What to expect: Illinois
Indiana will look to rebound from a disappointing 74-70 loss to Rutgers when it hosts Illinois on Tuesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Fighting Illini are 11-5 overall, 7-3 in Big Ten play and won the first meeting this season with Indiana 69-60 on Dec. 26 in Champaign.
Tuesday’s game will tip at approximately 9 p.m. ET on ESPN with Dave Flemming and Dan Dakich on the call:
Indiana begins a critical week for its NCAA tournament chances this evening in Bloomington as it hosts Illinois.
The Fighting Illini are the first of two opponents ranked in the top 12 of the latest AP top 25 poll scheduled to play at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this week. On Super Bowl Sunday, Indiana is scheduled to host No. 8 Iowa at noon ET.
Even after an extended layoff due to the postponement of Saturday’s game at Michigan, Indiana enters Tuesday’s game with injury and depth concerns. On Monday, Archie Miller said Trey Galloway’s activity has been limited due to his back injury and said Armaan Franklin (ankle) is “not healthy.”
With three home conference losses already to Northwestern, Purdue and Rutgers, Indiana can’t afford to continue faltering on its home floor if it hopes to break its NCAA tournament drought.
THE FIRST MEETING
Indiana played well at times against Illinois in a late December loss at the State Farm Center, but couldn’t contain Ayo Dosunmu over the game’s final ten minutes.
The Hoosiers were relatively successful for a half against the All-America candidate, holding him to only eight shot attempts and 10 points. Dosunmu, however, exploded for 18 points over the final 9:47 of the 69-60 win for Illinois. When Dosunmu took over, Indiana led by five. The explosion showed just how quickly Illinois can come to life offensively, particularly when it gets out in transition.
Indiana also had difficulty with sophomore Kofi Cockburn, who outplayed Trayce Jackson-Davis. While Jackson-Davis labored his way to 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting, Cockburn dominated in the paint with 15 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes. Cockburn only had two blocked shots in the first matchup, but altered a ton of shots and didn’t allow Jackson-Davis to get comfortable at the rim.
Armaan Franklin was terrific with 23 points in the loss in Champaign, but given his uncertain health status, the Hoosiers are going to need better performances in the rematch from Rob Phinisee and Al Durham Jr.
That duo went scoreless in the first half in the first matchup before coming to life in the second half at the State Farm Center. Consistency from Phinisee and Durham has been an issue all season and when Indiana plays up to its potential, it usually has both of its upperclassmen guards performing well.
In Indiana’s nine wins this season, Phinisee is averaging 10.2 points on 49.3 percent shooting from the field. In IU’s seven losses, the McCutcheon product is averaging just 5.9 points on 28.3 percent shooting. Durham is averaging 13 points on 44 percent shooting in IU’s wins and just 7.9 points on 32.8 percent shooting in losses.
TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW AND KEYS TO THE GAME
• Indiana needs the best version of Jackson-Davis: Given its limited depth, inconsistent guard play and the uncertainty surrounding the health of Franklin, Indiana is going to need much more from Jackson-Davis than it got from Champaign. In two career games against Illinois, Jackson-Davis has scored just 23 points in 63 minutes. As good as Jackson-Davis has been this season, he tends to have stretches in games where he struggles to finish at the basket and doesn’t demand that his teammates feed him the ball.
• Get to the free throw line: Indiana attempted just nine free throws in its 69-60 loss to the Illini last month and had a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of just 15.5 percent, its second-lowest of the season. Even though the Hoosiers are one of the Big Ten’s worst free throw shooting teams, they’re one of the top teams in the league at getting to the line. Indiana’s free throw rate in Big Ten play is 34.3 percent, but in order to pull off the upset tonight, the Hoosiers are going to need to get to the line more frequently and also convert.
• Hold Ayo to his averages: Dosunmu is averaging close to 22 points per game and Indiana needs to hold him close to or below that mark and avoid the outburst that took place in December in Champaign. Illinois has a lot of guard talent on its roster besides Dosunmu with Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller, but the junior from Chicago is the Big Ten’s best closer down the stretch. In his postgame comments after the Dec. 26 meeting, Dosunmu explained that he was waiting for Indiana to become fatigued down the stretch before taking over. “Basically I was just playing a mind game with them, watched a lot of film on them,” he said. “And I knew that when the duration of the game increases, their tendencies start to get lazy so I just wanted to attack on that.”
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
Indiana needs to start stringing together wins if it hopes to stay on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble and a win in either game this week would definitely move the needle.
The KenPom projection is Illinois by 2 with a 42-percent chance of an IU victory. The Sagarin numbers like Illinois by three and the Vegas line likes Illinois by 2.5. This is the first time this season that Indiana has been a home underdog.
This game is likely to come down to whether Indiana can avoid lengthy scoring droughts, take care of the ball and show some desperation and urgency on both ends of the floor. The Hoosiers have come out flat repeatedly at home this season and that can’t be repeated tonight in a critical spot against a top 15 team.
Filed to: Illinois Fighting Illini