Now that Indiana is into the post-season, individual matchups will become that much more important. Hoosier fans have seen how stopping just one player, like IU did in its first game against Michigan with Nik Stauskas, can make all the difference. On the other hand, the Hoosiers have at times let single players take control of games, as Gary Harris has done this season against IU, scoring 50 points in two games – both IU losses.
Leading into the Big Ten Tournament, with IU and Illinois so close in the standings with the eight and nine seeds, respectively, AllHoosiers.com will take a look at the starting lineups to see where both teams have an edge.
Abrams carries a slight height advantage in this matchup, but a few inches won't mean much. The difference between these two players is that for IU, Ferrell both runs IU's offense and is the team's top scoring threat. Abrams will have his hands full trying to slow down one of the conference's top scorers who can hit from beyond the arc as well as drive to the bucket. Keeping the scoring in this game low will be key for Illinois's success.
Ferrell, though, will have to take care of the basketball. He committed close to three per game this season, and Abrams and company forced the sophomore into six turnovers in Champaign, Ill. earlier this season. Abrams ranks in the top 10 in the conference in steals with 1.2 per game this season. Although Abrams ranks second on the team with 10.5 points per game this season, Ferrell won't have to worry as much about Abrams's stroke – he's shooting less than 34 percent from the field this season. Still, the offense runs through him, and it'll be on Ferrell's shoulders to keep him contained.
Robinson is the likely starter with Ferrell in the backcourt for IU, but with the number of lineups Tom Crean has put together this season, you never quite know. Both guards stand at 6-feet-4-inches, but Robinson will have his hands full on defense keeping the Fighting Illini's leading scorer at bay. At times this season, Robinson has been a defensive liability, letting guards drive right past him from the top of the key or on the baseline, and as Rice goes, so does his team.
Rice led Illinois with 15.7 points per game this season, but he didn't shoot outstanding numbers from the field – just 41.9 percent overall and 31.2 percent from behind the arc. Robinson has to stay in front of Rice and force him to hurt IU with his jumper rather than giving him easy looks around the basket.
On defense, Rice has been one of the best at taking the ball away, with 50 steals this season. Robinson has, at times, been prone to turnover woes like his four in just nine minutes against Aaron Craft and Ohio State just a few games ago.
Troy Williams vs. Joseph Bertrand
Beyond Noah Vonleh, Williams has cemented his claim as IU's second-best percentage scorer of the team's consistent starting five this season, shooting at an even 50 percent. He averages 7.2 points per game, but his production seems to vary from game to game. Bertrand, on the other hand, was consistently scoring in double figures during the first half of the Big Ten season before putting up just 21 points total in his last eight games this season, still finishing averaging 8.9 points per game.
Williams brings explosiveness, while Bertrand brings a senior leadership to the court. Williams can block your shot and throw down dunks to get the crowd going, but at times he's fallen into the background on offense and defense. Which Troy we see will likely determine how this matchup ends up.
Sheehey, IU's top defender, will have his hands full with Ekey, a player who rarely turns the ball over, pulls down rebounds and shoots fairly well from beyond the arc. Neither has had much success scoring the ball against the other team, with Ekey scoring four points in both meetings and Sheehey being held to nine in the first and five in the second.
What will be big between these two will be the dirty work. Ekey has turned the ball over just 14 times this season, and Sheehey averages nearly one steal per game. Ekey is much more active on the boards, pulling down more than five per game. As he showed during Illinois's season finale, he can be trusted to knock down the last-second shot, as he did to beat Iowa.
Noah Vonleh vs. Nnanna Egwu
Crean said on Wednesday that Vonleh is healthy going into Thursday's matchup, a big plus for the Hoosiers who don't have anyone else on their roster with nearly the size and skill to pair up against Egwu. In their first game against each other, Vonleh went for 16 points, while Egwu went for eight. Vonleh drew plenty of fouls to get him 12 foul shots, although Egwu only committed one during the game. In their second matchup, Vonleh didn't have as much success in the paint, not getting to line like he had while still only shooting 2-for-6.
Egwu was second in the Big Ten in blocked shots this season with 2.1 per game and is plenty big a body to cause Vonleh trouble inside. IU, though, has to get him the ball enough to give him chances to draw fouls or make buckets, something the team has struggled with throughout the season. Egwu will have to make sure he doesn't fall into foul trouble and give Vonleh ample opportunities for easy points.