What to Expect: Illinois

  • 02/24/2016 11:05 am in

Indiana will aim for its third straight win on Thursday night as it travels to the State Farm Center to take on Illinois. The Fighting Illii are 12-15 overall and 4-10 in Big Ten games.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET with Rece Davis, Seth Greenburg and Dan Dakich on the call:

One game stands between Indiana playing for a guaranteed share of the Big Ten title on Tuesday in Iowa City: Illinois in Champaign. After starting 3-0 in Big Ten road games, the Hoosiers have dropped three of their last four away from Assembly Hall with the lone win coming at Michigan.

Injuries have made it a challenging and tumultuous fourth season for John Groce. The Illini have only beaten Rutgers (on two occasions) since a Jan. 23 win at Minnesota and two of their four league wins have come in overtime. But after a 103-69 beatdown on Jan. 19 in Bloomington, the Illini will be looking to play spoiler and avenge an embarrassing loss.

At 12-3, an Indiana win in Champaign would set the Hoosiers up for a huge Tuesday matchup in Iowa City with the Hawkeyes that would have major conference title implications. But Indiana, which could be without a key player in Robert Johnson, can’t afford to look ahead. The last ranked IU team to enter the State Farm Center, the No. 1 ranked Hoosiers in the 2012-2013 season, left with a stunning defeat. With a Big Ten title, conference tournament seeding and NCAA tournament seeding implications, every game from here on out is huge for Indiana as we enter the season’s final stretch.

MEET THE FIGHTING ILLINI (all stats are conference only unless otherwise noted)

Illinois is still without three players that would either be starting or making major contributions on a roster that lacks quality depth. Center Mike Thorne has played in one conference game (at Indiana) and remains out indefinitely with a knee injury. Sophomore forward Leron Black is injured and also suspended indefinitely after pulling a knife on a bouncer at a nightclub last week. Point guard Tracy Abrams is out for the season after suffering a torn Achilles in the offseason.

Given its lack of frontcourt depth, Illinois is very perimeter oriented with all three of its double figure scorers standing 6-foot-6 or smaller.

Malcolm Hill has been a bright spot for Illinois as the junior wing is averaging 18.5 points per game in league play. Hill is using the third highest percentage of possessions of any Big Ten player and is excellent at drawing fouls. Hill’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 64.3, the third best mark in the Big Ten. His shooting has been average – 44.1 percent on 2s and 33.3 percent on 2s – but as his shot chart from ShotAnalytics shows, he can score from all over the floor:

malcolmhillchart

Junior Kendrick Nunn scored 10 points in the first meeting in Bloomington, but shot just 2-of-7 on 3s and was a non-factor for most of the game. Nunn is averaging 15.1 points in league play and while he’s streaky, he’s capable from distance as he’s making 38 percent of his 3s.

Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands, who received his first scholarship offer from Indiana as a freshman in high school, is hitting 39.1 percent of his 3s in Big Ten games, which ranks 17th in the conference. He’s also the Big Ten’s second best in terms of taking care of the ball with a turnover percentage of just 6.7. Coleman scored six points in the first IU-Illinois game on a pair of 3s.

Senior point guard Khalil Lewis has started the last five games for the Illini and has an assist rate of 25.4, which ranks ninth best in the Big Ten. Lewis isn’t much of a threat to score as he’s got the team’s lowest effective field goal percentage (33.7), but he will look to set up Hill, Nunn and Coleman-Lands. He’s a decent defender as well as he ranks in the 55th percentile nationally in points per possession allowed according to Synergy Sports.

Other perimeter players to keep an eye on include junior point guard Jaylon Tate, freshman guard Aaron Jordan and freshman wing D.J. Williams.

The playing time for Williams has been on the rise as he’s averaged 17.6 minutes over the last five games and has scored six or more points in three of those outings.

With Black and Thorne out, junior Maverick Morgan continues to man the post with freshman Michael Finke coming off the bench. Morgan’s 9.3 points per game are fourth on the team and he’s making 56 percent of his 2s, but he’s a poor rebounder on both ends. The 6-foot-10 Finke is fifth on the team in scoring in league play at 6.2 points per game, but he’s more of a perimeter-oriented player. Finke is making 34 percent of his 3s in conference play.

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

illinoistempofree

Indiana crushed Illinois in the first meeting thanks to a hot shooting game (72 eFG%, 1.46 points per possession) and a strong offensive rebounding performance (40%). The Hoosiers also took care of the ball very well (16 TO%). Aside from the fact that Illinois did a decent job of getting to the line, it was a nightmare performance for the Illini.

The keys for Illinois to turn things around this time begin with better perimeter defense (IU hit a Big Ten record 19 3s in the first meeting) and a better job on the defensive glass, which is easier said than done against an IU team that can be relentless on the boards.

