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Full Game Preview: Iowa vs Illinois

Dylan Burn of Hawkeye Insider breaks down the matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Iowa (11-9, 3-4) At Illinois (12-8, 2-5)

Date & Time: January 25th, 8:06 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, IL)

TV: BTN (Kevin Kugler and Seth Davis)

Quick Notes

- The Illini are losers of 4 of 5, including three straight.

- Peter Jok (21.6) and Malcolm Hill (17.8) both reside in the top five in the Big Ten in points per game.

- Fran McCaffery is 21-36 in Big Ten road games for his career, including 0-3 this season. 

- Cordell Pemsl still ranks 1st in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. He shoots 62.6% from the field. 

- Iowa has won 5 of the last 7 meetings between the two teams. They split last year with Iowa winning in Champaign and Illinois winning in the Big Ten Tournament. 

- Peter Jok had 29 points the last time these two teams met. Illinois' Jalen Coleman-Lands had 17 on 5-10 from three. Jok scored 25 of his 29 in an eight and a half minute span. 

- Iowa has won the last two games played in Champaign, but Illinois holds a 61-16 advantage all-time in those games. 

- The Illini rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in assists, steals, and blocked shots. Iowa ranks near the top of the Big Ten in two of those three categories (steals and assists).

- Illinois is one of the oldest teams in the Big Ten with 6 seniors on the team. Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne are in their sixth years of eligibility. 

- This will be Iowa's fifth true road game of the season. They've lost the previous four.

- Leading scorer Peter Jok is averaging just 16.5 points per game in road games this season. Has a high of 34 against Nebraska and a low of 4 against Northwestern. 

- Iowa is averaging just 72.25 points per game on the road this season. They are averaging over 87 in home games. 

Iowa Starters

**Could be subject to change. Fran McCaffery is thinking about switching up his starting lineup, per reports.**

Jordan Bohannon (FR): With the exception of the double OT loss to Nebraska, Thursday night was a career high in minutes for Jordan. He played 38 minutes and it was apparent that Fran McCaffery wasn't happy with Christian Williams in the first half. That thought was reinforced when Williams didn't see the floor in the second half and Bohannon played the entire 20 minutes. He had 11 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals in the loss to the Terrapins. In Big Ten games, he ranks second in the conference averaging 5.3 assists per game. The big knock has been his on-ball defense. He's just overmatched when he's on defense often times.

Isaiah Moss (RSFR): Moss could be a candidate to move to the bench to start this one against Illinois. He played 37 minutes and had 17 points against Nebraska, but since then hasn't played more that 18 minutes in Iowa's last four games. He had 8 points in 15 minutes on Thursday against Maryland, but seeing his minutes deplete like that could be a sign. For Isaiah, it's been about getting in a groove I think. He may be hitting sort of a wall and a change of scenery (coming off the bench) might help him.

Peter Jok (SR): The way Jok plays on Wednesday is going to depend on how healthy his back is. He admitted it was pretty sore after the loss to Maryland and it was noticeable during the game. Jok is still the Big Ten's leading scorer, but it's obvious something is wrong. Iowa needs him at 100% and hopefully they will after this bye week. The Hawkeyes were the last of the Big Ten teams to receive their first bye week, so we'll see if they come out refreshed.

Tyler Cook (FR): Obviously a freak athlete, he was a beast on the offensive glass in the loss against Maryland. He poured in 8 points and had 7 rebounds, but the four turnovers were an issue there. He needs to develop more of a jump shot, because teams are beginning to hang off and prepare for the back-to-the-basket game. Cook has scored in double figures in 3 of the last 5 games. 

Cordell Pemsl (FR): Pemsl is the other Hawkeye starter that I could see taking a seat on the bench to start this one on Wednesday. He was slow out of the gate against Maryland and was yanked just a minute and a half in. He looked like he was just going through the motions, but the effort level was better in the second half. He still leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 63% from the field. After playing 30+ minutes against Rutgers and Nebraska, his high in the past three games is 20 minutes against Purdue. Safe to say Cordell is struggling a tad. 

