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Minnesota Golden Gophers Have The Look Of A Big Ten Title Contender

Bradley Leeb – USA TODAY Sports Images

Any team that plans on winning a championship of any sort needs to be able to get the job done at home and find a way to steal a few road wins.

Well, if you were looking for the Big Ten championship contender in the Minnesota-Illinois game on Wednesday, it was a little easier to find than Waldo. The Golden Gophers are the real deal. They went into the frenzied environment of Assembly Hall and came away with an 84-67 victory.

Minnesota has so many different options on offense, and against the Fighting Illini, it was Joe Coleman’s turn to rise to the occasion. Coleman dropped 29 on Illinois. Minnesota shot 53 percent as a team and drilled nine treys.

“When you shoot well, any team is different,” Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said in a post-game press conference. “And we’ve been shooting well – anybody can step up on any day. Like tonight, Joe Coleman stepped up and played outstanding.”

Illinois couldn’t do much about it. Sometimes a team is just feeling it, and Minnesota was dialed in against the Fighting Illini.

“Did I anticipate them going 9-of-15 from 3? No, I didn’t,” Illinois head coach John Groce said in a post-game press conference. “They made them tonight, they made them. I’ve got to give them some credit.”

Illinois has played well this season. Its success under a first-year head coach makes for a nice story and it will win a lot of games. But the Fighting Illini simply aren’t ready to be champions.  Minnesota, on the other hand, looked every bit like a champion on Wednesday night.

Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten colunnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association as well.

Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at