It is here! The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon. Now, ideally we would not be playing on the first night. In a perfect world, our games would start somewhere around Friday, but here we are.
If Illinois could have drawn their potential matchups, they possibly could not have gotten a better path to Saturday. Their first game comes against an Iowa team that the Illini scored 97 on. Granted, Illinois gave up over 100 points, but they were able to show that they can score on the Hawkeyes. With that said, what can the Illini do in order to come out on top and move on to Thursday and a matchup with Michigan?
Limit Tyler Cook
Tyler Cook has been one of the best parts of this Iowa team in 2018. Over his last four games, Cook is just shy of 15 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. At 6’9”, the sophomore forward cam not only score and rebound, but he is a solid passer in the post. The one caveat of his game that the Illini will need to exploit is his penchant for turnovers. Averaging four per game over his last three, there is a weakness the Illini can use to maximize their potential Thursday. Leron Black will need to butt up against Cook for the majority of the game, play very physical, and force mistakes.
Close Off The Passing Lane
Iowa is fourth in the nation in regards to assists per game. Ball of rage Fran McCaffery has instilled in his team passing and finding the open man. They are especially good at finding cuts to the rim and getting the ball down low. The best thing the Illini can do Thursday is play their style of defense. Suffocating, stifling, and intense. Illinois has shown this brand of defense throughout the year and they will need to use it tonight. To that end, however, they must make sure that when they play their style of defense, they limit the amount of open looks down low and limit the wide open lane, something this team has failed to do so often this season.
Let Trent Frazier Run Wild
This is kind of a no brainier. Trent Frazier has shown that he can run this offense and may be one of the most talented Illini to wear a jersey since Dee Brown. This team lives and dies by Trent, and if they hope to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, they will need to rely on Trent. I would expect a 25 point game out of the freshman today, as the bright lights of New York won’t phase him.
I tweeted out this week that IF the Illini could make it to Saturday, all bets are off. Their first three matchups are semi-favorable, even if this team is still learning the Underwood system. I expect a close game and a lot of points scored. I’ll take the good guys to squeak one out, 91-88.