The Illinois Fighting Illini will play the Indiana Hoosiers at the United Center in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten conference tournament.
The Fighting Illini played a thrilling game in the first round against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Illini beat the Gophers, 51-49, on a Brandon Paul last-second buzzer-beater. Paul finished the game with 25 points.
This game will be the second meeting between Illinois and Indiana this season. Illinois leads the season series 1-0. In the lone meeting this season, the Fighting Illini defeated the then #1 Hooisers, 74-72, at Assembly Hall in Champaign. Tyler Griffey made the last-second layup to give Illinois the upset victory over Indiana.
Indiana comes into Friday’s match-up with an overall record of 26-5 and a Big Ten record of 14-4. They entered the Big Ten conference tournament as the #1 seeded team and had a bye on Thursday. The Hoosiers won four straight games after their loss to Illinois on February 7th. However, they were 2-2 in their last four games to end the regular season.
This entire season, the two best players for the Hoosiers have been Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
In the meeting against Illinois, Zeller led the team in scoring with 14 points and rebounding with nine rebounds. The same goes for Zeller this season. He leads the team in scoring (16.8 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 rebounds per game).
However, Zeller might not be the best player on the team. Some would give that honor to Oladipo. On top of being a solid scoring option, he also plays amazing defense.
The night Illinois beat Indiana was an off-night for Oladipo. He only scored nine points and did not record a single steal (leads the team with 2.2 steals per game). He only had one turnover, but that was at the end of the game to give the Illini a chance to win the game.
Another player that had problems against Illinois was Christian Watford. He might have scored 12 points in the game, but committed six out of Indiana’s 14 turnovers.
This will be 169th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Hoosiers. The series is currently tied at 84-84.
Illinois played well to start the game against Minnesota on Thursday, but almost lost. Their plan early on was to try and take Mbakwe out of the game. They got just that when both Mbakwe and Hollins got into foul trouble.
However, the Golden Gophers came to play in the second half and were close to stealing the game.
Against Indiana, Illinois will need to play hard for the entire game. Last time, they were able to “take Oladipo out of the game,” but that might not happen this time around.
Turnovers will need to be the Fighting Illini’s friend. They forced Minnesota to commit a ton of turnovers and the same will need to happen against Indiana. The defense will need to be at a high level, especially on the “national stage.”
On offense, Illinois will need to have more offense from more players than just Brandon Paul. Throughout the game on Thursday, Shon Morris of the Big Ten Network kept saying that Illinois should drive to the lane and get to the foul line more.
That does not sound like a bad idea. The Illini as a team shoot 71.6% from the charity stripe. On Thursday, they made nine of their ten free throws. If they can drive and get to the foul line, they should be in good shape against the Hoosiers.
Bottom line, a loss would not kill Illinois’ NCAA Tournament chances, but if they want to win, they will need to play well from the beginning of the game and all the way through (cannot let Indiana come out hot to begin either half).
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