What to Expect: Illinois

020513ehIndiana tips off a two-game roadtrip tomorrow evening when the Hoosiers travel to Assembly Hall for the first time since March of 2011 to take on Illinois. The Fighting Illini, once ranked No. 10 in the country, are just 2-7 in the Big Ten and have dropped three in a row.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. with Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham on the call.

An Illinois season that once had great promise and the virtual certainty of a NCAA Tournament bid is quickly deteriorating to the point that non-conference wins at Gonzaga and over Butler on a neutral floor in Maui might not be enough to keep the Fighting Illini from missing out come Selection Sunday.

First-year coach John Groce, who came to Champaign after leading Ohio University to the Sweet 16 last spring, quickly won over Illinois fans with an 12-0 mark out of the gate. But the bottom has fallen out since that surprising start and the Illini have dropped four in a row at home and 8 of 11 overall. The slate doesn’t get any easier this week either as No. 1 Indiana comes to town followed by a road trip to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota.

PERSONNEL

The majority of the scoring for the Illini comes out of the backcourt and it starts with senior guard Brandon Paul, who averages 17.4 points and uses 29.8 percent of his team’s possessions. More than half of Paul’s field goal attempts have come from beyond the 3-point arc, but he’s also a threat to get to the foul line with a team-high free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 49.8. While he’s hitting just 33 percent of his attempts from distance, he’s certainly capable of carrying Illinois with a hot shooting night.

Starting alongside Paul are sophomore Tracy Abrams and senior D.J. Richardson. Abrams is a below average shooter from the perimeter (28 percent on threes), and while he’s got a team-high 76 assists, his 66 turnovers are not the sign of a sound decision maker from the point guard position.

Richardson is unleashing even more 3-point attempts than Paul and connecting at a similar frequency (32.5 percent). As a team, 40.5 percent of the Illini’s field goal attempts come from behind the 3-point line, effectively making this group one that relies heavily on making threes to win games.

Sophomore Joseph Bertrand also plays significant minutes on the wing and is the team’s most effective defensive rebounder who can also finish around the basket. Bertrand is making 60.2 percent of his twos and is also shooting a team-best 35.7 percent on threes.

One glance at the Illinois frontcourt rotation paints a pretty clear picture on why this team is so reliant on the perimeter to win games. Sophomore Nnanna Egwu is the closest thing to a legitimate post presence on the roster, but is finishing just 44.7 percent of his twos despite standing 6-foot-11. Senior Tyler Griffey is taking more than half of his field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point line and Sam McLaurin, another senior, is a decent offensive rebounder who doesn’t provide much else.

POMEROY PREVIEW

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Illinois has been below average on both ends of the floor since the start of Big Ten play, scoring just .98 points per possession and allowing conference opponents to score 1.07 points per trip. Given their reliance on the 3-point shot and how poorly the Illini are shooting in league play, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that the offense is sputtering below a point per possession. Illinois sports a league-worst 25.4 percent on threes in nine conference games.

Overall, the rest of the Illinois offensive profile is generally average. The Illini are in the upper half in terms of offensive rebounding percentage, are second in two-point field goal percentage, seventh in turnover percentage and are second to last in terms of getting to the free throw line.

Indiana has three major areas of weakness that it should look to exploit on the Illinois defense:

· Indiana is the Big Ten’s best at getting to the foul line and the Illini are eleventh in terms of sending their opponents to the line.

· The Hoosiers are also the league’s best offensive rebounding team and Illinois is below average (33.5 DR%) on the defensive boards.

· Indiana is setting the Big Ten pace from behind the 3-point line (42.1 percent) and Illinois is allowing Big Ten opponents to connect on 37.2 percent of 3-point attempts.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

Given the free fall from No. 10 in the Associated Press top 25 poll to the NCAA Tournament bubble, a shot at the nation’s No. 1 team is a major opportunity for Illinois to reverse course from its current path. Indiana enters as the Big Ten’s only unbeaten road team and playing its best stretch of basketball of the season to-date.

What will be interesting to watch is how Illinois approaches the pace of this game. The Illini are playing the third fastest tempo in Big Ten games, but attempting to run with Indiana is unlikely to yield favorable results. On the flip side, Illinois doesn’t exactly have the personnel to grind out a win in the half court against a team that has become elite defensively.

If Indiana can avoid the turnovers that can kill momentum, pound the offensive glass and continue its free throw parade, Illinois will have a major uphill battle in its quest for a third Big Ten win. Ken Pomeroy likes the Hoosiers to win 82-70 with an 82% chance of the Hoosiers remaining unbeaten away from Assembly Hall in true road games.

