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Illinois vs. Iowa: Big Ten Tournament Preview

Illinois has a chance at revenge in the play-in game

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa’s recent BTT results

The Iowa Hawkeyes under Fran McCaffery have not exactly been stellar the past few years in the Big Ten Tournament. In fact, they have not won a game in the tournament since an opening round 73-59 victory over Northwestern in 2013. Last year they were crushed by 10-seed Indiana, 95-73, as a 7-seed. In 2016, as a 5-seed, they lost to 12-seed Illinois, 68-66. In 2015, as a 5-seed, they lost to Penn State, the 13 seed, 67-58.

I’ll just stop there. Fran hasn’t been great as of late. This team is pretty young though, with guys like Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook and Luka Garza all being somewhat inexperienced underclassmen but having very good seasons collectively.

This was the only picture I could find where McCaffery wasn’t screaming.

What happened this season

Iowa and Illinois played just once — on Jan. 11 — a game you will most likely remember as what should’ve been the first Big Ten win for the Illini (although, admittedly, we could probably say that about several other games too). Illinois was up by double digits for most of the game, but Iowa just crept back in the second half partly thanks to one of those good ‘ol fashioned Illini scoring droughts.

Bohannon had 29 points and Cook added 21 as the Hawkeyes escaped in overtime 104-97. Illinois almost looked like it was going to win the game in overtime with momentum; Trent Frazier had his first truly memorable play of the season with an acrobatic buzzer-beating three-pointer to force overtime. He had 27 points of his own in one of his biggest games of the season. Leron Black and Aaron Jordan each added 18, but it was not enough as the Illini were outscored 14-7 in overtime.

(This is definitely a candidate for shot of the year.)

Players To Watch Out For

Pretty simple here: Bohannon and Cook.

Luka Garza had a nice game against Illinois, which included nine made free throws, but he is still limited offensively. If Underwood wants to win this game, he needs to take down the two guys that really run the Hawkeye offense. Obviously, Bohannon at point guard will be an important piece to shut down. Cook is a matchup problem at 6-foot-9, 255 pounds, and he knows how to take it to the rack as well.

On that Jan. 11 game, Bohannon was 5-of-12 from beyond the arc and Cook was 9-of-14 from the field. Illinois simply cannot afford to play passive defense if they want to go anywhere in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes grabbed 17 offensive rebounds that game as well, which led to all those scoring opportunities for Bohannon and Cook. Defensive rebounding needs to be better, especially since the first game the Illini were pretty much lights-out scoring the ball, and that can’t be counted on every game. (Illinois shot 54 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range in the first half that day.)


I’ve been really hard on Illinois lately, not because I don’t believe this team has made progress but because there’s just no easy formula for a victory in the Big Ten with a roster like the Illini’s. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Illinois pulls this one off pretty easily.

Iowa has big guys, but they’re young. The key to the game is containing Tyler Cook around the basket and switching up defensive looks to keep Bohannon off-balance running the offense. Frazier has continued to impress and Black is steady as ever, and I think we can count on each of them to be in double figures. Iowa’s defense is pretty porous, dead last in the conference in both scoring defense and three-point percentage defense. Frazier will get his open looks, Leron will make ridiculous buckets, and a few other guys will have big games (I’m thinking Mark Smith and Finke as likely candidates) to put this one of the books.

The only problem? Illinois would have to face Michigan in the next round. But, we’ll only worry about that if we need to.

Illinois 87, Iowa 75