After the end of their two-game winning streak in heartbreaking fashion, the Illini find themselves with their backs against the wall. With inspired play against the Buckeyes and multiple chances to close out a win, Illinois fell short after being outscored 15-4 to close the game.
Now, Illinois finds itself in a precarious position. Should they have any aspirations of an NCAA Tournament berth, nothing short of winning out the rest of the regular season will do it. In fact, that may not even be enough to garner an at-large bid.
At this time, it appears it may be Big Ten Tournament Championship or bust for Underwood’s squad in Year One. With that in mind, what do the Illini need to do in order to avenge their 25-point loss from earlier this season at the hands of the Badgers?
A Strong Defense Is A Good Defense
In their first matchup about three weeks ago, the Badgers broke out of an offensive slump. Shooting over 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the arc, Illinois seemed to have trouble limiting shots and putting pressure on the ball.
With an uncharacteristic meager 12 turnovers forced, Illinois was out of sorts at the Kohl Center on defense and never recovered. If Illinois wants to be successful in its rematch, they will have to find a way to put pressure on the ball handlers and force Wisconsin in to mistakes. Wisconsin is one of the better teams in college basketball when it comes to possession, so in the event Illinois can’t force the turnover, its main focus will be limiting open shots and making sure to collapse on the lane.
Score Quick, Score Often
One of the hallmarks of this season, Underwood’s first, has been the quick offense he has tried to instill in the program. Illinois has shot 44 percent on the season, and mathematically at that rate you will score more points if you take 45 shots as compared to 35 shots. It’s science.
Illinois has shown the ability in its conditioning to run the court well and for long stretches. In a perfect world, Kipper Nichols and Trent Frazier will have free reign to run the court how they see fit. Will their speed and great ball handling allow them to find the open looks or outlet pass against a solid Wisconsin defense?
Illinois should have a good crowd for this one and the Orange Krush should be able to help will the team to a victory.
Illinois wins, 77-70.