Beat Iowa. It was the first thing I saw when I checked Twitter this morning. It sure sounds simple, doesn’t it? The fact of the matter is that nothing has been simple for the Illinois Fighting Illini during their recent 6 game Big Ten losing streak. With the losses piling up, Illinois (13-8, 2-6 Big Ten) suddenly finds themselves tied for last place in the conference with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Iowa Hawkeyes, on the other hand, come into today’s game all alone in 3rd place in the Big Ten with a 5-3 conference record. Overall, the Hawkeyes are 16-5 on the season, and their two out of conference losses ( #9 Villanova / #16 Iowa State) were by a total of 8 points. Make no mistake, this is not the Iowa team of years past. They are very good, and they are going to give Illinois all they can handle today.
John Groce is going to have to find a way for his defense to limit Roy Devyn Marble (16.3 ppg) and Aaron White (13.5 ppg). These two are the only Hawkeyes averaging double figures coming in to this game. That doesn’t mean they should be the sole focus of the defense, but limiting their production should go a long way towards keeping Illinois in this game.
The 6’6″ senior, Marble, has been on fire since Big Ten play started, and he has not been held to single digits in any of the Hawkeyes 8 league contests. He is coming off a 21 point, 5 rebound, 2 block, 1 assist performance in a two point overtime loss against #7 Michigan State that saw him shoot 46.7% from the floor.
White has been almost equally as impressive as Marble during Big Ten play. The 6’9″ junior has only been held to single digits in 1 Big Ten contest, but he brings a rebounding element to the Hawkeye attack that more than makes up for any quiet scoring night he might post along the way. Jon Ekey is going to have his work cut out for him defensively because White is not a perimeter big man that tries to get his points from behind the arc. In fact, White has only attempted 9 three pointers since the start of Big Ten play. This will be an interesting match-up in today’s game for sure.
Perhaps the match-up that worries me most, however, is Joseph Bertrand versus Melsahn Basabe. They are polar opposite players, and Basabe leads the Hawkeyes in rebounding with 6.6 per game. Basabe has also shown the ability to make the most out of limited opportunities on the offensive end. He was 5-5 from the floor against Northwestern, 4-5 against Ohio State, 2-2 against Minnesota, 7-12 against Michigan, and then 3-3 against Northwestern before finally cooling off a little bit in this last outing as he went 3-8 against Michigan State. It’s safe to say, Bertrand will be challenged.
Three Things I’d like to see against Iowa:
1. Hold Marble Under 10 - This will be very difficult to achieve, but if it happens Illinois will find themselves in this game until the end barring an explosion from one of Iowa’s periphery players.
2. Win the Rebounding Battle - The Hawkeyes are tall, and they use their height very well. They have only lost 1 Big Ten rebounding battle so far this season, and it was in their opener against Nebraska. Limiting second chance points is a must if Illinois wants to have a shot at winning this game.
3. Put the ball in the hoop - Scoring has been very problematic for Illinois their last few games. The Illini have simply not synced up offensively the past few games, and it’s cost them wins. Having Ray Rice score 20 is great, but everyone else has to do their part, and when they do, Ray Rice has to do his too. I’d like to see everyone that gets some run in today’s game score some points, and have some fun out there. It’s the only way this losing streak is going to end.
When: Saturday, February 1, 2014, 6:30 PM CST
Where: State Farm Center – Champaign, IL
TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)
Announcers: Eric Collins (Play by Play) and Stephen Bardo (Analyst)
Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with me in the comments section below with any observations you may have!
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.