PREVIEW: Illinois vs Minnesota

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' home finale against Minnesota on Sunday night.

Illinois (12-16, 4-11) vs.

Minnesota (8-19, 2-13)

Date & Time: Feb. 28, 7 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • Minnesota is riding a two-game winning streak after starting 0-13 in conference play.
  • The Gophers upset Maryland, and then handled Rutgers by 22 points last Tuesday.
  • Minnesota is 0-7 on the road in Big Ten play this season.
  • Illinois is 120-65 all-time against the Gophers.
  • The Illini won the last matchup 76-71 in OT on Jan. 23, 2016.
  • Illinois is coming off a 74-47 blowout loss against Indiana last Thursday.
  • The Illini are 2-6 at home in Big Ten play, and 17-18 in conference home games under John Groce.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis had four points, one assist and two turnovers last Thursday against Indiana. It was the first time in Big Ten play that he had more giveaways than assists. Lewis will be the only player honored on Senior Day who will actually be in uniform.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands was the lone bright spot against the Hoosiers. The Indiana native splashed five triples on his way to a 21-point outing. His final three on the night passed D.J. Richardson for first on the true freshman three-point list.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn was held under double digits on Thursday for just the second time in Big Ten play. He finished with eight points and four rebounds, but he also had four turnovers.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill was held under wraps against Indiana, as the candy-striped defense stuck to him like glue. Hill finished with just five points and three rebounds, which was his least productive outing of the season.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan scored four points for the second straight game on Thursday. He had a string of four double-digit outings prior to that. The Illini hope he can repeat his outing against Minnesota last month - posting 14 points and seven rebounds.

Bench

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams played 20 minutes off the bench against Indiana, but he had just two points and one rebound. The freshman has definitely been improving, though. Williams has scored at least one basket in the last six games.

Michael Finke (R-FR): While Coleman-Lands and Williams have been getting better, Finke has been stuck in a freshman funk. He had three points in 11 minutes on Thursday, but he was just 1-of-6 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan played six minutes against the Hoosiers but he didn't take a shot. He has played 8.2 minutes per game over the last five contests.

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate found some floor time on Thursday, although it amounted to just three minutes. He had a bad turnover, which didn't help his cause. Tate hasn't played more than three minutes since Feb. 7 against Iowa.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin was scoreless in less than two minutes against Indiana. He had two fouls, one turnover and one steal.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss did not play against the Hoosiers. He has appeared in three games this season.

Minnesota Starters

Nate Mason (SO): Mason leads the Gophers with 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game. The sophomore point guard had 19 points and seven assists against the Illini last month.

Dupree McBrayer (FR): McBrayer has taken some significant strides down the stretch of his freshman season. He scored in double figures twice in the first 23 games of this year, but he has done it three times in the last four games.

Jordan Murphy (FR): There are a ton of talented freshmen in the Big Ten, but Murphy is one that doesn't get the respect he deserves. The 6-foot-6 forward is tied for third in the conference in rebounding (8.1 rpg). He's also averaged nearly 12 points per game in conference play.

Charles Buggs (R-JR): Buggs isn't what you'd call a stat sheet stuffer. He is averaging 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game this year. But he has been scoreless with just one rebound in the last two games combined.

Bakary Konate (SO): The 6-foot-11 big man is averaging 4.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. The Illini frontcourt was too much for Konate last month, as he had just two points and one rebound.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Play with some pride. The Illini should come into this game with something to prove after getting smacked around by Indiana on their home court just a few days ago. Groce called out his leaders afterwards. He said certain guys only gave 20 minutes of effort. Even in a season that has been filled with unideal situations, there has to be some pride that kicks in. The Illini should be bothered that they only have two conference wins at home this season. If they fail to beat Minnesota, that will be the worst total since the 1998-99 season. In the final game in front of the home fans, the Orange and Blue need to show some fight and some character.

2. End the Finke funk. The redshirt freshman has looked like a shell of the version we saw in December. The confidence and consistency that he played with have seemingly been erased. Finke's knee contusion late last month was a factor, but he is close to 100 percent now. It's time for him to shake off the struggles, and what better opponent to do it against? Finke had one of his best outings of the season versus the Gophers last month with nine points, a career-high 16 rebounds and four assists. It's important that he ends the season on a high note.

3. JUST WIN. It's an automatic to insert those two words when you're playing Minnesota or Rutgers. Yes, the Gophers have figured some things out and they're a better team than the Illini saw in Minneapolis. But Groce has constantly preached that his team is better - despite just two wins against Rutgers this month. The Illini will have to show that on Sunday. This staff can't afford the firestorm that will take place if the Gophers come out on top. There are plenty of valid excuses for why this season hasn't gone according to plan. But none of them carry weight in this game.

Prediction

It's probably a safe bet to assume that this one won't be particularly pretty. Both teams were tied at 60 at the end of regulation back in January. The Illini go through scoring droughts like clockwork. On the other side, Minnesota is not a good jump-shooting team. This one will likely be close, but Illinois should win. And they have to win.

Illinois 65, Minnesota 60


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