The Illinois Fighting Illini (19-12, 9-9) are coming off a brutal loss at Purdue and their NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support as they head to Chicago for the 18th annual Big Ten Conference Tournament. For the third consecutive season, Illinois will be featured in the morning time slot where they'll play the No. 9 seed Michigan Wolverines (15-15, 8-10); it'll be the third matchup between the two programs this season.
The first game against Michigan in late December was extremely disappointing for the Illini. Illinois was up by as many as 13 in the second half, but the Wolverines came storming back for a 73-65 overtime victory thanks to an incredible 20 point performance from freshman Aubrey Dawkins.
Things were much different for Illinois the second time around. The Illini faced a 50-43 deficit late in the second half after trailing for nearly the entire game; they proceeded to tie things up on a corner three from Kendrick Nunn and the game went to overtime, but Illinois' run was far from over. Nnanna Egwu and company came out firing and scored the first 14 points during the extra period and ended the game on an incredible 21-2 run to earn a 64-52 victory.
In case you didn't see my recap from the Purdue game you should know that I've completely written this team off. The way I see it, Illinois needs to win at least two games in order to hear their name called on Selection Sunday--and we all know who they'd have to face in the second round. However some of the bracketology 'experts' think the Illini could still make the field with a single victory over the Wolverines. Time will tell.
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Ahmad Starks | SR
- Kendrick Nunn | SO
- Rayvonte Rice | SR
- Malcolm Hill | SO
- Nnanna Egwu | SR
- Spike Albrecht | JR
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman -|FR
- Zak Irvin | SO
- Aubrey Dawkins | FR
- Max Bielfeldt | SR
Michigan's Four Factors:
|Effective FG %||48.9 (180th)||51.2 (261st)|
|Turnover %||15.9 (17th)||19.8 (140th)|
|Offensive Rebounding %||25.8 (322nd)||30.7 (151st)|
|FTA/FGA||27.8 (346th)||26.7 (9th)|
At first glance the Wolverines don't appear to be too special on offense, but they play to their strengths and, on good days, can completely shoot opposing teams out of the gym (shooting 34.9% from three on the season). They're very good at taking care of the ball as only 7.3% of their possessions result in steals for the opposing team; overall, their turnover rate of 15.9% is good for 17th in the nation. In terms of point distribution, the Wolverines score 36.7% of their points from three-point range, 45.7% from two-point range, and the remaining 17.6% from the free throw line.
If the Illini can limit the damage from long range while not allowing second chance scoring opportunities (Michigan is 322nd in offensive rebounding), they should be in good shape.
Michigan's defense is pretty average (adjusted efficiency is 129th), but they struggle on the interior. Opposing teams are shooting 50.9% from inside the arch and the Wolverines only block shots on 4.8% of possessions--both of those figures are in the bottom quarter of the country.
So this circles back to the year long theme of, 'don't settle for rushed three-pointers' for the Illini. When they're at their best, John Groce's squad generates ball movement by feeding the ball inside to create shooting/driving opportunities for players out on the wings. Hopefully they keep this fact in mind on Thursday morning.