The Illinois Fighting Illini (16-8, 3-7) take on the #18/18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-6, 5-5) in Minneapolis tonight at 5pm CT. The game is available on the Big Ten Network. (Photo: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports)
Tubby Smith, Gophers at a Crossroads
Game Preview: Illinois (16-8, 3-7) at #18/18 Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) 2/10/13
At a minimum, tournament resumes are on the line tonight in Minneapolis. When the Gophers and Illini played a month ago they were both highly ranked (#8/10 and #12/13, respectively), but a loss for either team tonight would call into question their ability to even make the NCAA tournament.
Illinois is coming off a 74-72 home win over #1/1 Indiana, but they’re a veteran team that knows they need to keep working hard if they are to play in meaningful March games.
Minnesota fell 61-50 on the road to a very good but beat-up Michigan State team.
On paper tonight the Gophers look like they should win tonight by 10 points, but they can’t let negative thoughts make a loss a self-fulfilling prophecy. In addition, Illinois has been literally hit or miss. When the Illini have shot better than 45.4% eFG they are 15-1. If the visitors are hitting from outside it’s anyone’s game.
Seeking Good Wins: Minnesota’s Tournament Resume
The RPI of both teams are benefiting from strong strength of schedules and that won’t change. However Minnesota’s lack of difficult wins could affect where they are seeded (if they earn a bid).
The Gophers are 1-4 against the RPI top 25 with difficult games remaining at Ohio State and home against Indiana.
Minnesota is 2-1 against teams with an RPI of between 25 and 50 with this week’s games against Illinois and Wisconsin being the only remaining contests against such competition.
Illinois, currently in the mid-30’s, projects to finish with an RPI of around 50. If the Illini finish inside the top 50, two wins against them would brighten up Minnesota’s resume a bit.
Under a scenario where Minnesota finishes out the regular season going 4-4, they should be in the tournament. However if they only beat the lesser teams and lose to the top 50 RPI teams, a 3-9 record against the RPI top 50 could push them down to an undesirable seed.
First Time, This Time
Minnesota beat Illinois 84-67 in Champaign in an odd game. Sunday will likely look very different.
The difference in the first game was 3-point shooting.
Illinois went 3/24 (12.5%) from 3-point range against the Gophers, although Tyler Griffey had only one attempt. The Illini will again shoot often from behind the arc and should be better than 12.5% no matter how good Minnesota’s defense is.
The Gophers made 9/15 (60.0%) from deep, but are unlikely to shoot as well tonight. Their ability to score in the paint and get to the line is key.
Illinois has taken care of the ball very well in a number of games this year and against Minnesota they turned it over on just 10% of their possessions (the Gophers were at a normal 21%).
The Illini figure to have the edge in net turnovers tonight, but duplicating a 10% performance isn’t likely.
Illinois (30% OR%) was better on the boards than Minnesota (26%) in the first match up, but the Gophers’ effort was their second worst all season. Minnesota should do better tonight, but Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin are capable of hitting the offensive glass for their team as well.
In Champaign, Minnesota’s bench played 31 minutes. They scored 0 points, had 0 assists and committed 6 turnovers.
This week at Michigan State, Tubby Smith played his reserves more than 50 minutes. They scored 4 points. No single bench player was on the floor for more than 12 minutes.
Other Notes from the Initial Meeting
J.B. Bauer on Twitter
Tag(s): Gopher Basketball