Humphries and the Match-Up Zone Will be Waiting

Minnesota sits at 0-8 in the Big Ten, and the visiting Fighting Illini sit at 5-3, one game behind Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Illini head need a win Sunday afternoon to stay just a game behind the front runners before hosting both Wisconsin and Michigan State in Champaign in their next two games. <br><br> In this story, provides a detailed look at what to expect from the Golden Gophers: a healthy does of Kris Humphries and a 2-3 Match-Up Zone defense.

The Golden Gophers are still looking for their first win in the Big Ten this season and they will be upset after losing to their hated rival, Wisconsin in Madison. The Gophers are led by the Big Ten's and arguably the nation's best freshman, Kris Humphries. Humphries is averaging a double double, 22.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. The last Minnesota player that was this prolific in obtaining double doubles was Mychael Thompson.

The only other Gopher to average double figures in scoring is guard Ben Johnson with 11.4 points per game. The January transfer of Maurice Hargrow to Arkansas has left the Minnesota guard corps in a depleted state on both sides of the ball, forcing Adam Boone and Ben Johnson to take more of an assertive role, something they have struggled with.

On Defense
Dan Monson is not afraid to go to a zone defense to change up the pace of the basketball game, and that is the exact defense the Illini should be expecting from the opening tip. Wednesday night in Madison, the Gophers played a 2-3 match-up zone for almost the entire game. The match-up zone frustrated the Badgers early and often until Devin Harris and Zach Morley started a Badger run in the second half to close out the game. The key to the Badger run was both forcing an up tempo game, and finding the holes in the zone, be it the short corner with Morley, or Harris' dribble penetration.

In the pivot on defense, Minnesota has the man-child Humphries, who has a penchant for getting into foul trouble when opposing players are aggressive offensively. The only other body inside that poses a threat is center Jeff Hagen, and the threat he poses is more from the amount of space he eats up, not his defensive ability and especially not his quickness.

Minnesota's guards are best described as average perimeter defenders, and have not stopped penetration into the middle by opposing teams' guards with regularity all season. Adam Boone and Ben Johnson will have to work hard on defense to keep the top of the zone from being susceptible to penetration by the Illinois guards.

On Offense
The Gophers offensively can best be described as the Kris Humphries Show. Dan Monson has made no qualms about it, Kris is his best player, and he has no problems showcasing him for the NBA on every possession. The whole arena knows where the ball will go at least once a possession, and probably more, Mr. Humphries. Kris' offensive repertoire consists of post moves, dribble penetration, the turnaround jump shot, and the three-pointer. So pretty much, his offense consists of any way an offensive player can score.

The Gophers will run a lot of pick and rolls with Humphries that allow him to use his athleticism on the outside against what are normally slower and more plodding defenders. If you do not step up on Humphries and take away the jump shot, he will nail it, but if you rush out at him too quickly, he will put the ball on the floor and get to the middle, most likely causing foul trouble for the defense.

The other major offensive threat for the Gophers is guard Ben Johnson. Ben will try to take the ball into the paint and create. When he is stopped by a defender, he will not hesitate to pull up and take the mid-range jump shot over their outstretched arms.

Elsewhere on offense, the Gophers will look to Michael Bauer to stretch out the defense with his three-point shooting ability from the forward position. Bauer not only provides an outside shot for the Gophers on offense, but he is provides the Gophers with energy through his hustle for every minute he is in the game.

Offensive Movement
Since the Illini should be heading into the game expecting Minnesota to play a 2-3 match-up zone, the Illini will need to pay special attention to ensuring their offensive movements do not stagnate and turn into dribbling and passing around the perimeter. If that happens to the Illinois offense, it could be another long day for the Illini.

Dee Brown and Deron Williams will need to penetrate the zone and find the defense's gaps to either attempt the mid-range jump shots or find the open players on the perimeter when the zone collapses. When this happens, the other Illinois guards, especially Luther Head and Rich McBride will need to step up and knock down the open three-pointers.

The Illini big men will need to hit the high post and the short corner, the two places the zone will be the weakest, with regularity. Roger Powell, James Augustine, and Nick Smith can all hit the twelve footer that will be available to them, and they will need to be aggressive with the shot. Nick Smith's court vision could be a key component for the Illini on offense because when he gets the ball at the high post, he will be able to see over the defense and find the open man, either with the high-low pass, or the guard on the wing.

If Minnesota switches to a man-to-man defense, the Illini will run their traditional motion offense. Hopefully, the movements the Illini guards make will be with a purpose, the Illini big men will set solid screens, and work hard to get position on the blocks. In the final minutes of the Indiana game, Illinois used the two man game with Nick Smith and Deron Williams to get some offense, hopefully Sunday Illinois can play more two man game, but with every big man, instead of just Nick. For this to happen though, James and Roger will need to hold on to their picks longer.

Play True Team Defense
Minnesota does not really have a threat outside of Kris Humphries, and unfortunately for Illinois, there is no one on the interior that has shown this season that they can be counted on to be the defensive stopper. The Illini will have to double team Humphries every time he gets the ball down low, and that will require an Illinois guard to make the rotation down to stop the pass from Humphries to the post man left open due to the double team. If the guards can rotate down on defense, Illinois should be able to get a few steals and speed up the game's tempo.

Illinois will also be able to pressure the Minnesota guards as both Johnson and Boone are not strong ball handlers. If the Illini can force the Gophers to start their offense out five to ten feet behind the three point line, they should help negate the advantage the Gophers have inside with Humphries as it is nearly impossible to feed the post from that distance. Only Ben Johnson has shown the ability to drive by defenders and get in the paint for the Gophers, so Illinois can over play on defense, and use their perimeter defense to help negate the advantage of Humphries inside.

The other worry Illinois could have defensively is if the Gophers go with a big lineup by inserting Michael Bauer in the game along with Humphries and Hagen. This move by Monson would definitely create match up problems for Illinois who has been playing three guards for most of the Big Ten season. If Minnesota goes big, expect Bruce Weber to counter by bringing Brian Randle off the bench.

Force Your Tempo
Since Minnesota would prefer to get back and sit in their zone, a defense Illinois has struggled scoring on all year, Illinois will need to force the tempo of the basketball game into the fast-paced game they excel in. The Illini guards can force tempo by pressuring the Minnesota guards into turnovers, and thus easy Illinois fast break points, but the key will be pushing the ball after both a make and a miss.

Both Dee Brown and Deron Williams need to be ready for the outlets on rebounds, and push the ball once they get it. When Minnesota scores, Powell, Augustine, and Smith need to pull the ball down quickly from the rim and find a guard to get the ball into the offensive end of the court as quickly as possible. If Illinois can force the game's pace into a helter skelter up and down the court, their athleticism and quickness will win out.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories