Illinois set to take on Iowa

The number #1 team in the nation takes the floor Thursday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes. This has been a bitter rivalry over the years, and this meeting will be no exception.

The Illini and the Hawkeyes are both coming off wins, with Illinois defeating Northwestern at Evanston, while Iowa beat Minnesota in Iowa City. Every remaining game for the Illini is important in their quest for another Big Ten title, a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and an undefeated season (yes, it could happen). I had the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this Iowa team.

Starters

Adam Haluska (6-5, SO, 13.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 48.1% FG.): Adam is a transfer from Iowa State. He started all 31 games for the Cyclones, averaging 9.2 PPG. He was named to the All Big 12 Freshman Team. Haluska is the best athlete the Hawkeyes have, and some Iowa fans (the less stable ones) maintain that he is the "greatest athlete ever." Adam uses his athletic ability to get to the hoop for some easy buckets, and he can also stroke it from deep.

Jeff Horner (6-3, JR, 14.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 44.7% FG): Jeff is Iowa's marksman. If he has an open look from deep, it's going in. He set the team assists record as a freshman, with 140. Horner is the key to the Iowa team. If Illinois can shut him down, Iowa will be in serious trouble. He takes very good care of the ball, too. Illinois must force him to make mistakes.

Pierre Pierce (6-4, JR, 17.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.9 APG, 47.7% FG): Pierre is a very streaky shooter. He likes to use his height (he's a tall point guard) to post up smaller defenders. Pierce is fast; he gets up and down the floor in a hurry just like the Illini backcourt. The downfall of his game is his carelessness—he has the tendency to take ill-advised shots.

Greg Brunner (6-7, JR, 13.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 53.6% FG): Greg is a rebounding machine. Expect to see him around the hoop after every shot on Thursday night. Brunner is second in the Big Ten with six double-doubles (he has 15 in his collegiate career). He will get a lot of put-backs, so boxing him out on the boards is a must.

Erek Hansen (6-11, JR, 6.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.7 APG, 45.1% FG): This guy is Iowa's answer to Nick Smith, tall and super-skinny. Erek is a human eraser; he has 57 blocked shots in 15 games so far. Erek is definitely raw on the offensive side of the ball, so don't expect him to get many touches around the basket.

Reserves

Doug Thomas: Thomas is a transfer from Southeastern Community College in Iowa. He's averaging 4.7 PPG and 4.2 RPG off the bench. Doug has good athleticism, and can be dangerous if he's hot from the field.

Mike Henderson: Henderson is an academic standout, but not much of an offensive factor. Look for him if Horner or Pierce get in any kind of foul trouble early.

Carlton Reed: Reed was Iowa's Mr. Basketball last year. He provides good legs off the bench, and he has serious potential to grow as a player.

Prediction

With the students already back, the Assembly Hall will be at a fever pitch Thursday night. The Illini will run past the Hawkeyes in front of the raucous home crowd. It may be close early, but Illinois should be in control during the second half. Final score 85-70, and the Illini will still be perfect for the season. . .


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