What to Expect: Illinois

  • 03/12/2014 12:19 pm in

Indiana travels 50 miles north to Indianapolis on Thursday for the 2014 Big Ten tournament, where the 8th seeded Hoosiers will open opposite 9th seeded Illinois. The winner will advance to meet top seeded Michigan at 12 p.m. ET on Friday. The Fighting Illini are 18-13 overall and have won four of their last five games.

The game will be broadcast at 12 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network and on the IU radio network:

Ready or not, postseason play is here. And after an entertaining regular season in the Big Ten, the conference figures to take center stage of the college hoops world this weekend in Indianapolis. For the fourth straight season, the Big Ten is the top league in the country according to the KenPom rankings and while it may not have a national champion since 2000, the quality of the league from top to bottom is unmatched.

Indiana, of course, has fallen back into the bottom half of the league after winning it outright last season for the first time in 20 years. Most of the preseason prognostications slotted the Hoosiers as the fifth or sixth best team in the conference, but IU never managed to build the consistency needed to reach its full potential and finds itself in need of four wins to reach the NCAA tournament.

That all goes out the window tomorrow for teams like IU, Illinois, Purdue, Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota, at least temporarily, as all 12 teams come together at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line. If the Hoosiers can make a run to Sunday and win it for the first time ever, it would be a surprising turn of events on an otherwise disappointing season. If not, the NIT awaits.


After his team dropped its eighth straight game on Feb. 4 to Wisconsin, Illinois coach John Groce made a change in his starting lineup that may have helped turn the Fighting Illini’s season around. The move was to insert freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in the starting lineup in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand.

On Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference, Groce said the change was to help balance the rotation as Illinois had all four of its freshman coming off the bench. The switch has paid off as Illinois won five of its next eight games to dig itself out of last place and arrive in Indianapolis as a dangerous team.

The Illinois starting five is now essentially four guards — Nunn, Hill, Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams — with junior Nnanna Egwu manning the post. Rice is the team’s leading scorer in Big Ten games at 13.9 points per game, but his efficiency (40.7 eFG%) leaves plenty of room for improvement. Rice has torched Indiana twice already this season with 49 points on 15-of-31 shooting, but he’s been a volume shooter and at his worst, can shoot the Illini right out of a game. Rice, however, is one of the best rebounding guards in the Big Ten at 6.4 per game.

Abrams is the team’s second leading scorer in Big Ten games, but is even less efficient than Rice with an effective field goal percentage of just 35.5. He does, however, rank ninth in the Big Ten with an assist rate of 24.9. Nunn, who was named to the Big Ten All-freshman team, averaged 8.6 points per game in conference play and may have the brightest future of any Illinois player. He’s hitting close to 44 percent of his 3s in league play and has an effective field goal percentage of 57.4.

Hill isn’t much of a scorer, but does knock down the occasional 3-pointer while Bertrand and Ekey now give Illinois a pair of veterans coming off of the bench. Bertrand’s 7.4 points per game is fourth on the team and he’s much more effective on 2s (47.7 percent) than 3s (27.6 percent). Ekey is a 3-point specialist with 73 of his 111 field goal attempts coming from behind the 3-point line, where he’s hitting just 32.9 percent. Freshman Jaylon Tate also plays about 10 minutes off the bench, but has been dreadful offensively (21.2 field goal percentage).

Up front, Illinois goes with Egwu, who had 37 blocks in 18 league games and freshman Maverick Morgan in spot duty. Egwu is a decent rebounder (6.4 per game), but his field goal percentage (39.1) is poor for a 6-foot-11 post player and also driven somewhat by a tendency to take midrange jump shots.



Since changing its starting lineup, Illinois has been much better defensively as the Illini have allowed 55 or fewer points in four of their five wins since Feb. 9. The Illini are the Big Ten’s third best defense and the third slowest club in terms of pace, so the chances this game looks more like the meeting in Bloomington (56-46 IU win) than the game in Champaign (83-80 Illinois win in overtime) are high.

So what does Indiana have to do well in order to win? Take care of the ball and get on the offensive glass.

