Illinois is still searching for that first, albeit elusive, Big Ten victory.
They've really struggled with teams who clean up the glass with athletes at the 4 and 5. Michigan State (and specifically Miles Bridges) are a different animal. That being said, here comes another team with a strong player at the 5 in the Hoosiers with Juwan Morgan. He's also of course coming off his best game of the season, scoring 25 on an injured leg against a tough Maryland squad in their 71-68 victory Monday.
Illinois will have its hands full between Morgan and guard Robert Johnson, who has really turned his game around the last couple of contests.
It'll be a tough challenge but here are some of the keys for Illinois to pull off the upset tonight at the State Farm Center.
Force Indiana’s Bigs To Shoot From Outside
This one will be lot easier said than done. Illinois has really struggled with its size disadvantage and they've had to play more of Greg Eboigbodin to offset their inability to procure second chance points and defensive rebounds.
If Illinois is going to win, the Illini have to nullify their disadvantage by forcing Morgan and sophomore De'Ron Davis to settle for jump shots and minimize the size advantage Indiana has by stretching them out and clogging lanes to force outside shooting. Guard play outside of Johnson is not Indiana’s strong suit, and Illinois could capitalize off big men forced to play like guards.
Shoot Your Shots When They Present Themselves
This one seems to be troublesome for Illinois so far in league play. Too many times this year players like Mark Alstork and Michael Finke have passed up good looks due to a perceived lack of confidence.
Well, right now, you have nothing to lose. So shoot your shot.
They aren't the only ones. Kipper Nichols is the perfect example of a player who needs to stop vacillating and use his athletic ability to his advantage. His 27-point performance against the Spartans needs to become commonplace and not the outlier. The team seem to lack confidence in their outside game.
And yes, Illinois' three-point shooting has not been great. These players need a boost in assertiveness, however, and that comes with continuing to shoot and shoot and shoot until they start to fall. They can't continue to look for someone else to take all the shots. Keep going.
Eventually, the talent of players like Smith and Alstork will win out and these shots will fall. It just takes some bootstrap pulling.
Continue Creating Turnovers
Against Michigan State, Illinois forced 25 turnovers and harried the Spartans all night. If it weren't for the ridiculous shooting night from Tom Izzo’s squad, the score would have been even closer. Well, Indiana doesn't have that kind of shooting prowess, especially on the road where they have definitely struggled. Illinois needs to limit the Hoosiers’ possessions by forcing bad passing and interfering with their game plan as much as possible.
Guys like Trent Frazier and Leron Black need to be their active, usual selves, forcing Indiana into sloppy passing and bad offensive execution. Number one on this list would help dramatically, as big men playing like guards is outside their comfort zone and lead to errors in their game that Illinois can exploit.
These are just a few of many things that need to happen in order for Illinois to pull out a victory tonight and more victories going forward. Brad Underwood and this Illini team desperately need a win in Big Ten play, and tonight represents one of a few legitimate chances.