What to Expect: Illinois

  • 12/30/2013 11:32 am in

For the fifth straight year, Indiana will open Big Ten play on New Year’s Eve. This season’s assignment is Illinois at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The Fighting Illini are 11-2 and 7-0 at home.

The game will be broadcast at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and the IU radio network.

We’ve discussed Indiana’s 10-3 performance in the non-conference throughly over the past week, but the ultimate fate of the 2013-2014 season for the Hoosiers will be determined over the next 18 games.

Despite losing players like Cody Zeller, Deshaun Thomas, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo early to the NBA and graduating seniors like Jared Berggren, Trevor Mbakwe, Brandon Paul, Christian Watford and many others, the Big Ten is right back in the discussion for the nation’s top league.

Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all ranked in the top five nationally and the middle of the pack is even more crowded with five or six other programs with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations.

Two of those teams, Illinois and Indiana, will get a first shot at resume building inside the conference on Tuesday afternoon in Champaign.


Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey are all gone, but John Groce has retooled Illinois with a impact transfer player, increased production from some key returning pieces and a trio of freshman who are being eased along slowly off the bench.

The impact transfer, junior Rayvonte Rice, enters league play scoring a team-high 18.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 56.1. Rice is hitting close to 60 percent of his 2s and a big reason is his 6-foot-4, 235 pound frame that allows him to overpower defenders.

Joining Rice in the backcourt are senior Joseph Bertrand and junior Tracy Abrams, who are both scoring in double figures but going about it in very different ways. Bertrand has been extremely efficient as his 59.2 effective field goal percentage leads the team. Abrams, on the other hand, has been woeful from the field as he’s hitting just 42.7 percent of his 2s and 25 percent of his 3s. Abrams has struggled from the field throughout his career, but does hold some value as a distributor (22.1 assist rate) and as a player who can get to the foul line (49.3 free throw rate).

Freshmen Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate all see time as reserves in the Illinois backcourt, but Groce’s preference for a tight rotation has resulted in limited minutes for all three. Nunn has been the most effective offensive player (50.0 eFG%) while Hill (31.2 eFG%) and Tate (32.1 eFG%) have been poor shooters that have done a decent job at getting to the foul line.

The frontcourt rotation is anchored by graduate student Jon Ekey and junior Nnanna Egwu. Ekey, who used the same rule that landed Evan Gordon in Bloomington, played three seasons at Illinois State before arriving in Champaign. At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, he’s a stretch four man that loves to shoot from the perimeter. Ekey is 27-of-70 from behind the 3-point arc and is also the team’s best offensive rebounder (9.2 OR%). Egwu is a shot blocking presence at the rim who doesn’t finish particularly well for his size on the offensive end. Egwu is shooting just 46.7 percent on 2s and is just third on the team in rebounding at 5.4 per game.



(National rankings via KenPom.com.)

The contrast in styles between Indiana and Illinois is apparent with a quick glance at each team’s KenPom profile. The Hoosiers are playing the fastest pace of any Big Ten team with an average of 73.2 possessions per game and the Illini are playing the second slowest with an average of 64.2.

One of the criticisms of IU’s frantic pace this season has been the turnovers, where the Hoosiers rank 308th nationally in turnover percentage. Illinois, on the other hand, is turning it over on just 16.3 percent of its possessions and its controlled pace is likely a big reason for that.

Neither team shoots it particularly well and while the turnovers certainly loom large for Indiana, rebounding and free throws are where the Hoosiers have a chance to win the game. Illinois has done a stellar job of defending without fouling, but has faced just two teams that rank in the top 50 nationally in free throw rate. Settling for perimeter shots rather than attacking off the dribble is something IU must avoid. On the flip side, Illinois ranks just 299th nationally at getting to the line, so it’s imperative that the Hoosiers make the free throw numbers as one sided as possible.

On the rebounding front, Illinois has been solid on the offensive glass while Indiana has been superb. The Illini are rebounding 36.1 percent of their misses on offense while Indiana is rebounding 42.7 of its misses. For Indiana to maximize its rebounding prowess, Noah Vonleh must avoid foul trouble and try to take advantage of an average defensive rebounding team.


The road is unforgiving in the Big Ten as Indiana fans learned in Tom Crean’s first three seasons in Bloomington. But as the program grew, so too did Indiana’s ability to win away from Assembly Hall. Over the past two seasons, the Hoosiers are 10-8 in conference road games. Indiana caught a break avoiding Iowa and Ohio State on the road this season and as a result, this game on paper is one of the tougher league road games on the docket.

The Pomeroy prediction has Illinois winning 69-65 and gives the Hoosiers just a 35 percent chance to leave Champaign with a victory. That figure is actually the lowest for IU in its first four Big Ten games which speaks to the difficulty of winning on the road even against an opponent that is, on paper, a relatively even matchup.

Indiana’s gameplan must start with limiting Rice as much as possible while trying to use the free throw line and offensive rebounding as a springboard for success. With students out for winter break, the State Farm Center atmosphere may be a little more subdued than usual. Still, the challenge for a young team going on the road for the first time in the Big Ten is a major one and we’ll soon learn if the Hoosiers are up for it.

