Following the Illinois Fighting Illini’s home finale, an 84-53 blowout loss at the hands of the Big Ten Champion Michigan Wolverines, John Groce was left to answer exactly what went wrong. Instead of talking about what the Illini did wrong, Groce instead chose to speak about how well the Wolverines shot the ball. He did, however, get one good jab in so that his team wasn’t completely absolved from their performance.
“When you get an outcome like today, a good team like ours has to play really poor and a really good to great team like them has to play great, and that’s what happened today,” Groce said. “They played terrific … give them credit.”
So, he felt as though the Illini played really poor in their last outing, and they will be looking to do anything but in tonight’s regular season finale against the #24 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Despite winning 20 games already this season, the Hawkeyes come in to this game reeling having lost 4 of their last 5 games. Those losses, however, have had nothing to do with the play of Roy Devyn Marble. The 6’6″ Senior Guard has been on fire in the past five games while posting 20 points or higher in each contest (21, 24, 20, 21, 24). In the first meeting between these two teams, Marble hung 17 points on the Illini defense in an 81-74 victory. Undoubtedly, he will be the Illini’s primary defensive focus.
While Marble’s 17 points led the way for the Hawkeyes in the last meeting, it was 6’10″ backup center Gabriel Olaseni who made his impression felt the most. Olaseni played his finest game of the season that day, finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 26 minutes of action. I bring this up now for only one reason. While Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White should be the primary focus of the Illinois defense, the lower end defensive match-ups are just as important, and the Fighting Illini defense needs to be prepared to lock down every Hawkeye that takes the court tonight.
Three Things I’d like to see tonight:
1. Win the rebounding battle - In the first match-up Iowa won the rebounding battle 41-28. The Hawkeyes are the 6th best rebounding team in the nation (41.2 rpg), but that doesn’t mean they have to own the glass. In 3 of the 4 recent Hawkeye losses, they have also lost the rebounding battle. So, let’s see the Illini clean the glass and let the chips fall where they may.
2. Continue Recent Road Success - The Illini have won their last 2 Big Ten road games, including a win over then #18 Michigan State. Why not make it 3 in a row on the road and put another road win over a top 25 team on the Illini resume?
3. Share the ball - The Illini registered 7 assists in their last outing. That’s simply not good enough. Share the ball, Illini. It makes everyone look better.
When: Saturday, March 8, 2014, 7:30 PM CST
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena – Iowa City, IA
TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)
Announcers: Josh Lewin (Play by Play) and Jim Jackson (Analyst)
Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with other Illini fans in the comments section below with any observations you may have!
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.