What to Expect: Illinois

  • 01/16/2015 10:49 am in

After a pair of wins at Assembly Hall, Indiana returns to the road for a Sunday matinee with Illinois at the State Farm Center. The Illini are 12-6 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast on BTN at 1 p.m. ET with Eric Collins and Shon Morris on the call:

Indiana’s 3-1 record through four Big Ten games has included a little bit of everything. A gritty road win in a tough environment at Nebraska. A head scratching blowout at the hands of Michigan State in East Lansing. And a pair of close wins at home over a ranked Ohio State team and a scrappy Penn State group.

The Hoosiers were predicted to start 1-3 in conference play by both KenPom.com and Las Vegas, so it’s hard to find any fault with this start. But as Jordan Littman pointed out earlier today, the road gets tougher quickly. Four of Indiana’s next six games are on the road and will be played without starting big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea.

Indiana won’t look ahead any further than its next game, but this is a stretch where the Hoosiers simply need to hold things together, try to steal games on the road and attempt to hold serve at home. That, of course, is easier said than done, but the next chance for a second Big Ten road win comes Sunday in Champaign.


Indiana isn’t the only Big Ten team dealing with an injury to one of its starters. The Illini are without their most important player – senior guard Rayvonte Rice – who is averaging a team-high 17.2 points and is out with a broken left hand. In three games against the Hoosiers last season, Rice averaged 20.6 points and hit 40 percent of his 3s.

Without him in the lineup, Illinois is 2-1 with an impressive home win over Maryland, a loss at Nebraska and most recently, a win at Northwestern. Sophomore wing Malcolm Hill has stepped up in Rice’s absence as evidenced by his 28-point outburst against the Terrapins. Hill is hitting close to 40 percent of his 3s and is really the only Illinois player outside of Rice who gets to the line with any regularity (43.7 free throw rate). He’s most dangerous as a left wing 3-point shooter, where he’s hitting at a 50 percent clip.

Joining Hill in the starting lineup is a three guard set: sophomore Jaylon Tate, junior Aaron Cosby and sophomore Kendrick Nunn. The 6-foot-3 Tate is a limited offensive player who is turnover prone (27.4 TO%). Nunn is hitting 42.9 percent of his 3s, but takes a lot of midrange shots that aren’t super effective, as shown below by ShotAnalytics:


Cosby, a transfer from Seton Hall, broke out of a shooting slump against Northwestern as he hit 4-of-8 of his 3s for 19 points. Even with that effort, he’s hitting just 25.9 percent of his 2s and 32.7 percent of his 3s on the season. Point guard Ahmad Starks has started 15 of the team’s 18 games, but has been coming off the bench recently. Starks is a solid distributor (22.4 assist rate percentage), but his effective field goal percentage of just 39.8 suggests that he should be looking for Nunn and Hill rather than hoisting up 3s.

John Groce’s rotation is only eight deep at this point with senior big man Nnanna Egwu manning the starting spot in the post. The 6-foot-11 Egwu averages 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and has a team-high 32 blocks. Freshman LeRon Black and sophomore Maverick Morgan are the backup rotation guys up front. Black, who is 6-foot-7, is very solid on the defensive glass (23.4 DR%) and is finishing 72 percent of his shots at the rim, per Shot Analytics. The 6-foot-10 Morgan doesn’t get a ton of offensive opportunities and has made just 46.3 percent of his 41 field goal attempts.


With four league games in the books for IU and five for Illinois, we flipped the switch on our tempo free chart to include conference only stats. League ranks for each category are in parenthesis:


Indiana’s offense is off to a slow start in league play, but Illinois is only ahead of Rutgers in terms of offensive efficiency. The Illini are scoring just .94 points per possession through five Big Ten games and are last in the league in both offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate.

The offensive rebounding isn’t a surprise as Groce puts a ton of emphasis on getting back defensively rather than crashing the boards. As far as the low free throw rate goes, the Illini take a lot of jump shots, which makes them ineffective at drawing fouls:


All of that said, Illinois has proven it can hold serve at home against the Hoosiers in the past and holds an unbeaten record this season so far at the State Farm Center. The Illini are the better defensive team and are keeping teams off the foul line and the defensive glass. Whether Indiana can break through in either area and hit shots from the perimeter will determine whether the Hoosiers will have a chance to steal one.


Pomeroy is bullish on Illinois, predicting a 5-point win and a just a 34 percent chance for a win by Indiana. Sagarin sees the game as even if played on a neutral court, but gives the Illini three points playing at home.

Rice being out obviously helps as his success last season against IU is well documented. Illinois has already played four Big Ten road games and with five tough road games left (Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue), there’s little margin for error at home.

With four days to prep for life without Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Sunday will be the first look at how, if at all, Indiana changes its approach with a smaller lineup going into a tough road environment. Ultimately, it’s hard to know what to expect from a young team away from home (as we saw with Nebraska and Michigan State), but Indiana’s chances hinge mostly on how well it shoots from distance and whether it can break through against the Illini on the offensive glass or at the foul line.

