What to Expect: Illinois

  • 01/06/2017 12:13 pm in

Indiana will attempt to stop a three-game losing streak on Saturday afternoon when it hosts Illinois at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Fighting Illini are 11-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU with Clay Matvick and Sean Harrington on the call:

Indiana, which was once ranked as high as No. 3 in the Associated Press top 25 poll, is on the verge of falling out of the polls altogether on Monday. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome against Illinois, the Hoosiers are unlikely to be considered one of the country’s 25 best teams come early next week.

It’s been a stunning fall for a team that was once considered a Final Four and national title contender. Can Indiana turn things around?

The next stretch of games will answer the question. After Illinois comes to Bloomington, Indiana travels to Maryland, hosts Rutgers, travels to Penn State and hosts Michigan State. Every game is critical the rest of the way and with two homecourt losses in conference play already, the margin for error is gone.


Two games into league play, Illinois owns a 25-point loss at Maryland and a narrow win at home over Ohio State. The Illini have won seven of their last eight games, including four over teams currently ranked in the top 100 of KenPom.

Game planning for the Illini begins with containing Malcolm Hill, one of the league’s most complete offensive players. The 6-foot-6 senior is averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Hill is hitting 42.3 of his 3s and is great at getting to the foul line. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 56.6 percent and he’s converting at 78.6 percent from the line.

Joining Hill in the starting lineup are sixth-year senior point guard Tracy Abrams and sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands. Abrams is second on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game and is shooting 45.6 percent on 3s against Division I teams.

Coleman-Lands, an Indianapolis native, looked like a potential Big Ten breakout candidate in the preseason. That hasn’t materialized so far as his shooting percentages are down across the board and his turnovers are up. Coleman-Lands is shooting just 35.7 percent from the field overall.

Senior Jaylon Tate is averaging a team-high 3.5 assists off the bench, but struggles to score. Sophomore wings D.J. Williams and sophomore guard Aaron Jordan could also see time, but both have horrible efficiency numbers.

The frontcourt situation has some depth with sophomore Leron Black, redshirt senior Mike Thorne, sophomore Michael Finke and senior Maverick Morgan.

Black is the team’s third leading scorer at 10.5 points per game and the Illini’s leading rebounder at 7.2 per game. Black is excellent on the defensive glass with a defensive rebounding percentage of 26.4 (37th nationally). He’s a very good free throw shooter (81.6 percent) and a decent finisher at 51.9 percent on 2s against Division I competition.

Thorne is a plodder, but is finishing close to 63 percent of his 2s. He’s seventh on the team in scoring at 6.2 points per game. Finke is a good offensive rebounder (11.1 OR%) and can knock down the 3 if given space (34.8 percent). Morgan is the team’s fourth leading scorer at 8.9 points per game and is shooting 58.2 percent from the field.


There are several reasons this is a favorable matchup for Indiana. First, Illinois is even worse than the Hoosiers at transition defense, which should allow Indiana to generate more offense there than the past few games. Illinois enters as the Big Ten’s worst transition defense at 1.07 points per possession allowed, per Synergy Sports.

Illinois also struggles to take care of the ball, so the likelihood of a huge discrepancy in points off of turnovers isn’t as high against the Illini.

The Illini also like to play a slower pace, which might not be a bad thing for the Hoosiers. Indiana was, for the most part, much better offensively against Wisconsin in the halfcourt and was far less turnover prone when it wasn’t pushing the pace.

The Hoosiers should run when it’s there and makes sense, but limiting unforced turnovers is crucial. Illinois doesn’t block many shots and doesn’t get steals, either, so failing to finish at the rim or coughing up the ball should, in theory, be less prevalent in this one.


Indiana enters a must-win game as a 10-point favorite on KenPom and a 10.5-point favorite, according to Sagarin. The Vegas line, which is usually out sometime in the early afternoon, wasn’t available at time of publication.

This one goes in the must-win category because of the two home losses already on the books in league play. After Saturday, nine of Indiana’s remaining conference games will be on the road. Lose to Illinois and the Hoosiers would need three Big Ten road wins just to scratch out a .500 record in league play.

Despite the three straight losses, Indiana played relatively well against Wisconsin after an awful start. The Hoosiers are due to play better and talent is obviously there to stabilize things beginning Saturday. For that to happen, Indiana has to get back to the basics defensively and do a better job taking care of the ball. If that doesn’t happen – as we saw against Nebraska – anything can happen with this Indiana team.

