Both of these teams have been off for nearly 2 weeks having not played since December 22nd. But they kick off the new year with a Big Ten battle at The Barn!
Mascot: Fighting Illini
KenPom Rank: 14
The good news is that this a home game for the Gophers. The bad news is that Illinois is currently the Big Ten’s highest rated team according to KenPom. The good news is that we only have to face the Illini once this season. The bad news is that they have possibly the best big man in the conference.
So what is it going to take to get this conference win over one of the best teams in the Big Ten? I’m glad you asked.
KEYS TO A GOPHER WIN
Limit Kofi Cockburn - Really I don’t think this is possible for this Gopher roster. This guy is a beast inside. Cockburn’s level of physicality strikes great fear in me. He has had a double-double in 7 of his last 8 games and just had 25 pts/14 reb against Missouri last week. He is going to be a real problem for our big men, who are not particularly physical. Limiting Cockburn so he doesn’t take over the game is crucial.
Box out! - The Illini rank as the 2nd best offensive rebounding team in the country by percentage. This isn’t just Cockburn grabbing offensive boards, this is a team effort. And it will require a Gopher defensive team effort to limit them to 1 shot all night.
Defend the three - Which has been something the Gophers have done well. With a guy like Cockburn in the middle, it can be easy to focus so much on him that you get sucked in and then the Illini kill you from behind the arc. Currently shooting just under 40% from three, which is good enough to be in the top 10 nationally. But Minnesota is the 7th best team at defending the three. Something will have to give.
Considering I’ve mentioned one player several times, it is pretty obvious that Cockburn concerns me greatly. I really don’t see an answer for him in this game and then it depends on how the rest of the Illini play around his interior dominance.
There are about 3 things that are going to be trouble for this current roster. A physical team and a team with a talented/physical big man are two of them. Illinois should be those things along with being a very good three-point shooting team.
This does not feel like a game Minnesota wins. My optimism for this team is much higher than it was weeks ago, but I’m not comfortable predicting a win in this game. Foul trouble and getting worn down will be factors as the Illini get a road win.
Minnesota - 68