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Illinois vs. Rutgers: What Needs To Happen

In their season finale, can the Illini come out victorious and ride into the Big Ten Tournament with a win?

Illinois v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Sunday marks the end of the 2018 regular season, early than in the past due to a moved up Big Ten tournament. Illinois looks to take down Rutgers for the second time this season.

In its first matchup, Illinois thoroughly handled Rutgers, thanks in large part to 11 made threes and forcing Rutgers into 25 turnovers. Now, seeking its fourth Big Ten win this season, Illinois knows the importance of going to to the Big Ten Tournament with a win. The momentum of a single win can elevate you to a few additional wins to close out your season.

What exactly must the Illini do in order to get their second win in as many contests against Rutgers?

Shoot the Three

We talked about this very issue leading up to the Purdue game. Illinois has had an issue all season long closing out around the rim. If Illinois hopes to be successful, it has to find a way to get the outside shot to fall.

The midrange game and the three ball both must be there for Illinois to be successful. In an ideal situation, Illinois will take the time on offense to see who is being doubled up on defense and find the open shooter.

Force Turnovers

In its last matchup with Rutgers, Illinois forced 25 total turnovers. That is an amazing number when you think about the amount of work these teams put in to ball handling and situational offense. Illinois has been a monster when it comes to forcing turnovers, and that should not change in the regular season finale.

Rutgers is not usually turnover prone, giving up the ball less that 12 times per game. Illinois, however, is ninth in the nation at turnovers forced per game, so something will have to give.

Hopefully, it is the latter.

Don’t Beat Yourself

Too often this season Illinois has been the creator of its own demise. Late game situations, bad fouls and costly turnovers all season long have hurt the Illini’s chances.

I am not one to say, ‘Well if these things would not have happened, Illinois would be in talk for the NCAA Tournament’. However, there is a legitimate argument to analyze how this team would look in the win-loss column had so many bonehead mistakes not happened. Illinois has to find a way to play smart, situational basketball.

Don’t foul before Rutgers crosses half court. Don’t foul when a bad three shooter is well beyond the arc. Don’t turn the ball over on the inbounds pass. Play smart and disciplined.

Prediction

Illinois showed in its last matchup that they can handle anything Rutgers throws at them. The last time Illinois played at Rutgers to end the season there was a collective heartbreak to end any chance Illinois had at making the NCAA Tournament.

This time around the circumstances are different and so will be the result. Illinois wins and it wins big, 82-69.