The Illinois Fighting Illini will play the #18 Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena on Sunday.
The Fighting Illini pulled off the biggest upset in their last game against #1 Indiana. They won over the Hoosiers, 74-72, after Tyler Griffey was able to break free from his defender and put in the game-winning hoop.
This game will be the second meeting between Illinois and Minnesota. In their first meeting, the Golden Gophers defeated the Illini, 84-67. D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams both finished with 14 points each for Illinois. Minnesota’s Joe Coleman led the team with a career-high 29 points.
The Golden Gophers come into Sunday’s game with an overall record of 17-6 and a Big Ten record of 5-5. They started their Big Ten conference schedule with three straight wins, but have struggled since. They have only won two of their last seven games. They lost to #12 Michigan State, 61-50, in their last game.
Minnesota did not receive a single bench point in their last meeting against Illinois. They had five players record a point and three of them scored double-figures.
The players that reached double-figures were sophomore Joe Coleman (29 points), sophomore Andre Hollins (22 points), and senior Trevor Mbakwe (19 points).
Even though Coleman scored a career-high 29 points, the star of the game was Andre Hollins.
In 31 minutes, he scored 22 points, hauled in eight rebounds, and dished out six assists. The eight rebounds that Hollins recorded against Illinois remains to be his season-high.
A big problem the Illini had in that last meeting was foul trouble. They had two players record four fouls and one player foul out.
The Illini player to foul out of the game was Tracy Abrams. He only played 24 minutes and recorded 14 points and four rebounds. Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu were the two Illinois players with four fouls each. Although, Egwu still helped out Illinois with nine rebounds and three blocks.
This will be 181st meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Golden Gophers. Illinois leads the overall series, 116-64.
The biggest key for the Illini will be limiting the production of the Minnesota starters.
If Minnesota is going to beat you, it will be with their starters. It was not a fluke that all of Minnesota’s points last time came from their starters. In their last game, they lost to Michigan State because the starters were limited. Minnesota’s leading scorer was Hollins with 11 points and their bench only scored four points.
It is clear that the offense for Minnesota runs through the starters excusively. If Illinois can limit the starters, their chances of winning will increase tenfold.
A key match-up to watch in Sunday’s game will be Ewgu v.s Mbakwe. Trevor Mbakwe is a very physical player and this could either help or hurt the Illini.
Yes, Mbakwe will get his rebounds, but will he get his points? In the last meeting with Illinois, he played 35 minutes and scored 19 points. In the loss to the Spartans, he got into foul trouble. Because of this, he only played 27 minutes and scored nine points.
The Fighting Illini will need to use Mbakwe’s physicality against him in this game and it all starts with Egwu. Egwu will need to be smart and not get into foul trouble himself. He has fouled out the last three games.
It will also be interesting to see if Illinois plays with more confidence after their victory over #1 Indiana.
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