It's now or never this season for Illinois Basketball.
Either the Illini make some noise in the Big Ten schedule in the new year, or they finish with it's worst season since Gene Bartow in the 1974-75 season.
If Illinois continues to play as sloppily as it has in the non-conference, it might finish with fewer wins than ever before.
Here's what needs to happen for Illinois to upset Indiana in Bloomington on Thursday.
Tighten up defensively.
Indiana has a few major weapons offensively that can cause all kinds of problems for the Illini.
Romeo Langford is the guy everyone will talk about. He's the team's leading scorer, the former five-star recruit, the big-time guard. He alone will be hard to stop. Throw in 6-foot-7 Jawun Morgan (second leading scorer) and DeRon Davis (his size alone poses major problems) and it will be a tall order to slow them down.
What Illinois definitely can't do is foul at half court, or foul off the ball, or foul on every defensive possession. It seemed that was its philosophy against FAU. Foul. Foul. Foul.
You cannot put a team this talented on the free throw line so many times late in the game. FAU had twice as many free throw attempts, it seemed, and really won the post battles for second-chance opportunities.
Illinois might also want to try rebounding just a little bit. Samba Kane and Alan Griffin need more tick to help with their size issues, especially against size like Davis and Morgan. The Illini need tenacity. Toughness. That hasn't been readily apparent so far. Youth needs to be served. Try something new.
Langford will get his. Illinois' guard trio needs to slow him enough to where he's not going bonkers. Illinois wasn’t able to slow down Talen Horton-Tucker or James Palmer, Jr. this season, and that narrative will have to change against a superstar like Langford.
Buckets from Frazier.
A big game from the best scorer for Illinois would also help.
Illinois is so inefficient offensively, we basically need a hero effort from our star player to ever win. It's a lot to ask from one guy, but Frazier has shown an ability to get hot and let it rain down from three. Illinois needs it in the worst way.
What would also be refreshing is to see Ayo and Feliz contribute significant minutes offensively as well. There has not been a single game this season where all three guards have cohesively coalesced into the three-headed monster many Illini fans envisioned. It would be nice to see it finally come together in a big game. Maybe too many mouths to feed cancels each other out. If they want to pull the upset, however, that cannot be the case.
I think it's time we really see what we have in this freshman class. Hopefully Tevian Jones is freed (it sounds like maybe one more game). Samba Kane and Alan Griffin need more significant minutes over Adonis (if he’s healthy) and Da’Monte Williams. Williams, especially, needs a decrease in minutes. He has provided nothing offensively for some time and needs some time to work things out. Ayo, Trent, Feliz and Giorgi all need major starter minutes. Stick with Aaron Jordan as your three-point specialist. It's time to switch things up and get some new ideas and players in new roles.
Illinois usually plays Indiana tough, so I won't yet say it will be a blowout. But it will be if some of these things happen (or don't happen). It's either surprise some people, or finish at the bottom.
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