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Illinois basketball drops 84-67 loss to Minnesota

Illinois guard Joseph Bertr(2) drives under pressure from Minnesotguard Joe Coleman (11) during their NCAA college basketball game Wednesday Jan.

Illinois guard Joseph Bertrand (2) drives under pressure from Minnesota guard Joe Coleman (11) during their NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Darrell Hoemann) MANDATORY CREDIT

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Updated: January 10, 2013 12:25AM

CHAMPAIGN — It might be time to shuffle those preseason predictions because the pecking order in the Big Ten has started to take shape.

Places already were reserved for Indiana and Michigan at the top of the list, and they’ve done nothing to change anyone’s mind.

From there, No. 8 Minnesota (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) probably needs a spot in the conversation for conference-title contenders, especially if the Gophers can duplicate the combination of physical play and hot shooting they displayed in an 84-67 victory against No. 12 Illinois (14-3, 1-2) on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.

The Illini were looking for their second consecutive victory at home against a top-10 team, but Minnesota has its best squad in coach Tubby Smith’s sixth season.

The Gophers are tough — Brandon Paul was bloodied after he took a hit to his nose less than five minutes into the game — and they were deceptively skilled, shooting 60 percent from the three-point line and 52.9 from the field. Guard Joe Coleman scored a career-high 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting.

“They’re good,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. “They played really good. I thought we played tough. Our execution was awful. When you play a team as good as them, that’s what is going to happen.’’

A loss in the Hall means the ­Illini will head to Wisconsin on Saturday trying to avoid a slow start in the Big Ten’s meat grinder.

“This league is a monster,’’ Groce said. “It’s a grind. I told them that when we were 0-0. The next one is coming at you at 1:15 on Saturday.’’

In its next two, Minnesota plays at No. 5 Indiana before hosting No. 2 Michigan. Generally regarded as the fifth- or sixth-best team in the Big Ten when the season started, the Gophers’ only loss came to Duke, the nation’s No. 1 team.

The combination of muscle and skill were too much for the Illini.

Minnesota’s Andre Hollins scored 22. His halfcourt bank shot to beat the shot clock gave the Gophers a 42-30 lead. After a 10-0 run, Illinois drew within 44-42, but Minnesota pulled away thanks in part to a five-point possession by Hollins, who made two free throws on an intentional foul and a three-pointer seconds later.

Paul scored 21 to lead Illinois, but he was 6-for-17 from the field. The Illini shot 35.4 percent. Tracy Abrams scored 14 and sparked Illinois’ second-half rally. D.J. Richardson also scored 14.

Minnesota was a flurry of elbows and forearms early. If this were hockey, the Gophers would have been called for high sticking.

When Illini center Nnanna Egwu and the Gophers’ Trevor Mbakwe locked arms in a wrestling match that drew a double foul, Groce yanked off his sport coat.

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