Illinois fighting Illini
Current record: 10-5 (2-0)
Current RPI: 81
Current Sagarin: 73
Current Pomeroy: 49
2008-09 record: 24-10 (11-7), lost to Western Kentucky in first round of NCAA Tournament
2008-09 RPI: 22
2008-09 Sagarin: 23
2008-09 Pomeroy: 24
Series: IU leads 82-80
Last IU win: 2/7/2008 (83-79 in Champaign, double OT)
Last Illinois win: 2/15/2009 (65-52 in Bloomington)
Last Illinois win in Bloomington: See above
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 8 pm, Big Ten Network
Blog: Hail to the Orange
Is it possible, in a season in which even the NIT seems like a hopeless longshot, to play a pivotal game? If so, tomorrow night's game against Illinois in Bloomington may be one. Indiana's season already has run the gamut, from a neutral court win over Pittsburgh (Pomeroy #28) to a homecourt loss to Loyola (Md.) (#196). In Big Ten play, IU defended its home court against #79 Michigan but was humiliated on the road by #20 Ohio State. Illinois is ranked #49 by Pomeroy, and the Pom projections (here is Indiana's scouting report) give IU a 30 percent chance of winning against Illinois. That may not sound like much, but only home games against Iowa (76%) and Northwestern (44%) and the road game against Iowa (46%) are more winnable per the Pom numbers. If IU is to make any progress toward improving on last season's 1-17 Big Ten record, this Illinois game must be on the list of games in which IU has to contend.
Unfortunately, even the most ordinary Bruce Weber-coached Illinois teams have played well against much better IU teams. It is to Weber's credit that watching the Hoosiers play his Illini is even more annoying than listening to him talk. While this year's team is no match for the 2005 Illini, this year's team certainly remains in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament bid. The Illini's current 2-0 Big Ten record is a bit deceiving--Illinois has home wins against Northwestern and Iowa, ranked #8 and #11 in the conference by Pomeroy--but the Illini do have a signature road win, in the Big Ten/ACC challenge at #19 Clemson. If there is any consolation, it's that the Clemson win is the Illini's only win away from the Flying Saucer. The Illini's losses, in addition to respectable losses to #9 Missouri and #51 Gonzaga, include neutral-court losses to #118 Utah, #152 Bradley, and #111 Georgia. In other words, a loss to a team of IU's stature (#127) would not be out of character for these Illini. Neither would be a win.
As always, the Illini shoot well and take care of the ball (#27 in offensive turnover percentage, even better in blocks). Defensively, the Illini are worse than usual. While Illinois never forces many turnovers, they typically compensate for that with excellent field goal defense. This season, however, Illinois ranks only #143 in 2 point field goal defense. Also, and unfortunately for IU, the Illini are rebounding very well this year.
Who are the Illini players to watch? Well, here are the stats:
Illinois has a very balanced scoring attack, with five players averaging in double figures but none averaging more than 13.8 (that's Demetri McCamey, a long ago IU recruiting target). Mike Davis adds 10 rebounds per game, and Mike Tisdale is a dangerous shot-blocker who must be salivating at the chance to play against IU, which has 11.6 percent of its shots blocked. DJ Richardson is the Illini's most dangrous three point shooter (46 percent on 4 attempts per game), and Michael Jordan's son Jeff Jordan averages 3 assists per game in only 8 minutes of play.
I have no feel for this game, but that's pretty much the way I feel about most of IU's remaining home games other than the long-shots against Purdue and Michigan State. Illinois is a solid bubble team, certainly good enough to beat IU most of the time on a neutral court, but far from invincible, especially away from Champaign. Nothing would surprise me tomorrow night, although I do expect a much more intense and motivated IU team that the one that played at Ohio State.
Oh, and one final reason why this game matters? As our friends to the north love to remind us, Purdue has a sizeable advantage in the all-time head to head series. IU leads every other series against Big Ten opponents, but the Illini have pulled to within two games of us at 82-80. If IU doesn't win tommorow, it is overwhelmingly likely that IU will be tied with Illinois entering the 2010-11 season (and that's assuming no Big Ten Tournament loss to the Illini, something that seems to happen every darn year). That is unacceptable, of course.