When: 8:00 PM EST, Thursday, March 7th, 2019.
Where: State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois
How to watch: FS1 (Dave O’Brien and Stephen Bardo)
Coming off two huge victories against Wisconsin and Michigan State last week, Indiana has finally found themselves some momentum. In a season that was beginning to look hopeless, the Hoosiers have thrust themselves into the thick of the NCAA tournament discussion, mostly due to their impressive six quadrant one wins.
Despite their recent success, however, there is still a lot of work to do. The Hoosiers will likely to have to win both of their final two regular season games, starting with the Illinois Fighting Illini on Thursday night. Indiana and Illinois have already met once this season, a January 3rd match-up in Bloomington that saw the Hoosiers triumph 73-65 in a game that Illinois made closer than expected.
In a lot of ways, that game signaled the turning point for both teams. Following that match-up, the Hoosiers would go on to lose 12 of their next 13 games, while an Illinois team that was just 4-10 and 0-3 in the Big Ten would go on to win 7 of their next 15 Big Ten games, not an incredible statistic but one that is notably improved from where they found themselves early on in the season.
The Illini’s improvement as a team can be credited to the emergence of their young players, especially that of freshmen guard Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu has managed to score in double figures in seven of his last eight contests and has elevated himself into the Illini’s leading scorer and assist man on the season at 14.0 and 3.2 respectively.
Joining Dosumu in the backcourt is sophomore guard Trent Frazier, another key cog to the Illini’s plans. Frazier also averages 14.0 points per game on the season, and he’s an extremely efficient shooter from behind the arc, knocking down 39.8% of his attempts on the season. Giorgi Bezhanishvili is the only other player to average in double figures for Illinois, and the freshmen big man does so at 11.9 per game along with leading his team in rebounding at 5.2 per game.
As a team, it will be crucial that Indiana always stays under control offensively. The Illinois defense has been very poor for most of this season, finding themselves at just 13th in the Big Ten in defensive effective field goal percentage. However, the Illini make up for this with an impressive forced turnover percentage of 21.4%, the top mark in the Big Ten. If Indiana can take care of the basketball, they should have no problem finding success against the Illinois defense.
The Hoosiers strong play of late has put themselves back into the tournament discussion, an impressive feat considering where Indiana was at just two short weeks ago. Yet Indiana’s room for error is essentially non-existent, the Hoosiers must take care of business for the rest of the season if they hope to find themselves in the tournament come Selection Sunday.