Filed to:

  • OhioHoosier

    While it’s only the first game of the year in the B1G, I think this game is absolutely HUGE for us. A win can boost our confidence considerably and a loss just adds to the pressure. Maybe we will embrace the underdog role!

  • Gregory Spera

    Obviously, we lost at Illinois last year with a much better team, so a win tomorrow would be, for me, unexpected. I have not really been impressed with the way these talented young Indiana players have meshed as a team, so far. Hoping for the best. Go Hoosiers!

  • Still hoping for the best with this talented group. Illinois will be prepared and well coached. We need an effective consistent game plan that plays to the teams strengths.

  • K.R. Nor

    If Pomeroy is right and it’s 69-65, I’d be shocked. I don’t see I.U. staying that close. However, if I’m wrong and they pull an upset, it might be the start of a transformation.

  • Victorbear

    Here’s an idea!!!! Start your NYE celebration off early and play a drinking game. Everytime Crean makes a substitution take a drink, I’m sure you will be feeling good at halftime which might make the second half easier to watch. Also new rule if there is a time in game when Yogi, Noah and Sheheey are all on the bench at the same time, again take a drink and finally any zone that IU plays is a community drink. Gonna be a long ride Hoosier fans lets hope Crean has this thing figured out, though.

  • Gregory Spera

    Very well said! “Illinois will be prepared and well coached. WE NEED AN EFFECTIVE, CONSISTANT GAME PLAN…” Yes. We. Do.

  • Alford Bailey

    That might lead to severe alcohol poisoning.

  • Gregory Spera

    My liver hurts already.

  • Alford Bailey

    Ugh. That loss last year was terrible. Shouldn’t have been close and we give it away on a last second shot. Lets get some payback tomorrow.

  • ForeverIU

    Maybe by then you’ll start seeing the glass half-full. LOL. Happy New Year!

  • CreamandCrimson

    This game is more important for Illinois than it is for us. In the Big Ten (or pretty much any conference), it’s crucial that a team protects it’s home court against teams of similar standing. IU and Illinois both figure to be somewhere between 4-9 so losing a home game against one of those other middle teams would be a bad way to start for the Illini. That doesn’t mean I don’t think this game is important for our Hoosiers as well. It is a big opportunity to get a good win on the road and every one of those opportunities is important.

    -Can we get the ball down low and convert consistently? Illinois isn’t particularly strong on the interior so the chances should be there for Noah (and possibly Luke/Hanner), can we get him the ball in good positions?
    -Will we be able to get to the line consistently and knock down those FTs at a good clip?
    -We must own the glass in pretty much every B1G game…that starts tomorrow.
    -How do we matchup with their talented (and fairly large) backcourt?
    -Our first five games are very difficult….I would gladly take a 2-3 start if it was offered to me and there is no need to panic if we lose tomorrow. That being said, playing really well and stealing a win in Champagne is possible so we might as well get it done! Go Hoosiers!

  • mk

    My only hope is that we win so everyone can chirp you postgame

  • Alford Bailey

    Agreed, its a very winnable B1G road game. Pressure is on them to hold home court. Lets pay them back for last year.

  • N71

    More out of respect for the Big Ten here’s what I’m seeing:

    @ Illinois L (10-4)
    MSU L (10-5)
    @ Penn St. W (11-5)
    Wisc L (11-6)
    NW W (12-6)
    @ MSU L (12-7)
    Illinois W (13-7)
    @ Neb W (14-7)
    UM W (15-7)
    @ Minn L (15-8)
    Penn St. W (16-8)
    @ Purdue L (16-9)
    Iowa W (17-9)
    @ NW W (18-9)
    @ Wisc L (18-10)
    OSU L (18-11)

    We loose 1st for second game of Big Ten tourney, make it in as a 7th seed, out in second round.

  • Blair McKee

    Great teams rise to each challenge and keep the lesser teams in their place. We’ll see if this year’s stripey-pants can get’r done. I believe they were made for higher goals than beating Illinois, but they are so subject to being out-coached and under-prepared. You just cannot predict which team will take the court!

  • N71

    Fudge, I forgot about Neb at home (W) and at UM (L). That would leave us at 19-12 I believe.

  • OhioHoosier

    When was the last time and 19-12 team made the tournament as a 7 seed? That seems pretty unrealistic to me. I also think
    Our record will be a little better.

  • N71

    You’re right…7th seen is too high. I knew I should have reread before hitting enter.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Indiana’s game plan must start with taking care of the ball, something we have trouble with and drives me crazy, i swear if i see TW take off out of control down the floor and turn it over AGAIN…. Secondly, don’t get lost on transition D and rebound like i know we can we have a a chance. and please CTC shorten that bench

  • Windy City Hoosier Source

    Obviously the crowd doesn’t decide the outcome of the game, but I think having the Orange Crush on break will be a huge blow to Illinois’ home court advantage. Replacing that huge group of students RIGHT ON TOP of the court will definitely impact the noise level in the arena and on the floor. The game is of course played between players and not fans, but for a young team like IU they can use all the help they can get and taking it the students out of the mix is huge in that regard.