Iowa Bench Pieces

Nicholas Baer (RSSO): Business as usual for Baer on Thursday. He isn't flashy, but he stuffs the stat sheet. 7 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists was the line for Baer against Maryland. To go along with that he had 2 steals and 2 blocks. He's a candidate to move into the starting lineup because of the energy that he brings. Iowa has been lacking it early in games and Baer will bring it. 

Ahmad Wagner (SO): Speaking of guys that will bring it, Ahmad is another one. He played just 15 minutes against Maryland, but was an absolute beast. He had 12 points and 6 boards, but the most impressive part was the 6-8 from the free throw line. I could also see Wagner being inserted back in the starting lineup. He filled in for Tyler Cook when Cook was out with the finger injury. His minutes were dwindling, but he proved on Thursday that he can contribute to this team. 

Ryan Kriener (FR): The true freshman has burst onto the scene over the past couple of weeks. It started with the 6 points in a minute and a half against Purdue and continued with the game high 14 points against Northwestern. I still think Fran is feeling out what Kriener is going to give him, so I don't see a move to the starting lineup for him just yet. But as long as he keeps having a positive impact, he'll play. Especially given the fact that he gives the Hawkeyes that jumper that the other forwards do not. 

Christian Williams (SO): Williams had put together a couple of solid games back-to-back, but Thursday against Maryland, McCaffery had him on a short leash. He played about 2 minutes in the first half, turned the ball over twice, and didn't see the court again after being pulled. He has been average on defense and doesn't offer much on offense, so that and the turnovers, were the reason for his quick hook. Williams will still spell Bohannon, but if he struggles don't be surprised if Bohannon plays another 38 minutes on Wednesday.

Brady Ellingson (RSSO): Brady brings a solid shooter and a solid defender to Iowa's lineup. He hit a big three for Iowa on Thursday that helped spark the comeback. He played just 12 minutes, but that three was crucial for Iowa's comeback. He has the potential to drain a couple of threes, but if he's not hitting he won't play much.

Dom Uhl (JR): Dom hasn't played since injuring his hand on a dunk attempt against Purdue. I do not know if he'll play Wednesday, but with a week off I assume he should be ready to go. He had 10 points, 8 boards, and 5 blocks against Rutgers back on the 8th. 

Illinois Starters

Tracy Abrams (SR): Abrams has struggled through injury his entire career. He is a sixth year guard for John Groce, but isn't seeing big time minutes. According to Derek Piper of Illini Inquirer, Groce is limiting Abrams' reps in practice. I was always a big Abrams fan, but obviously the two knee injuries didn't help him. He averages 9 points and 3 assists for the Illini.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands has the potential to fill it up from deep. He was 5-10 from three when the Illini beat the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten tournament last year, but has struggled this season. He had 21 in the loss to Indiana, but hasn't scored in double figures in the last three games. The Hawkeyes have been playing a ton of zone lately, so they'll need to be conscious of where JCL is. 

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill is one of the best scorers in the Big Ten. He just isn't getting much help from the surrounding guys. He ranks in the top 5 in the Big Ten in scoring and is a do everything guy for the Illini. He's scored in double figures in the last 14 games and has scored in double figures in every game this season except for two. Controlling Hill is the big key for Iowa.

LeRon Black (SO): Black was a top 100 recruit out of high school, but has had a few injuries since being on campus in Champaign. Black doesn't play big minutes for Groce's team, but has been productive in spurts during his time on the court. He has struggled in the last few games after scoring 14 and hauling in 9 rebounds in a home loss to Maryland.

Maverick Morgan (SR): In the game I watched, Mav Morgan was extremely impressive. The Illini went to him early and often and he had the right handed hook over the left shoulder working. He is an energy guy for the Illini much like Baer is for Iowa. He's the muscle for the Illini and has scored in double figures in four of the last five. Iowa's forwards will need to bring a solid defensive game because Morgan can sneak up on you. 

