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Can the Hawks flip the script against a familiar foe?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1, 0-1) are set to host their first Big Ten opponent in the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-2, 1-0). The Illini are on a four game winning streak after losing a couple non-home games to Marquette & Cincinnati. They are coming off a 35-point beatdown of Rutgers on Friday night.

Brad Underwood remains the Illinois head coach after coming off of the Illini’s best season in well over a decade which resulted in Big Ten regular season & conference tournament titles and a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’re still a balanced squad with the #19 offense & #21 defense according to KenPom.

The group has had a fair amount of turnover with Ayo Dosunmu departing for the NBA & Adam Miller for LSU and has already started more lineup combinations (7) than they did all of last season (4).

Projected Starters?:

G: Trent Frazier (Sr, 6’2”, 175) - 8.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 29% FG, 31.2 MPG
G: Alfonso Plummer (Sr, 6’1”, 180 lbs) - 15.1 PPG, 46% FG, 42% 3P, 27.3 MPG
G: Da’Monte Williams (Sr, 6’3”, 215 lbs) - 4.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 26% FG, 28.6 MPG
F: Coleman Hawkins (So, 6’10”, 215 lbs) - 9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 70% 2P, 25.6 MPG
C: Kofi Cockburn (Jr, 7’0”, 285 lbs) - 24.0 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 3.2 ORPG, 68% FG, 31.2 MPG

In addition to the upperclassmen listed, Illinois has seniors Jacob Grandison & Austin Hutcherson off the bench as guys who are starting caliber. A notable absence from the list is Andre Curbelo, who has missed four games after suffering a concussion in their exhibition game prior to the season. They also dealt with a flu bug which forced them to cancel a practice earlier this season.

Illinois is a bit like Purdue lite - solid three point shooting around an absolute force inside. They’ll hit the offensive boards to generate additional possessions. One area they do struggle is turnovers with a bottom 50 turnover rate according to KenPom. Defensively, they’re allowing just 42% inside and 32% from deep.

Three questions

What can Keegan Murray bring?

After missing the Purdue game with some lingering ankle issues, Iowa showed they can play very well without their best player. Yet there were moments where it was clear Iowa needed his offensive ability by shooting just 40% on the game and coming up with empty possessions down the stretch as Fran McCaffery tried to generate offense with the defensive-oriented lineup which staged the comeback.

Should Murray play, he’ll likely be matched up against Coleman Hawkins, Illinois’ starting power forward. While his per game stats don’t jump off the page, his length may cause issues with Keegan, with nationally ranked block/steal rates.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Keegan so far. His 24.6 points is not easily replaced and the fact he can score in bunches without turning the ball over - 7.6% turnover rate - makes him a key component to a victory tonight.

Do we get another Josh Ogundele game?

Filip Rebraca struggled with foul trouble in his first Big Ten basketball game and forced Fran to dip into his bench with Ogundele. Ogundele was ready for the moment and did well in a career high 17 minutes, accumulating 5 rebounds alongside 7 points.

While Iowa played really well with him out there, Pivot Analysis actually had Purdue’s offensive rebound rate about twice as high (33% on, 17% off). Rebounding is a team stat - and Iowa will need to be well as a team no matter the center battling alongside Cockburn. Ogundele looked well-conditioned in his minutes (I wonder if the slower pace of Big Ten basketball hid a bit of those concerns) but will have to be unrelenting on the defensive end.

What does this iteration of the game provide?

These two teams have played some insane games in recent memory - from the Hawk’s huge comeback in their lost season to the heat we’ve seen boil over in more recent games (Wieskamp’s late dunk angering an Illinois assistant, technicals in 2020, interminable Ayo/Garza debate) - but the Illini have won three in a row.

Knowing how wild it can be and how little relative turnover has occurred - don’t forget the Connor/Williams chesting - it could make for a wild one.

Though the Hawks finally sustained their first loss they showed they had a ton of fight in them despite being without Keegan Murray. His return should provide a big boost but the Hawks newfound ability to defend offers another way to win should the shots not fall.

Broadcast Information

Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini (Champaign, IL // Big Ten)

Betting Lines: Iowa -3 // O/U 150.5 (DraftKings)

Game time: 6:00 PM CST // Monday, December 6, 2021

Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena // Iowa City, IA (Tickets: $35, $20 Students)

TV: FS1 // Kevin Kugler & Stephen Bardo

Online/Mobile: Fox Sports

Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network

Live Stats: StatBroadcast

Go Hawks, and play nice in the comments!