Big Ten Tournament Preview: Illinois

Submitted by Ace on March 8th, 2017 at 6:48 PM


WHAT Michigan (20-11, 10-8 B1G) vs
Illinois (18-13, 8-10)
WHERE A Mostly Empty Arena
Washington DC
WHEN Noon ET, Thursday
Updated tipoff: 12:20 pm ET
LINE Michigan -6 (KenPom)
Michigan -6.5 (Vegas)
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Jon Crispin

Right: Michigan's co-MVP turns away as DJ Wilson celebrates his authoritative dunk. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]


Michigan enters the Big Ten Tournament in a good spot. They're one of the hottest teams in the conference and have moved into the "lock" section on pretty much any bracket you can find; after fighting their way off the bubble, they're playing for seeding.

At the moment, Michigan is a nine-seed on most brackets, and they'd probably need a deep run in the conference tournament to have a shot at avoiding an 8/9 game—the winner of which, of course, gets a one-seed in the second round. That's the bad news. The good news, according to ESPN's John Gasaway, is Michigan fits the profile of a giant killer:

Beilein's men finished conference play with easily the best offense in the league, and the UM defense looked much better once opponents stopped making well over half of their 3-point attempts. Derrick Walton Jr. is far and away the best point guard that no one ever brings up as one of the nation's best point guards, and Michigan loves to torment opposing defenses by stretching the floor with five legitimate 3-point shooting threats. The Wolverines would be the underdog in a round-of-32 game against Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina or Gonzaga, but this group could definitely keep things interesting.

While Michigan would like to avoid those teams, they've got a better than than most at springing a major upset.

UPDATE: Michigan's team plane was involved in an accident caused by the extreme high winds in the area. Everyone, thankfully, is fine. Statement from SID Tom Wywrot:

The Michigan men's basketball team plane was involved in an accident Wednesday afternoon. After attempting to take off in high winds, takeoff was aborted and, after strong braking, the plane slide off runway. The plane sustained extensive damage but everyone on board was safely evacuated and is safe. The team is making alternate travel plans.

Let's hope they make it to DC without any further incident. Driving isn't much of an option given the early tipoff tomorrow.

UPDATE 2: More on the travel situation:

I'll keep this post updated.

UPDATE 3: The team will take an early flight to DC and play the game as scheduled.

UPDATE 4: Michigan didn't arrive at the arena until 10:40 am and the Big Ten somehow didn't have a contingency plan in place. After some negotiation, the game will tip off at 12:20 pm. Thanks, Delany.


The first matchup between these two teams was the debacle in Champaign that prompted Illini center Maverick Morgan to describe Michigan's program as "white collar."

The second matchup went a bit different:

Michigan won 66-57 in a game that wasn't as close as that score would indicate. DJ Wilson led the way with 19 points, six offensive rebounds, and five assists; he also scored 19 in the game at Illinois. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin both had double-digit point totals, while a more motivated defense held the Illini to 0.86 PPP.

This, of course, was the genesis of Michigan's midseason turnaround.

