Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers travel to Illinois Wednesday for a match-up with the No. 12 Illini.
Big Ten Preview: Illinois
Head Coach: John Groce (1st season)
Last Year's Big 10 Record: 6-12
2012 Big Ten Record: 1-1 (W- Ohio State, L - Purdue)
Top 5 Leading Scorers: Brandon Paul-18.5 ppg; D.J. Richardson-10.6 ppg; Tracy Abrams-12.1 ppg; Tyler Griffey-8.7 ppg; Joseph Bertrand-9.3 ppg.
Top 5 Leading Rebounders: Brandon Paul-5.1 rpg; D.J. Richardson-4.7 rpg; Joseph Bertrand-4.5 rpg; Nnanna Egwu-4.3 rpg; Tracy Abrams-3.9 rpg.
Notable non-conference wins: Butler, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb
Notable non-conference losses: Missouri
Could this be the year Illinois finally grabs a Big Ten championship title? On paper, the Illini have everything going for them.
The Illini have a loaded backcourt. Seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and junior Joe Bertrand have led the way so far this season. The experience has led the Illini to just one loss in the non-conference season so far.
In the frontcourt, gone is Myers Leonard to the NBA draft, but the Illini have reloaded there. Seniors Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey have stepped up in Myers absence, and Nnanna Egwu is showing lots of promise in just his sophomore season.
Last season, Illinois had all of the pieces there as well, but stumbled down the stretch losing 12 out of their last 14 games. Head Coach Bruce Weber was fired, and Ohio Head Coach John Groce was brought into lead the team.
So far, the Illini have played consistent basketball this season. The only weakness this team appears to have is depth. They primarily have a seven-man rotation and in a grueling Big Ten season, one has to wonder if that will hold up come late February into March.
If early season success has anything to do with it, Illinois should be there at the end. The pieces are there for at least an NCAA tournament trip, if they can hold together will determine if they can grab a Big Ten championship.