Filed to:

  • Sandra Wilson

    Izzo is, and has been, a great coach…..Matta has wasted more talent over the years than Crean….With Hill scoring 18 a game, he should be good for at least 30 tomorrow…..I also look for either Abrams or Coleman to have a breakout game…..Crean has proved time and time again that even when our backs are to the wall, we can’t play defense……I will never forget the end to the at Illinois game in Zeller’s year…..Illinois ran an out of bounds for a wide open layup and a win at the buzzer…..Crean has no concept of what it takes to play solid defense…..For one thing, you must spend an equal amount of time on it……I can’t imagine, from what’s being stated,that that’s being done…..If it is, what the heck are they practicing on ?

  • Missing Moye

    Thomas isn’t a very good back-to-the-basket kind of guy and he can’t create his own shot. Last year he got the ball in scoring positions and had easy offensive rebounding opportunities. He was the biggest beneficiary of having Yogi last year, and to a lesser degree, Troy.

  • Missing Moye

    I’d love to offer some further insight, but I’m not qualified.

  • Ole Man

    You don’t want DD starting. You want him coming off the bench. Why mess with his success?

  • BL4IU

    I issued an apology but that’s ok, I understand.

  • kennygeorge

    to me right now, that’s being generous arch. i’ll give you an upvote for OPTIMISM!

  • kennygeorge

    I pray you are right BL. I’ll give you an upvote for OPTIMISM TOO!, Right now I just feel deflated and pessimistic.

  • Spooky

    You may be right. OG is a victim of his own success as well. I’m not saying that DD should start every game, I’m just saying that it might not hurt to give it a try for a game. Maybe it would light a fire under TB. Heck if I know!

  • John D Murphy

    I thought I was cynic. That is priceless.

  • kelton drewery

    Read this, delete it, ignore it, do whatever you like, but everyone up here better come grip with reality. Tom Crean cannot figure things out. I am tired of hearing about mindset, if these young men don’t have the right mindset when they step on the court each game, something’s wrong. And no I don’t have and answer, but I’m not the “COACH”. Don’t worry, my last post.

  • ForeverIU

    Firstly, I bet this is not your last post. ITH has become more fun than IU Basketball. Secondly, you’re right, LOL.

  • Spooky

    Lol I got ya beat there.

  • ForeverIU

    Gives new meaning to our motto: YOU GET BETTER AT IU.

  • Ole Man

    Good thought. TB’s problem is mental.

  • BL4IU

    Hard not to be down. Guessing the players and coaching staff have been doing a lot of 2nd guessing and soul searching as well.

    Thing is, last year’s team began the season with more than 10,000 cumulative minutes of D1 experience. This year’s team began the season with just more than half that. They’re inexperienced and didn’t handle a little early success well. No, they’re not all freshman, but none of the current players have played meaningful minutes as an alpha dog like YF and TW.

    Very confident these boys will figure it out. A few hard knocks are just a prerequisite.

  • Spooky

    It must be. Unless he’s hurt and not admitting it.

  • Spooky

    I don’t claim to know what is going on with TB or OG… But they both are struggling.

  • Spooky

    As long as you don’t offend the certain people with baby feewings, you should be ok. Lol but then again, I’ll probably get booted like others have been for making this comment!

  • cbags05

    He played lights out last year against us at the beginning of the game. Before Yogi caught absolute fire.

  • cbags05

    Don’t feel sorry for them. I work with Illinois fans. They still remind me of the Griffey game. I need a beat down like none other.

  • oldiugymnast

    I guess it takes one to know one

  • ForeverIU

    Which makes you one too? LOL

  • Okay, I read it. I can’t delete it. Obviously, I’m not ignoring it. So, here’s my response. Yes, a coach is ultimately responsible for everything about a team. But I don’t accept that any “good” coach can necessarily motivate every team and ensure that it has the right mindset. I was a huge RMK fan back in the day, and he had teams that simply did not respond and play with the right mindset game in and game out. I’m fairly certain that some Duke teams have suffered from the same, and Kentucky teams, and Kansas teams, and etc. I’m not saying CTC shouldn’t be able to get this team shaped up mentally, but I’m also not going to say it’s inconceivable that there’s something about this team’s makeup that any coach would struggle with.

  • I have no idea what happened. It’s one of the mysteries of this season so far. And like you say, there are so many missed bunnies, completely uncontested. The blocked shots I’m not sure about–I don’t remember him going up so much more strongly last season. But I suppose it could be.

    Only thing I can think of is he’s playing tighter, and trying to do things he’s not done before. Maybe last year he was just playing more on pure talent than thinking too much. Or maybe his confidence is shot. Or some combination thereof.

