5 big questions for the Illinois basketball team against Minnesota

Coming off a much-needed win over Iowa, the Illinois basketball team welcomes in Minnesota on Wednesday night in what could be a win-or-go-home game for the Golden Gophers.

Feb 24, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33)
Feb 24, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33) / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Illinois basketball is full steam ahead as we try to finish out the 2023-24 season on a high note.

A win over Iowa this past Saturday was much needed, as the Illini only have four games left before the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota is next on the schedule, and they are the "easiest" game left for the Orange and Blue.

After the Golden Gophers on Wednesday, Illinois has three Quad 1 games to round out the 2023-24 campaign. Wisconsin and Iowa are both on the road, and sandwiched in between is No. 2 Purdue in Champaign.

Winning on Wednesday is step one to finishing out the year strong. A win is a must right now, but the Golden Gophers are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives.

Here are five big questions for the Illinois basketball team against Minnesota

1. Is Brad Underwood going to start trusting his bench?

The 2023-24 campaign has been pretty consistent when it comes to the starting lineup. Brad Underwood has gone with the same lineup each night unless there was an injury or suspension.

While most of the time consistency is a good thing, when the team starts struggling or needs a spark, it is good to go off course. Changing up the lineup or at least the rotations might jostle something in the program and get us heading in the right direction.

I want to see if Underwood will get out of his own way and start playing some of the bench players more on Wednesday. Will Underwood start trusting his bench?

Underwood has had a lot of success during his career. He did wonders with Stephen F. Austin, and Illinois just hit the 20-win mark, which gives Underwood five straight 20-win regular seasons with the program. That hasn’t happened since 2006.

But there are a few blind spots with Underwood. One is the lack of using his bench and young guys. Illinois’ starters were playing so lousy against Iowa that Underwood didn’t have much of a choice. He had to play the bench. The result was a spark and Illinois winning the game 95-85.

The Illini bench against Iowa combined for 34 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block while hitting 11-of-21, 52.4%, from the field and 3-of-6, 50%, from three-point range. Illinois has plenty of depth. Let’s use that to our advantage and wear teams down.