College Hoops Thursday: Your Commentary

February 10th, 2011
Thursday's slate features a matchup in the Big Ten between two teams who have the ability to head in either direction: a win rights the ship while a loss could the latest event that potentially triggers a nosedive out of the field of 68. Illinois (15-8, 5-5) has lost five of their last seven while Minnesota's (16-7, 5-6) dropped three in a row, and with two games in the loss column separating 4th from 9th in the Big Ten standings their meeting at "The Barn" is critical to both. Both teams have been plagued by inconsistency, and given the signs of progress shown by both in November it's understandable if some members of the two fan bases have torn their hair out given recent developments.

Illinois needs their three seniors to play well in order to consistently win games and that's something that hasn't happened of late. Demetri McCamey (14.7 ppg, 6.7 apg) at the point and frontcourt veterans Mike Davis (11.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and MIke Tisdale (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) have the talent to be outstanding players and at times show themselves to be such. But at this stage it needs to be something that Bruce Weber can count on every night, because when combined with the talents of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Jereme Richmond the Illini can be a tough team to beat. Illinois shoots 47% from the field and has an offensive efficiency of 109, which isn't a terrible number but they've got the talent to perform at a higher rate. And with Minnesota's opponents averaging 102.5 in offensive efficiency there could be opportunities to make plays offensively, especially given the Golden Gophers' relative lack of depth on the perimeter.

Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber (14.2 ppg, 4.0 apg) leads the team in assists and scoring, expanding his game to be more than the simple long-distance marksman many thought he'd be out of high school. And that's key with Al Nolen likely being done for the season with a broken foot. His absence, along with Devoe Joseph's decision to transfer to Oregon, puts more pressure on freshmen Chip Armelin and Austin Hollins to produce. Armelin scored 14 points in the Gophers' loss to Ohio State on Sunday and he'll need to do more of the same as Minnesota approaches the stretch run. If he and Hollins can raise their level of play Tubby Smith's club has a chance to make some things happen as they also have one of the deeper frontcourts around.

Trevor Mbakwe (13.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg) is an imposing figure up front despite the fact that he comes off the bench. Add in Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams and you've got a quartet that can give the Illinois big men trouble. Minnesota is a plus-5.0 in rebounding margin and has an offensive rebounding percentage of 38.9%. Illinois has to keep the Gophers off of the offensive boards if they're to pick up the win on the road, and that's going to require a level of toughness that they haven't always shown. The Illini have the edge on the perimeter, making this a contest that will be determined by why team does a better job of utilizing its strengths while masking their weaknesses.

Other games to keep an eye on include Connecticut visiting St. John's and while the Red Storm did beat Duke another big conference victory would do wonders in terms of their NCAA Tournament hopes. As for the Huskies, Jeremy Lamb has played well and proven himself to be a capable secondary scoring option behind Kemba Walker. But that doesn't mask the fact that they need to get Kemba going, and he did a good job of being active offensively in their win over Seton Hall on Saturday. UConn will need more of the same against a Red Storm team that can give a variety of looks defensively. Saint Mary's going to Santa Clara could be tough as the Broncos have already beaten Gonzaga at home, and Vanderbilt hosts Alabama in a game they likely can ill-afford to lose at this point in the season.

Top 25
7:00 PM (9) Connecticut at St. John's (ESPN)
11:00 PM (23) Saint Mary's at Santa Clara (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Alabama at (24) Vanderbilt (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Illinois at (25) Minnesota (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
4:00 PM Lamar at Northwestern State
7:00 PM Maine at Hartford
7:00 PM Florida State at Georgia Tech (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Penn State at Michigan State
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at Furman
7:00 PM Samford at Appalachian State
7:00 PM Wright State at Butler (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Lipscomb at Campbell
7:00 PM Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida International
7:00 PM Radford at Liberty
7:00 PM Coastal Carolina at Presbyterian
7:00 PM High Point at Virginia Military
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Western Carolina
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at Winthrop
7:30 PM Florida Gulf Coast at Kennesaw State
7:30 PM Southeast Missouri State at Eastern Kentucky
7:30 PM Stetson at Mercer
7:30 PM North Dakota at N.J.I.T.
7:45 PM Eastern Illinois at Morehead State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Green Bay at Illinois-Chicago
8:00 PM Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky
8:00 PM Milwaukee at Loyola (IL)
8:00 PM Western Illinois at North Dakota State
8:00 PM Morris College at Savannah State
8:00 PM IUPUI at South Dakota State
8:05 PM Troy at South Alabama
8:05 PM Oral Roberts at UMKC
8:05 PM Detroit at Valparaiso
8:30 PM Tennessee Tech at Murray State
8:30 PM South Dakota at Chicago State
8:30 PM Arkansas State at Louisiana-Monroe
8:30 PM Jacksonville State at Tennessee-Martin
9:00 PM Fresno State at Boise State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Sacramento State at Montana
9:00 PM Centenary at Southern Utah
9:00 PM California at Washington
9:00 PM Florida Atlantic at Denver
9:05 PM Northern Colorado at Montana State
9:05 PM Northern Arizona at Weber State
9:30 PM Albany vs. Boston University*
10:00 PM UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Stanford at Washington State
10:00 PM Long Beach State at UC Davis
10:00 PM Portland at Pepperdine
10:05 PM Cal Poly at UC Irvine
10:05 PM Cal State Northridge at Cal State Fullerton
10:05 PM Idaho State at Portland State
10:30 PM Oregon at UCLA
10:30 PM San Diego at San Francisco
11:00 PM Oregon State at USC (FSN)
11:00 PM Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (ESPN2)