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A rematch with Illinois awaits Indiana after another long lay-off

In a year where postponements and cancelations are commonplace, Indiana basketball is in the midst of its second extended layoff of the season.

The Hoosiers have nine days between their most recent game — Sunday, Jan. 24 against Rutgers — to this Tuesday when the Hoosiers will host No. 19 Illinois.

Just like their last week-long break when they faced Iowa, the Hoosiers have another difficult opponent to play at the end of the rest period. This will be the second meeting between Indiana and Illinois this season.

In the first game, the Illini got the better of Indiana, winning 69-60 in Champaign. Indiana played close, up five with 9:47 to go in the game but Illinois absolutely dominated the game down the stretch.

Indiana’s Al Durham shoots a 3-pointer in the Hoosiers’ first meeting against Illinois this season on Dec. 26, 2020 in Champaign, IL. Photo by Missy Minear/Indiana Hoosiers.

As the calendar turns to February and the number of remaining games starts to dwindle, every game’s importance increases. Let’s take a closer look at Illinois and the makeup of their team.

Battle-tested

Much like Indiana, Illinois has played a large quantity of a really good teams. They have a large number of quality wins and all of their losses are respectable.

Their best win is by far their most recent game on Jan. 29 at home against No. 7 Iowa, but they also have beaten Purdue, Duke on the road by 15, and they destroyed Minnesota at home, 92-65.

While the wins are good, Illinois’ losses are really strong, too. The only poor loss would be when 9-8 Maryland upset Illinois in Champaign. The others, though, are all solid.

Three of the four other games dropped were by close margins to good teams.

  • At No. 12 Missouri, 81-78, Dec. 12.
  • At No. 19 Rutgers, 91-88, Dec. 20.
  • Home vs No. 21 Ohio State, 87-81, Jan 16.

The only big loss came early in the season on Dec. 2 against No. 2 Baylor, 82-69, in Indianapolis.

Star power

In addition to Illinois’ strong resume, the Illini have a number of players on the team who could be considered stars and are legitimate difference makers on the court.

Ayo Dosunmu, a junior guard, is the team’s consensus best player. He is the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, scoring 21.9 points per game. Against Indiana in the first game, Dosunumu went off for a game-high 30 points.

Dosunmu possesses the ability to score in bunches as he can make shots from anywhere on the floor. He is a 41.8% 3-point shooter and is also an 81.5% free-throw shooter.

More than just a scorer, Dosunmu leads the team in assists with nearly five per game and is a great rebounding guard, too. The junior gets 6.1 rebounds per game.

Dosunumu is complemented by sophomore center Kofi Cockburn who is a load to handle for opposing defenses at 7 feet tall and 285 pounds. He averages a double-double with 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

He also shoots 68.2% from the field and is one of the best rim protectors in the Big Ten with 23 blocks.

Surrounding those two stars, Illinois has a number of weapons on the roster who can step up from game to game.

Seniors Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams along with freshman Adam Miller all shoot 35% or better from 3-point range. Frazier and Miller each score between nine and 10 points per game with an ability to really heat up. In the win over Iowa, Frazier had 24.

Williams only scores 5.6 points per game, but he has the best clip on the team. He has made, 22 of 37 3-pointers (59.5%) this season.

High-powered offense

As evident by the number of options the Illini offense allows, they’re a high-powered scoring team.

On the season, Illinois is scoring 82.7 points per game, nearly a whole 10 points higher than Indiana’s 72.9 average. Illinois is a good shooting team in general, making right about 50% of all field goal looks, but the team has really lethal ability from deep. They lead the Big Ten in 3-point percentage at 39.9% from 3-point range.

Guarding the 3-point line has been a challenge of Indiana’s all season so this will be a particular defensive emphasis. In the Iowa win, Indiana figured out how to guard the 3-point line well, holding Iowa to 5 of 23 shooting from deep. The Hoosiers will need to replicate that formula to be successful again.

It’s going to take a disciplined approach where Indiana slows Illinois’ offense down and limits the number of possessions Illinois has to score the ball. Getting caught in a shootout is not what the Hoosiers want.

The Hoosiers will also have to win the rebounding battle in order to win the game. Illinois gets six more rebounds per game with 40.4 rebounds per contest compared to Indiana’s 34.4.

Taking away any opportunities for Illinois to get second-chance points, and especially second-chance point opportunities from 3-point range, is imperative for Indiana’s chances in this game.

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