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TheHoosier.com Preview: Indiana Vs. Illinois

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Jordan Wells / TheHoosier.com

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018

Tipoff time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)

TV: BTN

Radio: IU Radio Network

NOTES:

• Since enduring a four-game losing streak which began with a defeat at Illinois, Indiana has snapped said skid with a two-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's game.

• Wednesday's meeting is the second between IU and Illinois this season. The Hoosiers fell to the Illini 73-71 in Champaign on Jan. 24.

• A win over Illinois would help IU secure a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

• Illinois is 12-14 (2-11 in Big Ten play) under head coach Brad Underwood, who is in his first season with the program after one season at Oklahoma State.

The Fighting Illini's setbacks this season came 80-73 at Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 72-68 in overtime at Northwestern, 92-91 in overtime at Maryland, 89-82 at UNLV, 74-69 vs. New Mexico State, 77-67 at Minnesota, 79-69 at Michigan, 104-97 in overtime vs. Iowa, 64-63 at Nebraska, 75-50 at Wisconsin and 87-74 vs. No. 6 Michigan State, 75-67 at No. 17 Ohio State, 78-69 vs. Wisconsin and 74-52 vs. Penn State.

• Riding a three-game losing streak heading into Wednesday's game, Illinois sits second-to-last in the Big Ten standings.

• Illinois' statistical profile looks like this: It averages 76.0 points, holding opponents to 72.5. It shoots 43.9 percent from the floor, allowing opponents to shoot 46.4 percent.

BY THE NUMBERS
Team AP Coaches RPI KenPom KenPom - Win%

Indiana

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108

75

74

Illinois

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185

113

26

INDIANA HOOSIERS (14-12, 7-7 B1G)

Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Projected Starters

F - 21 Freddie McSwain Jr. (6-6, 220, Sr.)

McSwain brings energy and a rebounding edge when in Indiana's starting lineup. While he struggles with finishing at the rim, he still provides plenty of second-chance opportunities for the Hoosiers because of his effort on the offensive glass.

F - 13 Juwan Morgan (6-8, 230, Jr.)

Morgan has a chance for another performance to make his case as the Big Ten's most improved player. Minnesota has a bigger starting frontcourt than Rutgers, but didn't stop Morgan from scoring 20 against the Gophers last month.

G/F - 15 Zach McRoberts (6-6, 205, R-Jr.)

McRoberts doesn't put up a ton of points, but his ability to make the "winning plays" - offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, etc. - late in the game make him a valuable piece to Indiana's starting lineup. If he continues to look for his shot and take open looks, that will only benefit Indiana's offense.

G - 4 Robert Johnson (6-3, 195, Sr.)

Johnson needed nine shot attempts to score 11 points against Minnesota, so it wasn't exactly the most efficient night for him, but his passing - four assists to zero turnovers - proved more important for IU. Against a young and energetic Illinois backcourt, Indiana will need both plenty of points and sound decision making from Johnson.

G - 11 Devonte Green (6-3, 186, So.)

Green has proven to be a good decision maker when he plays at least 25 minutes per game. He got his seventh start of the season against Minnesota and delivered for the Hoosiers with 19 points, seven assists and two turnovers. The big key for him will be handling Illinois' guard pressure, which disrupted his and the rest of Indiana's guard play next season

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (12-14, 2-11)

Roster | Schedule | Stats

Projected Starters

F - 43 Michael Finke (6-10, 235, R-Jr.)

Finke has a somewhat-limited role in Illinois' offense, using just 16.8 percent of possible possessions per KenPom.com. When he does look to score, he's effective, shooting 61.3 percent on two-point attempts. However, after shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range as a redshirt sophomore, he's much less of a threat from beyond the arc this year at 28.4 percent. The key for Indiana will be keeping Finke off the offensive glass, with Finke tied for the team lead with 51 of Illinois' 345 offensive rebounds.

F - 12 Leron Black (6-7, 230, R-Jr.)

Black is a strong rebounder who primarily scores in and around the paint. But at 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from 3-point range, he has enough of a perimeter game to keep defenses honest beyond the arc despite his selectiveness with those shots.

G - 24 Mark Alstork (6-5, 190, Gr.)

A graduate transfer from Wright State, Alstork isn't a threat offensively. He's shooting just 33.8 percent from the floor, including 22.2 percent from 3-point range, so far this season. Where he's made a greater impact is with his rebounding, passing and defense, with the fourth-most total rebounds (101), third-most assists (49) and tied for most blocks (10) on the team.

G - 13 Mark Smith (6-4, 225, Fr.)

Many IU fans may recognize this name, as Smith, last year's Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois, was heavily recruited by the previous Indiana coaching staff. Smith was originally headed to Missouri as a baseball commit until an elbow injury forced him to switch sports. Outside of shooting 81.4 percent from the free throw line, Smith has made a limited impact in his first season with the program.

G - 1 Trent Frazier (6-1, 170, Fr.)

A four-star recruit in the 2017 class, Frazier has started in each of Illinois' last 10 games and provided a valuable scoring punch with double-figure point totals in eight of those 10 contests (all in a row). Frazier uses 26.1 percent of Illinois' possible possessions and takes 27.9 percent of possible shot attempts - both most on Illinois, according to KenPom - so expect him to be heavily involved on offense.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Illinois' defense 2. Battle of the backcourts, Part II 3. Big Ten Tournament ipmlications

Admittedly, I probably underestimated the defensive abilities of Illinois freshmen guards Mark Smith and Trent Frazier. Both caused tremendous problems for Indiana in the second half because of their on-ball pressure, and I doubt that effort has curtailed despite the Fighting Illini's struggles this season.

In the first game, Indiana's senior-led backcourt of Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson struggled against Frazier and Smith. Green's quickness should provide IU with a better matchup against Frazier both offensively and defensively, so I'm really curious to see how that matchup especially plays out.

A win over Illinois Wednesday night would secure Indiana a first-round bye in the conference tournament in two weeks. A loss to the Illini would be bad not only because of their record but because of the perceived missed opportunity at home.

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