This double-bye business is nice. It’s a reward for all of Illinois’ hard work, finishing first/second* in the Big Ten regular season. Considering all of the craziness that happened a year ago to the day, if there’s one thing basketball fans across the country can agree on it’s this: We won’t ever take for granted again life’s luxuries of enjoying some postseason college hoops.
At 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Big Ten Network, the 10th seed Indiana Hoosiers square off against the 7th seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Illinois will play the winner of that game on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
We’re Illini basketball fans, so of course we’ll be watching the IU/RU game to see who we end up playing. Which team do you prefer wins the game? Here’s a case for each.
Why Illinois Prefers Indiana Wins
Illinois swept the Hoosiers this year, the most recent game happened the first week of February, the Illini winning in overtime in Bloomington 75-71. Beating a team three times in a season is challenging, but objectively looking at a side-by-side roster comparison, there’s a reason Illinois won those games.
Indiana’s depth is a concern for the Hoosier faithful, as is their scoring. The Hoosiers average 10 points less per game than the Illini do, and when their star Trayce Jackson-Davis is shut down, this team is wildly inconsistent from the perimeter. Indiana’s guard play is a weakness.
Indiana is hurting. Per SI.com’s Fan Nation, banged up Hoosier guard Armaan Franklin is likely to miss the game against the Scarlet Knights. Big man Race Thompson, a stretch-the-floor type of big and who’s gritty down low getting rebounds, is far from 100%. He has a face and ankle issue.
The Hoosiers head into this game losers of five straight, and six of their last seven. One of those games was an 11-point loss to Rutgers on the road.
Putting all of that aside and how Indiana is quite literally limping into the Big Ten Tournament, beating one of Illinois’ basketball rivals for the third time would do wonders for Big Ten bragging rights. That kind of stuff matters to the fans.
Why Illinois Prefers Rutgers Wins
Need some motivation, Illini? How about facing a team you played once, and lost to once, way back on Dec. 20, by a score of 91-88. The Illini are a completely different and better team than they were three months ago. They are hardened by the Big Ten battles, with Ayo’s facial injury and with a much-improved freshman phenom in Andre Curbelo.
91 points given up is the worst defensive performance of the entire season for the Illini, and Coach Underwood was furious at his team’s lack of effort on that end of the floor that day. A rematch all of this time later would inspire the Illini who haven’t seen these Scarlet Knights in quite some time.
Rutgers free throw and three-point woes: Rutgers is a poor free throw shooting team, and its 62% clip at the line is the worst in the Big Ten this season. If the game is close, Illinois, with all of their own struggles at the line, knows that Rutgers is worse.
Only Minnesota shoots three-pointers at a worse percentage than these Scarlet Knights. The Illini shoot about 10% better from three than Rutgers does, and should the Illini and Scarlet Knights play, that will be another stat to keep an eye on as the game progresses.
Long Story Short:
It would be nice to play Indiana for a third time and beat them for a third time.
It would be nice to play Rutgers for the added motivation of beating a team the Illini were unable to beat this regular season.
*Muck Fichigan. We all know who the real Big Ten Champions are, don’t we.