  • ForeverIU

    I watched the Wisconsin-Marquette second half. Marquette was relentless in attacking Wisc at the rim. They beat the Wisc defense over and over. They were still in the game pretty late, then switched to more of a perimeter game and made a few 3-pointers late. Maybe Buzz Williams will have some words of advice. Wisconsin is very beatable. Count it as a win for us.

  • Gregory Spera

    The defense we played with less than one second left on the clock, that allowed an Illinois player to get all alone under the basket while every IU player was just standing around and watching from at least 15 feet away, will be a black mark on CTC forever. I can still see it when I close my eyes.

  • steve

    What to expect is probably a loss. Be nice to at least see us play good though.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I hope you’re not going to do anything too drastic when “TW take off out of control down the floor and turn it over AGAIN”….it’s going to happen again (and again and again). For the time being, I think it’s a part of his game. I just keep telling myself that it’s part of the process and he’ll learn and it’s easier to slow someone down than speed them up. It doesn’t stop me from being really frustrated with each mind-numbingly awful turnover he has but at least I’m trying!

  • CreamandCrimson

    We have much more immediate things to deal with before we meet the Badgers.

  • inadvertentelbows_stillhurt

    A loss…playing fast is best for this IU team but comes with many turnovers on the road in B1G.

  • ForeverIU

    I mean, we have people here telling us what their projections are for the entire season, and I can’t bring up the Wisconsin game?

  • CreamandCrimson

    You and everyone else is allowed to do whatever they want…I just wrote that there are more immediate games (meaning other games) to deal with before the Wisconsin game. I didn’t intend to get you riled up or anything.

  • ForeverIU

    You might call my approach thematic, and yours chronological. There are plenty other “immediate” discussions you can partake in. Be my guest, and give me a break.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Sorry man, I really didn’t mean to irritate you. I appreciate your contributions on the site and I’ll steer clear of replying to your posts, my bad.

  • ForeverIU

    What do you think of their depth? They seem to be heavy on the minutes with their five starters, and they play a slower game. Will we get them to run, and take advantage of our depth? Also, interestingly, we lost more games at home than we did on the road in our B1G season last year.

  • ForeverIU

    No worries man, at least you cared enough to write something, and I did respond to another post of yours below.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Glad we virtually bro-hugged it out…moving on.

    I’m no expert on Illinois. I watched them play against Missouri, the end of their choke job at Georgia Tech and against UIC this past weekend. So take these comments with a grain of salt….you are correct, they don’t play much of their bench. Jaylon Tate gets 16 minutes off the bench, two other guys get about 11 and no one else plays much. It’s essentially a 6 man rotation with two other guys getting spot minutes. I’m sure CTC would love to get them to run but we haven’t been great at forcing turnovers (164th) and Illinois takes decent care of the ball so I don’t think we can effectively speed them up too much. I think our two biggest advantages in most conference games need to be rebounding and free throw shooting and those look like two areas we can exploit against Illinois with some degree of success. They don’t appear to have any depth in the frontcourt so if we can pound it down low (do this, PLEASE!) and get Egwu and/or Ekey in foul trouble, our rebounding edge should get even bigger. If rebounding is the strength/identity we think it is, that needs to show tomorrow.

  • Alford Bailey

    What happened with Luke Fischer? I didnt see that coming.

  • Miamihoosier

    We win this game as long as we don’t allow Illinois to hit more than 4 three’s. We are a far superior rebounding team, we should get more looks at the basket, but they could equalize if their 3’s are falling. IU will be the best defense they’ve seen so far, I think it’s going to frustrate them early. Noah Vonleh has to dominate.

  • This is the greatest plan I’ve ever.

  • Hardwood83

    Good thought, I hope you’re right.

  • ForeverIU

    I can’t wait to see who takes care of Rayvonte Rice. Will it be Sheehey? He averages 18 points a game. Egwu is a tree (with 29 blocks for the season so far). I hope Yogi is not tempted to fly into that one. We’ve attempted 410 free throws this season, compared to their 249. This will be huge: gain points and draw fouls. We average 31 free throw attempts per game, on roughly 15 fouls. Distribute 15 fouls among a small Illinois line-up, and we’re sure to put the foul pressure on them. I feel this game is ours.

  • unclekerfuffle

    Yeah, and me just getting back from the local micro-brewery with two growlers of 6.7 ABV Porter for tomorrow afternoon and evening. That could be ugly on several levels.

    No, I think I’ll just pace myself tomorrow during the game so I can still recognize and kiss my wife at midnight.

  • Ole Man

    They go all out at Vonleh. He get’s in foul trouble. IU is toast!

  • Sir Bruce

    I see Vonleh and Williams having big games. Yogi keeping everyone settled and Perea with the Fischer pressure off having a big game

  • ForeverIU

    I like the tragicomedy in this comment. Perhaps you should have added your signature “LOL”. LOL!

  • Hoosier Hall

    It’s time for Vonleh to start figuring out how to stay out of foul trouble while still playing good defense and also time for HMP to step up big time. I think we win this by 6 today! Let’s go HOOSIERS!