For the Hoosiers, the keys remain pretty constant: taking care of the ball and playing through the paint first. Thomas Bryant played just 19 minutes in the first game due to foul trouble, but establishing him inside early against Morgan should help open the perimeter as well as the lane for straight line drives.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

The KenPom projection is Indiana by seven with a 73 percent chance of victory and Sagarin likes the Hoosiers by nine. The Vegas line opened with IU as a 6.5-point favorite. This is a game that IU obviously needs to win to remain a viable contender in the Big Ten race and also to continue its trajectory upwards on the NCAA tournament s-curve.

Still, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed road win in the Big Ten unless you’re playing at Rutgers. Indiana and Iowa both dropped games at Penn State and Maryland lost at Minnesota. Illinois does own a home win over Purdue earlier in league play and as we mentioned earlier, the 2013 Big Ten championship team lost at Illinois, although that was a much better Illini team.

For the most part, Indiana has answered the call for more than two months now. With the stakes high, this is a chance for this group to show that a corner has been turned as the season hits its final stretch.

Filed to:

  • BL

    I hope Coach gives a legit update before the game.

  • ForeverIU

    Music to my ears!

  • ForeverIU

    Let’s keep poor battered Iowa wondering, lol.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Several posters have asked for this…I’m not for it or against it but what exactly is the upside for the IU basketball program/Tom Crean to share any kind of “legit update” other than “it’s a definite ankle sprain and he’s receiving 24/7 care”? We’d all like to know everything but what’s the benefit for the program to share everything?

  • BL

    Almost certain Coach will continue using HN to backup YF. Either way, he’ll be playing more minutes which as you suggest will be huge heading into the tourney.

  • vicbert caladipo

    Since ole is asleep somewhere, allow me to throw him a solid and substitute. Let’s see if I get this right. “Go away, you sad ignorant little troll.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I’d be perfectly fine if that ended up being the lineup. I’m guessing he opts for Zeisloft getting the start but I’m fairly certain we’ll see some lineups with only one guard on the floor tonight. Whether that’s Yogi with Collin/Troy/Max/Thomas or Yogi with Troy/OG/Bryant/Collin or some with Morgan or even some with Burton out there. We’ll see but I think Crean’s been getting things mostly right thus far during the conference season. We may lose this game but I’m confident we won’t lose because of lineup mistakes. Plenty of intrigue for sure.

  • JerryYeagley23

    I’m loving all the HN positivity, I really am, but we need to pump the brakes a little bit in my opinion. I remember in high school our team had a kid who broke every conference record for three point shooting and averaged like 36 a game; he wasn’t heavily recruited and ended up playing three years at a DII school. I think everyone on this board knew at least one kid like that and he probably would have looked great on tape. HN seems like a great kid and has given us some positive minutes, but I hesitate to start clamoring for more playing time for the young man. I think seeing a couple under-recruited kids (albeit still 3 stars) has made us believe every kid who makes a shot in garbage time has potential to fill starter minutes, but remember this is a walk-on who didn’t have opportunities to play at major schools. He’s shown some heart on defense, but I for one don’t feel comfortable at a program like IU having to rely on undersized walkons. I used to say the same thing when Eric Suhr started logging rotational minutes. I would prefer OG, NZ and JM get extra minutes. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment trying to act like HN is going to start averaging ten a game heading into the tourney because it’s a feel-good story. JMHO.

  • PacoTaco

    Agree. HN is just good enough to spell Yogi for a few minutes here and there. Anymore than that and the other team will readjust to him and it’s bad news bears from there.

  • bleeding crimson

    We looked pretty good at Mich and iowa as well until the ref’s swallowed their whistles. Play good D and take care fo the ball, the rest will take care of itself.

  • BL

    Like pro sports, D1 ball wouldn’t be what it is today without the fans. Unless the player has requested that details not be disclosed (e.g. JBJ), I believe the fans deserve to know. When I say legit update I mean – how severe, how’s he progressing and a reasonable timeline for getting back on the court. Let’s face it, there’s no strategic advantage for withholding such information. Opponents know he injured his ankle and have already game planned for alternative rotations.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Fair enough, thanks for your response.

  • BL

    Agree that Coach knows best.

  • ForeverIU

    I know what you’re saying, but it’s not all or nothing. Crean is a fantastic substitutions maestro. He will bring him in in small doses. If he is not up to the task, we’ll know it and others will fill in. My instinct tells me he can handle 10-15 minutes against a team like Illinois. When you have an injury like RJ’s, you have to exploit every resource you have. We also don’t want to exert JM and OG and risk more injury.

  • bleeding crimson

    Have to agree but we are expecting to win at Ill. but I hate calling them trap games. Regardless, we have to win this one to be relevant. Surly noone on the team is looking past this one esp with RoJo out.

