Well here we are, a fabled Saturday afternoon conference home game at Carver where a struggling Illinois team will take on a fledgling Iowa squad. Gross basketball was the result when these two teams last met. Can we avoid a similar outcome?
Though Iowa finds itself on a two-game losing streak, I think we can agree that the Hawkeyes are in a better place than the Illini, who are an enigma of sorts and will almost certainly be a program in rebuild mode seeing as how John Groce’s canning after this season is all but assured.
Illinois won just one game after beating Iowa on Jan. 25; a 68-61 win at Northwestern on Feb. 7. Illinois followed up that win with a loss to a not very great Penn State team, so nothing makes sense in the Big Ten, per usual.
Both teams come in to this with one week of rest, so we were foolish to think Iowa would get any sort of advantage in that department there.
Anyway, we already played Illinois once, and that was less than ideal, so we’ll keep this brief.
When Illinois has the ball
Well we saw what the Illini can do when Michael Finke gets open looks from beyond the three point line all day.
It’s not pretty, and neither is his man bun.
Finke has cooled down since his 17-point performance against the Hawkeyes, scoring double figures just once more, dropping 15 in Illinois’ win against Northwestern.
Maverick Morgan, meanwhile, continues to be a rock for the Illini. He’s scored double digits in five of their last six, and is a real solid true center in a conference that is lacking those this year.
And then there’s Malcolm Hill, who’s scored double figures in literally all but two games this year. He’s sixth in the Big Ten in scoring and it’s very possible for him to creep up into the top-3 once the season is all said and done.
Despite some capable scorers, Illinois is near the bottom of the Big Ten when it comes to offense according to KenPom (112). Their defense is a little bit better, (67) but it’s still not great.
What Iowa has to do to win
I think Fran is creeping closer to finding the sweet spot in his lineups, and one full week of practice has only helped that cause I’m sure.
I’m of the belief fatigue played a role in the losses to both Minnesota and Michigan State last week. Iowa has never played particularly well in Lansing, and the Hawkeyes couldn’t buy a basket in the second half despite Sparty doing their best to try and hand Iowa a win.
I think a Saturday home game (maybe some students will even come!) coupled with Iowa’s rest and entire week of practice for these youngsters is too much for Illinois to overcome in this one. Nothing to say of the struggles the Illini are having themselves. I think we see a lot of creativity in Iowa’s lineups, and more than a couple guys are able to find some sort of groove here. And if Iowa decides to guard Finke, even better!
Prediction: Iowa 80, Illinois 72.