All tempo-free stats from KenPom.com.

  • wakajawaka

    Illinois scares me a little bit. Although they haven’t had much luck lately hitting their 3-pointers, they aren’t as bad as those statistics indicate. Granted, they probably weren’t as good as when they beat Gonzaga and Butler earlier in the season either. Their offense is in a major funk right now. I hope they don’t snap out of it Thursday night with this opportunity against the nation’s #1 team. Vic and Yogi need to apply the pressure to their guards to disrupt their shooting and to get turnovers. That’s where I think we win this game. Go Hoosiers!

  • wakajawaka

    Illinois scares me a little bit. Although they haven’t had much luck lately hitting their 3-pointers, they aren’t as bad as those statistics indicate. Granted, they probably weren’t as good as when they beat Gonzaga and Butler earlier in the season either. Their offense is in a major funk right now. I hope they don’t snap out of it Thursday night with this opportunity against the nation’s #1 team. Vic and Yogi need to apply the pressure to their guards to disrupt their shooting and to get turnovers. That’s where I think we win this game. Go Hoosiers!

  • Kreigh_Smiths_Short_Shorts

    It’s going to be Cody all day.

  • So_Cal_Hoosier

    I feel very similarly about this game like I did against Purdue last week. Sure, it’s an away game against a “rival”, but when you look at the stats and how Indiana has been playing recently.. we should smoke them.

  • SCHoosier

    On the road..everybody scares me. That said..I thought Crean’ Twitter hype of this team and offense was laughable (I know he has to say good things..but geez) This ILL team can be VERY dangerous if its hitting the 3..which they do in streaks. However..their defense has been terrible and their post play non-existent.. If IU covers the perimeter and pounds it down low to Cody and Wat …IU should win this going away. But like I said..any game on the road (especially this one with a fan blood feud) makes me hold my breath.. Jordy having to take Richardson is the only thing that bothers me defensively. Just take care of business Hoosiers.

  • SCHoosier

    On the road..everybody scares me. That said..I thought Crean’ Twitter hype of this team and offense was laughable (I know he has to say good things..but geez) This ILL team can be VERY dangerous if its hitting the 3..which they do in streaks. However..their defense has been terrible and their post play non-existent.. If IU covers the perimeter and pounds it down low to Cody and Wat …IU should win this going away. But like I said..any game on the road (especially this one with a fan blood feud) makes me hold my breath.. Jordy having to take Richardson is the only thing that bothers me defensively. Just take care of business Hoosiers.

  • Hoosierfan2335

    don’t let illinois be arkansas last night.

  • Eastwood88_2

    Front court is very limited. We should be able to score at will and with stand a great Illinois shooting night.

  • PDXHoosier

    illannoy has shown they can be good or terrible. When I’ve watched the “good” illinois they were basically draining deep 3s with a hand in their face. Just like everyone else in the NCAA, “if they are hitting their shots they can beat anyone.” I expect our D to step up.

  • Geoff_85

    I follow Coach Crean and read those tweets and I think he tweeted those things for a few main reasons: to say I respect you (and every other team in the conference), to show that they’re doing some work in getting their guys prepared, and (the main reason, I think) to say we’re not overlooking you. I mean, everyone will be painting this as a trap game, and I don’t necessarily disagree that it is one, but this is also a rivalry game. Illinois gets up to play the Hoosiers, so I think it’s important not to underestimate them and the target of being number one on the road.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregory.spera.3 Gregory Spera

    Crean always has this team focused on the task at hand. That seems to be a strength. These kids consistently give an all-out effort. I don’t see them looking past the Illini. That alone doesn’t guarantee a win, but it should help avoid any unexpected bumps in the road.

  • jermhoosierfan

    I chuckled a little when I saw his Twitter posts, but this team did beat Ohio St. a month ago. A lot can change in a month, but IU should come out ready. I do believe that they learned a lesson about being #1 and how everybody is gunning for you. I have always heard that Defense travels very well. Your offense might sputter, but your defense will always show up if you are a solid defensive team. I expect it to show up on Thursday.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    This Illannoy squad is no team to overlook. IMO this is a team capable of playing out of their minds (with their crowd support) because they desperately need the win plus it is a rivalry. Going unconscious from three is about their only hope, and I am quite sure it will be bombs away. If they are on from the start then it will be a game.

