Illinois looks to keep rolling in the Big Ten this weekend, taking on a dangerous Minnesota Golden Gopher squad.
TIME: 3:30 pm ET // Saturday, February 20th, 2021
TV SCHEDULE: FOX
LOCATION: Williams Arena in Minneapolis, MN
The Illinois Fighting Illini travel to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers. The Fighting Illini and head coach Brad Underwood are riding a six-game win streak which has included wins against Iowa and Wisconsin as well as overtime wins at Indiana and at Nebraska – an impressive feat for a team looking to make an impact before seeding is decided for March Madness. Underwood has done an incredible job and has the Illini ranked the highest since he took over the program in 2017-18.
Underwood has assembled and cultivated an impressive team. This is by far his best squad with the team averaging more points (81.2 points per game) than any of Underwood’s previous Illini teams by at least six points. Their defense has not suffered much as we sometimes see with high octane offenses. In fact, the Fighting Illini have only allowed three more points this season compared to last. Further, allowing 68.9 points per game (2020-21 season) is an improvement over Underwood’s first two years (73.8 and 75.2 points per game respectively).
It is no surprise the Illinois Fighting Illini is led by guard Ayo Dosunmu. The 6’5’’ guard is having his best season since arriving at Illinois in 2018-19. Dosunmu fills the stat sheet. He does a little bit of everything for the Illini whether it is running the point, taking a clutch three, or crashing the boards on offense. Dosunmu has increased his production in almost every category this year.
There is no doubt Dosunmu puts in the work as evidenced by the vast improvement in his shooting this year. Dosunmu’s most impressive improvement is his three-point shooting. Last season, Donsunmu hit a miserable 29.6% of his three-point attempts. He has seen a 13% increase in 2020-21 and is now successful on 42.2% of his three-point attempts. More evidence Donsunmu improved his shooting is seen in the free-throw category.
From his freshmen season until now, the guard has increased his free-throw percentage by around 11%. Overall, this has netted Dosunmu about two more points per game but he is also being fouled more frequently which has led to two additional free-throw attempts in 2020-21.
Every Batman has a Robin and Dosunmu’s Robin might as well be 7-foot center Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn, a sophomore, has also shown dramatic development over the last season. As a freshman, Cockburn was shooting 53.2% from the field on nine attempts while pulling down almost nine rebounds per game.
Thus far in the 2020-21 season, Cockburn has improved his field goal percentage to a whopping 67.7% while grabbing more than 10 rebounds per game and averaging 17.4 points per game. Cockburn is an old-school center that likes to hover around the lane. It has paid dividends for the Illinois Fighting Illini as they are having their best season in recent memory.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers have not fared as well as the Fighting Illini this year. They have been a terribly inconsistent team who has shown sparks of success only to be thwarted by disappointing loss after loss. The Golden Gophers resume has wins against top-25 teams like Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Purdue. However, their resume also includes losses to teams like Indiana, and Rutgers. The Golden Gophers are the team that is either playing up or down to its competition instead of showing consistency. Is it a product of COVID-19? Possibly.
The Golden Gophers are led by junior guard Marcus Carr. Carr, a Canada native, has averaged 19.4 points per game along with 5.1 assists and 4 rebounds per game. Carr, in his second year with Minnesota after spending his freshman year at Pitt, has seen his overall field goal percentage improve as well as his three-point percentage. However, he has struggled from the three-point line while taking 1.5 more attempts per game than his sophomore season.
Last year, Carr hit 36.1% of his 3-point field goals. This year is a different story with Carr hitting only 32.8% of his 3-point attempts. It’s a big turn of events for a game and team that is in need of three-point shooting during a tumultuous year.
PREDICTION: Illinois Fighting Illini 83, Minnesota Golden Gophers 75