Dec 22, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins (1) against the Lafayette Leopards at Williams Arena. Mandatory Minnesota defeated Lafayette 75-50. Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Men’s Basketball: Minnesota Game Preview

The #12 Illinois Fighting Illini will play the #8 Minnesota Golden Gophers at Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

The Fighting Illini are looking to defeat their second straight 8th ranked Big Ten team after they defeated the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes last Saturday.

The Golden Gophers come into this game riding a ten game win streak. They are 14-1 overall and are 2-0 in the Big Ten. Their only loss this season was to the #5 Duke Blue Devils in the Battle for Atlantis tournament.

The main thing head coach John Groce talked about during Tuesday’s press conference was the physicality of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Dec 31, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Austin Hollins (20) dunks during the second half against the Michigan State Spartans at Williams Arena. Minnesota defeated Michigan State 76-63. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota is very good on defense. They are ranked #1 in the Big Ten for steals (9.9 per game) and blocks (6.7 per game).

The Golden Gophers have five players averaging over one steal per contest and three players averaging over one block per contest.

Their best defensive players are senior forward Trevor Mbakwe and junior guard Austin Hollins.

Mbakwe leads the team with 1.5 blocks per game and Hollins leads the team with 2.1 steals per game.

Minnesota also rebounds the ball very well, especially on the offensive glass.

The Golden Gophers are #1 in the entire nation with 16.8 offensive rebounds per game. They have hauled in 252 offensive rebounds so far this season.

Their best two rebounders are Trevor Mbakwe and senior forward Rodney Williams. Mbakwe leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per game and Williams is second with 6.0 rebounds per game.

The Golden Gophers also have three players averaging double-digit points so far this season. These players are sophomore guard Andre Hollins (13.1), Rodney Williams (12.9), and Austin Hollins (11.1). Although, Minnesota is only 5th in the conference with 75.5 points per game as a team.

This will be 180th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Golden Gophers. Illinois leads the series 116-63. In their last meeting, the Golden Gophers defeated the Illini, 77-72, in overtime.

If head coach John Groce can pick up the victory against Minnesota, he will hit the century mark in wins over his career. 100-career wins would be a nice accomplishment for the first year coach at Illinois (5th year overall).

After struggling offensively against Purdue, the Illini come into their game against #8 Minnesota hitting on all cylinders. In the game against Ohio State on Saturday, they had four players reach double-digit points.

The leader was no other than senior guard Brandon Paul. Paul has scored double-digits in every single game this season. However, this game will not come down to Illinois’ offense.

The Illini will need to play well defensively in order to beat the Golden Gophers. They will need to force turnovers and try to not send Minnesota to the foul line often. Also, they will need to control the defensive glass because of Minnesota’s dominance in offensive rebounds.

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Tags: Austin Hollins Basketball Illinois Fighting Illini Minnesota Golden Gophers Trevor Mbakwe

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