    Without pUKe on the schedule Illannoy becomes our 2nd biggest rival behind Purdue in my mind. That makes this a dangerous scenario. However, we are GREAT enough to not let a game get away from us. Despite what some might say, I feel this is an absolute must win situation for us. Realistically every game is, but this would still be a quality road win (despite Illanoy’s recent woes) in regards to seeding discussion. I feel our guys will be up for this game just as much as Illannoy, and will have to be just as up for this game to control it from start to finish.

    This game could go two ways: A dogfight with a win/loss going either way, or the same way the Purdue game went. Obviously, I am (confidently) hoping for the latter.

    Go IU!!

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    This Illannoy squad is no team to overlook. IMO this is a team capable of playing out of their minds (with their crowd support) because they desperately need the win plus it is a rivalry. Going unconscious from three is about their only hope, and I am quite sure it will be bombs away. If they are on from the start then it will be a game.

    Without pUKe on the schedule Illannoy becomes our 2nd biggest rival behind Purdue in my mind. That makes this a dangerous scenario. However, we are GREAT enough to not let a game get away from us. Despite what some might say, I feel this is an absolute must win situation for us. Realistically every game is, but this would still be a quality road win (despite Illanoy’s recent woes) in regards to seeding discussion. I feel our guys will be up for this game just as much as Illannoy, and will have to be just as up for this game to control it from start to finish.

    This game could go two ways: A dogfight with a win/loss going either way, or the same way the Purdue game went. Obviously, I am (confidently) hoping for the latter.

    Go IU!!

  • KevOMG

    Don’t go into a zone. That will allow them to shoot 3s and if they’re hot, could start a run. Play them man-to-man the whole game, and force them to go inside. I’ve never seen ITH put such little emphasis on a froncourt before. “.

    “…Nnanna Egwu is the closest thing to a legitimate post presence…” that says enough. Slam it home Hoosiers!

  • twarrior87

    I agree, if they’re a 3 ball team, don’t let them shoot the 3

  • sloan screen #45

    Illannoy is due for a good game lets hope they hold off 1 more game before that happens.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    if we are ready to play we will win.

  • SUNY_RIT_IU_Grad

    I hope to see a lot of Hoosier fans in Champaign tomorrow. If you see me in my Hoosier sweatshirt, be sure to say hello and Go Hoosiers! VBG!

  • SUNY_RIT_IU_Grad

    This is a huge must win for us. Me, in particular since I spend the past 20 years working at the U of I. I absolutely despise going to work when the stinking Illini beat our Hoosiers. My favorite game at the second rate Assembly Hall was when EG’s team played there. I still hear the clanging from the Illini’s missed field goals. Clang, clang, clang!!!

  • Hovadipo

    hoping to see a bunch of crimson and cream tomorrow. Being from illinois, hating them is what ive grown up with. Indiana fans from Indiana hate Purdue. Indiana fans from Illinois have to hate Illinois, worst fair weather fans Ive ever seen. HOO HOO HOO

  • marcusgresham

    Oladipo breaks Paul’s spirit, Yogi handles Abrams, and Sheehey periodically shouts the name “Eric Gordon” at an increasingly irate student section.

  • MillaRed

    I would compare them to Purdue after watching them play terribly against Wisconsin. But it’s still a rivalry game that can never be underestimated.

    They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Teams like Illinois are looking for the “signature” wins that get them in the dance.

    If we just do our thing and stay patient we will be fine. Expect some bad officiating folks. It’s always part of the Big Ten road game recipe.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Oooooohh man, you work up there?? I feel your pain brother. They do have some odd rims up there that seem to resonate with each brick.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    ………Oladipo will dunk one from half court…….Jumping off two feet

  • quincy

    I’m driving over for the game. Never been to Champaign. Any suggestions?

    What should I expect

  • Hoosier#1Team

    Watch the Turnovers, Hit the Free Throws, WIN

  • PDXHoosier

    He is the Chuck Norris of basketball

  • Remy Willing and Abell

    Makes sense to me !

  • Remy Willing and Abell

    Take pepper spray if you’re wearing red .

  • SCHoosier

    I get all that..but he could save some time by just having somebody edit in the name of the team and coach and leave all the lavish praise as it is. Such is the politically correct way of analyzing an opponent. I’d like to see a SNL comedy version of “honest” coach speak. It would be hilarious.

  • Kenneth234

    With their shooting %’s behind the arc, I would say a zone would not be a bad strategy. I expect a healthy mix of man and zone again in this one. If they hit roughly 30% of their 3′s as they have for the majority of the season, it is a possession game. All that matters is that we play efficiently on the offensive end.

