NCAA Basketball

No. 13 Illinois looks to bounce back vs. Minnesota

The nation's two most productive Power 5 guards will square off when Minnesota and No. 13 Illinois meet for a Big Ten opener Tuesday night in Champaign, Ill..

Illinois junior Ayo Dosunmu, a preseason All-American, enters conference play averaging 24.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. Minnesota junior Marcus Carr, a preseason all-league pick, shows up averaging 23.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds.

But they're not necessarily required to post gaudy numbers for their teams to be successful. Dosunmu poured in a career-high 36 points Saturday night at Missouri, but the Illini (4-2) fell, 81-78.

"Offensively, when one player has 36, we're not going to win," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "That's an imbalance that I don't like. I would prefer for him never to have to score that many points."

Illinois struggled to create anything within the structure of their offense -- as proven by managing just 10 assists on 29 baskets. If Dosunmu or freshman point guard Andre Curbelo wasn't attacking the basket, then little got done.

"We had no post-ups in the first half," Underwood said. "Zero. None. We had no ball movement. There wasn't any flow. We're always our best when we play inside-out. We're a really good passing team and when the ball zips for us, we're really hard to guard."

Carr, meanwhile, "settled" for 15 points and 7 assists in Minnesota's last outing. He took just seven shots as the Gophers (6-0) produced a 29-point thrashing of Kansas City.

Seven-foot junior Liam Robbins (12.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) took the lead against Kansas City as he piled up 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks -- his finest effort since transferring from Drake shortly after last season ended.

"What I loved was 11 fouls drawn," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "That's a huge part of what any team in the Big Ten does is establish a low-post presence. It's top to bottom in our league. You establish that, good things happen."

Robbins' first Big Ten test figures to be one of his toughest of the year. Sophomore 7-footer Kofi Cockburn, a preseason all-league pick, averages 14 points and 8.8 rebounds per game but has struggled to secure the ball when on the receiving end of Dosunmu's and Curbelo's passes.

Robbins isn't Minnesota's only high-profile transfer off to a strong start. Minnesota native Both Gach, who spent his first two years at Utah, averages 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor.

Illinois doesn't have a perimeter player who can match Gach's numbers. But, to be fair, Illinois and Minnesota prepared for the Big Ten in markedly different ways and statistics can be skewed.

The Gophers never left Williams Arena for their six games -- and their overtime win over Boston College last Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge served as their only Power 5 test.

Over the last two weeks, Illinois lost to No. 2 Baylor in Indianapolis, defeated then-No. 10 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and fell at Missouri. Underwood even tried to play a rematch against Baylor when Illinois' Dec. 5 date against Tennessee-Martin was called due to COVID-19 concerns.

"We've been tested," Underwood said. "We've been smacked."

--Field Level Media

Updated December 14, 2020

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