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What Needs To Happen: Rutgers

How can the Illini sweep the homestand?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

With the Big Ten Conference schedule in full swing, the excitement is palpable for Illinutgers, the battle of powerhouse teams. Illinois is enjoying a 5-1 streak against Rutgers, with the lone loss being the nail in the coffin of former head coach John Groce. Rutgers, however, is no longer the pushover it once was.

You have heard it all week. “This isn’t your grandpa’s Rutgers”. With victories over Ohio State, Nebraska and Indiana, the Knights, much like the Illini, have begun to turn the metaphorical corner in the Big Ten. Simply put, Rutgers could spell concern for fans and coaches alike. What exactly must Illinois do if it hopes to come out ahead on Saturday and sweep its three-game homestand.

Remember Michigan State? Yeah, do that.

It has been a long time since I have seen this team play like it did Tuesday night.

Forty complete minutes. Stifling defense. Great offense. Insane crowd. All the things you need to have a strong program. Illinois looked like world beaters, and Michigan State, the breadwinner of the Big Ten, got that brunt.

Forcing 24 turnovers. Shooting over 80% from the free throw line. Actually GETTING to the free throw line. Underclassmen taking this team on their backs and showing out.

There is a renewed sense of excitement and optimism in Champaign and this weekend could build that up even more. If not, it could all come crashing down.

Omoruyi? More line Oh No Pooey. (I’ll See Myself Out)

The Canadian product for Rutgers is the biggest piece the Illini must account for. Eugene Omoruyi is averaging nearly 15 points per game and over seven boards per. He has strength down low and can back up some of the best in the Big Ten.

As a team that has long had issues with big men cutting to the hoop all season long, Eugene will need to be taken in to account from the outset. In a perfect world, I would like to see two collapse on him at all times, really shut him down, and force Rutgers to beat us with the midrange and three ball.

Geo Baker Could Be The Wildcard

The only issue Illinois could face with putting two guys on Omoruyi is Geo Baker. Baker is the lead guard for the Scarlet Knights and one thing he does not lack in confidence. He averages more than double the assists of anyone else on the team, he shoots more than anyone on the team, and if he gets hot, watch out.

While mired in a 3-of-19 shooting slump over his last two games, Baker can take down any team on his own. In the last nine games, the outcome for Rutgers has relied on the points of Geo Baker. If he hits 15 or more, Rutgers wins. If not, well, they don’t.

This team lives and dies on his shot, and Illinois must take that in to account if this winning streak is to continue.

Prediction

Big games all around for my Illini. GB should see a double double, Trent and Ayo will continue their great work together, and I predict a much-needed big game from Da’Monte Williams as the Illini roll to a 77-65 win. Big things are poppin’ in Champaign.

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