If Kel’el Ware plays at Illinois on Saturday, his sore ankle will certainly be tested.
IU coach Mike Woodson believes his starting center will need to be ready for a track meet at State Farm Center when the Hoosiers and Fighting Illini tip at 3 p.m. ET (FOX).
The 7-foot Ware injured his ankle during practice leading up to the Wisconsin game last week when he was preparing to face Badgers 7-footer Steven Crowl.
At Illinois, Ware won’t see anyone his size if he plays, but he also won’t be spending much time defending post-ups. The Illini are playing a smaller lineup with 6-foot-10 Coleman Hawkins starting at center. Hawkins has shot more threes than twos this year, and is part of a aggressive, wide-open offense under head coach Brad Underwood that wants to play fast.
“The big challenge is that we’ve got to make sure we get our bigs back in transition because they are pushing every opportunity they get, and you know, it ain’t — really, it’s not going to matter who is guarding who. You’ve just got to make sure we get the ball stopped and we’ve got a body on a body,” IU coach Mike Woodson said via Zoom on Thursday.”
Sore ankle or not, that means Ware is going to have to sprint back on defense, and be ready to guard the perimeter.
“I mean, and there’s going to be times, big fella (Ware) might be playing, you know, one of their smaller guys. I mean, that’s just the nature of how they play,” Woodson said. “And you know, we got to take advantage of, you know, our size a little bit, too, inside, and see how they play us.
“They are a different team. You know, more different than we’ve played any team in college basketball this season the way they play, and they basically are playing small ball with Hawkins at the five. They bring the big fella (Dain Dainja) in sparingly, but that’s pretty much what you’re going to get is a dose of is small basketball.”
The game projects to have plenty of mismatches on both ends of the floor. Illinois will struggle to contain both Ware and Malik Reneau without double teams. And like Ware, Reneau will likely have to guard a more versatile wing oriented player like Marcus Domask or Quincy Guerrier on the other end.
But the question still remains whether Ware will see the floor at all, and if he does, how will his ankle respond to the unique challenges presented by Illinois.
Ware has gone from not practicing at all when Woodson spoke about him on his radio show Monday, to working his way back by Wednesday.
But he still hasn’t participated in a full contact practice. What Ware is able to accomplish Thursday will be important before the Hoosiers hit the road on Friday.
“He was on the floor a little yesterday (Wednesday),” Woodson said. “He did some warmup drills with us. Nothing where he’s had contact where he had — has to cut and — and block out and block shots, things of that nature, no. He just basically did some endurance stuff on the floor with us during our warm up. So I’ll get a better feel today once we get down there and see where he is today.”
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