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What To Watch For: Illinois-Indiana

Indiana forward Juwan Morgan looks for a lane to drive to the basket against Maryland on January 22, 2018 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Morgan scored 25 points in the 71-68 win. (Josh Eastern)

After a crucial 71-68 win over Maryland Monday, Indiana men’s basketball now sits at fifth in the Big Ten with a record of 5-3. The Hoosiers have a legitimate chance to move three games above .500 in conference standings with a win Wednesday night against Illinois (10-11, 0-8).

While IU is coming off a quick turnaround with just one day between games, so is Illinois. The Illini dropped their last contest to Michigan State at home Monday 87-74 and are still searching for that first Big Ten win.

Although the Illini are winless in conference, they’ve had plenty of close games and seem to play every team tough. First year head coach Brad Underwood emphasizes heavy pressure on defense from his team and the Illini are seventh in the nation forcing 18.2 turnovers per game.

Even though Illinois is winless in the conference and have lost its last six games, they are still given a 59-percent chance to beat Indiana Wednesday night according to KenPom.

IU is also looking for their second road win of the season, but although Illinois hasn’t won a conference game, nothing is ever guaranteed on the road in the Big Ten. Remember Febuary 7, 2013 at Illinois when IU was ranked No. 1? That didn’t end up too well.

Here’s what to watch for…

Force Turnovers, Don’t Turn It Over

As mentioned in the beginning, the Illini are very successful defensively, sitting at seventh in the nation forcing over 18 turnovers a game. Last game against Michigan State, Illinois forced 25 Sparty turnovers, but still lost by double digits.

For as good as Illinois is defensively, the problem is they turn the ball over quite a bit on offense. Their 15 turnovers a game on offense puts them at the bottom of the Big Ten with Maryland.

IU was successful forcing 18 turnovers against the Terrapins Monday night and the majority came during key moments late in the game. Eleven of the 18 turnovers forced were in the second half and five happened in the final five minutes of the game.

This season has been the exact opposite of last year when it comes to turnover issues for Indiana, which shows Archie Miller’s success in such a short time. IU only turns it over about 12 times a game and on the other side force about 14 a game.

In order to succeed against the Illini, it will be up to the senior guards of Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk to use their experience and take care of the ball against this young Illini team that feature 10 underclassmen and a starting freshmen backcourt.

On defense, IU needs to keep up the intensity by winning the turnover battle. In the last four wins, opponents are averaging close to 16 turnovers a game and IU is only at 11 turnovers a game.

Advantage IU In Frontcourt

Michigan State was a matchup nightmare for Indiana and even Maryland presented some problems with 6-foot-10 Bruno Fernando and 7-foot-1 Michal Cekovsky. But against the Illini, Indiana is the team in control down low.

Juwan Morgan going up against Illinois Leron Black is the biggest matchup to watch in the post. Black is the most prolific scorer for Illinois at 14.4 points per game and also the Illini’s best rebounder at 5.3 rebounds a game.

Morgan without a doubt has the advantage over Black on the low block. Morgan’s 25 point, 36 minute outing last game against Maryland showed how valuable he is to IU when he’s on the floor, as if we didn’t already know that.

Black fouls the most out of anyone on Illinois averaging 3.2 fouls a game and has fouled out three times this season. Because of this, he’s only been able to play around 25 minutes a game.

Getting Black in foul trouble early will help Indiana out tremendously because their frontcourt depth is slim. Outside of Black they have Mike Finke starting and averaging 10 points and five rebounds a game, but no forward on the Illini bench will cause major problems for any team in the frontcourt.

Crunch Time is Winning Time

IU closed out another close game on Monday, in the three point win over Maryland improving the Hoosiers record to 4-0 in games decided by five points or less.

Whether it’s grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw late in the game or making every free throw down the stretch, IU has executed when it matters the most.

“It’s the way we prepare in practice,” Morgan said following the Maryland win. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game in tenth war, and when it comes down to it, we made winning plays, when it comes down to five or less points.”

Illinois is a team that isn’t good at all in crunch time. In games decided by less than five points or that has gone to overtime, Illinois is 2-5 with their only two wins over Tennessee Martin and Grand Canyon.

They’ve had chances during Big Ten play taking Northwestern, Maryland and Iowa all into overtime, but haven’t been able to finish. Even on the road at Nebraska, the Illini had a chance to win but lost by one on a last second Cornhusker three pointer.

If this game is close late, expect Indiana to take care of business and execute just like they have done all season in tight matchups.

I am a junior from Edwardsville, Illinois majoring in Sports Media. I formerly worked for the Indiana Daily Student for two years serving as the Sports Editor and beat reporters for Men’s Basketball, Men’s Soccer, Baseball and Field Hockey during my time with the student newspaper. Currently I am the Men’s Basketball beat reporter for IU Student Television while I also broadcast games for BTN Student U. Email me: and follow me on Twitter: @ZainPyarali

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