I would not be against Michigan fans chanting "MVP" when Morgan touches the ball.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 3 Te'Jon Lucas Fr. 6'0, 170 42 18 95 Not Really
Became starter in late Jan for defense. Pass-first PG, rarely shoots, TO-prone.
First matchup: 23 mins, 5 pts (1/1 2p, 1/1 3p), 1 reb, 8 ast, 1 to, 1 stl
Second matchup: 15 mins, 8 pts (1/1 2p, 1/1 3p), 1 to, 1 stl
G 13 Tracy Abrams Gr. 6'2, 185 64 19 106 No
Robbie Hummel, Guard Edition. Learned how to shoot while hurt, somehow.
First matchup: 24 mins, 4 pts (1/2 2p, 0/1 3p), 2 reb, 3 ast, 1 to, 1 stl
Second matchup: 23 mins, 2 pts (1/3 2p, 0/2 3p), 2 reb, 3 ast, 3 to
G 21 Malcolm Hill Sr. 6'6, 225 84 26 114 No
High-usage and efficient, versatile scorer. Draws a ton of fouls.
First matchup: 32 mins, 15 pts (3/5 2p, 1/3 3p, 6/7 ft), 4 reb, 2 ast, 1 to
Second matchup: 32 mins, 16 pts (5/8 2p, 0/2 3p), 2 reb (1 off), 7 ast, 2 stl
F 12 Leron Black So. 6'7, 220 44 23 101 Very
Excellent rebounder on both ends. Decent finisher who gets to line.
First matchup: 17 mins, 10 pts (5/9 2p, 0/1 3p), 5 reb (1 off)
Second matchup: 13 mins, 4 pts (2/2 2p), 4 reb (2 off), 1 to
C 22 Maverick Morgan Sr. 6'10, 245 63 21 105 Very
Good finisher and shot-blocker, not much of a rebounder. Elite motivator.
First matchup: 29 mins, 16 pts (8/9 2p), 1 reb, 4 ast, 3 to, 1 blk, 1 stl
Second matchup: 22 mins, 6 pts (3/5 2p), 2 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 3 to, 1 blk
G 5 Jalen Coleman-Lands So. 6'3, 190 61 17 98 Not At All
Just A Shooter™ made 43% of 3P in B1G play.
First matchup: 31 mins, 12 pts (0/3 2p, 4/5 3p), 3 reb, 4 ast, 2 to
Second matchup: 20 mins, 2 pts (1/3 2p, 0/1 3p), 1 reb (1 off), 1 stl
F 43 Michael Finke So. 6'10, 230 49 17 109 Not At All
Stretch four with career 52/38/62 shooting splits. Good offensive rebounder.
First matchup: 12 mins, 10 pts (2/2 2p, 2/2 3p), 3 reb (1 off)
Second matchup: 13 mins, 4 pts (1/1 3p), 3 reb
F 2 Kipper Nichols Fr. 6'6, 225 21 19 101 Not At All
Crushed M on boards in first matchup, earned way into 8-man rotation.
First matchup: 19 mins, 13 pts (5/8 2p, 1/1 3p), 8 reb (5 off)
Second matchup: 17 mins, 4 pts (2/5 2p, 0/2 3p), 3 reb, 2 to

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]


First game preview. Second game preview.

Illinois has made a change to their starting lineup and tightened their rotation since the last meeting. Freshman point guard Te'Jon Lucas replaced swingman Jalen Coleman-Lands as a starter for their Jan. 25 win over Iowa and John Groce has stayed with that lineup. Lucas is in there in large part because he's a plus defender; he finished third in the conference in steal rate. His offense is still coming along; he's a pass-first, shoot-last point guard, but his turnover rate is higher than you'd want from that type of player.

After going as many as 12-deep for much of the season, Groce has also shortened his bench considerably. Coleman-Lands and Michael Finke provide good outside shooting off the bench, while the unexpected star of the first matchup, Kipper Nichols, adds rebounding, athleticism, and the occasional three. No other reserve has played in the last three games.


Groce looked all but fired as Illinois stumbled to a 4-9 start in the Big Ten that included a pair of losses to Penn State. In a remarkable turnaround, the Illini won five of their next six, highlighted by a sweep of rival Northwestern, to push into most projected NCAA tourmanent fields.

Then, in the regular-season finale, they lost to Rutgers. They are no longer projected to make the tournament and may very well need two wins this weekend to work their way back in.


Conference-only stats.

Four Factors explanation

The Illini finished 11th in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. They take care of the ball; otherwise, they don't do anything particularly well on that end of the floor. They finished eighth in both two- and three-point percentage and 12th at the free-throw line. The first game was both an unusually hot shooting game and an unusually good offensive rebounding game for them.

Their defense is a bit better, right around average in the conference. They've had trouble preventing good looks on the interior and they allow a relatively high rate of three-point attempts. Other than rebounding, they're mediocre to bad in most defensive stats.


Five out, attack. Illinois has been leaning hard on Maverick Morgan at center lately, and he's a big Michigan can exploit with their five-out, spread-and-shred offense. The Illini also did a poor job of boxing out when DJ Wilson crashed the offensive glass from the perimeter. On offense, Michigan just has to keep doing what they've been doing.

