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December 31, 2013

Illinois hosts Hoosiers in conference opener




The 18 game grind of the Big Ten season begins on Tuesday with a huge game for the Fighting Illini when they take on the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten opener for both squads. Both teams need some quality wins in conference play and this game is huge for them as they try to build a tournament resume.

Here's a look at the particulars and our keys to the game.


Setting the stage

Illinois (11-2, 0-0) vs. Indiana (10-3, 0-0)
Dec. 31, 2013 // 2 PM CST // Champaign, IL // State Farm Center (16,618)
TV: ESPN2 - Dave O'Brien (Play-By-Play), Dan Dakich (Analyst)
Radio: Fighting Illini Sports Network - Brian Barnhart (Play-By-Play), Jerry Hester (Analyst)
Satellite Radio: Sirius - 93, XM - 192


Storylines

* Indiana leads the series between the two schools 85-84. The Illini hold a 50-31 advantage in Champaign, however, and have won four in a row and 10 of 11 in the State Farm Center.

* Illinois is 66-42 all-time in Big Ten openers. Illinois has won 11 of its last 14 league openers. The Illini are 43-17 when beginning conference play at home, and 22-5 at State Farm Center in conference openers.

* The Hoosiers are led by sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell scores 16.8 PPG and dishes out over 4 APG. He is the playmaker for the Hoosiers, and they don't have a capable backup right now. Freshman center Noah Vonleh scores 12.0 PPG and grabs 9.5 RPG, but has battled foul trouble at times. Senior Will Sheehey is the other player scoring in double figures at 10.8 PPG. The other two starters, sophomore Jeremy Hollowell and freshman Troy Williams, score 8.6 PPG and 7.9 PPG respectively. The IU bench has a scorer in Evan Gordon, who hits for 7.8 PPG in 21 minutes per contest. The loss of recent transfer Luke Fischer means more minutes for Hanner Perea and Austin Etherington up front, while Stanford Robinson and Devin Davis will see some minutes in the backcourt.

* The Hoosiers have been solid on defense, but despite having a high scoring average, have been less efficient than the Illini on offense in large part due to too many turnovers. They do get to the line at a high rate and are good on the offensive glass. Indiana has length on defense, which limits the ability of their opponents to make shots and they are able to block shots on the interior.

* Despite a 10-3 mark, Indiana hasn't really beaten anyone yet. Their best win is probably a neutral site win over a weak Washington squad and they have lost all 3 games to top 100 teams.


Keys to the game

1. Transition defense - The Hoosiers play at a faster pace than Illinois, as they like to get up and down and take quick shots. Illinois has to get back on defense and force the Hoosiers to score in the half court. At times, transition defense has been an issue as Illinois crashes the offensive glass.

2. Turnover prone - Indiana turns it over quite a bit, which means that Illinois needs to get out into passing lanes and make things happen on defense. Of late, that has been effective for the Illini against Oregon and Missouri.

3. Five guys - This has nothing to do with burgers and fries, but instead an understanding that rebounding for Illinois isn't a one or two man job. The Illini need all 5 players to crash the defensive glass and force the Hoosiers to one shot and out.


Prediction

The home court should be big for Illinois in this one, as the Illini come out firing and look to get off to a good start in conference play. They pull this one out against a Hoosier team still trying to find their way, 70-65.





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