The Hoosiers have turned it over at a high rate against Illinois in each of the first two meetings and a third performance could be a recipe for disaster. Illinois is also susceptible to second chance points (ninth in defensive rebounding percentage), which provides Indiana an opportunity to drum up some offense even if its shots aren’t falling. The chances Illinois goes to a trapping zone are extremely high, which means Indiana is going to need sharp ball movement (and movement away from the ball) to find open looks.

Free throws could also loom large as Indiana has a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) about eight percent higher than Illinois in Big Ten games.


The KenPom projection likes Indiana to win 64-62 as it calls the game “semi-away” for Illinois because it’s being played in Indianapolis in front of what figures to be a strong Hoosier crowd. Sagarin likes Indiana by a half of a point.

That said, Illinois has been the superior team away from its home venue this season with an 8-7 record while IU is just 3-10 away from Assembly Hall. The Illini come in playing solid basketball of late since their lineup change and present a solid challenge with a formidable defense and a young player (Nunn) who has gained a lot of confidence since these teams last met.

How Indiana is able to weather runs when they come and how the Hoosiers attack pressure and value the ball will likely determine the outcome in what should be an intriguing game to open a great weekend of basketball.

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  • Alford Bailey

    I sat in my seat in Indy two years ago after a disappointing loss to Wisky and thought in two years when the B1G tourney comes back we will be really good team and have a legit shot to win this thing. Didn’t even buy tickets this year. I’ll just watch on tv. Man, I did not see this type of season coming. Hope Crean can pull a couple of rabbits out of the hat.

  • And One

    Beat the Illini, or that’s it. Don’t think we even get NIT if we lose. So, yeah: beat the Illini.

  • HoosierFanaticFromUSI

    Attack the boards, get to the line, limit turnovers.

    Easier said than done I guess, but those will be the keys to a victory in this game. Also, don’t let Illinois get hot from 3 because we know that they take a lot of them.

  • IULaw79

    There is zero chance of us not making the NIT. We are not even close to being on that type of bubble. Our performance this weekend will determine if we are anywhere from a 1 seed to a 4 seed in the NIT. I basically think we start as a 4 and improve our seed line 1 spot with each win. So beat Illinois, we’re a 3, upset Michigan we’re a 2, win Saturday we are a 1 seed. Win Sunday and we dance.

  • calbert40

    I think there is an equal chance of this team losing to Illinois as there is making it to the championship. Trying to predict what will happen is an exercise in futility, so I will abstain and just say, “Go Hoosiers!” Maybe they will play loose without having much expectations thrown on their shoulders?

  • i.u.grad.

    If Vonleh stays, which I doubt, you can get tickets next year. If they are going to play 4 guards, you would think the Hoosiers would zone a great deal, so that they don’t need to worry about match ups. I still will never understand not using Vonleh and Perea together. Groce tried mixing players up at Illinois and it seemed to help. What would we have to lose ? I think it’s true that the B1G is the most balanced league in the country, but I don’t think the nat’l champ will come from there. This game is winnable and I.U. got the best draw possible. Will they surprise us with a run or disappoint us yet again ? Let’s hope it’s the former.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I have no idea what to expect…none of us do. It would be nice to actually play well in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.

  • inadvertentelbows_stillhurt

    Illinois plays essentially a all guard lineup I’m afraid if IU comes out with Will and Yogi taking quick shots to get the team going it will play into the Illini hands. If IU can dominate the glass it can get the win but I see a hot Illinois team giving the down Hoosiers with a less than 100% NV another disappointing loss..IU teams seem to go cold from the outside in Bankers Life and we all know this team isn’t great shooting as is.

  • Crimson&CremeFraiche

    I agree 100%. Regardless of how things turned out in a lot of games, I had fun watching this team. So every extra game is a bonus. I think they can do it. Lets go Hoosiers!!

