Pre-Game: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Saturday January 7, 5:00 pm
ESPNU

Only a short month ago Indiana was ranked third in the country and was looking like the heavy Big Ten favorite. Fast forward to now and the Hoosiers have lost three of their last six, including their last two home games, and will likely drop out of the Top 25 next week. After starting the season with huge wins against both Kansas and North Carolina the Hoosiers are heading in the complete wrong direction, and desperately need a win Saturday. The Illini are still very questionable with their 1-1 B1G record and an 0-2 record against ranked opponents. Their biggest wins of the season so far come against VCU and Missouri, and would love to add another one on the road against the Hoosiers.

Match-Up to Watch
Senior, Malcolm Hill does it all for the Illini. He leads the team with 19 PPG, and is second on the team with 6.3 rebounds. Hill can light it up from anywhere, especially behind the arc with a season average of 41%. Hill has scored 20 points or more in eight of the Illini’s fifteen games, including 32 against IUPUI and a career high 40 against Northern Kentucky. Illinois has other threats on offense with Tracy Abrams and Jalen Coleman-Lands, but if the Hoosiers can contain Hill they will definitely hold the advantage. For Indiana, James Blackmon Jr. needs to bounce back. During IU’s three game losing streak, Blackmon has not scored over twelve points, and had only ten in the loses to Louisville and Wisconsin. He is struggling to shoot the ball with a field goal average of 35%. This is completely uncharacteristic of Indiana’s leading scorer, so look for JBJ to have a breakout game Saturday evening.

X-Factor for the Hoosiers
Indiana has clearly struggled lately, from top to bottom, and they are running out of time to turn it around, especially with nobody stepping up into the leadership spot that Yogi held last year. This has to be the turning point for the Hoosiers, and Robert Johnson has got to be that guy. With Collin Hartman still sidelined with his knee injury, Rob is the most experienced guy for Indiana. At the beginning of the season Indiana’s guard play was incredible. Johnson and Newkirk were great together and freshmen, Curtis Jones and Devonte Green were huge off the bench, but as of lately they have all seemed to digress. Do not look for that to continue with Rob. I look for Saturday to be a huge game for the Junior, and hopefully he can get the rest of the guys to jump on board.

X-Factor for the Illini
Rebounding has to be a point of emphasis for Coach John Groce on Saturday. Even though the Hoosiers have struggled in about every other category, Indiana still ranks 5th in the country in rebounds per game. To emphasize rebounding even more Illinois ranks 68th nationally in rebound margin. With Indiana struggling from the field, Illinois cannot allow them to get multiple shots per possession. If they can keep Indiana off the boards, especially on the offensive end, Illinois will keep the game close and certainly have a chance to hand the Hoosiers another devastating loss.
Key Stat
For Indiana it is simply 3-point percentage. In Indiana’s ten wins they are shooting 42% from deep. In their five losses that percentage drops all the way to 31%. Indiana is living up to their stereotype of living or dying by the three.
For Illinois turnovers will be crucial; not just them protecting the ball, but also forcing Indiana to turn it over as well. They come into this game forcing an average of 13 turnovers per game. Causing Indiana to give up the ball won’t allow the Hoosiers to dominate the boards which would be huge for the Illini.

Prediction
Like I have stated several times, this has to be the turning point for the Hoosiers. They started off the B1G season with three home games, so it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. Don’t lose hope in this team quite yet. They are very talented, but young and immature. A lot of people are seeming to forget this is the same team that beat Kansas and North Carolina, and yes Tom Crean was the coach for both of those games (Friendly reminder for the “Fire Crean” fans). A turn around game is exactly what I predict on Saturday. I think the pieces start to come together again and the Hoosiers get their first Big Ten win 87-70.

Jonny Gee
Indiana University | 2020

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