Scouting Report: Illinois

After beating IU to start off the team's Big Ten slate, Illinois, followed with a defeat of Penn State before falling to five-opponents, out of the top 25 and into the bottom half of the Big Ten, along with the Hoosiers.

Here's a closer look at Sunday's Indiana opponent:

Illinois Fighting Illini (13-7, 2-5)

Last time out: L, 62-55 at Ohio State Thursday

In a battle of two teams on four-game losing streaks, the Fighting Illini stumbled towards the end and fell to No. 17 Ohio State 62-55, bringing them to 2-5 in the Big Ten. Joseph Bertrand led all scorers with 19 points.

In the first half, the Buckeyes shot just 29.2 percent from the field while the Fighting Illini were 10-for-26 from the floor. Bertrand scored 10 points in the first half. Illinois held a narrow lead going into halftime, 25-24, and they led 34-31 just five minutes into the second half before a 9-0 Ohio State run gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. Illinois charged back and even tied it at 46-all with 6:08 remaining in the contest, but they could never regain control.

LaQuinton Ross led the Buckeyes with 18 points, and Lenzelle Smith followed with 16, including 4-for-8 shooting from beyond the 3-point line. Illinois' Jon Ekey followed Bertrand with 11 points, and Nnanna Egwu notched 10 points and led the team with nine rebounds.

2012-13 season:

The Fighting Illini nearly made it all the way through their non-conference slate last season undefeated, climbing all the way to No. 10 in the country before losing Dec. 22 to No. 12 Missouri on the road 82-73.

But Illinois struggled dearly to start the Big Ten regular season, losing seven of the team's first nine games. Their only wins early on were a surprise victory against No. 8 Ohio State 74-55 at home and against Nebraska on the road.

The Fighting Illini then would face recently crowned No. 1 Indiana in Champaign, Ill. on Feb. 7. Both teams battled back and forth before Tyler Griffey caught an inbounds pass under the basket wide open and laid in the game-winning bucket as the time ran out to knock off the Hoosiers 74-72.

This win seemed to jump start the rest of Illinois' regular season, where they began to take off on a five-game winning streak and finished 6-3 in the team's final nine games. Even with a loss to Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament 80-64, the Fighting Illini secured a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They upset No. 7-seeded Colorado 57-49 in the first round before falling to No. 2 seed Miami 63-59 in the second round.

What they do well:

Since making it into the top 25 with their first two wins in the Big Ten, the Illini's scoring average has dropped nearly 15 points in their five losses, down to 57.6 per game while losing by an average of more than 12 points per game.

Illinois has fallen into the bottom half of nearly every statistical category during the team's losing streak, but the Fighting Illini's few strengths lie in their defense. They rank third in the conference in scoring defense, holding opponents this season to just 63.7 points per game – though Big Ten opponents have scored 70 per game against Illinois during the team's losing streak.

The Fighting Illini are also adept in pulling down offensive rebounds, which has helped them limit their opponents' chances at scoring off of misses. Illinois ranks fourth in the conference in offensive boards, averaging 12.6 per game, although the Hoosiers sit in second with 14.3 per game.

Star players:

G Rayvonte Rice, Jr.

Rice lit up the Hoosiers for 29 points on New Year's Eve in Illinois' 83-80 victory. He shot 8-for-20 from the field and made two 3-pointers, but his biggest success came from the free throw line, where he got 15 attempts, making 11 of them. Since, he's scored in double-digits four times as Illinois' leading scorer for this season, averaging 16.6 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting from the field.

The junior struggled in his team's last game against Ohio State, where he didn't score a single point, missing eight shots from the field. Still, this Thursday's game was just the second time of the season he hasn't reached double figures as a very consistent scoring threat for the Fighting Illini.

G Joseph Bertrand, Sr.

Bertrand comes in this season as one of two seniors or grad students on the team, and he's stepped up his scoring, reaching a double-figure average for the first time of his college career with this season. When he first took on the Hoosiers, his average stood at 10.8 points per game. His 13-point performance, along with 18 against Wisconsin and 19 against Ohio State has increased it to 11.1.


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