PREVIEW: Illinois at No. 25 Indiana

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' trip to Indiana on Saturday.

Illinois (11-4, 1-1) at

No. 25 Indiana (10-5, 0-2)

Date & Time: Jan. 7, 4 p.m. CT

Location: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)

TV: ESPNU

Quick Hits

  • Illinois got nearly a week to prepare for Indiana following a 75-70 win against Ohio State last Sunday.
  • The Illini are 11-26 in Big Ten road games under John Groce.
  • Illinois is 10-29 under Groce against ranked opponents.
  • Illinois' last road win against a ranked team was on March 8, 2014 at No. 24 Iowa.
  • The Illini are 86-89 all-time against Indiana, and 29-54 in Bloomington.
  • Indiana has won three straight in the series overall, and they've won the last four at home.
  • Indiana has started 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2013-14.
  • The Hoosiers have started conference play with two straight home losses for the first time since 2010-11.
  • Indiana has lost their last four games against high-major opponents.

Projected Starters

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams bounced back from a rough outing at Maryland to post 16 points in 33 minutes against Ohio State. He made a handful of plays off the dribble, but he has struggled with his outside shot. He's gone just 2-of-15 from three over the last three games.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands hit a pair of threes in an eight-point outing last Sunday. He has hit four of his nine shot attempts in Big Ten play thus far, but Illinois fans are looking to see more. And rightfully so.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill had a team-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists against the Buckeyes. He converted in clutch spots with drives to the hoop and he got to the line. Hill has scored at least 20 points in three straight games.

Leron Black (R-SO): Black was a force on the glass last Sunday with 15 rebounds in 27 minutes. The Illini will need an impactful effort from him against Indiana, and with his offensive game too. Black averaged more than 14 points per game in his first seven outings. In the past four games, he's averaging less than four.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): Thorne was scoreless for the first time all season the last time out. He was 0-of-3 with three rebounds and two turnovers in just eight minutes. Thorne had nine points and nine rebounds at Indiana last year in his only Big Ten game.

Bench

Maverick Morgan (GR): Morgan totaled 11 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes against Ohio State. He has been Illinois' second most consistent performer since mid-December -- averaging 12 points and 7.4 rebounds in the last five games.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke stepped up to hit five shots, including two triples, last Sunday for 12 points off the bench. He's shot 50 percent from three over the last four games. The Illini will continue to rely heavily on him and Morgan in the second unit.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate had two assists and a rebound in 14 minutes of action against Ohio State. Illinois was +8 with him on the floor, which only trailed Hill (+11). He is 0-of-5 from the field in Big Ten play, though.

D.J. Williams (SO): Williams gave the Illini two points and a rebound in 15 minutes last Sunday. Groce liked his energy with the absence of any significant mistakes. Williams has scored a bucket in each of the last six games, but he's averaging just 2.8 points per game.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Jordan played three minutes but didn't take a shot against Ohio State. He's 6-of-17 from the field on the season.

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas did not play last Saturday, which was the fourth time he has failed to see any action this season. He had three points, two assists and two turnovers in the Big Ten opener at Maryland.

Kipper Nichols (R-FR): Nichols also didn't play against the Buckeyes. He's totaled five minutes in four eligible games this season.

Indiana Starters

Josh Newkirk (R-JR): The transfer point guard from Pittsburgh is averaging 7.7 points and 3.6 assists per game this season. He was just 1-of-7 from the field against Wisconsin on Tuesday for four points. Newkirk has been solid overall, but the Hoosiers are missing Yogi Ferrell's leadership and ability to create.

James Blackmon Jr. (JR): Blackmon leads Indiana with 16.8 points per game, while shooting higher than 43 percent from beyond the arc. But he's shot just 11-of-31 during his team's losing streak, and he was scoreless in the second half against Wisconsin.

O.G. Anunoby (SO): Anunoby is an X-factor for the Hoosiers with his length and athleticism. He is averaging 11.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. But he's had issues with turnovers recently with 10 in the last three games.

Juwan Morgan (SO): Morgan had 12 points and seven rebounds against the Badgers on Tuesday. He's averaging 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Thomas Bryant (SO): Bryant is highly-talented with an ability to play on the inside and around the perimeter. He is averaging 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but he has just been mediocre in the last two contests with just 14 points and six rebounds combined in 47 minutes.

Three things I'm looking for

1. Battle on the backboard. Indiana is dangerous enough as it is at the offensive end. They shoot higher than 38 percent from three as a team. They have multiple weapons to throw at you. Illinois has to limit their opportunities to score as much as possible, and they have to be sound on the defensive glass to do so. Indiana is top-five in the country in offensive rebound percentage, as they get back almost 42 percent of their misses. Black is 37th nationally in defensive rebound percentage (26.4), behind only Caleb Swanigan (No. 3), Trevor Thompson (No. 6) and Ethan Happ (No. 10) in the Big Ten. He needs another big outing, but he can't do it alone. The Hoosiers have a number of players who can hurt you in this area. Bryant, Morgan, Anunoby and De'Ron Davis all get after it on the offensive glass. That can lead to second-chance points in the paint, or kick-out threes that will burn you.

2. Play inside-out. The Illini don't need to make this into a straight up jump-shooting contest. Some of the best basketball they've played offensively has been when they prioritize post entries. Illinois did a good job of utilizing driving lanes against Ohio State as well. Indiana is not a good defensive team, and they will allow you to get in the lane. Nebraska beat the Hoosiers with 40 points in the paint. Happ killed Indiana with post finishes. The Badgers also did well at working it inside, forcing defensive rotation and getting good looks from the perimeter. That's where the Illini should start with their plan of attack. Get action going towards the basket with drives and post passes, and play off of that with good looks to follow. The Hoosiers have allowed their opponents to shoot 47.3 percent from three during their losing streak. But that doesn't mean Illinois should chuck them up aimlessly.

3. Mental toughness. You better be ready for a battle. Indiana is going to be hungry. That crowd is going to be ready to roar at any moment. And you can bet on the Hoosiers giving them a reason to. Hill said on Friday that this game will come down to Illinois' response to runs by Indiana and their composure through adversity. The Illini were terrible in that aspect in their first road game at Maryland. Allowing easy hoops compounded with forced shots and turnovers. Consecutive baskets for the Terps quickly led to big runs. That has to change in a big way just for the Illini to have a chance.

Prediction

Illinois is walking into a hornets nest. And the road against high-level competition hasn't been exactly kind to them over the last few seasons. The Illini have lost six straight on the road against ranked opponents by 129 points combined -- 21.5 per game. That being said, Indiana is beatable. They played a pretty good game overall against Wisconsin, but they started slow and did not execute offensively down the stretch. They are turnover prone and don't defend particularly well either. But they have a lot of talent and this is a perfect opportunity for them to bounce back. Illinois should compete but expect the Hoosiers to get back on track in what has a must-win feel in Bloomington.

No. 25 Indiana 82, Illinois 72


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