Illinois Fighting Illini
Current record: 10-13
Big Ten record: 2-8
Current RPI: 123
Current Sagarin: 87
2006-07 RPI: 30
2006-07 Sagarin: 51
Series: IU leads 82-77
Last IU win: 1/13/08, 62-58 in Bloomington
Last Illinois win: 3/9/07, 58-54 (OT) in Chicago (BTT quarterfinals)
Last IU win in Champaign: 2/24/99 (70-64 in OT)
TV: 9 pm Thursday, ESPN
The Illini, just three years removed from a one-loss regular season and NCAA title game appearance, would require a dramatic turnaround even to find themselves in NIT contention. Still, the Illini were very effective against IU in the Hoosiers' close win in Bloomington a month ago and have invariably played the Hoosiers tough during the Weber era. Weber is 6-3 against IU, and the three Illinois losses have been by four points or fewer. IU's effective field goal percentage (the Pomeroy metric that includes free throws in the calculation) of 44.9% is IU's second lowest total of the season (the loss to Wisconsin was worse). Last year, Illinois (in the two losses, in Champaign and Chicago) was responsible for two of IU's six worst EFG performances. IU managed a 50 percent EFG in the 2006-07 win in Bloomington, but IU's EFG was worse than 50 percent in only 13 of IU's 32 games that season. In short, win or lose, no Sampson-led IU team has had a good offensive game against Illinois. IU currently ranks #37 nationally with an EFG of 53.5, while 44.9 is a sub-300 average. So, IU, normally one of the most efficient shooting teams in the country, was made to look like one of the worst on its home court by an Illinois team that is now 2-8 in the Big Ten. Is it clear that I'm worried about this game?
My concerns go beyond the objective, obviously. To hear Bruce Weber and his compliant downstate media types talk, Eric Gordon's decision to back out of his verbal commitment to Illinois and attend Indiana is the only reason that Illinois isn't in the top 10 this year. While I think it would be in the best interest of the Illinois program and Bruce Weber for all involved to move on, they may have a point, given how well Illinois does everything except shoot and force turnovers. Still, they haven't moved on. Not by a longshot. The Orange Krush will be in rare form tomorrow night and the Illini team will be pumped up. After a rough first half against Wisconsin, Gordon has shot well despite the splint on his non-shooting hand. He can do it physically, but playing at the other Assembly Hall, the place where he once thought he would be playing college basketball, will present a psychological challenge. Writers and fans often overestimate the effect of intangibles on any given game, but such things will matter in this game. The Illini are 10-13 with nine games remaining, including the first game of the Big Ten Tournament. To so much as qualify for a NIT bid, the Illini must win at least seven of those games. Illinois has played the toughest part of its schedule, but with four road games left plus home games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, such an outcome is not likely. In other words, tomorrow night is the Illini's bowl game, so to speak. The Hoosiers need to approach this one like it's the NCAA Tournament, or they will lose.
Tomorrow I will take a closer look at the tempo free stats and other matters.