Pregamin’: Illinois at Michigan

1:15 January 21, 2017


Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS 1400 AM WDWS

Questions worth Asking

  1. Will this be the game we finally see Illinois play with defensive intensity and cohesion? Michigan is the worst defensive team in the Big Ten. Illinois is second worst. The Illini have talked about improving the defense all year. We may have seen a bit of the fruits of that labor in the first half against Maryland, but we also saw a Maryland team play poorly. In conference play, Illinois is giving up an average of 78.7 points per contest and 90.3 points in road games. The Illini are running out of time to develop a defensive identity. All of the talk this week in practice has been about defense. Let’s see if the Illini can back it up.
  2. Will Te’Jon Lucas or Tracy Abrams get the bulk of minutes at point guard? It’s clear John Groce wants to go with this graduate senior, but Abrams has struggled mightily of late. The offense is more creative with Lucas at the controls, although his passes sometimes catch his teammates off guard and result in turnovers. It appears that on the rare occasions that they’ve been in the game together, Lucas plays the 1 and Abrams the 2. This would only be effective if Abrams can recover his shooting stroke. Lucas’s court vision and ability to drive and dish makes Groce’s offense look like there’s actually some kind of system in place. This is where Jaylon Tate has been effective, too, but his inability to be any kind of offensive threat himself diminishes his effectiveness as a facilitator. Either Abrams or Lucas – or better yet, both – needs to play well and get their teammates involved early.
  3. Which team will make the best adjustments since they last met 10 days ago? Michigan lost while shooting over 50%, so they’re going to have to do the most adjusting to make sure they don’t get the same outcome. The Illini would love to shoot 64% again, both from the field and from 3, and have Michigan forward/center Moritz Wagner have another ineffective night, but that’s not likely to happen. Wolverine’s coach John Beilein will likely have watched the tape from the second half of the Maryland game. In the first half, Illinois was effective running the offense through Maverick Morgan, who scored 9 points himself and passed well out of the post to keep the ball moving to open shooters. In the second half, Maryland started doubling Morgan in the post, stagnating the Illini offense. Morgan scored 6 more points, but turned to ball over 3 times in the half. No doubt Beilein took notes. In this second meeting, Michigan will have a better idea of how to play against Lucas and Kipper Nichols. There was little tape on Lucas, and almost nothing on Nichols, before their first meeting, as Beilein noted in his postgame conference. They’ll know what to expect now.

Final Thoughts

The Illini need to play well on the road. Period. Michigan is a good offensive team, and Illinois will get a chance to test their defensive mettle. The Wolverines also haven’t liked to defend, so maybe Tracy Abrams can get on a roll. We’ve been looking for that to happen for a while now, though, but hope springs eternal! Illinois needs to steal a road win, especially after losing at home to Maryland. This is a winnable game, and the pressure is building on the Illini to pick up every win they possibly can. Tough call because Michigan needs this game, too. I think Illinois will play better than they have on the road thus far, but Beilein makes the better adjustments. Michigan takes it by 5 or so.

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