The Illinois Fighting Illini will play the #7 Michigan Wolverines at the Crisler Center on Sunday.
The Fighting Illini are coming off a surprisingly tough win against the Penn State Nittany Lions. D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul led the Illini offense with 18 and 13 points respectively. However, Illinois needed two key free throws by Richardson to put the game on ice in the final seconds.
Sunday’s game will be the second meeting between Illinois and Michigan. In their first meeting, the Wolverines beat the Fighting Illini, 74-60. Michigan exploded for big points in the first meeting this year. Trey Burke led the charge with 19 points in the game, but Nik Stauskas (14 points), Tim Hardaway Jr. (12 points), and Glenn Robinson III (12 points) all scored in double-figures as well.
The Wolverines come into Sunday’s game with an overall record of 22-4 and a Big Ten record of 9-4. Just like Illinois, Michigan defeated Penn State in their last game. However, before that game, they went 1-3 and lost to #3 Indiana, Wisconsin (OT), and #8 Michigan State.
Just like the last game against Illinois would show, Michigan has four players averaging double-digit points so far this season.
These players are Trey Burke (18.6 points per game), Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.2 points per game), Nik Stauskas(12.2 points per game), and Glenn Robinson III (11.3 points per game).
The MVP of this Wolverines team is no other than Trey Burke.
Burke is currently ranked second in the Big Ten with 18.6 points per game this season. There has not been a single game this year where he has scored less than double-digits.
However, he does more than just score for his team. Burke also leads the team in assists per game (6.9). The last player to average those kinds of numbers in the Big Ten was Magic Johnson.
One player that has struggled as of late for Michigan is Robinson III. In his team’s last five games, Robinson III has only two games where he scored in double-figures (both wins). In Michigan’s last three losses, he has scored no more than eight combined points (2.7 points per game).
Although, Robinson III is among one of the best rebounders on the Wolverines coming into Sunday’s game. He is second on the team averaging 5.6 rebounds per game.
This will be 161st meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Wolverines. Illinois leads the series 85-75.
It seems like both Illinois and Michigan are coming into this second meeting on the opposite side as their last meeting. Before the first meeting, the Wolverines had only lost a single game to the #15 Ohio State Buckeyes and seemed to be rolling.
Illinois was struggling before the last meeting on January 27th. They were 1-3 in their four games leading up to their first meeting. This was after the Illini went 14-2 to start the season.
Illinois is playing with a lot of steam right now and head coach John Groce has his team playing great at the right time. Before their last game against Penn State, he did say that this is the best his team has defended all year.
One reason why Illinois is playing great defense is D.J. Richardson. Richardson has taken over as the leader of this Illini team. At the beginning of the year, many projected Brandon Paul to be the leader, but Richardson has emerged as the emotional leader of this team.
John Groce has mentioned that there have been times in practice when Richardson would say to redo a certain defensive drill because it was not “good enough.”
Expect a closer game than we saw the first time around between these two teams this season. Illinois could extend their five-game winning streak if they play well on the defensive end and knock down their shots. This is a game that the Fighting Illini will need to win in order to boost their tournament resume.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @RickyWidmer.
Like the us on Facebook at Writing_Illini.