Minnesota Proves it has Staying Power; Illinois Continues Consistency StrugglesPosted by KTrahan on January 10th, 2013
Any remaining doubts about Minnesota’s ability to be a contender in the Big Ten were put to rest Wednesday night as the Gophers took down Illinois 84-67 in Champaign. On paper, it should have been a close game — #8 at #12 — but in reality, Wednesday’s game proved that Minnesota has staying power while Illinois could struggle to keep up its early-season pace.
Statistically, Minnesota looks very likely to continue its early-season success. The Gophers are incredibly balanced with top players Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe in the frontcourt and the emergence of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman in the backcourt. That has led to an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 1oth in the nation and a defensive efficiency rating that ranks #14 nationally according to KenPom.com. Minnesota ranks only #51 in effective field goal percentage, but the Gophers are the best in the nation at offensive rebounding, getting a second shot off a ridiculous 48.5 percent of the time. Add in a defensive block percentage that ranks sixth and a steal percentage that ranks eighth nationally, and Minnesota is getting many more possessions than its opponents. So even on an “off” shooting night, the Gophers will always be in the game because they get so many more chances to shoot than their opponents.
Illinois, meanwhile, will struggle to have sustained success if its current statistics hold true. The Illini hold impressive non-conference wins against Butler and Gonzaga, which came mainly due to impressive three-point shooting. Illinois made 10-of-25 threes against Butler and 11-of-26 threes against Gonzaga. However, even on an impressive shooting team, that kind of performance can’t be expected every night. Such has been the problem in a loss to Purdue, close wins against Auburn and Gardner-Webb, and the loss to Minnesota. A team that relies mostly on outside shooting is likely to be inconsistent throughout the year, and the beginning of the Big Ten season has represented that well — a bad game against Purdue, a good game against Ohio State, and a bad game against Minnesota. The Illini shot just 3-of-24 from three against the Gophers when they needed to shoot lights out to make up for Minnesota’s advantage in size and second-chance opportunities. Two-pointers count for only 46 percent of Illinois’ points — a ranking of #310 in the country. In order to put together consistent good performances, that must change, but the Illini don’t have the roster to do so.
Minnesota is built to last — it has all the keys needed for consistent offensive performances even if shots aren’t falling at a high rate. Illinois will have big wins when it is shooting well, but the Illini will also struggle to win some games against inferior opponents if their shooting is off. One game doesn’t prove these statistics, which are meant to be interpreted over the course of a season. However, Wednesday night we saw the Minnesota team that we expect we will see for most of the season. With Illinois, you never know what you’re going to get, and we saw the “bad Illini” against the Gophers.