Gophers, Illinois to battle with transfers leading the way

The transfer portal was essential for Gophers coach Ben Johnson and Illinois coach Brad Underwood to build their respective basketball rosters this season.

Both teams have transfers as their leading scorers. Illinois' Terrence Shannon Jr. is averaging 18 points per game coming from Texas Tech. Minnesota's Dawson Garcia is averaging 15.5 points coming from North Carolina.

Four of Minnesota's starters are transfers with guards Ta'Lon Cooper (Dartmouth) and Taurus Samuels (Morehead State) and forwards Garcia and Jamison Battle (George Washington). They combined for 42.2 points, 16.4 rebounds and 11.1 assists through 15 games.

The Gophers wouldn't have won their first Big Ten game last Thursday at Ohio State without Garcia's career-high tying 28 points and Cooper's 13 points and 10 rebounds, including a go-ahead free throw with 1.7 seconds to play.

Illinois has three transfer starters with Shannon, Dain Dainja (Baylor) and Matthew Mayer (Baylor). Shannon Jr. averaged 22 points during Illinois' three-game win streak, including 25 points vs. Nebraska and 24 points vs. Wisconsin.

Dainja, Mayer and Shannon Jr. combined for 56 points in last week's win vs. Michigan State. The 6-8, 270-pound Dainja, a former Park Center standout, had a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds against the Spartans. He's also recorded 15 blocks in his past five games.

GAME INFO

Time: 5 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 9-point underdogs. Series: Illinois leads 118-66, including 76-53 loss in Minneapolis on Jan. 4, 2022. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN-plus. Radio: 103.5-FM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (7-8, 1-4 BIG TEN)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Ta'Lon Cooper 6-4 195 Jr. 10.7

G – Taurus Samuels 6-1 195 Sr. 2.6

F – Jamison Battle 6-7 220 Jr. 13.4

F – Joshua Ola-Joseph 6-7 215 Fr. 6.9

F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 230 So. 15.5

Key reserves – Pharrel Payne, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 7.7 ppg; Braeden Carrington, G, 6-4, Fr., 6.2 ppg; Jaden Henley, G, 6-7, Fr., 3.9 ppg; Treyton Thompson, C, 7-0, So., 1.8 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 20-25 career (2nd season)

Notable: The Gophers announced 6-8 freshman forward Kadyn Betts will redshirt the 2022-23 season after reclassifying and joining the team early this year. Betts will be part of a highly touted 2023 class that was signed Nov. 9, including five-star center Dennis Evans III and four-star guard Cameron Christie. Christie and Evans were named McDonald's All-American nominees last week. … Junior forward Jamison Battle missed the first four games of the season after recovering from foot surgery. The All-Big Ten preseason selection made his season debut Nov. 21 vs. Cal Baptist in the SoCal Challenge in California. ... Freshman guard Braeden Carrington, who won Minnesota's Mr. Basketball and a state title last season at Park Center, made his season debut Nov. 14 against DePaul after being out with an ankle sprain. … The Gophers have a four-game losing streak against Illinois. Their last win in the series was 86-75 at home on Jan. 19, 2019.

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (12-5, 3-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Sencire Harris 6-4 160 Fr. 3.8

G – Terrence Shannon Jr. 6-6 225 Sr. 18.0

G – Matthew Mayer 6-9 225 Sr. 10.6

F – Coleman Hawkins 6-10 225 Jr. 10.1

C – Dain Dainja 6-9 270 So. 10.4

Reserves – Jayden Epps, G, 6-2, Fr., 9.6 ppg; R.J. Melendez, G, 6-7, So., 6.6 ppg; Ty Rodgers, F, 6-6, Fr., 1.8 ppg; Luke Goode, F, 6-7, So., 2.0 ppg.

Coach: Brad Underwood 158-96 (10th season)

Notable: The Illini started the season looking like a potential Big Ten title contender with four straight wins, including 79-70 against then-No. 8 UCLA. The first loss of the season was respectable against nationally ranked Virginia. But frustration with Illini fans started to appear when Brad Underwood's team opened 0-3 in the Big Ten with losses to Maryland, Penn State at home and in-state rival Northwestern. Illinois turned things around in the new year with a three-game win streak against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State.

Fuller's score prediction: Illinois 71, Gophers 62