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Game Preview: Illinois Illini

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Indiana heads to Champaign and this author is going to squeeze a couple of spaceship jokes out of the whole ordeal.

Ben Woloszyn-USA TODAY Sports

GAME INFO:

Who? Illinois Illini (12-6, #57 KenPom)  v. Indiana Hoosiers (13-4, #58 KenPom)

When? 1:00 PM, BTN

Vegas? TBA

Pomeroy? ILLINOIS by 5, 34% chance of Indiana victory

_______________________________________

The Spaceship of Horrors

Illinois, as many of you know, plays their home games inside the vessel that famously wiped out New York City in the 1996 blockbuster "Independence Day." It should come as no surprise, then, that Indiana (who obviously represents the human race and all that is good in the world) has struggled to win in this building.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>A stat unearthed during pre-Illinois research: Indiana is 1-11 in Champaign since 2000. So now you know. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/iubb?src=hash">#iubb</a></p>&mdash; ZachOsterman (@ZachOsterman) <a href="https://twitter.com/ZachOsterman/status/556182820838973441">January 16, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Prior to seeing this stat, I would have sworn that number was zero. The often-cited "Eric Gordon game" being the lone victory from a season that is mostly scrubbed from my mind. (On a personal side note: that was my freshman year, so yeah, my four years at Indiana consisted of that season and Crean's first three years. Great stuff.)

Illinois comes in with a similar profile of inconsistency as Indiana (and really the majority of Big Ten teams) as they possess one of the conference's best wins (over Maryland) while also losing to Nebraska and Michigan. By the KenPom numbers, there isn't much that separates the Illini from the Hoosiers and Illinois gets the obvious advantage of playing in the aforementioned spaceship that was ultimately destroyed by Randy Quaid. Both shoot teams shoot the three a considerable amount: 37.2% of Indiana's attempts are threes (making 38.7% of them) while they constitute 36.2% of Illinois' attempt (making 35.8%).

Of course, this will be the Illini's fourth game without their stud guard Rayvonte Rice, who was using up 26.1% of the team's possessions, and for good reason: an offensive rating of 125.4 (55th in the nation) that is fueled by an eFG% of 60.2%, an assist rate of 17.4%, and a turnover rate of 11.4%. He's one of the finest players in the Big Ten (and probably the country) and his absence is almost impossible to replace. John Groce has gone exclusively to an eight-man rotation since Rice has gone down, and is leaning on sophomores Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill to play even more minutes, while diminutive senior Ahmad Starks, the Oregon State transfer, has picked up more minutes off the bench. Hill and Nunn, along with senior center Nnanna Egwu, are the only Illini in that eight-man rotation with an eFG% over 50%.

HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?

Four Factors
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 54.9% (22nd) 16.9% (42nd) 35.1% (55th) 37.8% (156th)
ILLINOIS (Defense) 46.3% (89th) 20.4% (116th) 26.7% (28th) 28.3% (36th)
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 47.1% (108th) 15.8% (335th) 33.7% (276th) 26.5% (14th)
ILLINOIS (Offense) 49.9% (122nd) 14.5% (3rd) 28.1% (269th) 31.3% (301st)

The two things that jump out here: Illinois' sterling ability to not give the ball away and their laughable ineptness at finding a way to get to the foul line. They're the THIRD BEST team in the country when it comes to the act of shooting the free throw, but they almost never ever get a chance to show that skill off. It's not as shocking when you find out that 72% of Illinois' shot attempts come away from the rim, where you've got a much better chance at picking up a foul.

Neither trend is likely to reverse on Sunday, as Indiana does an excellent job of keeping opponents off the charity stripe while also being just as laughably inept at turning their opponents over.

Three Things to Watch For:

  • How will John Groce elect to attack the Hoosiers? Indiana is, surprisingly, 27th in the nation at defending the perimeter, a rare strength on a largely struggling unit. As we know, John Groce's offense is heavily reliant on making jumpshots, particularly the long ones. For the season, Indiana is allowing opponents to hit 58% of their attempts at the rim, a type of shot Groce's team is only shooting 28% of the time. Will Illinois attempt to force the issue in the lane and exploit a glaring weakness in the Hoosiers? Or will they stick to their strength and keep firing jumpers?
  • Have the Hoosiers adjusted more to the absence of Hanner Mosquera-Perea? The absence of the junior forward loomed much larger than many anticipated against Penn State. While Perea had not been enjoying the caliber season many were hoping for him, this was still a team dealing with the loss of a starting player only 24 hours before tip off. With almost a week of practice to adjust, how will Indiana look now? The little things, box outs / effort / etc. become even more important as Perea's absence leaves the team without their leading rebounder on both ends.
  • Will the shooting return? For a team of really good shooters, Indiana has been pretty terrible at it through four conference games. The shooting slumps of Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. continue while Robert Johnson busted out of his in a big way against Penn State. One would have to assume that the shooting comes back around eventually, but it has been a painful wait thus far. Also, Nick Zeisloft was a personal foul away from a NINE TRILLION against Penn State.