Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois at Indiana: Game Day Essentials | Tale of the Tape | Keys to Victory

Indiana basketball is back.  Finally.

But not everyone is back.  After 11 days off, the Hoosiers will resume Big Ten play on Thursday night without starting point guard Rob Phinisee.  The freshman suffered a concussion on December 19th against Central Arkansas and has not returned to practice since.

It is an inopportune time for IU to be without its starting point guard, as they face an Illinois team that likes to play aggressive pressure defense.  Already without significant guard depth, Indiana head coach Archie Miller referred to the Hoosiers ability to handle the Illini pressure as the “story of the game.”

GAME DAY ESSENTIALS

Illinois (4-9, 0-2) at No. 21/22 Indiana (11-2, 2-0)

  • Tip time:  7:00 p.m. Eastern
  • Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
  • Television:  FS1
  • Series:  Indiana leads 91-87
  • Point Spread:  Indiana is an 12.5 point favorite.
  • Tickets (Seat Geek affiliate link)

Brad Underwood is in his second season leading Illinois.  He previously was a head coach at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State and has a career record of 127-54.

Common Opponents:  None


Additional Coverage:


Projected Starters

Indiana (KenPom No. 27)

  • Juwan Morgan, forward, 6-foot-8, 232 pounds, senior
  • Justin Smith, forward, 6-foot-7, 227 pounds, sophomore
  • Al Durham, guard, 6-foot-4, 181 pounds, sophomore
  • Romeo Langford, guard, 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, freshman
  • Devonte Green, guard, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, junior

Key reserves:  Zach McRoberts (G), De’Ron Davis (C), Evan Fitzner (F), Damezi Anderson (F)

Illinois (KenPom No. 113)

  • Giorgi Bezhanishvili, forward, 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, freshman
  • Kipper Nichols, forward, 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, junior
  • Ayo Dosunmu, guard, 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, freshman
  • Aaron Jordan, guard, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, senior
  • Trent Frazier, guard, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, sophomore

Key reserves:  Andres Feliz (G), Da’Monte Williams (G), Alan Griffin (G), Tevian Jones (G), Adonis De La Rosa (C), Samba Kane (C).

TALE OF THE TAPE

KEYS TO VICTORY

Attack Pressure with Pressure.  It won’t be enough to just get the ball up the floor against Illinois.  The shot clock will be getting low and the pressure won’t let up.  Indiana is going to have to take advantage of opportunities in the open court rather than always trying to set up the offense.  If he’s on his game, it is the perfect kind of setup for Devonte Green, who thrived up to the final minute at Illinois last year but struggled in the return game in Bloomington.  With Phinisee out, the Hoosiers will sink or swim with their junior point guard.

Dominate the Paint.  Illinois is not a particularly long team and it doesn’t rebound well.  Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith and Romeo Langford need to relentlessly attack the rim and rebounds in this one.  With the Hoosiers sitting at sixth in the country with a 58.6 effective field goal percentage, and Illinois ranked 299th in field goal percentage defense, this game sets up for another efficient night from the floor.

IU’s turnovers will be up — but how high?  It is just a fact of life against Illinois.  They are going to make you uncomfortable and turn you over.  Indiana was able to overcome 18 turnovers in last year’s home win against the Illini.  That number feels like it should be the ceiling.  Anything any higher, and this game could be really uncomfortable.

With Phinisee out, it will be incumbent on others (beyond Green) to handle the ball against pressure.  The most likely candidates are obviously Romeo Langford and Al Durham.  Both have competent handles but it isn’t the strongest part of their games.  Damezi Anderson is also likely to see minutes.  In past similar situations, Miller did not look to the walk-ons not named McRoberts, but Johnny Jager is another possibility.

Knock down the freebies.  This one doesn’t require much explanation.  Illinois’ aggressive style lends itself to a lot of free throws.  Indiana shot 36 of 58 from the line against Illinois last year, and it cost them the game on the road.

Don’t give Illinois hope.  Teams like Illinois look for weakness.  They feed off another team’s struggles against their pressure.  At 4-9, for the most part Illinois hasn’t been striking fear in anyone.  You have to dig deeper into that record, however.  They have played a top 20 strength of schedule according to KenPom.  They hung around against Gonzaga, and also kept things close for a while against Ohio State and Xavier.  But they also just lost at home against Florida Atlantic.  Does Underwood still have this team’s attention?  We should know pretty early in Thursday night’s contest.

GAME NOTES:

  • The teams split the series last year, with both teams winning at home.
  • Indiana has won six games in a row overall, its longest streak since the 2015-16 season.

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