When Illinois and Minnesota face each other tonight at 9:00ET on ESPN both teams will be looking to get their seasons back on track.
Minnesota(16-7, 5-6) is coming off three straight losses to Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State. They look to get a win at home against Illinois. Minnesota is now ranked 25 in the latest ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
Illinois(15-8, 5-5) is coming off a loss to Northwestern on the road. They have now lost their last five of seven games. They have dropped out of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll this week.
Both of these teams have the chance to be thrown on the NCAA Tournament bubble depending on how they do in the final stretch of their schedule. Both teams are not locks for the NCAA Tournament at this point in the season. That is part of what makes this game so important.
Minnesota and Illinois will also be duking it out for fourth place in the Big Ten and that four seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Right now Illinois trails Minnesota by one game in the Big Ten. If Minnesota can get this win, they will have a good shot at the four seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
(More after the jump)Illinois only has two player that average double digit scoring at this point. Those players are Demetri McCamey, who averages about 14 points a game and Mike Davis who averages 10. Illinois players averages have been falling in the last seven games. Their players are capable of much more scoring, we just have failed to see it in the last seven games. That is really what is hurting this Illini squad.
Minnesota is favored in this game by two. I wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota wins by more than that. When they play in the barn, it isn't the easiest to beat them, and with the way the Illini have been struggling, it is possible for Minnesota to run away with it, if they get firing on all cylinders. Minnesota is coming off that Ohio State loss at home, and I think they will rebound from it.
This game is big, as it could decide the tie breaker if the two tie in the Big Ten due to this being the only matchup between the two this year.
Rebounding will be a key in the game, as will second chance opportunities. The turnover battle will be another key. Illinois and Minnesota both cannot afford to play bad defense.
These teams need to get on track. The Big Ten doesn't need to lose anymore teams in the NCAA Tournament.
It doesn't get any easier for either after this, as Illinois faces Purdue at home and Minnesota travels to Iowa. The Iowa game no longer looks like it will be a cake walk, as Iowa almost upset Wisconsin at home and looks to be getting better.