Scouting Report: Illinois

Junior guard Rayvonte Rice has scored 49 points in two games against the Hoosiers this season, and he has his team on a hot streak, winners of four of five to end the regular season. The Fighting Illini don't score much, but if they can hold IU in the 60's or below, statistics show they've got a great chance to pull off a first round upset.

Here's a close look at Thursday's Indiana opponent:

Illinois Fighting Illini (18-13, 7-11)

Last time out: W, 66-63 at Iowa Saturday

With the help of a last-second 3-pointer from Jon Ekey, Illinois capped off a second-half surged to take down No. 24 Iowa 66-63 Saturday night for the team's first pair of consecutive road wins against ranked teams since 2005.

The Illinois defense held the Big Ten's leading scorer, Roy Devyn Marble to just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. He was the only player in the Big Ten to have scored in double-digits every conference game until Saturday, and Iowa's star had scored at least 20 points in his previous five games.

The Fighting Illini started strong, taking a 20-6 lead, but Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery switched his defensive scheme, and Illinois would go eight minutes without a field goal as Iowa took a 23-21 lead. The Hawkeyes led 34-29 at the end of the first half and led for much of the second half, though not by much. Joseph Bertrand hit a jumper to give Illinois the lead at 55-54 with under eight minutes to go. Iowa would tie it twice, including with 40 seconds to go, but they wouldn't lead again.

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. Its 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 the team 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 starting the Big Ten season scoring at least 70 points three games in a row, the Fighting Illini have reached this mark just once, struggling on offense while falling to second-to-last in the Big Ten in scoring average at 64.7 points per game.

What has improved during this same time, though, is the team's defense. Illinois has held opponents to 62.8 points per game, and during the team's last four games, the Fighting Illini have held their opponents in the 40's four times, winning three of those games. During the Big Ten season, the Hoosiers are just 3-8 when being held under 70 points. If Illinois can slow down the pace once again, IU may be in trouble.

The other thing Illinois has on its side is its hot-streak lately. The team started the Big Ten season 2-0 with wins against IU and Penn State, climbing into the top 25 before losing eight-straight games over more than five weeks, free-falling to the basement of the Big Ten. They again beat Penn State before losing two more games to Nebraska and Ohio State. Since, the Fighting Illini have won four of five games, including wins against a surging Nebraska team, Michigan State and Iowa. IU, on the other hand, comes in losing the team's final two games on what has been a roller coaster season during conference play.

Star players:

G Rayvonte Rice, Jr.

Rice comes in as an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten teams released earlier this week. He led the Fighting Illini in scoring with 15.7 points per game this season, one of only two players averaging double figures. Rice also leads the team in rebounds with 6.1 per game.

The junior has performed extremely well against the Hoosiers this season, scoring 29 points on a New Year's Eve overtime win, scoring 29 points while knocking down 11 free throws. In Bloomington in his team's loss Jan. 26, Rice shot the ball much better, hitting 7-of-11 field goal attempts, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc for 20 points. He may be one of Illinois's few consistent scoring threats, although he doesn't have an incredible field goal percentage. The Fighting Illini rely on him quite a bit, so shutting him down will be a key for the Hoosiers.

G Joseph Bertrand, Sr.

Bertrand's scoring has dipped slightly as of late, but he still comes in as one of Illinois's top shooters, percentage-wise. This season, Bertrand is tops among the starters in field goal shooting, at 47.9 percent, and he sits just second behind Kendrick Nunn in 3-point shooting at 38.3.

One of Illinois's two seniors had gotten his points-per-game average up to 11.1 in the Fighting Illini's second meeting with IU, before both his and his team's offensive production fell. Still, he scored in double-digits in seven of the first Big Ten games this season, and as a senior, he could be one of the most reliable scorers if it's late and the game is on the line.


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