Illinois coach Bruce Weber sees similarities between this year's Iowa team and last season's Illinois team.
"Iowa obviously has struggled in the league. But they've had very close games for the most part. Like us last year, a lot of their games have come down to the last possession."
In his second year at the helm, Iowa coach Todd Lickliter needs time to upgrade recruiting and get everyone to buy into his system. He has found adversity along the way, losing leading scorer Anthony Tucker for the rest of the season due to academics. And his starting big man Cyrus Tate will be missing his sixth straight game with a high ankle sprain.
Illinois can't overlook Iowa. It is the type of team that can cause major problems for any team not playing its best. Weber hopes the Minnesota loss will guarantee his players focus on Iowa, wanting to get back on a winning track.
"I hope when you lose like that, you would think I would have their attention easier than normally. When I looked at the week, it did scare me. But now I have their attention, and they realize how important it is.
"Going into Minnesota, we were talking about the Big 10 Championship. Right now, we're just talking about beating Iowa and keeping our head out of the water and not drowning."
Sophomore Jeff Peterson (6'-0", 192), freshman Matt Gatens (6'-5", 215), sophomore Jake Kelly (6'-6", 185), and junior college transfer Jermain Davis (6'-4", 200) are all providing key contributions for the Hawks. Peterson is the leading assist man with 4.2 a game. Gatens leads the Big 10 in free throw shooting. Davis is quick and aggressive and is gaining confidence as he adjusts to his new home.
Freshman Aaron Fuller (6'-6", 210) is back in the starting lineup. David Palmer (6'-9", 240) came from total obscurity to have a couple outstanding games in the post in Tate's absence. But he played fewer minutes than sophomore Jarryd Cole (6'-7", 250) last game. Junior college transfer Devan Bawinkel (6'-5", 210), a former Illinois product, is a three point specialist off the bench.
Palmer will likely be fired up for Illinois. The Tennessee big man made a commitment to Illinois as a high school junior, claiming he was fully qualified. Weber said that was not the case until late Palmer's senior season, so he couldn't accept the commitment. Plus, David's game didn't continue to develop. Palmer started off at Seton Hall before transferring to Iowa City.
Illinois assistant coach Wayne McClain provides a scouting report.
"Their point guard is extremely quick. We know Jake Kelly extremely well, and we think he's awfully good. He's extremely mobile, he's a 6'-6" guard that plays the three.
"They can shoot the ball. They're gonna hit you with a lot of ball screens and flip screens, pretend like they're ball screens and then flip away. Our biggest concern is the ball screen action.
"We've got to be focused on who we're gonna guard. With so many good shooters, we have to contest their shots to make sure they don't get on a roll from the three point line. The main thing is we've got to guard to take them out of some of their sets and out of their comfort zone."
Weber discusses Iowa's defense, which ranks 5th nationally by giving up only 58.7 points a game.
"They really don't give you easy baskets. Michigan State beat Iowa on transition and on the offensive glass. They make you run things, especially in the half court."
Illini post player Dominique Keller appreciates the fact the two teams have similar size.
"I know they've played a lot of good teams, and they've had a couple good wins. I know they're the most undersized team in the Big 10 next to us, so I think we match up with them pretty well. We've got more athletic guys, so if we take it to them we have a good chance to win the ball game."
Mike Tisdale says Illinois is determined to make up for the Minnesota loss.
"We've got something to prove now. The toughest game on our schedule is Iowa right now. We have to prove we deserve our rep."