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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Must Win

If you bet on the ’22 Illini to win a #B1G championship, you’re already suffering indigestion from Tuesday’s game in Minneapolis. And you still have hours of sweating palms to go.

Your discomfort began when the Gophers, the pre-season’s unanimous pick for last place, beat Michigan.

Jamison Battle, who is not Talor Battle, shoots with his left hand.

But is Minnesota, currently Receiving Votes and formerly, briefly Ranked, good?

Eh. Maybe.

It doesn’t matter. Your quest is the Illini quest. The Illini quest is to win the B1G. Winning the B1G means winning at Minnesota. It’s a proven fact.

The 1984 Illini did it, and they won the B1G. The ’89 team lost its first game of the season in Minneapolis (after Kendall Gill went down with the greenstick fracture in his foot) and finished second to the Indiana team that it beat twice.

Lon Kruger’s scrappy 98ers didn’t have to go to Mpls. They beat Izzo in Champaign, and thus tied MSU for a conference title.

The 2001 champs beat a lowly Gophers team at Williams. The 2002 Illini clinched a B1G championship with that frenzied finish that you still watch on YouTube when you’re drunk, even though it’s low-def and blurry.

WHO THEY DON’T HAVE

If addition-by-subtraction had a poster, it would be the 2021 Golden Gophers. They all bailed, making their ex-program better.

Gabe Kalscheur is raining buckets in Ames, second only to ex-Penn State Izaiah Brockington in leading TJ Otzelberger’s miracle turnaround. Brandon Johnson, who gave Illinois fits last year, joined Paris Parham in their mutual hometown. (Rob Judson is there, too!)

Jamal Mashburn Jr. followed Richard Pitino to Albuquerque. Both Gach transferred to Utah. Liam Robbins went to Vanderbilt.

Marcus Carr just dropped 20 on Bob Huggins, having moved from 80s music hot spot Minneapolis to 90s music hotspot Austin.

What is it with the Gold & Maroon?

WHO THEY HAVE

Payton Willis left Minnesota. Payton Willis returned to Minnesota.

After a vacation year at College of Charleston, this erstwhile trumpeted Gopher is, again, a trumpeted Gopher. You can understand why he didn’t want to compete with Kalscheur & Carr for PT, but he might be better than either of them.

With an ATO of 45-to-21, shooting 46% from the arc and 50% overall, you’d like to think that his weak point is defense.* Unfortunately, dudes seem to get better at defense as they mature. Payton was born at the front end of 1998. He played at Vanderbilt for his first two seasons, and Vanderbilt is uppity about admitting dummies.

Minnesota’s other threat is Jamison Battle, whom Brad identified as “Talor Battle” in Monday’s presser. So you know it’s bad news. Talor Battle haunted the B1G from an underdog spot. That was ten years ago. Brad’s still recovering, and he wasn’t even a B1G coach back then.

Jamison Battle scores and rebounds. He’s a “tough guard” as the kids like to say, because he can post up and hit from three (36%).

6’7″ and 225 lbs., motivated, chip on his shoulder for having to leave town (two years at GW Colonials) before coming home to play for the team he’d always wanted to lead, this kid is trouble.

OVERSOLD STAT

In the pre-game presser, Minnesota’s three-point defense was a point of emphasis among the Askers. Brad Underwood said Michigan connected on 9 of them and MSU on ten. The latter stat is correct. MSU was 10-for-21 from the arc. The Wolverines managed 3-of-18.

It’s immaterial.

There’s no evidence that this Minnesota team can compete with legitimate squads. Beating Illinois would help their cause, but the Illini aren’t a proven commodity either. If you’re prepared to reject The Myth of Juwan Howard (and I know you want to) the Gophers’ only win over a quasi-legit team was beating Ben Howland in Starkville.

But Mississippi State is 10-3. They beat Arkansas on December 29, and that’s their only good win. (The previously mentioned MSU’s Rocket Watts is now in Starkville, and played 8 minutes in that game. He’s averging 13.6/game. Tom Izzo once had great hopes for him.)

They lost to Louisville and Colorado State. They needed overtime to top Richmond. (I know you think Richmond is a mid-major super-power, but they haven’t made the tourney since Jereme Richmond was skipping class.)

*LIKE* BEN JOHNSON

Unless you’re playing against him, and until further notice, you want Minnesota’s new coach to succeed, for all kinds of reasons. But certainly, the best part is that he faced the lowest expectations, acknowledged them, and then kept on keeping on.

*His weakness is free-throws.