophers, they do a great job at getting to the line, but they are not a good three-point shooting team, and have attempted the second fewest treys in the conference.
You probably don’t need to worry about the Illini lighting up the Gophers from the outside, but it will be another tough, physical inside game, which means that Oturu will need to get out of his first half funk and not get overly frustrated. Moreover, Minnesota absolutely needs a third option to pitch in if they want to win, and need three of Oturu/Carr/Willis/Kalscheur to have solid games.
This one will be closer than we think, but I still think the Illini take it by four.