  • ForeverIU

    But Crean has already said that he does not know when RJ will be back. Why don’t you take him at his word?

  • BL

    Agree. Believe coach will continue using him to give YF breathers. Btw, I believe HN had a few decent D1 offers but his dream was to play at IU. I honestly don’t believe he’s your typical walk-on.

  • bleeding crimson

    Now we have to win tonight. It’s nice being all alone at the top. I would have never had thought that after the Duke game.

  • JerryYeagley23

    I’m not disagreeing that tonight HN will need to give us a serviceable 5-10 minutes due to RJ’s injury. I guess I feel a little different about Crean’s substitution creativity. I think he has shown a propensity at times to over-sub and try to reinvent the wheel a bit. I want HN to succeed as a quality 7th-9th man as a junior and senior because I think he could be extremely valuable in that role. I just see some people get excited when a walkon comes in and doesn’t mess anything up, and then all the sudden expect more in terms of impacting the game. He’s not Jordan Hulls just because he fits the undersized “gym-rat” mold. Hulls was a mcdonalds all-american. HN was second team all state. Tempered expectations is all I’m saying. Would love to be wrong, but the examples of a walkon at a power conference ending his career as a 12pt/5ast guy are few and far.

  • BL

    More time has passed allowing for treatment and further diagnosis. Certain they now know more.

  • JerryYeagley23

    Univesity of Illinois-Chicago, Dartmouth and Northern Illinois. D1 offers, but that’s an awful big hill to climb to be expected to contribute to the Big Ten-leading team late in season as a freshman.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Jordan Hulls wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American. I agree with your point that Niego isn’t Hulls and expectations should be tempered (I don’t really see anyone saying he’s going to end up averaging 12 and 5 but I get what you are saying about being realistic about what he can bring)…but Hulls was not a McDonald’s All-American, no need to stretch the gap between the two.

  • ForeverIU

    He’s not undersized. He’s 6-2. Listen, you exploit what you have. We have lost two guards to injury. Walk-on means he does not have a scholarship; that’s all. I’m not saying we should force him on the team. It’s thanks to Crean’s subbing that we have the depth that we have.

  • bleeding crimson

    Pretty good, Oleman would be proud. Is he still alive?

  • BL

    He’s already contributed 🙂 We’re on the same page; no reason to beat a dead horse.

  • vicbert caladipo

    Right on BL. Unless the student or his family wants privacy, I think we have the right to know. Crean is always talking about how important, we the fans are, to the program, yet he can’t even throw us a little bone. I tried a few times on other threads to at least get an answer as to why there was no answer on RJ and they were ignored. I just don’t get the secrecy, and if being sneaky and trying to fool the opponent really gives us an edge?? I’m with you. I care about RJ and I care about the success he brings this team and if wondering how he is is a sin, start throwing stones. A lot of us watched the video over and over and we really can’t see anything. Wouldn’ t be too much to ask even what happened? To answer forever. When has CTC ever told the exact truth? He is constantly spinning things and I’m sure he knows exactly what’s wrong with Rob. I don’t expect coach to tell us everything and I understand how he has to spin things, but when you have to hear it from DD that RJ is out, that’s just wrong. And maybe if he just said something, people like me would shut up and we can move on.

  • ForeverIU

    He came from the same high school as Nick Zeisloft. Many of us, including me, underestimated what Nick is capable of.

  • JerryYeagley23

    Touche. Took a chance on the McD’s AA for Jordy, couldn’t remember. Wasn’t trying to create unjust disparity though, really just trying to discount the temptation to lump guys into the same group because they look the part. I’m not putting down HN or CTC or anyone on IU, because I’m a true fan and would love for the Cinderella story to play out; I’m just bored at work like many of you and had been reading all the “HN will pick up the RJ slack/HN is ready for primetime/HN will be critical come tourney time” and had a growing concern that we are making him into something more than he is, which should be a solid walkon who might earn a scholarship his JR/SR year and spell our (hopefully) next McD’s AA FR/SO point guard in a few years.

  • CreamandCrimson

    That’s very fair and I think keeping some perspective expectations on Niego’s role for the remainder of his career is probably wise. If he plays 4-5 minutes of hard-nosed defense, knocks down a jumper, makes a few good passes and doesn’t turn the ball over…it will be a roster spot well-used. Hopefully we don’t have to rely heavily on him (due to foul trouble) tonight but that he can contribute positively when called upon. Have a good one.

  • ForeverIU

    I’d rather err on the side of over-optimism than caution, because I know in the end Crean knows best what HN is capable of and will apportion his minutes accordingly. Remember, this is a kid that I’m sure is a central piece to practice sessions. He goes up against our very able guards every day.

  • pcantidote

    You’ll know in about 11 hours….

