What to Expect: Illinois

  • 01/25/2014 3:08 pm in

Indiana returns to Assembly Hall on Sunday afternoon for its second meeting of the season with Illinois. The Fighting Illini won the first contest between the two teams, 83-80 in overtime, on Dec. 31 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

The game will be broadcast on BTN at 3 p.m. ET and on the IU radio network (Sirius 85, XM 85):

A third of the way into the Big Ten schedule, Indiana’s prospects for emerging from the fray with a winning record are not looking promising. The Hoosiers failed to keep momentum after beating Penn State and Wisconsin and come into Sunday’s game with Illinois as losers of two straight.

Illinois is in worse shape than the Hoosiers as the Fighting Illini carry a five-game losing streak into Assembly Hall after opening league play with two straight wins. And with home games against Iowa and Wisconsin to follow, this may be the best chance for Illinois to avoid an eight-game skid.

In a lot of ways, this is Indiana’s most important game of the season so far. And as the calendar continues to creep toward March, that phrase is going to continue to come up. Simply put, the Hoosiers need wins. With six road games still on the slate, it’s basically a must to protect home court, particularly after the Northwestern loss.

The NCAA tournament is a long shot at this point, but the overall strength of the Big Ten still gives Indiana a chance to play its way in. That, however, only becomes a discussion over the coming weeks if the Hoosiers are able to string together wins, get above .500 in league play and beat some of the league’s top teams. Tomorrow’s game isn’t one that will hold much clout in terms of quality come March, but it’s one that Indiana simply cannot afford to lose.


Junior guard Rayvonte Rice was a thorn in Indiana’s side during the first matchup in Champaign, but his level of play has dropped off significantly in recent weeks. In seven league games, the transfer from Drake is averaging 13.4 points on 30.8 percent shooting from the field. Rice is coming off an 0-for-8 performance on Thursday in a loss at Ohio State.

Tracy Abrams, the Fighting Illini’s second leading scorer in Big Ten games, has also struggled from the field in conference at just 36.1 percent from the field. Overall, the junior is best suited as a facilitator (24.1 assist rate), but he continues to take a high percentage of his team’s shots (25.8), which, when combined with Rice’s struggles, is a big reason Illinois has the 10th best offense in league games.

Seniors Joseph Bertrand has been the most reliable offensive piece for John Groce in league games and his 19 points on Thursday at Ohio State was the big reason the Illini were in the game late. Bertrand is easily the most efficient player on the roster with a 57.7 effective field goal percentage, which is bolstered by his reliable stroke from distance (45.2 percent on 3s). Graduate senior Jon Ekey is taking 74 percent of his shots from behind the 3-point line, where he’s hitting at a 36.8 clip overall, but just 33.3 percent in Big Ten games.

In the front court, Nnanna Egwu is hitting less than 30 percent of his shot attempts in league play and while he’s been solid on the offensive glass (9.7 OR%) and as a defender (8.1 block percentage), his five points per game in Big Ten games just isn’t getting it done. He is, however, coming off 10 points on Thursday against Ohio State.

Groce has trimmed his bench significantly as freshman guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate were the only reserves to log more than 10 minutes at Ohio State. Nunn is a powerful guard that brings energy off the bench while Tate is basically a black hole offensively (16.7 eFG% in Big Ten games).


We’re switching things up here a bit as both teams have a healthy enough sample size to display conference-only stats and ranks:


Much like the first matchup, turnovers have a chance to be a significant factor on Sunday. Illinois is coughing it up on just 14.6 of its possessions in Big Ten play compared to 21.3 percent for Indiana. In a one or two possession game, this could be paramount. Indiana had been taking care of the ball better, but regressed against Michigan State with a 26.1 turnover percentage.

Where Indiana needs to exploit Illinois is both on the offensive glass and getting to the foul line. Indiana is the Big Ten’s third best team in terms of getting to the line while the Fighting Illini have the worst free throw rate in conference games thus far.

Offensive rebounding also has a chance to be a mismatch as IU is grabbing close to nine percent more of its misses than Illinois.


The Big Ten is scouted as well as any league in the country and given that these teams have already met once, you can expect a fair amount of adjustments in round two. The Vegas line opened with IU as a 5.5-point favorite, KenPom likes the Hoosiers by 5 and the Sagarin ratings like IU by 4.

The blueprint Northwestern used against Indiana is one that Illinois may attempt to replicate, which is essentially pack the lane, play physical and hope that the Hoosiers miss shots close to the rim. Given that Indiana is shooting a league-worst 40.3 percent on 2s in Big Ten play, it’s arguably the best strategy until the Hoosiers prove otherwise.