  • Crimson&CremeFraiche

    I think there is still some fight in this team. They played their hearts out and almost took down the conference’s best on senior night. And that was after another disappointing home loss. We have the talent and Its never too late to figure it out……. unless its on Friday

  • notfargj

    groce on stanford robinson: “i’d love to coach him. he’s tough, he defends and he plays offense as well. he plays both ends of the floor.”

    wow. wouldn’t it be nice if crean felt the same way? why robinson spent so much time on the bench earlier this season is beyond me. admittedly, most of this years coaching decisions have been baffling – to say the least. while i believe gordon is a great kid and decent player it’s troubling we’ve invested so little time in stan and so much time in a senior. given the direction the season was heading i wish, to all that is holy, crean would have made it a point to increase the kids playing time. it would be so much easier to swallow all the losses if they were at the hands of a struggling freshman class.

    side note # 1: at the risk of sounding like an arrogant moron, last summer i predicted devin davis was the sleeper of this years class – not that anyone cares nor should they. i just need to get this off my chest. he continues to show signs of being a key contributor to the team. he attacks the rim like a bulldog. he’s a bruiser. he’s not necessarily the guy we want putting the ball on the floor but he stays true to his role and carries his weight. his “sudden” flashes of improvement shouldn’t come as a surprise.

    ultimately, it would have been so much easier to look past all the losses dealt by a young group of guys who were finding their way. there seems to have been so much gambling, so much time waisted on absolute nonsense this season.

    side note #2: what are the chances we can bring jimmy crews back home and witness a true renaissance of indiana basketball?

    thoroughly disappointed by this years results,


  • I’m not so sure that Illinois was the best draw by any means. They have won 4 out of their last 5. I’m not so sure we get outta this round. I have faith that we will but I’m not overlooking a hot team that may be out for revenge, since we beat them the last time we faced them.

  • I do. 2011-2012 against Notre Dame. Cody Zeller’s frosh year.

  • PDXHoosier

    I don’t buy the semi-home game stuff at bankers life fieldhouse. yes, there will probably be more IU fans than any other single team, but not enough to make a difference. everyone else (especially Purdont fans) will be cheering against IU.
    Also- I don’t know what our record is there, but I don’t recall it being good.

  • MillaRed

    I expect us to win impressively or lose terribly. Nothing in between.

  • MillaRed

    The NIT needs us more than we need it unfortunately. We will be the first program they call.

  • NC Hoosier

    How awful is it that we are discussing where we will be seeded in the NIT.

  • NC Hoosier

    I’m not sure any draw would be good for us. We got beat by Penn State and Northwestern at home.

  • calbert40

    1) Stan is 6th on the team in minutes played. It isn’t like he rode pine all year long. Evan is 5th. Also, Stan played very sparingly early in the season, which means he earned more PT as the season progressed. Outside of star freshmen, this is “the way of things.”

    2) I was high on Davis too, but I thought the most important players to this class were Stan…and Luke, unfortunately. I think Davis had some rough stretches this season, but I believe he will be a strong player for us in the future.

    3) Not even worth discussing note #2, IMO.

  • SCHoosier

    ILL hits from 3 and IU fitters away possessions with TO’s..season is done. IU should win this..but Hoosiers have had a lot of “should haves” this year.

  • calbert40

    I did a little more research on Stan’s PT in comparison to Evan’s. (It has been a slow day at work!).

    Non-Conference portion of the schedule (13 games):
    Evan: 268 minutes played, 20.6 MPG
    Stan: 130 minutes played, 10 MPG

    B1G Schedule (18 games):
    Evan: 375 minutes played, 20.8 MPG
    Stan: 390 minutes played, 21.7 MPG

    We can learn a few things from those stats. 1) Crean has more than doubled Stan’s mpg over the past 18 games, and he played Stan more minutes than Evan during that time. 2) Evan’s mpg stayed nearly identical (0.2 minutes more per game, the equivalent of 12 additional seconds per game), but Stan’s changed more drastically than any other player on the team (11.7 minutes more per game).

    3) Stan didn’t take away from Evan’s minutes, and vice versa. Stan was getting minutes from other players. I didn’t do all that research, but the eye test would lead me to believe it was mainly Hollowell’s and some of Troy’s.

  • BT

    Who wants in on my NIT bracket pool?

