Illinois at No. 18 Minnesota, 5 p.m. today
Illinois (16-8, 3-7 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.0
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.3
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 17.6
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.1
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.5
FYI: With 1,478 career points, Paul needs 10 points to pass Efrem Winters for 10th place on the program’s all-time scoring list.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.7
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.0
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.3
Minnesota (17-6, 5-5 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Andre Hollins So. 6-1 14.0
G Austin Hollins Jr. 6-4 11.0
G Joe Coleman So. 6-4 10.0
F Rodney Williams Sr. 6-7 11.9
F Trevor Mbakwe Sr. 6-8 9.5
FYI: Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, is averaging 10.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in conference games and leads the Big Ten in overall rebounding at 8.7 per game.
OFF THE BENCH
G Maverick Ahanmisi Jr. 6-2 3.9
G Julian Welch Sr. 6-3 3.3
C Elliott Eliason So. 6-11 1.9
Site: Williams Arena (14,625), Minneapolis
TV: BTN — Kevin Kugler (play-by-play) and former Illini Eddie Johnson (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 116-64. Last meeting — Minnesota 84, Illinois 67, Jan. 9.
FYI: Minnesota last swept the season series from the Illini in the 1995-96 season, which the Gophers vacated. The last official sweep of the Illini was 1977-78.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 After Michigan State beat Illinois, John Groce said Spartans guard Keith Appling made winning plays. D.J. Richardson did that for the Illini in the win against No. 1 Indiana, scoring eight straight Illinois points to tie the game late and coming away with a steal to set up the game-winning bucket. That’s the kind of effort it will take to win today at The Barn. “I thought he was absolutely terrific at both ends of the floor. I was really proud of him,” Groce said.
2 The Illini players and coaches have said it repeatedly this season: The Big Ten schedule is a grind. After knocking off the No. 1 team in the country Thursday, Illinois had two days to prepare for a tough road contest against a Minnesota team that ran the Illini out of the gym a month ago in Champaign. How the Illini bounce back from that short turnaround in a hostile environment will speak to their maturity. “We had a pretty good practice (Friday). We got our minds and bodies right; a lot of guys played heavy minutes,” Richardson said. “This one is going to be a big one for us as well.”
3 The major gripe Groce had with his team during the three-game losing streak entering the Indiana game was its lackluster performance on the defensive end. The concepts of the team defensive scheme were heavily emphasized in preparation for Thursday, and they continue to be. Illinois pulled the stunner because it came up with key stops down the stretch. “I just think a lot of guys, once we figured out if we play team defense and help each other out ... Guys were too worried about letting their own man score instead of helping each other out,” Brandon Paul said.
Prediction: Minnesota 70, Illinois 66
John Groce has been quick to point out that this Minnesota team whipped Illinois pretty handily a month ago, so it might sound weird, but this might be just the opponent Illinois needs to get its focus from the last game squarely on the next one. “If you lack humility going into this one, Minnesota will mentally and physically beat you up,” Groce said. In that 17-point win in Champaign, Minnesota scored 14 fast-break points off Illinois turnovers. Take care of the ball and the Illini will have a shot. But life is tough away from home in the best conference in America. (N-G record: 13-11)