Illinois at Indiana: The Report Card

In front of a love torn sparsely populated Valentine’s Day crowd, Illinois came out with a street fight mentality — and it worked for the first ten minutes.  The Illini ran out to a 12-8 lead as it forced turnovers and beat IU to offensive rebounds. Indiana woke up and went on 18-2 run to go up 26-14.  The Illini tried to turn up the pressure even more to start the second half, and it was effective at keeping them in the game, but the Hoosiers hang on in an ugly one.  It’s back out on the road on Saturday as the Hoosiers travel to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes.  IU wins this one, 78-68.

Overall:  B  As we said — it wasn’t pretty.  Give credit to the Illini because that is exactly what they want to do.  The bottom line here is that you have to find a way to fight through the Illinois defense and attack their pressure with pressure of your own.  At times IU was able to do that, but not consistently.  The real key to the game here though was the contributions that were received from players not named Morgan, Johnson and Green.  Indiana probably doesn’t win this game without a great bench effort, with contributions coming from several players.

Coaching:  B+  That’s three wins in a row after a four game losing streak, so credit head coach Archie Miller for getting his team to persevere through adversity.  In conference play Indiana has guaranteed itself the right to not have to play in the first round of the Big Ten tournament by avoiding the bottom four of the conference.  IU now has 8 conference wins on the season and can get to .500 on the year with one win in its last 3 games.  They already have more conference wins than last year’s team.  While it isn’t yet at the standard that Hoosier fans expect, Miller has this team exceeding the expectations of most people coming into Big Ten play.

On the night, you would like to think that perhaps the staff could have designed a scheme to better counteract the Illinois’ defensive pressure, but again, the Illini do that to everyone.

Offense:  B   You knew going in that Indiana’s turnovers were going to be higher against Illinois especially if the Illini brought a lot of energy.  The Illinois defense really sped up Indiana and forced them into 18 turnovers on the night.  Most of those turnovers were just Indiana’s guards being uncomfortable with the defensive pressure in their face.  That makes two games now against Illinois with 18 turnovers, and that will probably be the norm as long as Brad Underwood is their coach.

On the plus side the Hoosiers shot an impressive 59.1% from the field.  So when IU broke through the Illini defense, they made them pay.  That’s really what it comes down to against a defense like that — if you can break down the pressure you will get a lot of easier points at the rim.

Defense:  B+    One thing to note up front is that Illinois got 15 points off of its turnovers.  Most of that was in transition and so you cannot really put those points on the defense.  If you take those out of the equation, Indiana’s half court defense was pretty good.  Illinois only shot 40% from the field and the Hoosiers did a much better job containing Trent Frazier compared to the first game.  IU was able to cut off his dribble drives and force him to pass.  Illinois was only 21% from distance, so IU’s evolution defending 3’s continues.  At times IU did lose people on some back cuts and high screen actions, so there was perhaps a bit of a regression from that standpoint.

Players with meaningful minutes:

  • Al Durham, Jr.:  A  If he was suffering from freshman fatigue, he seems to have worked through it.  He was really an integral part of stemming the tide in the 2nd half when the Illini had pulled back within two.  That is several games now where he looks confident shooting the ball, and despite all the IU turnovers, Durham only had 1 in 20 minutes.  He played big minutes down the stretch when Green went down with an injury, and led the team with a +/- of 20.  Just a really solid game.
  • Josh Newkirk:  B+  It was a pretty nice night for the senior guard.  He hit a big three pointer to slow down the early second half Illini run and stretch the lead back out to 8.  It was his first 3-pointer in nearly a month.  He also had a lot of points attacking the rim which was exactly what was needed against that defense.  Had 3 assists, albeit on 3 turnovers.
  • Justin Smith:  A-  You want offensive production?  How about a point a minute for the freshman forward against his home state Illini.  Smith was 5 of 7 from the field and picked up 3 rebounds in 13 minutes.  He struggled with first half foul trouble.
  • Robert Johnson:  B   Let’s get it out of the way — he had 6 turnovers on the night.  You need better from a senior guard.  He did deliver in other ways with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and he had to contend with Frazier on defense in the second half.
  • Devonte Green:  B  Green struggled with turnovers as well with 4 on the night.  He added 3 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.  The headline here though was that he appeared to get injured in the second half and ultimately had to leave the game after trying to play through it.  We asked Archie Miller about it after the game and he didn’t seem overly concerned.
  • Juwan Morgan:  A  For everything Morgan has done for this team, tonight was perhaps his most eye popping stat line of the season.  Sure he “only” had 14 points, but how about 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals and 3 assists?  Wow.  He was an absolute force on defense, really shutting down anything Illinois was trying to do in the paint.
  • Zach McRoberts:  B  The walk-on sensation has been quiet of late.  This game stylistically speaking probably didn’t suit him well.  We’ll see if he can get it rolling again as IU takes its defense on the road.
  • Freddie McSwain, Jr.:  B+  McSwain was the beneficiary a lot of the times when IU was able to break the Illinois pressure and attack the rim.  The Illini were effective at forcing him to earn his points at the free throw line, where he was 5 of 8 on the night.  He added 6 rebounds but struggled with fouls and struggled to contain Leron Black.
  • Collin Hartman:  B  Make that 4 injuries within the season now for Hartman who played with a taped up shooting hand.  It doesn’t appear to be serious but this guy just can’t catch a break.

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Photo credit – Michael Conroy, AP