Thursday, January 29, 2009

Illini Game Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-3, 5-3) vs. #19 Illinois Fighting Illini (17-3, 5-2)

This is a very important game for the Gophers. After this game they go on the road to face Michigan State and Ohio State. They need to win this game or they will be in serious trouble of being 5-6 in the conference. A side note I am sick of Thursday night games that make me miss The Office and 30 Rock. Either they need to change the dates or someone should pitch in and help me buy a DVR, but I regress. Here is the Illini's resume:

Wins to showcase:
  • at Purdue 71 - 67
  • at Missouri 75 - 59
Losses to hide from:
  • at Michigan 51 - 66 (Other losses were at Michigan State and against Clemson)
  • Shooting: Average 47.9% from the field, 1st in conference
  • Sharing the Rock: 18.8 assists per game, 1st in conference, 3rd in nation
  • Defense: Allow 56.6 ppg, best in conference, 4th best in nation
  • Getting to the free throw lane: 285 attempts, last in conference, 333rd in nation
  • Turnovers: 12.9 per game 4th worst in conference
Usually I put up 3 strengths and 3 issues put I could only find two issues and the second one is pushing it. They do a lot well. They play great defense, shoot the ball well, and have multiple players capable of scoring. They don't have any outstanding wins outside of winning at Purdue but they also have no losses to be ashamed of. They lost to Clemson by two and were up big at Michigan State before the Spartans came charging back. They are battling Purdue for the second best team in the Big Ten this year

Interesting things to watch:
  • Ralph Sampson Vs. Mike Tisdale: Ralph has taken some big steps lately and has played some very good interior defense with blocks, but he will be facing someone taller than him in 7-1 Tisdale and will be challenged. If Ralph can hold his own and make his presence felt the Gophers could be in business.
  • Perimeter Shooting: The biggest reason for the Gophers recent struggles is the lack of outside shooting. Illinois is the best in perimeter defense holding opponents to 27.6% from 3. The Gophers need Westbrook, Hoffarber, Joseph and Nolen to start making their shots from the outside to get the half-court offense going.
It has been well-documented that the Gophers have not beat Illinois since 1999 losing 20 straight. It could be chalked up to Monson's inferior Gophers up against great Illinois teams featuring Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Brian Cook and James Augustine but there is more to it than that. Last year a 16-19 Illini team that went 5-13 in the Big Ten beat a Tubby Smith coached Gopher team three times. I can't explain what they do that frustrates us but it doesn't bode well. Illinois in my mind is clearly a better team but this is at Williams so that does even things out a little bit. The problem is that Illinois has 4 players averaging double digits and they play defense that should give or weak half-court offense fits. I would like a win here but given how the Gophers are playing recently unless we see a breakthrough performance we are looking at being 2-3 at Williams in Big Ten play so far this year.

Illinois 67, Minnesota 59

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