Just about two weeks ago Illinois earned its first conference win in blowout fashion over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Tomorrow, the Illini head up north to take on those same Gophers on their home court in Minneapolis. Here’s what they’ll need to do to ensure that they return with a win over Pitino the younger.
Feed the Hot Hand
It’s no secret that Ayo Dosunmu has taken over as the primary scorer for this team. If he can get the opportunity to put up another 20 points like he did against Maryland, then the Illini should be in good shape.
Ayo is especially devastating when his teammates can find him on the fast break. His ability to sneak around defenders and find the basket is uncanny, and he seems to be almost unstoppable when he has some momentum coming across half court. If Aaron Jordan and Tevian Jones can continue to keep the Gophers honest on the perimeter, then look out. Speaking of Tevian...
Give Tevian Jones the Minutes He Deserves
All of the Illini freshmen have had trouble with fouls and turnovers this season, but Ayo and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have proven that their scoring potential outweighs their liabilities. Now Tevian Jones has done the same after his 18-point outburst against Maryland at Madison Square Garden.
When the Illini played Minnesota about two weeks ago, Jones only saw the court for about 8 minutes even with considerable garbage time toward the end of the game. Brad Underwood is going to need to make sure that he sees more like 15-20 minutes in this upcoming matchup, provided he stays out of foul trouble and controls the ball. Jones provides athleticism on the interior and a reliable shot on the perimeter when he’s playing at his best.
After the victory over Maryland, I compared Tevian Jones to a young Malcolm Hill. Although it might be a bit premature, I do see similarities in their abilities and I hope Jones can follow the trajectory of the former star Illini wing.
Keep Up the Defensive Pressure
Maryland turned the ball over 21 times on Saturday, as Illinois clearly frustrated the Terps all afternoon. If Illinois can continue to cause havoc among its opponents’ big men — as they did with Jordan Murphy during their first encounter with Minnesota — then the Illini can be very difficult to beat. Andres Feliz came up big against Maryland with 3 steals, and as one of the more experienced players on the team, he’s going to need to use his intuition to be in the right place at the right time to generate takeaways. Trent Frazier also seems to have something of a sixth sense for takeaways, as he demonstrated during this key moment against Maryland.
The Illini made short work of the Gophers in Champaign, but going on the road in the Big Ten is another matter entirely. This game will certainly be much tougher, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that Minneapolis is expecting a low of -29F on Wednesday night.
Even for the hearty Minnesotans, that’s a bit much. So the environment may more closely resemble the neutral court conditions than a true road game. If all goes well, Illinois can continue rolling and gaining momentum as it heads toward the end of the season.
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