HQ prediction: Minnesota 64, UI 59
Illinois at Minnesota, 8 p.m. today
Illinois (14-12, 3-10 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.2
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 4.9
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.6
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.7
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 6.7
FYI: Nunn is averaging 11.0 points since being inserted in the starting lineup three games ago at Penn State. He had never reached double figures before that.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.2
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 10.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.4
Minnesota (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Andre Hollins Jr.. 6-2 14.9
G DeAndre Mathieu Jr. 5-9 11.9
G Austin Hollins Sr. 6-4 11.2
F Joey King So. 6-9 6.4
C Elliott Eliason Jr. 6-11 5.9
FYI: In the last seven games, Mathieu, a junior college transfer, is the Gophers’ leading scorer. He is averaging 13.9 points during that stretch.
OFF THE BENCH
G Malik Smith Sr. 6-2 9.8
F Oto Osenieks Jr. 6-8 6.0
F Maurice Walker Jr. 6-10 7.4
Site: Williams Arena (14,625), Minneapolis.
TV: BTN — Steve Physioc (play-by-play) and Shon Morris (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 110-62. Last meeting: Illinois 51, Minnesota 49, March 14, 2013 (Chicago).
FYI: The Illini have won 10 of the last 12 games they’ve played at Williams Arena dating back to 2000. That stretch includes last year’s 57-53 win against the 18th-ranked Gophers.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 The last time out, against Ohio State, the Illinois offense struggled. OK, it more than struggled, scoring 39 points and shooting 29.3 percent. The Buckeyes are the Big Ten’s top defensive team, but those numbers had folks around college basketball taking notice. Illinois coach John Groce noticed it, too. “I thought our offense more than anything really hurt us,” he said. “We’re like that baseball team right now that’s putting a lot of pressure on the pitcher to win games 1-0 and 2-1. At some point in time, we’ve got to make a few more shots and make a few more plays offensively.” Working out the kinks on offense has been an area of emphasis in the days leading up to tonight’s game. It’s been a combination of not executing some things and simply missing open looks.
2 With the offensive struggles on Saturday, Groce noticed his players hanging their heads and letting the ineptitude on that end of the floor affect all areas of the game. It’s natural to be frustrated when things are going so poorly at one end, but it’s no excuse, the coach said, for allowing it to snowball. “Guys, for the first time in a while, became a little bit discouraged and frustrated with how things were going offensively,” he said. “I thought it affected our defense a little bit. We had some scouting errors that we don’t typically make.” As bad as it was Saturday, Illinois still had chances to win that game. In a tough environment tonight, where Minnesota is 13-2, chances are that won’t be the case.
3 As ugly as that game against Ohio State was on Saturday, Illinois played pretty well defensively, for the most part, limiting the Buckeyes to 48 points. The challenge will be tougher tonight as Minnesota, which is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring during conference play, features multiple options. Six different players have led the Gophers in scoring this season. They can strike from inside and outside. “They’re really talented offensively,” Groce said. “Walker and Eliason are older, experienced guys and they’ve gotten better obscuring on the block area. They’ve got guys that can post the ball and then they’ve got multiple two-way guys, guys that can drive it and shoot it. They’re capable of hitting you from three with about five or six players that can really shoot the ball.”
Prediction: Minnesota 64, Illinois 59
The bottom line is this: When the Illini shoot well, they win games. It just hasn’t happened enough this season as Illinois is last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (36.8) in conference play. When the Illini shoot better than the opponent, they’re 9-0 this season and 22-1 since Groce took over. The Illini need their go-to guys on offense to produce more consistently to get through this funk. “Some individual guys can play a little bit better than they’re playing right now. We’ve talked a lot about that the past couple days with those guys,” Groce said. The effort, as it has been all season, remains. The execution has been the issue. “We’ve practiced well the past couple days. Practice was chippy, which was good. Guys practiced hard,” Groce said. “We’re going to continue to work and improve. At some point our offense has to not necessarily catch up with our defense, (but) we’ve got to make a few more plays. We need some guys to make a few more plays.”