  • I would agree with that, except I can remember many, many shots that he just missed in spite of being fed the ball in good position. DD has been a much more consistent scorer so far (although he’s missed his share of bunnies). I’d say overall the entire team misses shots that weren’t missed last season–even JM has been missing easy shots lately, after a string of, what, 14 makes in a row?

  • I hope you’re right. My biggest concern is this–which player is going to step up and provide the leadership the team so desperately needs? Like you say below, this is a very young team, and on top of that it lost valuable preparation time early in the season. The KU game would have been hard for an experienced team to overlook–follow that up with the UNC game, and it’s easy to imaging this particular team thinking all they had to do was show up to win.

    So, who’s going to emerge as the leader? If someone does, I’m hopeful. If nobody does, this season could go farther off the rails.

  • hoosierbred

    I understand the frustration concerning our recent play. What I don’t understand is the criticism of Crean’s defensive coaching deficiencies. If he doesn’t know how to teach defense or doesn’t spend enough time on it; then how does one explain how his earlier teams were competitive, often hanging in there despite the lack of offensive talent and experience? How, after such a poor start last year, did the team make such a dramatic turnaround defensively? How his teams have defeated a number of top rated teams. I don’t think it’s necessarily his inabilities, as much as it is the following:
    1. Lack of a leader on the floor.
    2. Lack of a fighting spirit.
    3. Failure to focus on positioning, defensive responsibility, attention to scouting report as it pertains to the strengths/weaknesses of who you will be guarding.
    4. Lack of on ball pressure.
    5. Lack of active hands, deflections, hands up making shooting and passing more difficult.
    Anyone who has coached, taught, or been in charge of a group knows that the performance of a group of individuals (team, players) doesn’t necessarily equate to the teaching performance of the coach. If you’ve never uttered the words, “What in the world is/are he/they doing? We’ve worked on that all week long”! Or, “We just went back over that during pregame” Then you obviously have never experienced the headaches that a group of young men/women can cause a coach.

  • kelton drewery

    Ok, I was at IU when RMK started. My other point is, this team is talented and I’m not one of those trying to hold on to RMK, but with this type of talent an elite coach would produce a better product(and I’m not saying anyone has claimed TC to be elite). Defense is effort and there should be better effort. And all of this has been said before, I know.

  • Not your last post, I see… 🙂

    I hear what you’re saying. I think we sometimes lose perspective, though. RMK had teams that struggled just like this one, and nobody could accuse him of being unable to motivate. Of course, not every kid responds well to his kind of motivation, then or certainly now. And perhaps this group isn’t responding to CTC’s style of motivation like, say, last season’s team. And while CTC has had talent, he’s rarely had experienced players to stuck around four years and learned his system inside and out–something that was far more common in RMK’s time. Again, not taking responsibility away from CTC–he’s the coach, the buck stops with him, and all that–but I don’t think it’s nearly so clear cut as some would like it to be.

  • kelton drewery

    I agree, it’s just the frustration of wanting IU to succeed. And the players must take responsibility, also. Stop making so many bad decisions, especially the juniors(all guards).

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Agreed!!! Don’t ever state “this is my last post” Trust me, if we/IU lose 2 out of the next 3 this ITH comment board will be on fire. Forever is spot on.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    I love it!!!! Spooky with the baby feewings!

  • eville87

    All good and valid points. Those first teams didn’t have the talent but yes they played hard. He is a good person and cares about his kids. The problem is year after year it’s the same thing with turnovers, subs, lack of defensive fundamentals and the live by the 3 die by the 3 we will outscore you mindset. I’m tired of seeing a 3 man weave. Could you imagine Blackmon on a double staggerd screen? And a kick down to Bryant or Davis when they tried to hedge it? Sorry off topic dreaming. The point is this is as far as we are going to go. We will never be anymore than a talented team that can’t get past the sweet 16.

  • Jeff Linback

    20 TO’s, no defense, 3 man weave of death and one of their players goes off for 30

  • BL4IU

    To be a leader you first have to take care of your own business. You have to perform; lead by example. JBJ and RJ have done that best but I just don’t see them being vocal, take charge guys. When I say vocal, you have to be level headed, a calming influence when all hell breaks loose. That’s why, as much as I like TB’s energy, he’s probably a little over the top to be the leader. For me, the guy is JM. He appears to be a natural leader and I like the fact he’s an all-around, utility player. Unfortunately, JM didn’t play well early. Has of late. Love to see Coach insert him in the starting lineup. Pretty certain he’d settle in to being this team’s leader; keeping in mind, that’s a load for a sophomore.