What to Expect: Illinois at Indiana
Indiana will try to bounce back from a 64-62 loss at Northwestern when it hosts Illinois on Saturday at Assembly Hall. The Fighting Illini are 17-8 overall and 8-6 in Big Ten play.
Saturday’s game will tip at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN:
Indiana has to put the sting of Wednesday’s narrow loss at Welsh-Ryan Arena in the rearview mirror quickly. An unrelenting Big Ten schedule now turns the page to a rematch with Illinois in Bloomington.
The home game on Saturday against the Illini is the only home contest in a five-game stretch for the Hoosiers. The four road games in this stretch are all against teams currently in the top nine of the league standings (Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State and Purdue).
Illinois has lost two of its last three games, including a 93-81 loss at Penn State on Valentine’s Day. But in terms of talent and upside, the Illini have the pieces to compete with any team in the conference. And after Indiana’s performance against Illinois back on Jan. 19 at the State Farm, Brad Underwood’s team will be hungry to even the season series.
THE FIRST MEETING
In one of its most impressive performances this season, Indiana routed Illinois 80-65 last month in Champaign.
It was an excellent defensive performance by the Hoosiers. Indiana held Illinois to just 40.6 percent shooting on 2s. Entering the game, Illinois was on a four-game winning streak and had scored 75 or more points in each of those contests. It was the second straight encouraging defensive performance by Indiana after holding Wisconsin to only 45 points and .717 points per possession just five days earlier.
Offensively, the game was defined by Brad Underwood’s decision to play Trayce Jackson-Davis straight up. Jackson-Davis had his way against Dain Dainja and by the final buzzer, he had 35 points on 15-for-19 shooting from the field.
“They didn’t send the double,” Jackson-Davis said afterward. “So I had to make ‘em pay.”
Indiana outscored Illinois 54-32 in the paint and it was a major reason the Hoosiers won easily despite shooting only 3-for-9 on 3-pointers. Indiana shot 67.4 percent on 2s in the first meeting, a mark that is unlikely to be repeated.
Overall, the frontcourt from Illinois really struggled against Indiana in Champaign. Matthew Mayer, who was battling an illness, went scoreless in 22 minutes. Dainja shot 4-for-8 from the field and 1-for-4 from the free throw line. And Coleman Hawkins was just 1-for-4 on 3s.
Free throw shooting also haunted Illinois in the loss. The Illini were a dismal 9-for-23 from the line. Illinois took 10 more free throws than Indiana did, but both teams scored nine points at the line.
All stats are for conference games only and are updated through Wednesday’s games.
The upside of Illinois remains high because of talented pieces like Terrence Shannon Jr., Mayer and Hawkins, but the Illini have a few flaws offensively that continue to come up.
Illinois is shooting only 28.9 percent on 3s in Big Ten play and only 69.8 percent from the free throw line. The 3-point shooting number ranks 13th in the conference and the free throw percentage is 11th best in the league. The Illini are the best 2-point shooting team in the Big Ten at 54.7 percent.
Two of the primary strengths of the Illinois offense are its offensive rebounding and ability to get to the free throw line. Illinois ranks third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and fourth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA).
Defensively, Illinois is coming off its worst performance of the season in Big Ten play. Penn State scored 1.314 points per possession on the Illini in State College as Jalen Pickett scored 41 points to complete a season sweep for the Nittany Lions. Based on how things went in Champaign when Illinois attempted to guard Jackson-Davis straight up, Indiana must assume an adjustment is coming.
For Indiana, turnovers continue as a major issue. The Hoosiers turned it over 13 times against Northwestern, but the mishaps only led to six points for the Wildcats. Illinois, however, will turn live ball turnovers into dunks and easy buckets if Indiana can’t take care of the ball.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
The KenPom projection is Indiana by four with a 63 percent chance of a Hoosier victory. The Sagarin numbers favor Indiana by just under four points.
This is a key game for Indiana to win with road trips to Michigan State and Purdue looming next week. The Hoosiers are essentially out of the Big Ten title race at this point, but still trying to secure a double bye in the Big Ten tournament.
You can check out the seeding scenarios here, but after Wednesday’s loss, the Hoosiers probably need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to earn a double bye unless Northwestern and Maryland falter down the stretch.
Illinois is a much better team than it showed in Champaign and Mayer should be a much bigger factor than he was in the first matchup. For Indiana, the key is adjusting to however Illinois chooses to guard the post, taking care of the ball and limiting second-chance opportunities for the Illini. It would also be a major boost if one or more of the secondary guards or wings took some of the offensive pressure off of Jalen Hood-Schifino and Jackson-Davis.
(Photo credit: IU Athletics)
Filed to: Illinois Fighting Illini