It’s been a bit of an up and down season for the Golden Gophers. They lost multiple key contributors last year and are relying on a trio of sophomores to shoulder much of the workload, all of whom average double digits. The youth and inconsistency as shown, never putting together a winning streak or losing streak longer than three games.
Minnesota (11-9, 5-5) has played well at The Barn, stealing games from then No. 3 Ohio State, Northwestern, No. 19 Michigan, and Penn State, but got slapped around by Michigan State on Sunday. And Thursday’s matchup isn’t in Minneapolis. The Gophers are 1-4 on the road in conference this season, and the Illini are 4-0 at home in the Big Ten. You know what I’m getting at...
Players to Watch
At the top of the scouting report is Minnesota native, Daniel Oturu. The sophomore stands at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds and is having himself a hell of a year. Oturu averages almost 20 points per game, over 11 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. An impressive stat line regardless of class.
Joining Oturu in double digits are fellow sophomores Marcus Carr (16.1 PPG) and Gabe Kalscheur (12 PPG). The Gophers aren’t afraid to get up and down the floor either. They’ve put up the most points in the conference entering Monday (669), but have also given up the most points (697). Their interior defense is solid largely due to Oturu’s presense, checking in at third in the conference in opponent two-point percentage. That being said, Minnesota doesn’t necessarily guard the three-point line all that well. Opposing teams are averaging 34% from deep against the Gophers.
Carr, Kalscheur, and Payton Willis are not afraid to shoot the three ball, but none shoot over 33%. Carr gets to the free throw line, to the tune of over six times per game. He’ll be a tough matchup for whoever draws the assignment, likely Trent Frazier. Limiting his driving lines and catch-and-shoot opportunities will be key.
Keeping Kofi out of foul trouble will also be paramount. If he draws a couple quick whistles, no one else can stack up against Oturu either defensively or offensively. That’s the one way this matchup could spell disaster for the Illini.
With the way this Illinois team is playing, its record at home, and Minnesota’s woes on the road, I don’t see a way the Illini drop this one. Ayo Dosunmu is playing on an entirely different level right now, and there’s sure to be an electric crowd. The Illini pick up their seventh straight, just in time for Alan Griffin to return for a key stretch of four ranked games in a row.
Illinois 77, Minnesota 68.
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