Since the First Matchup:
Since the Illini defeated Minnesota on Jan. 16, Illinois has found itself a second win in the conference with a sound victory over Maryland on Saturday. Minnesota, despite getting blown out by the Illini, has gone 2-1 in its last three games, with the only loss coming at Michigan thanks to a Charles Matthews buzzer beater.
Let’s dive a little deeper: the two wins were against a lowly Penn State team (now 7-12 on the year) on Jan. 19 and Iowa on Jan 27. The Penn State game was much closer than it should’ve been, with the Gophers winning just 65-64. The 92-87 win over Iowa, who has been in and out of the NCAA top-25 poll most of the season, was much more impressive. The Iowa win was at home, with the Hawkeyes being ranked No. 19 at the time.
This should be no surprise, but Jordan Murphy still appears to be the hot hand for Minnesota. The past three games, he has averaged 19 points and over 14 rebounds per game. That’s pretty good. In the game against Penn State, he had 19 points and 21 rebounds. Twenty. One. Rebounds. Absolutely ridiculous. Amir Coffey has also been consistent, with 45 points over those same three games.
What will be interesting to watch is how the duo of Murphy and Coffey respond to their below average performance against the Illini on Jan. 16. Murphy had only three boards to go with his 11 points, and Coffey didn’t make it into double figures in either category. The Gophers’ leading scorer in that game was Daniel Oturu, with 17 points. Considering his frame (6-foot-10, 220 pounds) it makes sense that Giorgi and Adonis had the toughest time guarding him.
Can the Illini make it 2-0 against Minnesota?
I think it can happen, but it is going to be difficult. You can bet that Richard Pitino was quite unhappy with the final score after the first matchup, so he will be intent on stopping Giorgi and Ayo, who combined for 43 points in that first game.
Here’s the trouble: when you’re 6-14 overall with two conference wins, it’s not easy to beat a team twice in a matter of two weeks. Minnesota, let’s not forget, may not be a top-tier team in the Big Ten, but still is 15-5 and 5-4 in conference play. If things keep going the way they have so far, they have a pretty good shot of making the Tournament. Also, for the Illini defense to keep Coffey and Murphy under control for a second time is a big ask for guys like Ayo and Giorgi.
What will make the difference for Illinois is getting Murphy into foul trouble early and keeping him off the floor. If Giorgi can get his feet in the paint, it is unlikely he won’t make several baskets down low. Ayo was deadly in transition against Maryland, and if Trent can regain some of his consistency this team will be very dangerous on Wednesday night. Oh, and have you heard of Tevian Jones? Hopefully Brad has figured out how valuable that kid’s minutes are.
I won’t make a prediction, as I did for the first edition of this scouting report, but I’ll say this: if Tevian gets in the game more than 15 minutes, I think it’ll be a fun ride.
What They Did Last Year
Minnesota wasn’t exactly stellar last year. In fact, they were right there with Illinois toward the bottom of the Big Ten. In fact, they were tied for 11th with a 4-14 conference record. Minnesota, however, won 15 games and finished the year with a 15-17 record. Not to mention the Golden Gophers blew out the Illini in their only matchup of the season.
Minnesota took a big step back last season after finishing fourth in the conference during the 2016-17 campaign. That was partly due to losing senior Akeem Springs along with Reggie Lynch, who was dismissed from the team partway through the season amid sexual assault allegations.
In the wins and losses columns, there is not much of note. Before the conference season started, they beat No. 25 Alabama, 89-84, during the Barclays Center Classic. They also defeated Penn State in University Park, 95-84 in OT. Other than that, there just a lot of losses to talk about. This included going 0-2 against Indiana, Northwestern, and Nebraska.
Last Year’s Matchup
Illinois and Minnesota only played once, on Jan. 3, 2018, in Minneapolis. The final score was 77-67, but the game was never even that close. The Gophers led by 13 at halftime, and outshot Illinois 45% to 38% for the game. Neither team shot well from beyond the arc (25% for both teams), and Illinois was outrebounded 48-39.
Jordan Murphy led Minnesota in scoring and rebounding with 17 points and 17 boards. Leron Black led Illinois with 14 points of his own, and no one else but Trent Frazier (12 points) made it into double-figures.
Perhaps the most telling stat — which has been a narrative for the nearly-two years that Underwood has been at the helm — were the free throws: Minnesota had 34 attempts. Illinois had 14. Minnesota did miss quite a few of theirs (they were 22-of-34 from the line), while Illinois was 10-of-14. Again, just a pretty embarrassing game all-around.
Players to Watch
There’s two names to look out for: Coffey and Murphy. Murphy was the bruiser last year who had a double-double in the win over Illinois. Coffey, a guard — although he is listed at 6-foot-8 — is also a dynamic scorer, and he’s leading the team with 16.4 points per game. He’s also second on the team in assists and averages three rebounds per game.
Murphy, who is 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, pulls down over 12 rebounds per game. The two of them will be a difficult duo to stop.
Defensively, these two make it particularly difficult to plan around. As I mentioned (and you assuredly already know), Underwood’s system on defense does not seem to be working like he would like it to. No matter if that is due to inexperience, scheme, or coaching issues, it has not been working well this year. Now the Illini have to face a pair of guys who are over 6-foot-7 and combine for nearly 30+ points? That could be a problem. In fact, I am not sure how Underwood is going to defend Coffey.
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