(Photo Credit: www.fightingillini.com)
Welcome back Hoosiers!
It’s not too often we get a 12 day break from Hoosier basketball action. Christmas and New Year’s are now past, the leftovers are dwindling, and now, we are hungry for W’s in 2019. No more non-conference games, no more neutral site tournaments or invitationals… it is time for the meat of the season as we tackle two months of conference play.
IU currently sits at a comfortable 11-2 with approximately 4 Quadrant 1 wins. Their diehard fans (and us) think they have what it takes to make a deep March run while their critics are skeptical as their games against NW, PSU, Louisville, and Butler were won by a total of 8 points combined. A win is a win in the end, but it has left the non-faithful with questions to be answered and a resultant variability in their rank among the top 25.
Regardless, what really matters is that we have the firepower and athleticism to compete with the best teams in the country come March. Earlier in the season, it looked shaky with sloppy execution and a lack of focus, but now we have started to settle down and give less turnovers and make our free throws.
Unfortunately, it is not that much of a secret to how to beat the Hoosiers. We start slow… every… single… game… The fact we were only trailing for the first 2-3 minutes against Jacksonville is a miracle and was a sight not familiar to the Hoosier fans who are used to sitting at the edge of their seats at least until minute 35 against Power 5 teams and halftime for lesser foes.
The Fighting Illini are the perfect way to start the conference play grind. It is the next step in the progression to play the current power teams in the conference. Also, we do not want another IPFW incident and the season to be thrown off the rails. Illinois has what it takes to take down some Big Ten opponents this season and we surely do not want to fall victim especially this early in the season.
Here’s everything you need to know about this weekend’s contest:
Meet the Fighting Illini
- Leron Black – 6’7” / 230 lbs / Forward – Memphis, TN. Turned professional for Argentino de Junín of the Argentinian Liga Nacional de Básquet. Left as a Junior.
- Mark Alstork – 6’5” / 190 lbs / Forward – Dayton, OH. Only player to start all 32 games last year.
- Michael Finke – 6’10” / 235 lbs / Forward – Champaign, IL. Transferred to Grand Canyon University.
- Te’Jon Lucas – 6’1” / 180 lbs / Guard – Milwaukee, WI. Transferred to UW-Milwaukee to get closer to home.
- Mark Smith – 6’4” / 225 lbs / Guard – Edwardsville, IL. Transferred to Missouri.
- Greg Eboigbodin – 6’9” / 225 lbs / Forward – Benin City, Nigeria. Transferred to Northeastern.
- Matic Vessel – 6’10” / 215 lbs / Forward – Ljubljana, Slovenia. Struggled in his first year and decided to not return. Had 7 points and 13 fouls all season long.
- Clayton Jones – 6’0” / 190 lbs / Guard – Champaign, IL.
- Cameron Liss – 6’6” / 220 lbs / Guard – Northbrook, IL. Left the team in his junior year.
- Trent Frazier – 6’1” / 170 lbs / Guard / Sophomore – Wellington, FL. Leads the team with 15.9 ppg and 3 assists per game. Currently in 4th in the Big Ten in 3 pt %.
- Ayo Dosunmu – 6’5” / 185 lbs / Guard / Freshman – Chicago, IL. Five-star freshman guard that was #32 in the country. Has been instantly creating a positive impact for the team and the sole top 100 player that Underwood has recruited.
- Kipper Nichols – 6’6” / 220 lbs / Forward / Red Shirt Junior – Cleveland, OH. Has started most of the games this year and provided around 10 ppg for the Illini.
- Giorgi Bezhanishvili – 6’9” / 235 lbs / Forward / Freshman – Rustavi, Georgia. Freshman that has been a consistent starter for the Illini. Providing nearly 10 ppg as well.
- Aaron Jordan – 6’5” / 210 lbs / Guard / Senior – Plainfield, IL. One of two seniors on the team. Jordan has never been a consistent starter prior to this year.
- Alan Griffin – 6’5” / 180 lbs / Guard / Freshman – Ossining, NY. Started one game (against Xavier) this season after having several impressive outings early this season. Did not meet expectations and returned to the bench and averaging 8.3 mpg.
- Adonis De La Rosa – 7’0” / 260 lbs / Center / Graduate Student – Brooklyn, NY. Transfer from Kent State. Has had minimal impact thus far.
- Andres Feliz – 6’2” / 185 lbs / Guard / Junior – Guachupita, Dominican Republic. Has 7.5 ppg and started a handful of times.
- Samba Kane – 7’0” / 220 lbs / Center / Freshman – Dakar, Senegal. Only 2.4 ppg and plays about 8 minutes per game.
- Tevian Jones – 6’7” / 205 lbs / Guard / Freshman – Chandler, AZ. Minimal impact from the player, but he is also now suspended and out indefinitely.
- Da’Monte Williams – 6’3” / 200 lbs / Guard / Sophomore – Peoria, IL. Started against ETSU, but no other games. Only getting 4.1 ppg.
- Tyler Underwood – 6’2” / 180 lbs / Guard / Red Shirt Junior – Champaign, IL. Underwood’s son who transferred from Oklahoma State.
- Samson Oladimeji – 6’4” / 200 lbs / Guard / Junior – Rolling Meadows, IL. Gets a point every other game.
Expectations for the Fighting Illini
We all figured the Fighting Illini were going to be in a rebuilding year, but there is is little to be happy about for the Illini faithful. This is their worst start this century and of their 4 wins, their strongest victory according to Kenpom was a home victory against East Tennessee State who sits at #94 currently. Arguably, this is considered an upset due to Illinois sitting at #113; however, it was at home for the Fighting Illini. Their most recent game against Florida Atlantic (#203) ended as a home loss for Illinois as well and left many of their faithful fans with a feeling they are in the darkest time for their team.
