Three Questions on Illinois vs. Indiana

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2013

If you haven’t seen this clip by now, you should: Illinois’ Tyler Griffey beating the buzzer by laying it in to upset top-ranked Indiana in Champaign last year. This season, both are considered middle of the pack teams in the conference, but the rematch later today (3:00 PM ET) of these rivals will certainly be juicy in Champaign. To get things started, Big Ten microsite writers Brendan Brody and Deepak Jayanti address three key questions surrounding the Big Ten opener for each team.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce’s Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

Can the Illini contain Noah Vonleh on the boards or will get they destroyed on the glass?

  • Brendan Brody: In kind of a roundabout way, the best way for Illinois to keep Vonleh off the glass might be to attack him on the offensive end. If they can get him into foul trouble like Connecticut did, they can neutralize the advantage Vonleh gives to Hoosiers. Destroyed is a strong word here because Illinois does a decent job rebounding the ball as a team, but Indiana has other players like Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams who also do a nice job gathering misses that will lead to second shots on the offensive end and will fuel their transition game.
  • Deepak Jayanti: If Rayvonte Rice can get to the hoop off of screens and force Vonleh to challenge him at the basket, it is likely that the big and talented freshman will get into foul trouble. But that’s easier said than done because Vonleh is learning how not to pick up easy fouls. Having said that, the Illini will struggle to keep Vonleh off the glass regardless. Junior forward Nnanna Egwu appears to keep moving away from the paint because he prefers to shoot the jumper off the pick-and-roll. Joseph Bertrand and Rice average over five rebounds per game each, and one of them will be busy trying to box out Williams while Vonleh will be left one-on-one against Egwu or Jon Ekey — a rebounding match-up that favors his abilities.

Outside of Yogi Ferrell and Rayvonte Rice, is there a player on each team who will have to step up in this game? 

  • BB: Will Sheehey really played well in the Notre Dame game and is averaging 17 points per game in his last three contests. Indiana needs a second scoring threat who can create his own shot other than Ferrell, and when Sheehey is on, the Hoosiers become a much better offensive team. With this game in Champaign, the fact that Sheehey is a senior is also important. The freshmen have never played in a hostile environment conference game, so there could be a little bit of a “deer in the headlights” element there. Sheehey has been through the wars many times, and with the way he’s been playing lately, getting a big game out of him will go a long way toward what would be a huge early road win.
  • DJ: Outside of a layup that makes your jaw drop, Bertrand has not really looked like the experienced fifth-year senior that the Illini expected him to be this season. Averaging 10.3 points per game is solid but not enough because he hasn’t been able to effectively complement Rice’s strong play. Bertrand’s game is similar to Rice in that he relies on breaking his defender down in isolation and attacking the basket, but he has to find other ways to score to fully reach his potential. Big Ten defenses will try their best to take Rice out of the game, so Bertrand has a window of opportunity here to assert himself early in this game.

On a scale of 1-10, how important is this game for each team as the conference season begins?

  • BB: For Indiana, I’d say this one is an 8 or a 9. According to KenPom, the Hoosiers’ best win to date is over #102 Stony Brook. All of the games between Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue will take on extra significance this season as these teams are looking to finish in the top half of the league and get to the NCAA Tournament. Winning this game in Champaign would by far be the best resume win the Hoosiers would have, and if they don’t get this one, they could be looking at an 0-4 start with a home game against Michigan State, a game at Penn State, and a home game against Wisconsin on the horizon. With a poor start like that, especially with a really young team, it could mean that the Hoosiers are NIT- bound just a year after making the Sweet Sixteen as a #1 seed.
  • DJ: Similar to Indiana, Illinois needs to play with a sense of urgency during this game. On a scale of 1-10, this game ranks as about a 9 for the Illini because it will set the tempo for the first three weeks of the conference season. With an 11-win non-conference campaign, they will need at least nine wins in Big Ten play in order to be considered for the NCAA Tournament, and beating the other bubble teams such as Indiana will count considerably in March. With Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa already looking like high-seed NCAA teams, Indiana and Illinois along with Michigan will be fighting for the next few bids from the conference and this New Year’s Eve game could be a pivotal one for the selection committee.
Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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