Who? Indiana Hoosiers (12-8 (5-3), #96 KenPom) vs. Illinois Illini (10-11 (0-8), #107 KenPom)
When? Wednesday, January 24 at 9 PM EST - BTN
Where? Weird-Ass Space Ship Arena, Champaign, IN
Vegas? INDIANA +2
Pomeroy? Illinois 73-70, 41% chance of Indiana victory
Everyone loves the Indiana Hoosiers! The hardworking group that has definitely improved since getting rinsed by Fort Wayne in December [eight games later] We regret to inform you Indiana is an underdog to an Illinois squad that has yet to win a conference game.
The Hoosiers are in a weird spot right now. They’re 5-3 in conference play (good!) but their conference is the Big Ten (bad!) and their statistical profile has languished in the low-90s for a month (very bad!). While there is a general consensus among Indiana fans that the team is improving (and I think that’s true!) they’re not really making the kind of gains that can change the trajectory of their season.
If Indiana wants to start whispering about the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need a couple of shocking wins (four games against Purdue, Ohio State, and MSU remaining) and also not lose to any of the other teams in the Big Ten– and especially not a winless Illinois team.
The Hoosiers’ remaining schedule is odd. Every team remaining is either in KenPom’s top ten or lower than 65. Those Fort Wayne / Indiana State losses get heavier with each win over a middling B1G team and, as a result, Indiana will probably need 11-12 conference wins just to get in the conversation, and they’ll have to knock off a couple title contenders on the way.
But you can’t do any of that tonight. The only thing you can do tonight is not lose to Illinois. For all the improvement Indiana has seemed to make, Vegas isn’t buying it and neither is KenPom, both have the Hoosiers as underdogs tonight.
|-||eFG%||TO%||Off. Reb %||FT Rate|
|-||eFG%||TO%||Off. Reb %||FT Rate|
|INDIANA (#98 adj. offense)||51.2% (152nd)||18.3% (136th)||32.3% (86th)||36.6% (102nd)|
|PURDUE (#10 adj. defense)||44.5% (10th)||19.2% (150th)||28.2% (137th)||22.7% (4th)|
|PURDUE (#3 adj. offense)||59.8% (4th)||16.7% (47th)||29.9% (145th)||35.0% (142nd)|
|INDIANA (#110 adj. defense)||51.2% (197th)||20.1% (105th)||29.3% (196th)||31.8% (138th)|
Mark me down as a guy that really likes the Brad Underwood hire. It’s going to be a long road back for Illinois basketball, but his Stephen F. Austin teams were a joy to watch both on defense (consistently top-10 in turnover %) and on offense (top-10 in assist %) and if he can get things cooking on the recruiting trail– look out.
In his first season at Illinois, the offense is essentially non-existent, which isn’t a surprise given the dearth of talent on the roster following the roster churn in the wake of John Groce’s departure. However, you see the hallmarks of his defensive philosophy taking root already. They’re generating a ton of turnovers and doing an excellent job of preventing their opponents from shooting threes (50th in 3PA/FGA, another common denominator in Underwood’s teams).
That said, this success comes at a price. Their aggressiveness on defense leads to a lot of fouls (323rd in dFT Rate) and their focus on preventing three point attempts has caused their defense inside the arc to suffer, as their d2PT rate of 52.1% ranks 259th nationally. It’s a trade-off Underwood is clearly fine with making, as you see it throughout his coaching profile, but that doesn’t mean Indiana can’t exploit it.
The Hoosiers remain a miserable three-point shooting outfit and there is very little reason to hunt a shot you can’t hit against a defense that excels at preventing it. Illinois either can’t or won’t defend inside the arc very well and when you hit 53.2% of your twos as a team, good for 60th nationally, your gameplan becomes very clear. Additionally, the Illini’s penchant of sending their opponents parading to the charity stripe should probably be punished, but it’s probably not going to be by the team that’s currently dead-last in FT% in conference play.
The Illini are lead by their frontcourt. Juniors Michael Finke and Leron Black lead the team in minutes and offensive rating, with Black taking the lion’s share of the shots; and for good reason: his 56.5% eFG leads the team. Finke has seen his deep ball betray him in his third season, after hitting 37% and 40% the last two years, he’s making just a paltry 28% so far this season. GEE I WONDER WHO WILL LIGHT UP THE HOOSIERS TONIGHT?
Freshman point guard Trent Frazier is having an up-and-down season, but his 30.5% assist rate is 5th in conference play though he is prone to turnovers. He’s one of six underclassmen who contribute regularly, and it’s no small wonder how Illinois is near the bottom of the ranks when it comes to average experience.
- Keep generating turnovers: It sure seems like Archie’s defensive philosophy is starting to take root with his guys, because in conference play, Indiana is #2 in dTO% and #1 in steal%. Illinois is as careless with the ball as you’ll find in Division I basketball, so the Hoosiers should be able to pick plenty of pockets. And, unlike their opponent (who is #1 in dTO% in conference play) they do so without picking up a lot of fouls (4th in FT rate– Illinois is 14th).
- I say this a lot but you should probably defend the arc: Three-point defense has been a recurring nightmare for Indiana this season and it’s been particularly harrowing on the road. Illinois is horrible at shooting from distance, as they’re cashing in just 26.9% of their looks in conference play (14th in B1G). However, Kipper Nichols and Aaron Jordan are each hitting over 39% from distance. Finke hasn’t found his shot yet, but that hasn’t stopped him from looking for it (second on the team in 3PT attempts). Given Indiana’s season to this point, they shouldn’t rely on these shooting woes to continue. You can’t win basketball games in 2018 without decent perimeter defense. Period.
- PROTECT THE BALL! The Hoosiers do a good job of this as-is, but that will have to continue tonight. Illinois struggles to score the ball out of half-court sets and giving up live ball turnovers that lead to run-outs and dunks is giving them the easy way out. Protect the ball and make the Illini score in 5-on-5 situations. They’ve been the 10th most efficient offense in conference play this season.
I have courtside seats to the Pacers game tonight. I predict I will be slightly inebriated when I check the score and scream “fire tom creams” while I wait for my Uber after the game. Also Illinois sucks and we don’t hate Illinois enough. This rivalry used to have heat and now it just doesn’t matter to anyone. Illinois 69, INDIANA 420