The day is finally here. I can hear the fans rejoicing, as either the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-9, 0-5) or Illinois Fighting Illini (10-7, 0-4) will get their first Big Ten win of the 2017-18 NCAA basketball season.
What a time to be alive.
In all seriousness, what looks like an easy game might not be that for the Hawkeyes. Not only does Illinois have the same motivation, plus home court advantage, but they also are strong where Iowa is weak.
For instance, Brad Underwood will deploy three-guard lineups with regularity and press Iowa to depth. The Illini defense forces turnovers 24.3% of the time, ranking 7th in the country per KenPom. The most impressive player, in this respect is Trent Frazier. Though the 6’1” freshman averages on 9.6 points and 2.5 assists, he leads the team with 1.6 steals in only 21.2 minutes per game.
Sophomore Te’Jon Lucas and graduate transfer Mark Alstork are likely to join Frazier in the starting lineup. Together they average a little over 12 points per game. Given their underwhelming numbers, the focus on the perimeter needs to be stopping Frazier, who’s starting to put things together.
Down low, Leron Black and Hawkeye-killer Michael Finke will get the bulk of the minutes for a shallow front line. Black is their leading scorer and rebounder, at 14.3 and 5.7, respectively, per game. Tyler Cook needs to avoid foul trouble to give Iowa a chance in this one.
Illinois is not an especially efficient team on offense, as they shoot 31.6% from deep (meaning they’re legally binded to shoot out of their minds against the Hawkeyes) and turn the ball over themselves. They will attack the offensive glass - they rank 6th in the country at 37.9% for offensive rebounding rate per KenPom, so it’s imperative the Hawkeyes finish possessions by securing rebounds.
So how can Iowa finally get that dub?
Show some heart: I closed with it for the Maryland game but figure it’s best to open with it here. It’s as important as anything. Illinois is going to be fighting like hell because they want to be not winless as much as Iowa does. I saw a lot of growth in this area on Sunday and think Iowa can continue to show up emotionally.
Wear out the paint: Illinois goes two deep with guys over 6’9” between Finke and backup center Greg Eboigbodin. Iowa needs to stretch their ability to guard big men. I’d love to see more big-to-big passing and efficient dribbling by Tyler Cook and Luka Garza. This is a post battle Iowa absolutely should win.
Additionally, If Iowa cannot win the rebounding edge, it speaks to failing the above point as much as this one. It is a total team effort, though, as wings Alstork and Aaron Jordan will crash down for garbage points off of Illinois misses.
Hold on tight: Illinois is a team much like Iowa in their youth, as well as their rotation of 9 guys. They will come at the Hawks so Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss, especially, need to ride the waves of the opponents defense. Be sound with the ball and don’t allow transition buckets off steals.
Like every Iowa game so far, it will be a game of runs. Hopefully Iowa has one more in them than Illinois and can leave Champaign popping bottles.