Hoosiers ready for first Big Ten test

Indiana opens Big Ten play on Tuesday afternoon at Illinois. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.

After a nine-day layoff, Indiana is finally back in action on Tuesday afternoon as the Hoosiers travel to Champaign to play Illinois at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.

The Hoosiers (10-3) last played on Dec. 22, when they beat Kennesaw State 90-66 at home. Tuesday's opponent is much more formidable.

The Fighting Illini enter the game with an 11-2 record, and they have won two consecutive games after losing at Oregon on Dec. 14. Illinois' only other non-conference loss came at Georgia Tech on Dec. 3.

Illinois is the nation's 50th-ranked team, according to KenPom.com, two spots lower than No. 48 Indiana. The Illini are a sound defensive team, ranking 25th nationally in defensive efficiency by giving up 94.5 points per 100 possessions.

Illinois also has a steal percentage of 7.1 (31st nationally) and a block percentage of 7.6 (71st nationally). Nnanna Egwu is a big factor in the latter department, sporting a block percentage of 8.4 (67th nationally).

Illinois has allowed its opponents to shoot just 33.6 percent on 3-pointers and 43.3 percent on two-pointers through 13 games.

The Illini and Hoosiers play contrasting styles, so it will be interesting to see if Indiana is able to get Illinois to play faster than it is used to on Tuesday. Illinois plays at the 325th fastest tempo in the nation, while Indiana plays at the nation's 11th-fastest pace.

Don't be surprised if you see Indiana press a considerable amount on Tuesday to try and speed Illinois up.

Personnel wise, the Illini are led by junior Rayvonte Rice, a transfer from Drake. He is averaging 18.2 points per game and is one of only two players in the Big Ten to score at least 12 points in every game this season. Rice was named the co-Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after pouring in 28 points and seven rebounds in Saturday's win over UIC.

Rice, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound guard, is shooting 50 percent from the field, 33 percent from beyond the arc and is playing 32.1 minutes per game. He also averages 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per contest.

"Just a bulldozer going to the basket," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Rice. "He can shoot from 3, he can get to the rim. Great strength. Watching him on film, goodness gracious. He's got deep range, he is an aggressive mindset guy, and you can see that."

Added Indiana senior Will Sheehey: "He's a good player. He's been playing college basketball for awhile, so he knows how to play. He has a good feel for it."

Hoosiers make good use of long layoff

Indiana didn't spend a lot of time sitting around during its nine-day layoff in between games. Crean sent his players home after their win over Kennesaw State on Dec. 22, and the team returned on Dec. 26. The Hoosiers have practiced hard five times since then, and Crean said that was good for his team.

"For us, we need that time, and we try to max it out the best we can," Crean said. "We've tried to accomplish a lot in the film room. We spend a lot of time on our fundamentals, on our shooting, on our driving, on our passing. It's been very demanding.

"I don't think we're nearly as good rebounding the ball right now as we could be, and I know the number say different, but I think we can get a lot better at that. It's going to keep getting tested."

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