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Three things to watch when Indiana men’s basketball takes on No. 18 Illinois

Indiana hasn’t beaten Illinois since 2019.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana men’s basketball will take on No. 18 Illinois at noon Saturday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Illinois is currently on a three-game winning streak against Indiana dating back to 2020. Here’s three things to watch during the matchup:

Indiana’s Frontcourt vs. Kofi Cockburn

Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn is arguably the best player in the Big Ten, let alone its best big man. Standing at 7 feet tall and weighing in at 285 pounds, he’s an imposing threat in the paint. The junior opted to return to Illinois this offseason after Illinois fell to Loyola Chicago in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The Illini have won all three of their matchups against the Hoosiers since 2020, albeit narrowly. Last season’s games ended in overtime and a 1 point victory for the Illini.

Cockburn averaged 15.3 points and 10 rebounds in those games, while Indiana’s Trayce Jackson Davis averaged 14 points and 11.3 rebounds.

The bright side for Indiana is that Trayce Jackson Davis won’t have to handle Cockburn alone. He’ll have his trusted fellow forward Race Thompson at his side to help contain Cockburn.

Xavier Johnson’s minutes

Xavier Johnson has been on an offensive tear during Indiana’s last four games, scoring in the double figures against Purdue, Michigan and Penn State. He didn’t do so against Maryland, but it was largely because he passed up his own scoring opportunities to find teammates for assists.

He played a season-high 35 minutes against Michigan, then played 29 against Maryland without Rob Phinisee, who went down with an injury against Penn State.

But Illinois isn’t Maryland. The Hoosiers will still have a few questions behind Johnson at point guard when they face the Illini.

Johnson has proven he can play those minutes and be productive with them, but it’s worth keeping an eye on to see how Indiana changes when Johnson heads to the bench.

Will Assembly Hall bring the energy?

Assembly Hall’s vaunted crowd came out in full force when Indiana upset rival Purdue on Jan. 20. One could hardly hear over the din when the Boilermakers were on offense. The same cannot be said for the ensuing games against Michigan and Penn State. The crowd was substantial, but didn’t bring the same intimidating atmosphere it had against Purdue.

That could change against Illinois. Indiana hasn’t played a game in a week and fans may be eager to return to Assembly Hall to see the Hoosiers take on a ranked opponent.

Many Hoosier fans could be eager to get out of their homes in the first place after Thursday’s winter storm led many to stay home and caused women’s basketball’s game against Minnesota to be closed to only essential personnel.

The Assembly Hall crowd can intimidate even the toughest opponents into mistakes, let’s see if it lives up to that reputation against Illinois.