Things to Watch

Defense

If we're looking at scoring defense, these are the two worst teams in the Big Ten in that area. The Hawkeyes are giving up around 78 points per game, while the Illini give up around 73. But we'll also get two of the top 5 offenses in the league as well. This could come down to whoever is on top of their game defensively. For Iowa, it was about keeping Anthony Cowan out of the lane when they played Maryland. They had to play a zone a majority of the game because Jordan Bohannon struggled keeping him in front. That led to a lot of wide open three point shots for Maryland. Melo Trimble really made the Hawkeyes pay shooting 5-9 from deep. Preventing the dribble drive for Iowa is going to be key, because the Illini do have some guys that can knock shots down. Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands are two examples. 

Slow Starts

I wrote a column over the weekend about Iowa and their issues with slow starts. They've been down early in 6 of 7 Big Ten games this season and have been forced to scratch and claw their way back in. In some of the games they were successful in doing so, but in others they've come up just short. As exciting as these comebacks are, Iowa has to kick this habit. They've had a week to really sit and think about the reasons for their slow starts, so it should be better on Wednesday, but we'll find out. Fran McCaffery really was upset with the lack of effort to open up the Maryland game. 

Peter Jok's Back

He told the media after the game that his back was pretty sore. And it was noticeable during the game. He got a steal in the first half and as he coasted in for what looked like an easy dunk, he sort of let up and barely laid the ball in. You could tell that was due to the back pain. He felt fine the days before the Maryland game, but it flared up again during play. He just got nearly a week off, so we'll keep an eye on how Jok is moving in Champaign on Wednesday. He'll be in a battle with fellow top five scorer, Malcolm Hill. Jok leads the conference averaging 21.6 points per game, while Hill is fifth averaging 17.8. Iowa needs Jok to be sharp against a team that is top five in the Big Ten in scoring offense. 

Piper Analysis 

Derek Piper is Illini Inquirer's lead basketball reporter. He weighed in on the matchup for us. 

From the sounds of it, the Hawkeyes and the Illini are going through some similar stuff on defense and as a whole. 

"There have been a number of issues on the defensive side of the ball, but the one that sticks out the most is the inability to stop the dribble-drive," Piper said in regards to the Illini's 13th ranked Big Ten scoring defense. "Attacking guards hurt them," he exclaimed. Luckily for the Illini, outside of Peter Jok, the Hawkeyes don't really have anyone that can get to the rim at will like other Big Ten teams do. 

He said one of the big issues for the Illini is that they don't have many plus-athletes on the floor. "That is often a glaring weakness," he said. 

The Illini are struggling with consistency as well, much like the Hawkeyes are. 

"This roster has individual talent, but getting a good portion of that talent to show up together is another thing," he admitted. "This team can have some pretty good offensive stretches, they have multiple players that can make shots, but they also have stretches where they're atrocious on offense," he observed. 

Sounds a little like the Hawkeyes as well. 

Two big keys for Derek in this one are the first 10 minutes of the game and which team's batman (Hill or Jok) gets help. We've seen the Hawkeyes get out slow in the past few games and with it being on the road I think that favors the Illini. 

"Getting shots to go down early is big, and so is executing on defense. Make the young Hawkeyes feel like it is an uphill climb," Piper said in regards to what Illinois needs to do early. 

"On the flip side though, the Hawkeyes haven't been great on the road, but if they see a vulnerable opponent (which Illinois is), and start to settle in, it could be a long night (for Illinois)," he claimed. 

Prediction

This is really a toss up for me. It is probably going to come down to who plays better defense and I think that favors the Illini at home. The Hawkeyes have won the last two games played in Champaign, but they're 0-4 in road games this season and with how young they are they haven't really looked all that good. Especially in the last one against Northwestern. The Illini are 2-1 in Big Ten home games this season and they'll have the home crowd behind them. Throw in the fact that Iowa's scoring offense takes a drastic hit in road games, but they defense seems to stay the same, and the signs point to Illinois in this one. 

Burn: Illinois 79 Iowa 75

Piper: Illinois 77 Iowa 70


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