Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Pick

by | Dec 15, 2020 | cbb

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-0 SU, 2-3-1 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS)

When: Tuesday, December 15, 7 p.m.

Where: State Farm Center, Champaign, Ill.

TV: ESPN2

Point Spread: MINN +8/ILL -8 (WagerWeb - Offers 20 point football teasers!!!)

Total: O/U 148

Last Time Out:

Minnesota routed UMKC 90-61; Illinois lost 81-78 to Missouri.

About the Matchup:

December hasn’t been kind to the Illini so far, who have taken losses to a national championship contender in Baylor and an up-and-coming Missouri squad. The only win Illinois has in December came at Cameron Indoor Stadium, typically quite an achievement, but Duke really hasn’t been Duke in 2020, which has left Illinois with more questions than answers at this point.

Minnesota comes in with one massive question: can the Gophers compete in a loaded league? If they can’t, Richard Pitino might be looking for work when this season is over. Minnesota is off to a 6-0 start, but when the best team that you’ve seen all season is Boston College, it’s pretty clear that you haven’t exactly been playing a tough schedule. The Gophers ended last year with a losing record, and this is their first real chance to prove that they’ve got what it takes to compete in the Big Ten. Can they get off to a good start in their first game in league play?

Scouting the Golden Gophers:

When it comes to the Minnesota offense, everything runs through Marcus Carr. Not only is Carr the leading scorer for the Golden Gophers, but he’s by far their leading shooter. He’s taken 101 shots and made 49, compared to just 55 attempts for Minnesota’s second-leading scorer Both Gach. He’s also been a fairly accurate shooter, hitting 48.5 percent of his shots and leading Minnesota with 23.8 points per game.

However, Minnesota’s depth is a little bit strange. The Gophers really only have four shooters on their roster, as Carr, Gach, Liam Robbins, and Gabe Kalscheur have combined to take two-thirds of Minnesota’s shots for the season. Even fifth-man Brandon Johnson isn’t much of a threat to score, as he only attempts about three shots a game. Take away any one of Minnesota’s weapons, and the entire thing can easily collapse.

Scouting the Fighting Illini:

Much like Minnesota, Illinois relies on primary two weapons to get the job done, as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn have proven to be an outstanding inside-outside combination. But just like in the Baylor game, those fouls came back to bite the Illini again in the loss to Missouri, as both players ended up with four fouls and couldn’t make the plays they needed to fend off the Tigers down the stretch.

Illinois did actually shoot the ball well enough to win at Missouri inside the paint, but the Illini’s shooting was off once they stepped outside 15 feet. Without Cockburn controlling the paint, that proved a real problem, as Missouri actually beat Illinois on the glass. Illinois’ style of play works best when it’s able to run and extend its possessions, and when Cockburn isn’t on the floor, the Illini are nowhere near as effective as they usually are. Giorgi Bezhanishvili has proven a capable sixth man in the paint, but teams just don’t have an answer for Cockburn unless he’s on the bench. Two opponents now have figured out that getting Cockburn on the bench is a way to win, and the big man has to do a better job of avoiding foul trouble.

X-Factor:

Rebounding. Minnesota hasn’t had to face a team that can rebound as well as Illinois does, and if the Gophers can’t extend their possessions, it’s going to be tough for them to avoid getting pounded inside. Minnesota does have a legitimate big man in Liam Robbins, but Illinois can counter with both Cockburn and Bezhanishvili to try to wear down Robbins, whereas the Gophers don’t have that kind of depth at their disposal. If Robbins can hold his own on the boards, the Gophers will be in a solid position to win.

Minnesota will Cover if:

The Golden Gophers can get off to a strong start. Illinois’ biggest strength is its ability to bury teams early and keep them from being able to pull themselves back into the contest. But Missouri turned that into a weakness by never letting the Illini get ahead in the first half and taking an eight-point lead into halftime. The Gophers have the ability to hang around and keep this close, and they’ve got to do that in order to earn a cover.

Illinois will Cover if:

The Illini can keep Cockburn on the court. Illinois has to stay out of foul trouble if it’s going to have any success, and the most important players to keep out of foul trouble are Cockburn and Dosunmu. Illinois can’t afford to lose either player, but the big man is critical in a game against a team that really hasn’t shown that it can rebound well.

Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:

Minnesota has been beating up on teams from the Summit League and the Horizon League, while Illinois has tested itself against the best from the Big 12 and solid opponents in the SEC and ACC. The Illini have the experience and home-court on their side, and the Gophers just haven’t shown they can play on this level to this point.

I think Illinois will be too much for Minnesota to handle here. Give me the Illini. Bet this game LIVE at the online sportsbook with the BEST in-game wagering platform on the plaet: Bovada Sportsbook!