This was supposed to be the easier part of the schedule, but the reality in the Big Ten in 2019 is this: There is no easy part of the schedule.
Illinois and Sunday’s opponent Rutgers were near consensus picks to be the bottom two teams in the Big Ten. While they are in fact near the bottom, both have managed impressive midseason turnarounds that have Indiana’s easy landing to close out league play looking a bit uncertain.
Step one is Illinois, a team that has won six of their last ten, including just one home loss in that span. The Illini have improved significantly since the first meeting in early January.
To complicate matters more, it is senior night at Illinois as the program sends off Adonis De La Rosa, Aaron Jordan and Drew Cayce.
The State Farm Center will be energized to send off their seniors and attempt to spoil Indiana’s postseason aspirations.
GAME DAY ESSENTIALS
Indiana (15-14, 6-12) at Illinois (11-18, 7-11)
- Tip time: 8:00 p.m. Eastern
- Location: State Farm Center (15,500)
- Television: FS1 (Dave O’Brien and Stephen Bardo)
- Series: Indiana leads 92-87 (Indiana won the last meeting 73-65 on Jan. 3)
- Point Spread: Illinois is a 2 point favorite.
- Tickets (Seat Geek affiliate link)
Brad Underwood is in his second year with Illinois.
ILLINOIS NAMES TO KNOW
Ayo Dosunmu – The five-star freshman has lived up to the hype. Averaging 14.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game, the 6-foot-5 Dosunmu can do a little bit of everything. Likely an NBA first round pick, Dosunmu has had most of his better games at home.
Trent Frazier – The lightning quick Illinois point guard can be deadly from three point range at nearly 40%, and is also very dangerous off the bounce. He averages 14 points per game, but passes out just 2.6 assists to 2.1 turnovers. He had a quiet game in the first meeting as he struggled with foul trouble. His matchup with Rob Phinisee should be a good one.
Giorgi Bezhanishvilli – The Georgian big man gave IU fits in the first meeting, scoring 18 points with an impressive array of post moves. On the season he averages 11.9 points and 5.2 rebounds. If he stays out of foul trouble he can be a major factor in the game.
TALE OF THE TAPE
See how the Hoosiers and Illini stack up statistically:
KEYS TO VICTORY
Handle the Illinois pressure defense. It goes without saying against Illinois, but it is essential. The Illini force a league best 16.5 turnovers per game with pressure in the passing lanes via both an aggressive man and zone defenses that they like to switch in and out of. Indiana managed to limit the turnovers to just 15 in the first meeting, and that total or fewer will go a long way in this one. Moreover, IU needs to attack that pressure to earn easy baskets when the defense breaks down.
Hit the offensive glass. Illinois gives up a lot of second chance points. In part that is because they allow a lot of transition opportunities that lead to put backs. Additionally, they are not an exceptionally big team and their big men are not particularly athletic. Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith can have a field day in this one if they play with a high motor.
Play 40 minutes of defense. Much of the discussion on this game centers on the Illinois defense, but it was Indiana’s defense that made the difference in the first game and carried them to two upset wins last week. The Hoosiers set a program record by forcing six Illinois shot clock violations in Bloomington. The Illinois offense is much improved over the last two months, but if IU can keep the Illini in the half court they should be able to get plenty of stops.
Make free throws. This isn’t just because the Hoosiers lost the game at the line in 2018. Illinois puts its opponents on the stripe to the tune of 24% of their points allowed. Indiana will get plenty of free chances on Thursday night, but another performance like last year (16-29) might doom them once again.
PREDICTION: Illinois 75 Indiana 68.
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