CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 10: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes loses the ball while being defended by Meyers Leonard #12 and Brandon Paul #3 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Assembly Hall on January 10, 2012 in Champaign, Illinois. The Illini defeated the Buckeyes 79-74 as Paul scored 43 points. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Illinois fighting Illini
Current record: 16-7 (5-5)
Current RPI: 41 (IU is #16)
Current Sagarin: 44 (IU is #9)
Current Pomeroy: 41 (IU is #9)
2010-11 record: 20-14/9-9 (lost to Kansas in NCAA Tournament Round of 32)
2010-11 RPI: 48
2010-11 Sagarin: 25
2010-11 Pomeroy: 18
Series: tied at 83
Last IU win: 1/27/2011 (52-49 in Bloomington)
Last Illinois win: 3/5/2011 (72-48 in Champaign)
Last Illinois win in Bloomington: 1/9/2010 (66-60)
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Blog: Hail to the Orange
IU and Illinois have similar records, but the two programs' seasons, and the programs themselves, give the impression of moving in opposite directions. Illinois, like IU, started the season strong, losing only to UNLV and Missouri in the non-conference and giving Missouri a run for its money. Like IU, the Illini are .500 in the Big Ten, but while IU finishes with 4 of its final 6 Big Ten games at home, the Illini hit the road for five of their final eight on the road, including trips to Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. While IU moved back to .500 with a road win to the Hoosiers' intrastate rival, Illinois lost at home last weekend to intrastate rival Northwestern. The Illini remain in the NCAA Tournament hunt, but need to find a surprise or two.
Of course, as I've mentioned before, it's impossible to miss the stark contrast between the circumstances inherited by Tom Crean and those inherited by Bruce Weber when he took the Illinois job in 2003. Weber inherited a championship-caliber roster and hasn't done much there since riding Bill Self's recruits to the 2005 title game; Tom Crean inherited nothing but his team has improved each year. IU's upset of the Illini was the highlight of the disappointing 2010-11 season, and was sweet revenge after losing two heartbreakers to Illinois in 2010. Now, the Hoosiers finally have reached the point of expecting to win this game again. Will it happen? I don't know. Purdue is in the same sort of desperate situation that faced IU when traveling to Purdue, that faced Northwestern when traveling to Illinois, and that faced Purdue when traveling to Columbus. Each of those game, in which the visiting team is desperate, were either upsets or much close than expected.
The Illini and IU are opposites in many respects. IU excels at offense but is near the bottom of the Big Ten defensively, scoring 1.10 points per possession but allowing 1.09 in Big Ten play . Illinois is the opposite: excellent on defense, allowing only .99 points per possession but scoring only .97 in Big Ten play. Much like IU, the Illini are in the red on turnovers, but are a bit higher than IU both offensively and defensively. The Illini don't shoot particularly well from three point range, nor do they defend the perimeter very well, which is good for IU.
Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard provide a nice inside-outside combination for the Illini. Paul stood out in a home win over Ohio State, and Leonard is a very skilled big man who will provide a nice challenge for Cody Zeller.
All of IU's remaining games are important, but it will be interesting to see how IU responds tonight, playing a desperate team and coming off a big win of its own. Defense is particularly important for the Hoosiers tonight. Easy baskets against the Illini are a no-no given Illinois's defensive prowess. And, this series is now tied at 83-83. Let's not fall behind.