Know Thy Opponent: Illinois

  • 01/27/2011 11:03 am in

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 13: Head coach Bruce Weber of the Illinois Fighting Illini calls a play during their game against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the semifinals of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)Perhaps the best way to describe this year’s incarnation of the Illini is Ohio State-lite.

They’re athletic. They have playmakers. They boast senior leadership in Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, while Jereme Richmond and Brandon Paul are youngsters that can’t be ignored.

Of course, they don’t quite come with the undefeated, top-team-in-the-country accolades. Though currently No. 20 in the AP poll, Illinois had a slip-up against UIC during the non-conference slate. And after back-to-back losses to Penn State and Wisconsin on the road and Saturday’s hard-fought loss against the Buckeyes inside the other Assembly Hall, they sit at 4-3 in Big Ten play.

This is a stout offensive team, one that pours in 1.14 point per possession (fourth in the conference). Thanks, in part, to a historic shooting night against Northwestern early in their Big Ten slate, the Illini have the top effective field-goal mark (58 percent) in the conference. It should come as no surprise, then, that this team can shoot the three, as they sit atop the conference with a strong 46.4 percent mark. If the Hoosiers are playing their pateneted “leave the peremiter shooters wide open” defense we’ve seen at times this season and the Illini are hitting, this one could get ugly early.

Illinois is also strong at the free-throw line, hitting 77.2 percent of its attempts (fourth) right behind of the Hoosiers at 77.3 percent (third).

Defensively, the Illini are solid relative to their Big Ten counterparts, ranking fourth in the conference at 1.06 points per posession. The Hoosiers and Illini are pretty even in the rebounding department, as their offensive rebounding percentage (Indiana: 32.2 percent, Illinois: 31.9 percent) and defensive rebounding percentage (Indiana: 67.8 pecent, Illinois: 68.1 percent) are near identical.

If there’s been one glaring weakness of this team in conference play so far, it’s that they’ve had trouble controlling the ball. With a turnover rate of 20.7 percent, only Iowa (23 percent) has fared worse.

Yet, this is certainly a game the Illini are looking to steal on the road, especially if they want to remain amongst the conference elite. I suppose how easy such a win will be for them depends on what version of the Hoosiers show up this evening — and whether or not Verdell Jones, who’s status is uncertain for tonight, is able to play.

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