clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


Iowa draws the Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Can they avoid another first round upset?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa (21-9) vs. Illinois (14-18)

Time: 1:30 p.m. CT

Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Tickets: StubHub

TV/Streaming: Big Ten Network/BTN2Go

Line: Iowa -10.5

When Iowa has the Ball


Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 100 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been equal to the national average during Big Ten play, while Illinois' 93 means they have been 7% worse at contesting opponent shots.

On this side of the ball, Illinois is at least decent in every category except for the most important one. They don't foul much, they force a decent amount of turnovers, and they rebound at an above average rate, but they really struggle to keep the ball out of the net.

Last time these teams faced, Iowa shot the ball well in the second half, but struggled a bit in the first. The key to the offense for that game was second chance points, though. The Hawkeyes scored 26 points off of their 12 offensive rebounds for the game. And not only did those rebounds lead to layups for the Hawkeyes.

They also led to three-pointers.

Overall, Iowa should be able to shoot the ball fairly well against this Illinois defense. But if they don't, the advantage the Hawkeyes have in turnovers and offensive rebounds should still hopefully be enough to overcome it.

Advantage: Iowa

When Illinois Has the Ball


The big key for Iowa on this side of the ball is to keep Illinois in check from three-point range. The Illini aren't great on this end of the court, as they only thing they are above average in are turnovers. They can't shoot, they can't draw fouls, and they sure as hell can't haul in offensive rebounds. What they will do, however, is shoot a ton of threes. And whether or not they are falling will likely determine how close this game ends up being.

Last month, Iowa held Illinois' three-point specialist, Kendrick Nunn, in check, but Jalen Coleman-Lands hit 5 shots from downtown. Illinois only made 8 of their 25 (32%)  attempts from outside, though, and 18 of their 41 tries from inside the two-point line. Those are fairly standard numbers for the Illini, and ones we should hope to see again today. But if they are able to shoot around 40% or better from long range, then we could be in for an interesting afternoon.

Advantage: Iowa

Style of Play

Both teams play at a fairly up-tempo pace. Iowa averages 70 possessions per game this season, while Illinois is right around 69. Both teams are a little slower in Big Ten play, but that one possession margin still holds up, as Iowa sits at 68 per game vs. Big Ten Teams and Illinois is at 67.

The main difference in pace seems to come on the offensive end of the court, where Iowa's normal time of possession is 16.2 seconds long, while Illinois' is 17. Both teams have defenses that are forcing their opponents to hold onto the ball for more than 18 seconds, on average, though. Of course, Iowa's normal defensive possession usually ends with a more positive result than Illinois' usually does.


When it comes to they types of shots each team takes, the big takeaway from this chart is that Illinois shoots a bunch of threes and Iowa's defense allows teams to attempt a bunch of threes. That will likely be the key to Illinois sticking around and potentially pulling off an upset in this game.


The Illini are only an average outside shooting team from outside, however, while Iowa's defense has been able to limit how often opponents have connected from deep this season. Keeping that the same for this game will be important.


Finally, you can see Illinois' scoring is pretty reliant on three-pointers, especially since they don't shoot from inside the arc very well. Iowa's defense, on the other hand, forces teams to earn their points from two-point range. Again, let's hope that stays the same when these two face off this afternoon.



Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rage, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game do they accomplish all of this.

Since I previewed the Illini a little over a month ago, I am going to briefly talk about a few key match ups for Iowa in this game. If you would like a more in-depth look at Illinois' roster, check out the preview from the previous game.

The first important match up in this game will be Jarrod Uthoff vs. Malcolm Hill. Both guys are going to get their points (Uthoff is scoring 19.2 per conference game, Hill is scoring 18.6), but both teams are going to want to make the other work for those points. Last time, Illinois did a great job of making Uthoff work for his points, as it took him 17 field goal attempts and 4 free throw attempts in order to score 18 points. Hill, meanwhile, shot the ball really well from the floor (5-9), but was held to just 14 points for the game.

Hill is a great player, but he's not a great outside shooter. Most of his damage is done from inside the arc, but he has the tendency to fall in love with mid-range jumpers, and that can sap his efficiency. Uthoff blocked two of those jumpers last time they played, and if he can keep Hill away from the rim this time around, that should go a long way toward limiting how many points he scores.

Now, HIll is most likely going to get his double-digit points no matter what. After all, he averages 13 field goal attempts and 8 free throw attempts per game in conference play this season. Iowa can live with that, but what the Hawkeyes really need to worry about is keeping Kendrick Nunn and Jalen Coleman-Lands under wraps from long range. Iowa held Nunn to 0-7 from long range last game, but Coleman-Lands shot 5-11 from out there. Both take more than half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, and Nunn is shooting 37% against Big Ten defenses, while Coleman-Lands is hitting 43% of his tries.

Illinois isn't afraid to shoot threes in transition, so Iowa will need to get back on defense. Meanwhile, in the half-court, they run both of these guys off screens away from the ball and also set ball screens for them in order to get open looks from three. That means Iowa needs to play sound defense by fighting through screens and playing help defense to contest the 14 combined threes per game these two attempt.

If Iowa can limit Illinois' three-point shooting, they should be able to win this game. But if Malcolm Hill gets his usual 18-19 points per game, and Nunn and Coleman-Lands are raining threes, Illinois has the potential to pull the upset.

What Kenpom Thinks

Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #17, Illinois #126

Projected Outcome: Iowa 79 (86%), Illinois 67 (14%)

Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.14, Illinois 0.97

Projected Possessions: 69

Overall, this seems like a good match up for Iowa. The Hawkeyes are better on both sides of the ball, and have a more talented and experienced roster than the Illini. The potential is there for the upset, of course, and Iowa has struggled in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament before. Let's hope that doesn't translate to this season, though, because this Iowa team has the talent to win the whole thing if they are hitting on all cylinders.