Illinois beat Indiana 73-71 on Jan. 24 to secure its first Big Ten win of the season. Juwan Morgan had a big night by scoring 28 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Since We Last Met
Indiana followed the loss to Illinois with three straight losses to the three best teams in the conference: Purdue, MSU and OSU. The Hoosiers have since rebounded and won their last two matchups against Rutgers and Minnesota, defeating each by more than 20 points.
Archie Miller’s team is 7-7 in the Big Ten in his first year on the job, but a rough nonconference stretch has already ended any dreams of dancing. Juwan Morgan has continued his fantastic tear and is playing some of his most consistent basketball of the season. Dating back to the Illinois game, he is averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds per game.
Six-foot-10 sophomore big man De’Ron Davis is out for the year with a leg injury. This makes Indiana one of the few teams that doesn’t have a size advantage over the Illini. The tallest player on the floor for Indiana will only be six-foot-seven. However, Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith are high-level athletes that Illinois will have to try to contain.
Key Additions and Losses
Indiana’s best three players from last season — James Blackmon, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant — all declared for the NBA draft. Anunoby was the highest pick and is by far having the most success. I wanted the Bulls to take Anunoby at 16 before they inexplicably included that pick in the Jimmy Butler trade. Anunoby fell all the way to Toronto at 23 after tearing his ACL last year. Now he is a starting forward on the second-best team in the East. I bet Archie wishes he had that on this year’s team. Blackmon, a junior, was the only upperclassman of the trio for the 2016-17 season, and he led the team in scoring with 17 points per game.
Miller did pull together a very good recruiting class, with three four-star recruits including Justin Smith, a 6-foot-7 forward from Stevenson High School (AKA Jalen Brunson High) and 6-foot-10 forward Clifton Moore. Smith is the only player of the bunch that has seen a significant amount of playing time, and he is averaging 5.2 points and three rebounds per game.
Juwan Morgan will be the best athlete on the floor tomorrow night. The rematch will be in Bloomington, so he should have more help from some of his supporting cast on their home floor. He probably won’t need to put up 30 and 10 tomorrow, but expect him to make his presence felt early and often. If Robert Johnson also gets hot in the first half, it could get ugly quick for Illinois.
Illinois has not won a true road game all season. Indiana’s Assembly Hall is one of the conference’s toughest places to play. That’s not a good starting point for the Illini.
I think Indiana will be able to limit their first half turnovers on their home floor and get some easy buckets against Illinois’ pressure. I imagine we will see a #FakeRally or two after this weekend’s dreadful performance against the Nittany Lions, but it won’t be enough.
Illinois 64, Indiana 78.