Indiana-Illinois Preview: Analysis, Point Spread, Prediction, TV Time and Announcers

On Thursday at 8:00 ET, the 23rd-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (18-6, 6-6) return home to face the Illinois Fighting Illini (16-7, 5-5), on the Big Ten Network.

As always, Jerod, Ryan, and Andy will be here with another episode of The Assembly Call as soon as the game ends with instant analysis and fan reaction.

IU-Illinois Gameday Info

IU-Illinois Preview

Illinois

The Illini come in losers of four of their last five games after falling to Northwestern at home on Sunday.  Brandon Paul poured in 22 points, while Meyers Leonard added 21, but once again the Illini got no scoring from their bench.  In fact, four players logged 39 or more minutes against the Wildcats, and only six guys played more than one minute.

Illinois’ lone win during that five-game stretch was a 42-41 victory over Michigan State in one of the ugliest games I have watched all season.  As that point total would indicate, the Illini have struggled offensively most of the season.  They have been held under 1.00 points per possession in seven of their last nine contests.

In conference play, the Illini rank 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency.  Their best attribute is their 51.3 percent shooting from two-point range, but they don’t shoot it nearly as well from beyond the arc.  They rank eighth in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate, and they are next to last in turnover rate.  That’s good news for an IU team coming off of its best defensive performance in weeks.

That said, the Hoosiers can’t allow Brandon Paul to get clean looks.  Despite the fact that his efficiency numbers aren’t particularly impressive, he did explode for 43 points against Ohio State and has three 20-point efforts since then.  Paul has taken at least 11 shots in 11 straight games, so it will be important for the Hoosiers to make him work for his points.

The other main offensive threat on the Illinois roster is sophomore big man Meyers Leonard.  In many ways, he and Cody Zeller are similar in the sense that each team recognizes their talent but often struggles to get them the basketball.  Against Northwestern he finished 10-of-12 from the field, so the Hoosiers need to limit his touches inside and push him off the block.  They also need to keep him off the offensive glass, which is an area that plagued them early on in conference play.  On the defensive end, Leonard is a tremendous shot-blocker, and I am really looking forward to the matchup with Zeller.

Guard D.J. Richardson also averages in double figures, but he has scored more than nine points just twice in the last eight games.  He’s really struggled with his shot since sustaining a wrist injury early in Big Ten play.  Joseph Bertrand started to emerge near the end of the non-conference slate and has shown flashes as well.  Again, their is limited depth on the Illini roster, so these four players are likely to score most (if not all) of Illinois’ points.

The Illini defense ranks fourth in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play.  Thanks in part to Leonard’s shot-blocking prowess, opponents are shooting just 46.9 percent on two-pointers.  They also do a nice job of forcing turnovers, but they rank in the middle of the pack in defensive rebounding percentage, opponents’ free throw rate, and three-point defense.  Opponents are also shooting a league worst 66.7 percent from the line, so some luck has also played a factor in their solid defensive numbers.  Three of their last four opponents have scored at least 1.02 points per possession, with the 1.25 ppp allowed against Northwestern establishing a new season high.

Indiana

The Hoosiers should come into the game with plenty of confidence after a 17-point win at Purdue on Saturday.  Victor Oladipo played the best game of his career and scored 23 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.  He was relentlessly aggressive, which paid huge dividends on both ends of the floor.  Indiana also got a lift from Remy Abell, who came off the bench to score 13 points in just 19 minutes.  Cody Zeller attempted 11 of IU’s 35 free throws in the game and finished with 16 points and eight boards.

Against the Boilers, the team showed more toughness than they have in recent weeks and put together a complete performance.  They will need to carry that over to Thursday night’s game and jump on the Illini early.  If the Hoosiers can get Illinois in foul trouble, get out to an early lead, or both, Illinois’ offensive struggles and lack of depth will be magnified.

The Hoosiers are likely to play without Verdell Jones once again, but Oladipo did a nice job of handling the ball more and allowing Jordan Hulls to spend time playing off the ball.  Limiting turnovers will be important for IU, because they don’t want to give a team that struggles offensively any easy baskets off of miscues.  Otherwise, the Hoosiers match up pretty well with Illinois, particularly if they stay aggressive by attacking the offensive glass and getting the ball inside.

Indiana has gotten great play from the bench in recent games, and their depth is a real advantage in this one.  It’s unclear whether Crean will stick with Derek Elston in the starting lineup given Illinois’ relative lack of size, but no matter what, he will have multiple contributors available off the bench like Will Sheehey and the aforementioned Abell.

Final Thought

The Hoosiers finally got a key road win in Big Ten play against Purdue, and it will be important for them to remember how they earned that victory.  If they come out with the same intensity and toughness from the opening tip, this is a game IU should win at home.

On the defensive end, they need to limit Leonard’s touches inside and force Paul into contested jumpers.  Offensively, the Hoosiers have to continue to attack off the dribble or through Zeller in the post, both of which give them a chance to get Leonard in foul trouble or kick the ball out to open shooters.  Look for IU’s depth and what should be a raucous home crowd to be the difference in this one.

**********

Listen to Andy Thursday on The Assembly Call. Follow him on Twitter at @AndyBottoms.



About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms

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