Illinois is ready to go all-in and “fight” for some more wins. They do have the drive and realize they have nothing to lose (except maybe Brad Underwood’s job). In order to make the tournament, they would have to win out the rest of conference play… so this season may already be over and they will extend their NCAA postseason drought to 6 seasons. It has been >40 years the since the Fighting Illini have had this long of a drought. Now, having moved on to Underwood last year, it has not resulted in much of an improvement yet and the growing pains continue in season 2 for the coach.
There was a point in time that Archie Miller was being considered for the Illinois job. Needless to say, it seems we got the better end of the coaching carousel that year.
The positives for the Fighting Illini right now? Well, losing to Indiana and just about any team apart from Rutgers is “expected” so they may go out and play with a sense of comfort and try to pull off some upsets. With the randomness of conference play, and the difficulty of being on the road, they WILL win some games they aren’t supposed to. Much like Indiana will lose games they weren’t supposed to. Hopefully, not this week though.
Second, Frazier and Dosunmu both look to be promising players for the Fighting Illini for as long as they stick around. Dosunmu was a projected top 30 high school recruit and has played up to those accolades against FAU, but earlier this season he was lackluster. It will be interesting to see if he continues his strong play against Indiana and makes it a tough day for the Hoosiers.
Let’s start 2019 with a bang and cruise into Ann Arbor 12-2. It’s the expectation for the Hoosiers, and a loss here will be painful considering it is a home game against a floundering Illinois team.
Rob Phinisee is in concussion protocol after a head collision. The severity of his injury is currently unknown, but coach Archie Miller indicated that the team may be without him “for a while.” We will see if he is able to return this week.
Zach McRoberts missed the Jacksonville game because his back started to act up again. Miller said before the game that McRoberts’ has “regressed” in his recovery. He may be ready soon though.
Race Thompson is still out with a concussion. He recently began weightlifting and has done some cardio workouts. All signs indicate that he is progressing.
There is still no timetable for a return for Jerome Hunter, who is still recovering from surgery to treat a leg injury.
For the Illini, Tevian Jones is out indefinitely due to a suspension.
What to Watch for:
- Welcome back to Indiana University – We last played 12 days ago and its been weeks since we played a strong team (Dec 15 against Butler). Hopefully, the rust didn’t build up over the last several weeks and we can start conference play with a W. From the rumor mill, Robert Phinisee is believed to have completed the concussion protocol and likely will be back in action. Zach McRoberts resides in a similar day to day situation with back issues. Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter still do not have time tables for their return, and at this point in the season you have to consider additional eligibility factors.
- The Good and the Ugly from Jacksonville – One of the lesser known stats that the Hoosiers had against Jacksonville was its impressive 79.4% two-point conversion rate. This is the second-highest the Hoosiers have gotten since at least 2002 highlighting our good shot selection. It was against Jacksonville, but this is the second time this season the Hoosiers have played incredibly efficient with their close range shots, another example was their 74.3% against Marquette. We can should win many games with this shot selection from Morgan, Smith and Langford. We all know that Langford has struggled from three this season, so this type of execution from two hopefully will open up cleaner looks from deep and make it less of a necessity to win games. However, against Jacksonville maybe we just assumed 100% of our shots were going to go in last game, but a 12.5% offensive rebound rate was unbelievably low against any team. Not sure, if it was due to being unfocused or a lack of good positioning, but offensive rebounds will lead us to getting more opportunities and will be crucial this point going forward.
- Illinois Backcourt Defense. Brad Underwood’s signature guard pressure defense will be a good test for the turnover prone Hoosiers. While both backcourts are young, the Illini play with a unique style that can really trip up unsuspecting teams. Even though Illinois was predicted to be at the back half of the Big Ten, the loss in Urbana-Champagne last year was a difference maker for Indiana making even the NIT. Archie Miller needs to make sure the team does not let down their guard for this one.
- Battle of the Border. The top rookie guard from Indiana who plays for his home state will get a chance to battle against the top rookie guard from Illinois who also plays for his home state. Ayo Dosunmu and Romeo Langford have an opportunity to link up for the first time since they played against each other at the Jordan Brand Classic event back in April. While Romeo certainly is the more talented player, Dosunmu has been averaging around 12 points, 3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game.
- Let’s get going early… A 12 day break, holiday rest, no finals… we have no excuse to not start fast and early with some baskets. It seems that every game in recent memory has started off with Indiana in a bit of a slump. Between not hustling back for defense or just not being able to break the seal on the rim, the Hoosiers have not played the first 5-8 minutes very well for a variety of reasons. And turnovers continue to plague the Hoosiers especially in the beginning of the game. Coming back from a three-day NCAA mandatory rest and a week to prepare for this match up, the Hoosiers can avoid closer games if they start the contest more efficiently.This problem hopefully will not persist in 2019.
- …and don’t miss those free throws. Indiana is woeful from the charity stripe this season. #317 in the country based on FT %. All blame cannot be placed on a single player. Even Romeo is above average for the Hoosiers. Smith, Morgan and De’Ron seem to be the biggest offenders, but from top to bottom, no one is stellar from the line. This will come back to haunt us at some point, it is just a matter of when now.
- Building in the right direction. The intriguing aspect of this year’s team is that they seem to win even though they are no where near their ceiling. You have to expect some level of adjustment period given the number of freshmen and new faces, but the team has been able to walk away from the non-conference slate with only two losses. Are the wins going to remain ugly or can Indiana string together solid 36-38 minute performances? Ready or not, the Big Ten is here and the team needs to mature as soon as possible. Veterans need to lead by example and the freshmen need to start playing like upper classmen.
How to Watch
|Date||Thursday, January 3rd|
|Time||12:00 PM EST|