PREVIEW: Illinois vs Indiana

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' rivalry battle against Indiana on Thursday night.

Illinois (12-15, 4-10) vs.

No. 18 Indiana (22-6, 12-3)

Date & Time: Feb. 25, 8 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: ESPN

Quick Hits

  • Indiana is atop the Big Ten standings with a 12-3 conference record.
  • The Hoosiers are coming off a 77-73 win against Purdue on Saturday.
  • Indiana is No. 12 in the country in scoring (83.2 ppg), and first in the Big Ten.
  • The Hoosiers are second in the country in effective field goal percentage, fifth in three-point percentage and 11th in offensive efficiency.
  • Indiana is just 1-3 in their last four road games.
  • Illinois is coming off a 69-60 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday.
  • The Illini are 86-88 all-time against Indiana, and they lost 103-69 in a matchup back in January.
  • Illinois has won five of the last six in Champaign against the Hoosiers, but Indiana won 80-74 at the State Farm Center last season.
  • The Illini are 3-4 against Indiana under John Groce, and they are 28-40 overall in Big Ten play.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis had four points, four assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes at Wisconsin on Sunday. He has started the last five games - averaging 5.2 points, five assists and 1.2 turnovers per game.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands had an off-game against the Badgers with just four points, while going 1-of-3 from the field. The Illini need him to heat up from deep to match Indiana's high-powered attack.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn is officially out of his shooting funk, as he posted 15 points and hit four threes at Wisconsin. Nunn has shot 47.8 percent from deep over the last three games.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill has continued his huge month of February - averaging 19 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He had 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists against the Badgers, but he didn't hit a shot in the final 12 minutes.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Foul trouble hurt the Illini in a big way on Sunday, as Morgan had five fouls in just seven minutes in the second half. He finished with four points and six rebounds. Morgan had scored in double figures the previous four games.

Bench

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke scored all eight of his points in the final 5:09 of Sunday's game. The Illini hope that will give him some confidence to get over the hump. Finke's production has seen a big drop-off in Big Ten play.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams was one of five Illini to finish with at least four fouls at Wisconsin. The freshman hit a smooth lefty floater on his only field goal attempt.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had three points in 11 minutes on Sunday, while going 1-of-3 from deep. He has gone 2-of-10 from beyond the arc over the last five games.

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate has been on the outside of the point guard rotation recently. He played less than a minute against Wisconsin, and he played six minutes combined in the previous two games.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin didn't play against the Badgers on Sunday. He hasn't scored since Feb. 3 at Rutgers.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss didn't see the floor at Wisconsin. He has appeared in three games this season.

Indiana Starters

Yogi Ferrell (SR): Ferrell is well on his way for a second straight first-team All-Big Ten selection. The senior point guard is averaging 16.6 points and 5.5 assists per game this season. Ferrell had 16 points and nine assists against the Illini in January.

OG Anunoby (FR): Anunoby has been a productive role player off the bench in Big Ten play, and he could get his first start on Thursday with Robert Johnson out with an ankle injury. Anunoby was 4-of-4 with nine points and three rebounds against Illinois last month.

Troy Williams (JR): Williams can be an X-factor for the Hoosiers when he's on his game. The athletic junior is averaging 12.8 points and six rebounds per game this season. Williams had 21 points and five assists against the Illini in January.

Max Bielfeldt (R-SR): The Peoria, Ill. native has been a key addition for Indiana this year. Bielfeldt has averaged 8.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in Big Ten play. He had 16 points and eight rebounds against Illinois in January.

Thomas Bryant (FR): Bryant is averaging 11.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game this season. The freshman big man has the highest field goal percentage (68.9) in the Big Ten. Bryant had nine points and four rebounds against Illinois in their previous meeting.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Defend the three. Indiana set a school record by hitting 19 threes against the Illini earlier this season. The Hoosiers were red-hot during the offensive clinic, but there wasn't much defensive resistance. Illinois ranks No. 295 in the country in three-point percentage defense, while Indiana is fifth in three-point percentage. That is a combination that needs a warning label. The Illini have held their last three opponents under 70 points, but that was against bottom-half scoring offenses in the Big Ten. Illinois has to stay tight on shooters, but it starts with cutting off Ferrell on the initial drive. That is a lot easier said than done, though. Indiana is lethal with their ball movement and variety of weapons to stretch the defense.

2. Supporting cast steps up. Hill and Nunn are top-10 scorers in the Big Ten, but they can't do it alone. The duo combined for 35 points at Wisconsin but it wasn't enough. The Illini need their other pieces to step up, especially against the high-scoring Hoosiers. Morgan has become a big part of Illinois' offense, as they rely on his ability to score down low. Coleman-Lands is crucial with his ability to put threes on the board in a hurry. The Orange and Blue need Finke to get back to being a consistent contributor as well. It's not likely that Illinois is able to stop Indiana's attack, so they will need to formulate one of their own with contributions coming from a variety of areas.

3. Start fast and finish strong. As any coach will tell you, it takes a full 40-minute effort to beat a good basketball team. Illini fans haven't seen that all that often this season. Illinois played well for the first 30 minutes on Sunday at Wisconsin, as they led 46-37 with 10 minutes to go. But the Illini had a seven-plus minute scoring drought, and Hill didn't score a field goal in the final 12 minutes. To have a chance on Thursday, Illinois has to hit the ground running. This will give the crowd - who would love nothing more than a win over the Hoosiers - to get loud early and often. It's also important that the Illini make shots difficult for the Hoosiers in the early going. Allowing easy looks will only build their confidence and make them feel comfortable. The Illini have to be on their game in the closing moments as well. Whether they will be in that position is another question. But if they are, it will take late-game execution and poise to pull the upset.

Prediction

Hoosiers fans are calling this a potential trap game, as their team eyes games against Iowa and Maryland next week in the chase for the conference title. Illinois has been playing better of late, and they could make this a battle if they come to play. The Illini faithful would love to see a repeat of Groce's first game against Indiana, when the Orange and Blue took down the top-ranked Hoosiers at the buzzer. This one should be much closer than the previous meeting, but odds are that Indiana closes out another victory.

No. 18 Indiana 82, Illinois 74


Illini Inquirer Top Stories