Illinois goes head-to-head against current last place, yes you read that correctly, last place in the B1G Indiana this Saturday. While the matchup is still a couple of days away and the standings could take a turn in favor for Indiana given other B1G game outcomes, I still have a feeling that absolutely nobody saw this coming, including the players and coaches, as Indiana was favored to be a top Big Ten team. Below are some keys to Illinois coming out of Bloomington with a W:
- Deal with the pressure and hostility of a home game: Illinois has struggled mightily playing away from Champaign. They are 0-1 in true road games and have dropped two of four neutral site games this season. In fact, they have not won a true road game since February 3rd of last season, where Illinois won in triple overtime at Rutgers (One of two Illinois true road game wins last season). Illinois finally needs to get over the road woe hump and find a way to go to a hostile environment and play fundamental basketball. Luckily for Illinois, Indiana has struggled at home this season. Indiana has lost its last three games, all at home, with losses to Nebraska, Louisville, and Wisconsin. This is a prime opportunity for Illinois to come in and send Indiana on their way to a fourth straight home loss.
- Get the three ball to fall in the Hall: In Illinois’ first 15 games of the season, Malcolm Hill, Tracy Abrams, and Jalen Coleman-Lands are shooting 41.3%, 49.2% and 35.4% from beyond the arc, respectively. This is a stat that Illinois can exploit on Saturday. Indiana’s defense allowed 9-18 shooting from 3 to Nebraska’s sharp-shooters while allowing Wisconsin to hit 10-20. If Tracy can continue his season-long success, and if JCL can finally find his shot, look for Illinois to try jump shots and the 3-ball early and often. Illinois ranks towards the end in all Division 1 schools on shots taken inside the paint. If Illinois wants this formula to work, they are going to need their shots to go down.
- Start fast and don’t take your foot off the pedal: The first half of games have been a pretty good indicator of how Illinois will play for the rest of the game. In games like West Virginia and Maryland, Illinois got hit in the mouth early, and never stood a chance in the game. They continued to allow the lead to balloon and never were able to get a grip on these games. On the other hand, take games such as the BYU, or this most recent game against Ohio State. Illinois was able to mount double-digit first half leads, and was able to hold on to the victory. Illinois is going to need to get some of those first few outside shots to fall (see key number 2), or be willing to drive to the paint; whatever it takes to get a lead early. Wisconsin began their game against Indiana on a 16-2 run, cementing the path for a wire-to-wire victory. If Illinois can get out ahead early, they can grab some momentum and hopefully ride it to the end of the game.
Summary: Settle down on the road, hit around half your three point attempts, and build a first half lead. Hit these keys, get some breaks, and Illinois will send Indiana to an absolutely remarkable 4th straight home loss. Illinois is a topsy-turvy team, and with Indiana’s interesting play this year, it’s really tough to predict what’s going to happen in this one.
At the end of the day, Indiana is still a dangerous team, and despite their recent home struggles, let’s not forget Indiana has beaten Kansas and North Carolina earlier in the season, a pair of elite teams.
Prediction: Indiana 75, Illinois 65.