For the past week, ever since Minnesota kicked off Big Ten play with a win over Michigan State in The Barn, I’ve said that the team that wins big games on the road will win the Big Ten, and that until that road win comes, keep the hype in check.
Well, Gopher fans, it is time for you to start getting hyped.
Because No. 8 Minnesota didn’t just beat No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday. The Gophers went into Champaign and smacked the Illini around, winning 84-67 and never looking back after a 17-5 first half run gave them a 28-21 lead.
Joe Coleman played his best game as a Gopher, finishing with 29 points on 10-16 shooting, while Andre Hollins added 22 points, eight boards and six assists and Trevor Mbakwe chipped in with 19 points and 11 rebounds. The most important number, however, was the 3-24 that Illinois shot from beyond the arc. The Illini score 37.0% of their points from three, so it goes without saying that when they have an off-night, they are going to be in trouble.
Minnesota played some terrific defense on the Illini on the perimeter, using their size and length in the back court to cause problems. They cut down on the penetration the Illini were able to get, which in turn made it easier to contest spot-up threes.
Now, it should be noted that this wasn’t all Minnesota’s doing. Tracy Abrams, Illinois’ point guard and best creator, was in foul trouble for much of the game. And Brandon Paul, Illinois’ all-american two-guard, took a shot to the nose early in the game that looked to knock him out of any kind of rhythm.
But that shouldn’t take away from Minnesota’s performance on Wednesday.
They are, as of today, the third best team in the Big Ten, and that’s more or less inarguable.
But can they truly compete for the Big Ten title?
Well, they have the size and athleticism to match up with Indiana. They have the versatility to matchup with Michigan. They have a hoss on the block in Mbakwe and a dynamic combo-guard running the show in Hollins. Williams, Austin Hollins and Coleman are above-average role-players. If there is a weakness with Minnesota, it’s a lack of depth; they didn’t get a single point off their bench on Wednesday, and the four reserves managed all of four shots.
That question will answer itself in the next week. Minnesota heads to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers on Saturday, and follow that up by hosting Michigan next Thursday.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.