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What Needs to Happen: Iowa

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Can the Illini keep up their momentum?

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday’s victory over the Gophers was a much needed sign of life from the Illini. It proved that the team has what it takes to put the pieces together and compete in the Big Ten.

But Illinois faces another tough opponent on Sunday, and they’ll need to continue performing at a high level if they want to come home with a win.

Feed the Hot Hands

Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili recorded 23 and 20 points respectively to lead the way for the Illini against Minnesota. A victory against the Hawkeyes on Sunday will certainly require similar performances from Illinois’ best guard and big man. They won’t be able to do it alone, so Trent Frazier, Andres Feliz, Adonis De La Rosa (if playing) and Samba Kane will need to show up as well, but the offense will need to primarily flow through Dosunmu and Bezhanishvili.

The ability to create plays like these makes Giorgi and Ayo incredibly difficult to defend and frustrates defenses. In recent games, the Illini have had somewhat disjointed offensive sets, which have been largely contained by opponents. But the two freshman stars give Illinois a distinct advantage and identity that Brad Underwood must leverage going forward.

Contain Iowa’s Big Men

Illinois handled Minnesota’s imposing frontcourt on the glass in their matchup on Wednesday, but they’ll need a repeat performance against Iowa this weekend. At 6-11, Luka Garza is an imposing player who has a distinct scoring ability. In the absence of injured big man Tyler Cook, Garza put up a double-double against Penn State on Wednesday, with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Containing Garza will be critical for Brad Underwood’s squad.

Tyler Cook is Iowa’s leading scorer on the season with 17.1 points per game, but the junior forward recently suffered an ankle injury and had to sit out the Hawkeyes’ most recent game. His status against Illinois is unknown, but he’d pose a significant scoring threat if does play and would need to be schemed against, even if he isn’t 100%.

Ultimately, Illinois will have its best chance to win if the shots are falling and they are able to take Iowa out of the game quickly as they did Minnesota. Doing so is much easier at home with the support of the Orange Krush, but the Illini will need to figure out how to top the Hawkeyes away from the friendly environment of the State Farm Center.

Remember: Brad Underwood has just one true road win so far in his time at Illinois. Is it time for No. 2?

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