  • BL

    LOL. We’ll know whether he’s playing tonight and ……

  • ForeverIU

    I understand, C&C. But if he plays 4-5 of hard-nosed defense, there’s no reason (in principle) that he can’t play tough offense as well. He seems to have excellent ball control and shooting. And if he plays 4-5 minutes, there’s also no reason (again, in principle) that he can’t play 10-15 minutes.

  • pcantidote

    Having had several basketball sprained ankles myself, I can tell you that they really may not know much. The first time I did it I was worthless for 2 weeks. After that they were more day to day. If he has sprained that ankle before the same way then I wouldn’t be surprised if he wakes up one day and thinks “hey this isn’t bad at all”. I suspect he truly is day to day and it is really hard for them to say much more than that.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I agree…there’s no reason he can’t contribute for 10-15. My point is that even if “all” he does is play 4-5 minutes and continue having the same role he’s had for the past few weeks, it’s a roster spot well-used and he’s someone I’m glad to have.

  • ForeverIU

    Yes, I definitely agree.

  • calbert40

    To win tonight, we need to get out on their shooters and make them uncomfortable. Also, I think we need to see the ball go into TB and/or Max once a possession whether for a shot or a kick out. I agree with Groce…our depth should worry him.

  • sam

    Maybe this is way CTC recruits so many gaurds. You never no when guard number 4 will be needed.

  • IULore

    NZ starting tonight could work out great, remember, he played HS in Ill. so he should be FIRED UP!

  • Not just to point out the obvious, but that’s precisely what has me worried–staying out on their shooters. RJ would have been instrumental there.

  • IUMIKE1

    And set a new decibel level for AH when the starting line ups are announced. lol

  • IUMIKE1

    Agree, at this point it’s a decision rather than a lack of information preventing them from being able to announce a probable return date. Saying that he will “probably” be back for a certain game still makes for the other team having to game plan for both scenarios.

  • IUMIKE1

    First 31 possessions (first half I believe) against PUke. Going through the post equaled a made basket on 13 of 16 tries. Not going through the post equaled a made basket on 3 of 15 tries. I know it was a home game, but with those kind of percentages, and with RJ being out and with Illannoy’s frontcourt, it should be a game where it is more apparent than in maybe any other game, that our offense needs to go through the post.

  • calbert40

    Where did you find those stats? Did you just rewatch the game? That is an AMAZING discrepancy that can’t be ignored.

  • IUMIKE1

    Those numbers came from Crean himself in his presser after the game. With the, will he stay or will he go after one year debate legitimately going on the whole season, I have focused on him very closely every game and when I heard TC say that I thought that I must have misheard him so I backed it up, listened to it again and wrote it down. I don’t feel so bad about continuously banging the, “we don’t get it to TB when he’s open near enough” drum now, hell I might bang it even more, if that’s possible, lol. I think that even on some of the times that they do get the ball to TB it is a case of getting it into the post AFTER him having a much more advantageous position, and that they miss him being open on the pick and roll far too often. I don’t know if those numbers mirror the season as a whole, but I’d be willing to bet that it is a much higher number than what most think.

    Regardless, when a team has a player shooting over 70 percent, FOR THE SEASON, and he is a good free throw shooter which allows for more old fashioned 3 point plays, can you really utilize him too much. Yes, there have been times in a game when going to him wasn’t necessarily the best and first option, and yes, he gets somewhat overzealous at times, but I think a good portion of the trying to do too much mode he sometimes gets into, comes from the number of times in a game when he knows he has good position and they don’t get him the ball when they should or don’t even appear to look and see if the pass is there. Making the entry pass into the post when he first establishes good position will take away the need for him to have to dribble as much or not at all. If one was to go back and examine all of TB’s turnovers, I feel pretty confident that the biggest number of them would be a direct result of him dribbling too much.

    Got more than a little long winded on the simple question of where I got those numbers, but I have felt passionately that we have an option that has been underused and would make us an even harder team to guard, especially when we are struggling to get shots behind the arc to go down. Coaching From the Couch Seminar 101 now over.

  • calbert40

    As one who played PG in school, getting the ball to an open big wasn’t what you wanted to do. I wanted to get the ball to the big, at the right time, in the proper position. You are so right that sometimes we get him the ball 3 seconds after he was in the prime position to receive the ball.

    That said, I think we do a MUCH better job of running the offense through TB than we did when Vonleh was here. I know they aren’t very similar players, but it used to aggravate me how often we missed an open Vonleh on the block. And as we’ve both said, running the offense through the post doesn’t necessarily mean shooting the ball from the paint every trip. If the post gets touches, the defense collapses, and good things happen when the D is over extended and doubling.

    I hope TB and Max combine for 20 shots tonight.

  • Kwang

    I thought Tate hurt his shoulder slapping the floor?

  • Kwang

    HN is a preferred walk on and had Div 1 offers from various mid major schools, I believe North Dakota State was one.