  • sloan screen #45

    I think this team is much better than PUke. They had some pretty good wins early on. Still IU should handle them if the boys come to play.

  • HoosierPat

    This is another potential trap game, similar to Purdue. Hopefully we see a similar result.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Indeed!

  • IUMIKE1

    Would expect nothing less and it’s not like they probably won’t deserve it.

  • IUMIKE1

    Would expect nothing less and it’s not like they probably won’t deserve it.

  • IUMIKE1

    I just don’t know where you would ever get an idea like that ! DWS

  • IUMIKE1

    Expect to have the need to watch your back.

  • SUNY_RIT_IU_Grad

    I have attended many IU games in Champaign wearing IU gear and I have never received anything more than reasonable negative comments. I also go to the Esquire lounge in downtown Champaign after the games and I have never had any issues, nor have I ever witnessed other IU fans being harassed in this establishment. They have better than average bar food there and a good beer section if interested. Lot’s of TV also if you come into town and want to watch a game at a bar.

  • Geoff_85

    No, Chuck Norris is the Will Sheehey of kicking people’s asses. Get it right.

  • IUMIKE1

    It’s a conference game, it’s a road conference game, we’re only one game up on the next place team in the race for the B1G title, keep the big mo on our side, etc etc. All that stuff is correct and well, but it’s kinda like pUKe or PUke, isn’t just the name Illannoy enough to want this one badly ? It damn sure is with me.

  • CreamandCrimson

    We should be able to pound the ball down low (both by the drive and by the pass). Egwu has been better than I expected for them so it would be nice to sit him on the bench (their frontcourt depth is really poor). We should also be able to get to the free throw line consistently (again, accomplished by driving and passing down low). Actually, looking at the stats, there’s not a whole lot we shouldn’t be able to do against these guys.

    One “game within the game” I will be looking at is how Hollowell builds off of his solid performance against Michigan. Playing well once is nice, playing well twice in a row would be a sign that Jeremy could be a consistent force. I’d love to see another dominant performance like we saw in Mackey but I’ll be more than happy with a focused effort resulting in a win of any margin.

  • calbert40

    I fully understand that this is an a) rivalry game, b) conference game, and c) road game, so we must play our best to win. That said, I think we are a matchup nightmare for the Illini.

    Their best player will be blanketed by the Victor all night, and Paul tends to get an itchy trigger when he isn’t getting his. That should play right into Vic’s hands on D. They have almost no interior game to speak of, so I expect Cody and CWat to have really nice games.

    Their only chance, IMO, is to be a) hot from 3, and b) we don’t play very well. Even then, I think it would be a good game. Much like we don’t matchup well with some teams, I just don’t think Illinois matches up with us well at all. IU by 12.

  • calbert40

    Off topic a little, but speaking of irate student sections, has anyone else noticed that some of the B1G games lately have featured some fairly quiet crowds (by comparison)? I understand that nothing quite matches The Hall, but I thought the crowd at the UM-OSU game was pretty tame, and the crowd in Madison for last night’s double OT game with Iowa was nearly nonexistent.

    Maybe I expect too much?

  • Tom S

    I didn’t watch a lot of either game, but you can’t always compare the crowds by sound levels. The production crew can control how much of that makes it through the broadcast.

  • marcusgresham

    You’re correct about the production to an extent, but here’s how I judge that (I spent 8 years in TV, so I do know just a bit:) when you listen to an IU game it doesn’t sound overly loud because the audio is meant to be kept at a steady level, but the way you can identify how loud it is is to notice how you can barely hear the announcers because the crowd is bleeding through their mics as loudly as they are.

  • calbert40

    That is a good point, and one that I hadn’t thought of. I watched a lot of the UM-OSU game, and the crowd had its moments, but overall I thought they seemed less rowdy than I’d have expected. The Iowa-UW crowd was plain awful though. Most of the crowd in the lower level was sitting during a tie game with the shot clock off in OT. Yikes!

  • calbert40

    That is a good point, and one that I hadn’t thought of. I watched a lot of the UM-OSU game, and the crowd had its moments, but overall I thought they seemed less rowdy than I’d have expected. The Iowa-UW crowd was plain awful though. Most of the crowd in the lower level was sitting during a tie game with the shot clock off in OT. Yikes!

  • pb1230

    Well part of the reason their 3% is so low is that they settle for and force up contested 3′s.

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