When: 7 PM ET Thursday, January 3rd
Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
How to watch: Fox Sports One (Dave O’brien and Bill Raftery)
The Indiana Hoosiers (11-2, 2-0) will resume Big Ten play on Thursday as they welcome the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-9, 0-2) to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall after a nearly two-week break over the holidays. Illinois comes into this game struggling to find a rhythm through the early season, losing 5 of their last 7 outings, including a recent home defeat to Florida Atlantic. The Hoosiers, on the other hand, seem to just be hitting their stride, coming into this game riding a 6-game winning streak and need to capitalize on one of the weaker teams in the Big Ten before they enter a difficult stretch of games, starting against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday.
Illinois has been led by Sophomore Guard Trent Frazier who’s averaging 15.9 points per game and is one of the best shooters Indiana has faced through the early-season. Frazier has shot 42.7% from behind the arc so far this season, even more impressive, Frazier has turned in an impressive 1.47 points per possession in spot-up situations, higher than 98% of college basketball players this season. Three-point defense has been an area of concern for the Hoosiers, and Frazier is someone Indiana can’t afford to let get open looks. Joining Frazier in the backcourt is highly touted freshmen guard Ayo Dosunmu, who was rated as one of the top 35 recruits in the country coming into this season. Dosunmu comes into the game averaging 11.9 points per game including an impressive 38.8% from three-point land. However, he has struggled inside the arc as he is shooting just 41.4% on two-point shots along with just 60% from the free-throw line. Senior guard Aaron Jordan rounds out the wings for Illinois and continues the familiar trend of excellent shooters in the Illini starting line-up. Jordan enters the game shooting 44.8% from the three-point line, and 30 of his 44 made shots on the season have come from behind the arc.
In the frontcourt, Illinois fields freshmen center Giorgi Bezhanishvili who stands at 6’9 235 pounds and has averaged 9.7 points along with 4.8 rebounds on the season, though he has struggled from behind the arc, shooting just 20.8% on nearly two attempts per game. Joining Bazhanishvili is 6’6 forward Kipper Nichols who comes into the game averaging 9.1 points per game. Nichols has been uncharacteristically poor from behind the arc, as he has shot just 25.6% on three-point shots this season after shooting at least 38% in each of his last two seasons.
Illinois as a team seems to have a few strong points that they can use to exploit Indiana. As mentioned earlier, Illinois has some impressive shooters, especially among their wings. Archie Miller has been very displeased with his teams’ three-point defense so far this season, and the backcourt trio for Illinois could cause issues for an Indiana defense that has routinely given up open looks behind the arc. Along with that, Illinois has been extremely effective at forcing opponents into costly turnovers, as opponents are turning the ball over on 24.9% of their possessions, which is extremely impressive. To make matters worse for the Hoosiers, they come into this game ranked dead last in the Big Ten in turnovers per game, averaging nearly 15 giveaways per game. Turnovers have been a common denominator in each of Indiana’s two losses so far this season, and the Hoosiers will need to show improvement in that area against an Illinois team that thrives on forcing opposing teams into turnovers.
Following the Illinois game, Indiana will be forced into a tough stretch of games that sees them play 4 of their next 5 games on the road. A win would see Indiana improve to 3-0 in conference play and would provide some much-needed cushion as they enter the most difficult part of their schedule to date.