|WHAT||Illinois at Michigan|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||1:00 PM Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan –11 (Kenpom)|
Right: John Groce's Jedi mind tricks weren't enough to stop a 14-point Michigan win the last time around. (Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
When Michigan travelled to The Other Assembly Hall a month ago, they faced an Illini squad that had stumbled to losses in five of their last eight games; the Wolverines, on the other hand, had only suffered one conference loss.
This time around, the Illini are riding a five-game winning streak—including upsets of Indiana and Minnesota—while Michigan has lost three of their last five, with this game coming on the heels of an uninspired performance against a terrible Penn State outfit.
Since I previewed this Illinois team last month, I'll save a few words and point you in that direction. The short version: three guards—Brandon Paul (never met a shot he didn't like), Tracy Abrams (mostly inside the arc), and DJ Richardson (mostly outside the arc)—are all volume shooters. None are particularly efficient, but if they catch fire the Illini can beat anyone in the country. Wing Joseph Bertrand is a low-usage but efficient player, while backup forward Tyler Griffey is an extreme streak shooter who's been more cold than hot this season. Power forward Sam McLaurin is notable around these parts for his inconceivably low rebound rate (6.5 DR%(!)), as is center Nnanna Egwu (13.0% despite being 6'11"), who at least provides a strong shot-blocking presence.
Illinois has collected an impressive a set of signature wins, with triumphs over #52 Butler, #4 Gonzaga, #13 Ohio State, #2 Indiana, and #18 Minnesota this season. Aside from an ugly 14-point home loss to Northwestern and a 7-point defeat at Purdue, none of their losses has come to a team ranked lower than #23 (Missouri).
Four factors, conference play only:
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||46.6 (7)||17.4 (6)||33.0 (4)||30.6 (8)|
|Defense||49.2 (10)||21.5 (1)||34.3 (9)||42.1 (10)|
Illinois does a couple things very well. Offensively, it's scoring inside the arc, where they connect on 48.9% of their shots (#3 in the B1G); of course, they're largely content to shoot three-pointers, which they hit at just a 28.8% rate. Defensively, they force a ton of turnovers, but that's about all they're doing well on that end.
The keys from last time around still work pretty well:
Protect the rock. Illinois gets a ton of blocks and steals, but otherwise their defense is underwhelming. If Michigan takes care of the basketball, they should win, but they could get into trouble in their outside shots aren't falling—the turnovers could come if they try to force their way to the basket.
Hands off. The Illini have the best free-throw percentage in the conference and a couple guys who can attack the basket in Paul and Abrams. With their shooting struggles, Illinois would love to get opportunities for easy points; thankfully for Michigan, they're still #2 in the country in free throw rate against. Playing like they've been playing should take care of this.
Run, run, run. Michigan can really open up this game if they're able to get out in transition, and there should be plenty of chances off long rebounds when Illinois shoots (and misses) from outside. Illinois plays at a higher tempo than most Big Ten teams, but that may not play in their favor—Nebraska had success (or at least kept Michigan close) by grinding the pace to a halt and refusing to let Michigan get out on the break.
The biggest key for Michigan, of course, is making strides with their interior defense. The Illini, however, don't boast much in the way of an interior scoring threat, and Abrams is the only guy who attacks the rim with great frequency (Paul is very capable of doing so, but mostly chooses to shoot jumpers). This isn't a great measuring-stick game for Michigan's defensive progress, unless Illinois is getting tons of points inside, and then the situation may be even more dire than we thought.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 11
It went pretty well the first time around, and that was on the road. As long as Illinois doesn't catch fire from deep, Michigan should be able to handle this challenge, assuming they come out with more energy and focus than they did against Penn State.