IU (20-2, 8-1) currently leads the Big Ten but only by a half game over Michigan. Illinois (15-8, 2-7) started the season very hot, but as its Big Ten record suggests, they were not prepared for conference play.
They beat Nebraska on the road, not all that impressive, and managed to beat then ranked No. 8 Ohio State at home. But that's it as far as victories in the Big Ten go.
Earlier in the season Illinois defeated Butler, when they were unranked and right after the Bulldogs had beaten North Carolina, and then-ranked No. 10 Gonzaga.
IU has yet to overlook an an opponent season. This is yet another trap game but one that the Hoosiers should handle, much like they did against Purdue. Last night proved that anything can happen with No. 5 Kansas losing to TCU (who were 0-8 in the Big 12 and ranked 330th in offensive offensive efficiency).
IU needs to win all of the "easy" games in the Big Ten, they simply can't drop another game to an unranked and inferior opponent. Illinois, on the other had, HAS to get a quality win if it wants to make the NCAA tournament, which is looking more and more unlikely.
Indiana has dropped 10 of its last 11 trips to Illinois. Granted the past few seasons haven't been all that exceptional for the Hoosiers, but it is still a tough arena for IU to win in. The last time IU won there was in 2008 when the Illini fans were able to boo Eric Gordon for choosing IU.
This isn't the same IU team that has struggled on the road, they have won five straight Big Ten games away from home going back to last season.
Let's look at some stats heading into the game:
- Illinois is last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, tied with Penn State. They give up 67 points per game and allow opponents to connect on 42.6 percent of shots taken.
- The Illini have a tendency to play close games, with just a +5.1 margin of victory.
- Illinois is a very good free throw shooting team, hitting nearly 72 percent of its shots. IU connects on 74 percent of its free throws, first in the Big Ten.
- The Illini are not particularly good at defending the three-point line, letting opponents shoot 34.4 percent from the arc.
- Rebounding is an issue for Illinois. They are in the bottom third of the Big Ten and only average 34.7 rebounds per game. The Illini have a tendency to lose the rebounding battle and have a -0.2 margin.
- Illinois is fairly adept at blocking shots and stealing the ball. The Illini average 4.4 and 7.7 blocks and steals per game, respectively. IU manages 8 steals per game, but just 3.5 blocks.
- Paul Brandon vs Victor Oladipo. Brandon is third in the Big Ten in scoring, with 17.4 points per game. He generally has to carry the Illini and is more than capable of doing so. He is a threat to shoot the ball from all over the court and generally attempts 6.6 three-pointers per game. If Oladipo can (and probably will) lock down Brandon, then the Illini are doomed. He doesn't have a whole lot of reliable help on offense. Against Michigan, Oladipo guarded four different players and those four players only managed four points while he was on them.
This game feels even more like a trap game than against Purdue. There is no love lost between these two teams, but it isn't the same type of rivalry that IU and the Boilermakers have.
IU is facing a team with its back against the wall and in such a desperate need of a win that they just might pull it out. We still expect IU to win, they simply have a much better team, but it might be a little too close for comfort.
Don't forget to follow us on twitter, @hoosiers101 where we will be live tweeting during the game and answering all your questions.
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