Preview: Minnesota vs. Illinois

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[March 09, 2016]  SportsDirect Inc.
 
 During a season in which so much has gone wrong for Illinois, Malcolm Hill is one of the few things that has gone right for the Illini. Coming off a brilliant performance in a loss over the weekend, Hill will attempt to extend the season of No. 12 seed Illinois by at least one more game on Wednesday when it meets 13th-seeded Minnesota in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

Illinois has been without three projected starters for the bulk of the season due to injury or suspension and seven different players have combined to miss nearly 100 games so far this year, contributing to the Illini's 5-6 record in contests decided by five points or fewer. Hill has been a bright spot, however, and is one of only three Division I players to lead his team in scoring (18.6), rebounding (6.6), assists (3.3), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.5), and is coming off a career-high 39-point, 13-board masterpiece in Sunday's 86-79 double-overtime loss at Penn State. The Golden Gophers are no stranger to adversity and are down to eight players after losing Joey King to a broken foot, dismissing senior guard Carlos Morris and suspending three others in recent weeks. Minnesota dropped both meetings with Illinois this season and was embarrassed its last time out, falling 75-52 at Rutgers on Saturday to end the Scarlet Knights' 32-game losing streak in Big Ten action.

 

TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

ABOUT MINNESOTA (8-22): The Gophers on Saturday set season lows in field-goal percentage (30.1) and points in a half (15) against the conference's second-worst field-goal percentage defense and easily the league's worst scoring defense. All-conference freshman-team selection Jordan Murphy (11.7 points, eight rebounds), who is the only Gopher remaining that is averaging at least seven points following the losses of King, Morris and Nate Mason, went 3-for-21 from the field versus Rutgers but produced a pair of double-doubles against Illinois. Fellow rookie Stephon Sharp (3.7 points) erupted for a season-high 19 points versus the Illini on Feb. 28 and is averaging 16 points in three games since moving into the starting lineup.

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ABOUT ILLINOIS (13-18): Hill, who was named second-team All-Big Ten on Monday, posted his seventh double-double of the season against Penn State and averaged 25 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Illini's two wins over Minnesota. Kendrick Nunn (15.6 points) scored in double figures in 20 of his first 21 games this season and poured in 25 points in a Feb. 28 victory over the Gophers, but he has been limited to fewer than 10 points in three of his last four outings and is shooting 5-of-23 from the field over his last two. Jalen Coleman-Lands (10.3) leads all Big Ten rookies with 79 3-pointers and needs six more to tie the school record by a freshman.

TIP-INS

1. The winner of this contest will face No. 5 seed Iowa in second-round action on Thursday.

2. Illinois averaged 88 points in its four wins over the two teams seeded below it (Minnesota and Rutgers) and 63.9 in its 14 other conference contests.

3. After draining at least eight 3-pointers in every contest and shooting 38.5 percent beyond the arc over a three-game stretch to end February, Minnesota has shot a combined 5-of-34 from long range to begin March.

PREDICTION: Illinois 77, Minnesota 55

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