  • inadvertentelbows_stillhurt

    I agree with you Notforgj with the exception of the Jim Crews stuff…he has only taken a team to the round of 32 once…Let’s face it the Atkins Diet has more fruit than the RMK coaching tree which we seem to forget includes Mike Davis…even Mike K. beat up on a very weak conference for years to accumulate wins…If your vote is Crews…I’ll go off the grid…Lawrence Frank

  • And One

    I like your arithmetic. Sorry, I’m back in off the ledge now. I’m just not ready for the season to end that’s all.

  • David Macer

    IU Manager’s appreciate all the love we can get !!!!

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    We won but I wouldn’t say that was a good game we played. Expected after an emotional win over Kentucky, but we were horribly flat that day.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Maybe Stan’s health played a bit into the lack of early minutes. Just sayin

  • Jamal shall inherit

    I love evidence.

  • HoosierFanaticFromUSI

    Minor correction: Crews has actually been to the round of 32 twice. In ’89 with Evansville, and last year with Saint Louis.

  • notfargj

    true. that did cross my mind.

  • calbert40

    Me too. Objective evidence is harder to find than subjective, but worth a lot more.

  • calbert40

    Good point. I had forgotten that he started the season hurt.

  • calbert40

    And either is equally likely to happen!

  • notfargj

    yes. luke. with the serious prospect of noah leaving, he was a topic of discussion in our home the other day. it’s extremely disappointing he got away. he likely did miss home but it’s very hard to believe that this alone was reason enough for him to leave. kids his age sign up to serve our country every day. once they leave the nest, you can bet a lot of them miss home, too. there’s college freshman who overcome – the near terror for some – leaving home for the first time. leaving behind friends and loved ones for a considerable amount of time is a natural stage of the maturation process. luke’s family is in the midwest. he’s a big boy – no pun intended – and appeared to be thrilled to be a hoosier. he was humble, a terrific student and showed a lot of class. how did our coaches let a potential 4-year contributor – of his talent – get away? he played his best game of the season, left town for the fall break, returned to bloomington and announced he was leaving. to borrow from our old friend billy shakespeare, there was / is something rotten in the state of indiana.

  • CTHoosiers

    Frankly we could get both, one in each half.

  • thrawnjan

    I know what “you’re saying”, but I’d still like to point out that you are also saying “Indiana will win round 2 and 3 with 100% certainty” in your first sentence. And to that I say: “I doubt it.”

  • calbert40

    That’s not at all what I am saying. I am saying that I think they are just as likely to lose today as they are to win their next three (or four) games. This team can beat anyone…and lose to anyone. Basically, I’m suggesting that nothing would surprise me.

  • MillaRed

    Simply put if Evan isn’t here those minutes go to Marlin. He may not have been as good as we thought he was, but he’s not Marlin.

  • thrawnjan

    Oh, I assumed that the chance of winning today was 50% in my post, that was my bad. If that was the case, then rounds 2 and 3 would have to be won with 100% certainty, so that Prob(reaching final) = Prob(lose first game).
    Let’s assume that in each round IU will have an equal probability of winning. Then let’s call the probability of winning a game p, and the probability of losing a game (1-p).
    Now, for the probability of losing the first round to be equal to the probability of reaching the final, you would have (1-p) = p^3.
    That results in p = 68.3%. That means, if you assume that the games won’t get any harder in the following rounds, you are saying that the Hoosiers have a 32.7% chance of losing tonight (or any subsequent round). If you think the games will get harder along the way, the Hoosiers would have to be an even bigger favorite tonight.
    Just wanted to smart-ass a bit, and at the same time keep the expectations in check. 🙂
    And I completely understood that you were merely suggesting that nothing would surprise you. I just took it literally and ran with it.

  • calbert40

    I read you. Technically, I guess that any team’s chance of winning any game is truly 50 percent, right? The way I look at it is that I think we are a favorite to win today, and we have played quite well against UM over the past couple of seasons too. Of all the top 4 seeds, I like our chances against UM better than any of them. And if we win that game, we will play NU or OSU (most likely). I think we *could* beat either of those teams too.

    Then again, it wouldn’t surprise me if we turned the ball over 19 times and shot 30 percent today and lost by 10!

  • thrawnjan

    That could still be happening right now :/