(Photo credit: Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

Filed to:

  • Ivy Walls

    Crowds and fans will not have an effect on the outcome of the game, but indeed IU will have to play offense inside out and defensively force them to shoot over the top and block out. Of all things I have seen this year develop is that all the players appear to be getting better fundamentally at rebounding the defensive boards, They contest the entire process from position to when the ball is not cleanly rebounded and use their quickness and ball stealing skills to gain a possession. Not so much this year with now the loss of Mosquera-Perea till Feb?, Davis till ? and April till ? but this should have an effect on next year when hopefully the entire crew will return. Damn the loss of Fischer still shows, he would have been something here…how and why he left still gets under my skin.

  • Ivy Walls

    All said, a start of 4-1 places IU in a unique position for either a fall back to earth later or a surprising team to watch in March

  • MillaRed

    If by contender you mean national championship you are correct. But for me, I’m not putting that high of an expectation on this program right now. We are trying to get into the tournament. If a weaker conference allows for that so be it.

    Many talk about me being “softer” etc. I’m not banging my head against the wall expecting Final Fours any more. Until further notice those days are behind us. What I can do is root for our Hoosiers. I like the players, I think Crean has a lot to improve on and I’m always monitoring that as a fan. But he is not going anywhere so let’s see how he does while he is here etc.

    I still encourage everyone to try out The Forum. You can get your point across in there whether you are pro or anti Crean without being labeled for all eternity. There are friends to be made in there. I have made many. Go Hoosiers.

  • Bill


    What’s the trick to landing international big men. For basketball I mean:)

    Some school have the pipeline. We could use.

  • JBishop0425

    My biggest concern is when we get to the team with 2 guys that are 7′ and 7’2″.

  • b_side

    Definitely a concern. Just remember that one of those 7 footers has to guard Troy, unless Painter goes zone when both are in.

  • Outoftheloop

    European scouting as a consistent part of the coaching duties.

  • Outoftheloop

    Interesting Saturday without a Hoosier game. So I watched the Indiana (Bloomington) “B” Team: Marquette: Fischer and Carlino vs Xavier: Abell, Dee Davis and Bluiett. Good game. Carlino hits tough 3’s, Remy can’t miss from 3. Dee Davis makes a dumb TO. Fischer misses a lay-up. Bluiett hits his FT’s. Carlino misses his last 3. X wins. More importantly, Southampton 2-1 over Newcastle, but there was a missed hand-ball call in the penalty area which might have tied the score.

  • Outoftheloop

    Defense, rebounding and few TO’s. Do it IU!

  • Outoftheloop

    Then, when the proof is on the floor, you sub Jeremiah out! But you try it first! Why do you not mind playing 4 on 5 on defense with Nick playing a #4 (proven against PN St)?

  • Outoftheloop

    Why this 4 game stretch, 3 road games and at home against the #15 team? Each game matters as only 1 W or L. IU needs to get to 10 W’s in the B1G. Getting to 11 will be even better.

  • Outoftheloop

    You forget we beat the ACC! No conference is very strong.

  • ForeverIU

    English football! I hope you are a Liverpool fan!

  • Outoftheloop

    Arsenal ( I have a beautiful shirt) and any team with a US player!

  • b_side

    The proof is likely on the practice floor. If he’s not showing it, there’s a reason he hasn’t seen meaningful minutes since UL.

    As far as Nick’s defense goes, at least he has one elite skill to compensate. Same could be said for JBJ.

  • Outoftheloop

    Many coaches just have “blind spots” against some new players. Games are different from practice. Jeremiah playing with your best players is different from playing with the worst in “mop-up duty”. Luke Fischer did not play early. When he did play all of us saw that he should have been playing earlier. He did get more minutes later but by that time he had decided to leave IU. Not exactly the same but similar for Remy Abell. We never got to see Bawa play much because TJ got most of those minutes. That was crazy! Try it! If he is not ready then take him out. But he is the only kid on the roster over 6’9!

  • Snookafly

    You are exactly right that it’s a down year across the board. I just hope people take that into account and temper their praise when evaluating our supposed improvement, our “great record,” and if/when we limp into the tournament.

  • b_side

    Not the same at all. Fischer had a shoulder injury early on. He was also competing with a lottery pick for playing time.

    Don’t really think the development (or lackthereof) of players like Bawa and Tijan bolsters your position.

  • ForeverIU

    Had to say it. As much as I like Izzo and his guys, I’m taking perverse pleasure in watching them get humiliated at Maryland.

  • Hoosier1158

    Shouldn’t be an issue since IU’s offense doesn’t look for too much scoring from the 5. Now if they would use April for defense, rebounding and any offensive put backs would be good.

  • Hoosier4life67

    A split would be an amazing feet.

  • eville87

    What to expect…. a huge road win in front of there biggest crowd ever.!!!!!!!!

  • b_side

    Yummy crow after that big block by NZ. Truthfully I was surprised we didn’t sub out Nick for that defensive possession, but we gotta give him credit.

  • Outoftheloop

    Apparently you don’t know how to read. What I said was that TJ got a lot of playing time over a 6’11 top 115 Rivals recruit named Bawa. Everyone knows that TJ was NOT a basketball player! But Crean liked him, so he played.

  • b_side

    Way to keep it civil, pal. Stay classy.