Pre-gamin’: Illinois vs. Iowa

8:00 January 25, 2017

TV: BTN

Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS 1400 AM WDWS

Questions worth Asking

  1. Will we get an extended look at Te’Jon Lucas? I love Tracy Abrams’s determination to come back – twice – from season-ending surgery. He seems like a thoughtful guy in interviews. He’s a senior, and this is his last shot at college basketball. Unfortunately, over the seven Big Ten games so far he’s been playing himself out of minutes. The shots aren’t falling and the drives are less purposeful. Jaylon Tate can get the ball moving and drive to the hoop, but his obvious inability to score makes him easy to defend. Let’s see what Lucas can do with extended minutes. I’d like to see Lucas in there with Jalen Coleman-Lands and, occasionally, Michael Finke. See where this is going? Lucas has great vision. Coleman-Lands and Finke are great spot-up three-point shooters. Iowa is 11th in the conference in 3pt% defense. If – and this is a big if – they can all get on the same page, this sort of drive and kick could be a devastating offensive weapon. Especially on home court. And especially if Maverick Morgan gets going. That’s a lot to put on a freshman, but it’s time to give the young man the reins.
  2. Can Illinois make significant defensive improvements this late in the season? I think improvement is possible, but I don’t see much to indicate significant improvement unless the Illini change something schematically. They don’t have a rim protector, and they don’t have an on-ball defensive stopper. These guys would have shown themselves by now. So, what can you do? Try to tighten up the defensive communication; know where your team mates are, anticipate when they’re going to switch or fight through screens, and make those switches seamlessly. Don’t get caught in a mismatch for long. Be aware of Iowa’s shooters (Peter Jok) and passers (Jordan Bohannon). Maybe implement a press? We’ll see. At this point, it’s all about cooperation and coordination. There are no defensive saviors on this team. Something to build on: Illinois did hold Michigan to 66 points on the road Saturday.
  3. Will Peter Jok torch the Illini like he did the last couple of times they met? Jok scored 23 and 29 points against the Illini last season, and he enters tonight’s game the conference’s leading scorer at 21.6 points per game. Jok was dealing with a back injury during the Hawkeye’s loss against Maryland last Thursday, and it’s unclear whether he’s going to be 100% tonight, although he’s had time to rest during a bye week. We might see two of the top five scorers in the league square off face-to-face tonight, as on paper 6’6″ Malcolm Hill looks likely to draw the assignment against 6’6″ Jok. Who gets the better of that match up may very well determine the winner of this contest.

Final Thoughts

These are two fairly similar teams. Both are winless on the road in the conference, and both tend to be slow out of the gates. Both teams rely heavily on a star senior guard for offense, and both teams struggle to defend (bottom three in the conference in scoring defense and FG% defense). The Illini are 12-8 and 2-5, and the Hawkeyes are 11-9 and 3-4. With a win, Illinois will be tied with Iowa, Penn State, and probably at least two or three other teams near the middle of the Big Ten standings. Lose, and Illinois drops to 2-6, just above Rutgers. No offense to the Scarlet Knights, but nobody wants to be that close to Rutgers in the basketball standings. This should be a fun game to watch. There’s a sense of urgency on both sides, and both teams score a lot of points. I like the Illini in this one. They play much better at home, the Hawkeyes struggle on the road, and the Orange Krush is back. Illini by 5-10.

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