The last time the Indiana Hoosiers visited the State Farm Center they came in with the #1 overall ranking in the entire nation and when they left, they had a loss. Living in the past is fun, especially when it comes at the expense of the Hoosiers, but this is a new season and both teams are looking to start Big Ten play off on the right foot.
Indiana comes in to this game at 10-3 with 2 of their 3 losses coming against ranked teams (#18 UCONN, #4 Syracuse). Illinois, on the other hand, enters this game 11-2 with one of their losses coming against a ranked team (#15 Oregon).
The Hoosiers are led in scoring by sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell (16.8 ppg). Ferrell has not been held to single digits in any game yet this season, and in his last two games he has shot better than 67% from the floor. Tracy Abrams is going to have his work cut out for him in today’s contest, but Abrams has been playing very well lately and will most likely be geared up for the challenge ahead of him.
Newcomer Noah Vonleh is the Hoosiers second leading scorer (12.0 ppg) and also the teams leading rebounder (9.5 rpg). He brings a large frame (6’10″ / 240 lbs) as well as his obvious skill. Nnanna Egwu is definitely facing a stiff challenge today, and Illinois needs him to play smart and stay out of foul trouble if they hope to limit Vonleh’s potential impact on this game. On the other side of that coin, Vonleh has been facing his own foul trouble the past 3 games, and it has limited his playing time (21, 17, and 19 mpg), which has in turn limited his production.
Outside of Ferrell (42.7%) and senior Evan Gordon (34.6%), the Hoosiers do not shoot well from 3 point range at all. Illinois should pack it in and force Indiana to try to beat them from the perimeter. Ferrell can do it and the Illini should challenge every look he gets from long range, but can the rest of the Hoosiers cash in if given the chance?
From the Illini side of things, Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams have both been playing at a very high level in the past few games. Rice is coming off an Illini career high 28 points against UIC that earned him Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors. Abrams has been solid, hitting a pair of game winning free throws against Missouri two games ago, and posting 16, 22, and 16 point scoring performances while hitting 17 of 21 free throws across those 3 games.
It’s become very clear that this Illinois team can be great defensively, and they are most effective as an offense when they attack the basket rather than repeatedly settling for long jump shots as the shot clock winds down. Hopefully, they carry over the offensive mindset from the second half of the UIC game which saw them attack, attack, and attack some more. Good things seem to happen for these Illini when that is their modus operandi.
Three Things I’d Like To See Today
1. Defensive Intensity from the Opening Tip - The Illini did not come out with their usual defensive intensity from the opening tip against UIC and it cost them a 44 point half. They can not afford a slow start defensively against Big Ten level competition.
2. Nnanna Egwu Step Up - Egwu has had his moments this season, but he has yet to truly dominate the interior like many Illini fans hoped he would. Instead he has seemed content to heave turn around, fall away jumpers instead of imposing his will with authority. I’d like to see the upperclassman take it to the Hoosiers talented freshman interior player, Vonleh, and get him in some early foul trouble.
3. Win the Rebounding Battle!! -This one is easier said than done. The Hoosiers come in to this match-up as the 4th best rebounding team in the nation (45.5 rpg), and it appears that outside of Vonleh, they get after it as a collective group. Illinois needs to take notes on what they are doing because the Illini have been beaten on the glass in 6 of their last 7 games. They trailed the rebounding battle at halftime of the UIC game 19-8, and the Illini simply can not allow that to happen today if they want to have any shot of winning this game.
When: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 @ 2:00 CST.
Where: State Farm Center – Champaign-Urbana, IL
TV: ESPN2 (Directv 209 / DISH Network 144)
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (Play by Play) & Dan Dakich (Analyst)
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.