IU Coach Archie Miller knows exactly what his Hoosiers are up against right now.
It is seven games in 17 days. It is three straight weeks that include a stretch of two games in three days. In each of those three stretches, the second game is on the road.
Miller is aware of all of this, and warily recited the figures on Monday night after beating Maryland, knowing full well that the first tricky road game of this stretch would come in less than 48 hours.
A matchup at Illinois awaits IU on Wednesday night at 9 p.m., and although their record might not show it, the Illini have been tough to take down in conference play so far. Here are five things to know about Illinois.
The record shows a winless team, but the box scores show some fight
Illinois is off to a winless 0-8 start in the Big Ten and finds itself in last place in the conference. The Illini have been blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan State in the last two games, but there were plenty of close calls before that.
Three of Illinois’ conference losses went to overtime and three more were decided by single digits. When the Hoosiers visit the State Farm Center, the Illini will be looking to create some momentum while playing the second game of their first and only three-game homestand on the Big Ten schedule.
A battle of new head coaches
First-year Illinois Coach Brad Underwood has battled through some of the rough patches that Miller has in his debut season with IU, though the teams are clearly trending in opposite directions.
Underwood came to Illinois in the offseason after spending just one season at Oklahoma State and taking the 20-13 Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament. Before that, he took Stephen F. Austin three seasons in a row from 2014-2016. The 54-year-old former longtime assistant is in just his fifth year as a Division I head coach and is facing as much adversity as he ever has.
IU needs to take care of the ball
Turnovers could decide Wednesday’s game. What else is new? IU has yet to turn the ball over more than 12 times in a Big Ten game this season, but the Hoosiers have only kept their turnover total in the single digits twice in conference play.
Illinois could feast on Hoosier miscues since the Illini are currently forcing more than 18 turnovers per game, the fourth most in Division I. Underwood loves to put pressure on opposing guards, which led to Michigan State turning the ball over 25 times in a win against Illinois on Monday. The rest of the team’s weaknesses are often enough to give opponents a win, but look out for Illinois in the turnover battle.
Illinois is not much of a threat from deep
Not unlike the Hoosiers, the Illini have struggled mightily from 3-point range this season. Junior guard Aaron Jordan, who averages 8.9 points per game, is Illinois’ only true sharpshooter.
Jordan has made more than 50 percent of his 3-point tries this season, but the Illini’s three leading scorers – Leron Black, Trent Frazier and Michael Finke – have combined for nearly 200 3-point attempts this season and made only 31 percent of them. That is right in line with Illinois’ team 3-point rate, which ranks 319th in Division I.
Hoosiers could dominate down low
The six-foot-seven inch Black and the six-foot-ten inch Finke are the only Illinois players with any size that see consistent minutes, and neither is much of a rim protector. As a team, the Illini are only averaging a little more than two blocks per game this season, while the Hoosiers pick up nearly five per game.
Meanwhile, IU has made its living down low on offense all year long thanks to junior forward Juwan Morgan and others. Illinois has allowed teams to shoot 60 percent from two-point range during Big Ten play, the worst mark among all conference teams. Morgan and freshman forward Justin Smith could feast against Illinois’ soft post presence on Wednesday.
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