5 big questions for the Illinois basketball team against Indiana

Illinois basketball didn't look good this past Wednesday, but we have a big opportunity to get back on the winning train on Saturday against Indiana.

Jan 21, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Noah Fernandes (1) drives to
Jan 21, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Noah Fernandes (1) drives to / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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3. Will Illinois have an answer for Indiana’s paint play?

A big struggle on Wednesday night for the Illini was Northwestern’s paint play. The Wildcats could dump the ball down in the paint, and Illinois wouldn’t have an answer.

Northwestern’s big man, Matthew Nicholson, ended the game with 12 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and three assists on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor. Those are really good numbers that gave the Wildcats an edge.

So, I want to see if Illinois has an answer for Indiana’s paint play. Can we stop their size in the paint and prevent them from getting into a rhythm?

Brad Underwood has gone with a different strategy this season when it comes to the No. 5 spot on the court. In the past, we have had a traditional big man like Dain Dainja anchoring the center sport. But Underwood hasn’t played Dainja much, as he only logged a minute against the Wildcats.

Illinois has been going with Coleman Hawkins at the No. 5 spot this season. He can stretch the floor offensively, but he has trouble playing defense. While his blocking ability is okay, Hawkins does get backed down in the paint a lot.

Indiana is good at paint play. When healthy, Kel’el Ware has a great touch around the hoop, and he can also step out and shoot from three-point range. He is questionable at this point for Saturday. Indiana has horses in the stable, though.

Malik Reneau dropped 28 points and eight rebounds on 12-of-21 shooting from the field against Wisconsin. The 6-foot-9 monster is going to be tough to stop. Indiana also started 6-foot-10 Payton Sparks and 6-foot-8 Mackenzie Mgbako. This team has size, and I am nervous about Illinois’ ability to stop that size. That will be the key to getting a win on Saturday.