Illinois has been nearly as bad on 2s in Big Ten play (41.4 percent) and a woeful 26.4 percent on 3s, so look for Indiana to look and try to keep Rice out of the offensive flow early and avoid a repeat of the 29 points he dropped in Champaign.

If  IU can take care of the ball and shoot a percentage anywhere near its season averages, this is a game it should win. But as we saw last weekend against Northwestern, nothing comes easy in the Big Ten.

(Photo credit: Associated Press/Jeff Roberson )

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  • GaHoosier


    Usually you mention it in the article, but who is favored to win?


  • SCHoosier

    What I expect is another close game with IU pulling it out..if .NV and.or Yogi don’t get in foul trouble.

  • 11th and Done (Dunn)

    I expect to see Jim Groce’s angry underbite at least 30 times when the cameras pan to him.

  • InTheMtns

    KenPom likes Indiana by 5 over Illinois and Sagarin likes the Hoosiers by 4. Haven’t seen a Vegas line as yet.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Call me crazy, but I believe this will be our first blowout of the Big 10 season. I think we play OUR style and they have a poor shooting day. Indiana by 24.

  • InTheMtns

    I like this prediction a lot! Here’s hoping it comes true. I’m not certain of a blowout, but I do think Indiana wins by at least 7 points. I like you’re 24 better, though.

  • Hoosier Hall

    I love a good blowout (as long as we’re on the right end). They’re much easier on my nerves.

  • Good call. Need to get that in there.

  • jacobdetroy

    Haha – don’t forget the bull dog eyes, too.

  • HoosierFan76

    Who is Jim Groce? Is he John’s long-lost twin, with a Chris and Cliff Paul thing going on here? Please say it isn’t so – one is enough!

  • HoosierHysteria5

    You know that’s right! haha

  • IUJeff

    That is pretty sad, IU at home over this mediocre team by 4. That’s right, mediocre….

    IU by 14. Book it.

  • SCHoosier

    ILL fans are probably saying the same thing.

  • Shawn Congo

    Fun is what got them in this position. You gotta learn to play at this level. Then comes the fun. Read: See next season.

  • Lobills

    3 keys to the game…

    1. Take care of the ball
    2. Ball movement to enter ball into Vonleh more effectively.
    3. Since Illinois struggles in the half court transition defense will be of critical importance today.

    Basics? Yes. But taking care of the simple things is what will allow us to get a much needed home win against a very beatable opponent.

  • Robinson

    I think Fanboy is onto something here. Fear will cause errors, I played a bit of college ball myself years ago; and there is no bigger problem than fear.

  • SCHoosier

    I see the game as a toss up.. TO’s are of course important..but MSU had only 5 yesterday to UM’s 11 and still got beat because Stauskas and crew can and did put the ball in the bucket with regularity. Take care of the ball..defend and board..but for goodness sake..its basketball..make some darn shots.

  • Ole Man

    Fun game to watch–both teams run an offense.

  • NC Hoosier

    Completely agree. Even if we win we are still a long way away from a bid to the tournament. A loss would be devastating to our chances.

  • Bruce

    You must admit that ms was missing Paine and Dawson. It was amazing that they could compete at all missing those 2

  • Bruce

    Is that a swipe at ctc half court non existent half court offense?

  • SCHoosier

    Absolutely..showed some decent freshmen in the second half too.

  • Darrell Allen

    First half – a very ugly game to watch! Especially at this level! Looks like a mediocre high school game! Neither team can hit from the outside. Neither team appears to be running any kind of a team offense. Lots of standing around. Forcing play into Vonleh, then he tries to dribble through double and triple coverage! Inexplicable substituting by IU! Hollowell hits our first 3 and he is immediately subbed! Etherington appears to be one of the lone players who is playing well, and he is constantly being subbed in and out! No one is in long enough to break a sweat and get into the flow of the game! Sheehey, Ferrell nor Gordon can hit anything from outside! Missing front-ends of one & one’s! Constant turnovers! Excellent example of how recruiting only for athleticism does not necessarily translate into good basketball, especially with the team concept! The ability to shoot free throws accurately, hit open outside shots, control the ball, set useful screens, block out for rebounds and keep your man in front of you on defense (or at least talk to your teammates to switch, etc.) all do not require tons of athleticism, but rather basic basketball skills and smarts! Go Hoosiers!

  • Ole Man