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Gophers Are Golden Again

Wednesday afternoon at the Ubben, Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain walked the team through Minnesota’s offensive scheme. Each Illini assistant is responsible for various teams, year in and year out. The idea is to establish a continuity, so Jerrance Howard is the Purdue expert, for example. Wayne McClain is the Minnesota guy, as well as the Wisconsin guy. Because of the way this year’s schedule worked out, McClain got back-to-back scouting assignments.

He can also claim back-to-back-to-back state titles as the Peoria Manual head coach. So this is no big deal.

(Listen to McClain’s scouting report.)

The Illini worked on breaking Minnesota’s press. Illinois has looked at its worst against back court pressure. For one thing, the team has a hard time getting the ball in bounds against pressure. And then there’s the getting it up court in under 10 seconds. Coaches paid particular attention to Alex Legion’s decision making in the open court. Head coach Bruce Weber railed against Demetri McCamey’s effort (again) while challenging McCamey to show his detractors that he can move around screens, and through defenses, despite his size (big).


Minnesota is like Illinois in that they have a lot of different scorers. Although veteran shooting guard Lawrence Westbrook has been the clear scoring leader, newer guys are catching up as they become comfortable with coach Tubby Smith’s offensive schemes. That includes freshman center Ralph Sampson III, who at 6-foot-11 is five inches shorter than his dad, but still very long in the post. Juco transfer Devron Bostick is playing well lately. Forward Damian Johnson is second on the team in scoring.


Ralph Sampson III is not nearly as tall as his dad. But he’s taller than most people in the world. For example, he’s much, much taller than Travis Walton.

But the really intriguing match up is Al Nolen. Statistically, you’d be hard pressed to find a better comparison to Chester Frazier. And when you’re going against either of these guys, you can count on being hard pressed.

Nolen, like Frazier, is second on his team in rebounds, despite playing the point (and standing 6-foot-1). Minnesota has played eight conference games to Illinois’ seven, so take that into consideration when comparing these numbers.

TURNOVERS: Frazier 18, Nolen 17
ASSISTS: Frazier 26, Nolen 29
REBOUNDS: Frazier 29, Nolen 26

The only number that’s not proportional is … you guessed it …

SCORING: Frazier 4.4, Nolen 8.9

Well, that’s not quite true. Nolen shoots a lot more often than Frazier, and misses most of the time. And he fouls a lot, whereas Frazier has picked up only eight personal fouls in conference.

McClain said Frazier might take over guarding Nolen, depending how the game progresses. It could be a really boring match-up to watch, as each prevents the other from doing anything interesting.


Mild unease swirls around the program because speculators can’t help but name Smith as a contender for open coaching positions at Alabama and Arizona. While Smith says, as they all do, that he’s happy with his current situation, this is one time when you should trust the coach’s word. Tubby would be an idiot to leave his newfound happiness to succeed a legend, or to return to his old conference at a different school. (But then, I said the same about Bill Self. And I was right. Bill Self is an idiot.)


Illinois’ 20-game winning streak over Minnesota spans 10 years, seven head coaches (three at Illinois, four at Minnesota) and four cities (eight wins in Champaign, eight wins in Minneapolis, two wins in Indianapolis and two wins in Chicago). It’s Illinois’ longest winning streak in school history over an opponent. Illinois’ eight straight victories at Williams Arena is one shy of the longest opponent winning streak in that building. Indiana won nine straight at Williams Arena from 1981–89.

Here are Illinois’ all-time longest winning streaks over an opponent.

It’s the fourth-longest current winning streak nationally by a team over a conference opponent.

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