Manage minutes. If he can afford to do so, Beilein should keep an eye on Friday's potential matchup with Purdue while managing the rotation. Building a comfortable lead so the most critical players—especially Moe Wagner—can get a little more leisure time than usual before a back-to-back against a rested Boilermakers squad certainly wouldn't hurt M's chances of making a run.

Contain Kipper Nichols. Michigan is 1-0 against Illinois when they manage to do this.


Michigan by 6.

I expect Michigan to contain Kipper Nichols.


UMHoops preview. Quinn on Michigan's defensive surge:

It's been, quite stunningly, one of the better defenses in the Big Ten since the start of February.

There are some schematic reasons. The Wolverines have extended the defense and are guarding farther from the basket. It makes them more susceptible to dribble penetration, but anything is better than the unchecked shooting range that existed previously.

The extended defense is symbolized by Walton, way out past the 3-point line, picking up those opposing point guards as they cross over halfcourt. In the past, teams cruised into the offensive end and went into their set unimpeded. Now, the Wolverines are at least offering some resistance. It stutters the opposing offense and uses a chunk of the shot clock.

If you listen to the podcast, you may recognize that as an adjustment Brian has wanted Beilein to make for a while. Especially in the 30-second shot clock era, draining 8-10 seconds off the clock up front can really limit what the opponent can run on a single possession. The soft press doesn't drain your defenders in the way a Havoc-like system does, either. This is a welcome development.



March 8th, 2017 at 3:35 PM ^

but related to Illinois' chances of making the tourney: Syracuse just lost to go 18-14 and 10-8 in the ACC.  They'll be a very interesting case.  Horrible RPI and loss total but a lot of quality wins.  9-11 against RPI top 100 is better than a lot of other bubble teams. Also, you wonder if their run to the final four as an iffy 10 seed last year impacts the committee.

But possibly a worse resume than Illinois if Illinois can beat us. They have an opening.


March 8th, 2017 at 4:02 PM ^

Looks like Michigan's tempo-free numbers haven't been updated to reflect the Nebraska game.  Should be 115.6 for offense and 107.2 for defense according to Kenpom.


March 8th, 2017 at 4:52 PM ^

I worked at a big consultancy (whose name I won't mention) years ago when Franklin Planners were all the rage. Every dork in the company carried those bulky POSs to every meeting and made a big show of checking their appointments, etc. This was just before PDAs became widespread.


March 8th, 2017 at 4:55 PM ^

I wouldn't feel the slightest regret for lighting a fire under Walton.  Illinois annihilated "white collar" Michigan in the first matchup and if you're a competitive fellow where's the fun in that?  Illinois lost the rematch but he's got nothing to apologize for to his team or Illini fans just because Michigan came ready to play.  He made the comment, but Walton took it to heart.

If there's anything for Illinois to be sour about it's losing to Rutgers, which I'm sure they are, but Michigan didn't have anything to do with that.


March 8th, 2017 at 7:12 PM ^

A bus drive, through areas affected by wind could take over 10 hours -- easy. You're dealing with power lines down, rush hour traffic, winds buffeting your high profile would be a mess and a real slog.

Do your walk thrus / final game prep at the Ypsi Marriott in a ballroom tonight. Then, take a flight tomorrow at around 7am (when the winds are projected to be 7 mph), get to DC by 8:30am, get on a bus, and you're at the Verizon Center by about 9:30am-10am. That's plenty of time to be ready for a game at 12pm.

It's not ideal, but eminently doable.

UM Griff

March 8th, 2017 at 8:37 PM ^

Just reported the team is traveling tomorrow morning. He did not say how they are getting there.

Jon Crispin predicted Michigan will win the tournament.


March 8th, 2017 at 8:31 PM ^

drawing the 8 seed, we now have to get up at god knows what time just to get the arena in time to play the game, nevermind actually having a normal morning of warm up and rest.  I'm glad everyone is ok, but man does this put us behind the 8 ball.