The Illini finally got their first win of the Big Ten season this past week in an exciting tilt with Indiana. Now, Brad Underwood and company host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in what could potentially be the beginning of a winning streak for the Fighting Illini.
At 12-11, Rutgers is hardly a world beater, however a win over Seton Hall and a close matchup with Michigan State proved the Scarlet Knights are far from a sure-win for anyone.
With that being said, what exactly do the Illini need to do in order to get their second Big Ten win of the season?
Free Throws, Free Throws and More Free Throws
One of the big reasons Illinois was able to maintain their lead and secure a win over Indiana was thanks largely to their free throw shooting. With a massive 32 shots from the line and 23 points off those free throws, the Illini logged over 30% of their total points from the free throw line. Considering the Illini shot a mere 41 free throws total in their previous three combined games, the 32 attempts could not have come at a better time. Illinois needs to find a way to get the ball to the interior and try to force the opponent to foul when possible in order to maximize its chances at the line.
Smart Offense = Good Offense
One of Rutgers bright spots this season has been their defense. With an average of 4-6 blocks per game and 7.3 steals per game, the Scarlet Knights are a suffocating defense that cause many good offensive programs headaches. If the Illini hope to win, they will need to be smart with the ball and with their shot selection from start to finish. Look for the guard play to be emphasized for this matchup, and Underwood will be preaching smart play from the talented set of guards in Trent Frazier, Te’Jon Lucas and Mark Smith.
Let’s Go Streaking!
Rutgers enters the State Farm Center riding a three game losing streak. Illinois fans can assure you that a losing streak can creep in and cause doubt throughout a game. If the Illini are able to get out to an early lead and put pressure on Rutgers, that may play well in to their hand. Teams under pressure and stress make a lot of mistakes, and Underwood will work with the squad to push this.
Illini Nation has been through a lot this season. It will keep looking up and the Illini win their second straight 77-60.