|WHAT||Michigan at Illinois|
|WHERE||Assembly Hall (NTAH), Champaign, Illinois|
|WHEN||6:00 PM Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan –9 (Kenpom)|
|TV||Big Ten Network|
Right: Let's all agree not to discuss anything John Groce did last year.
After a brutal second-half collapse in 2011-12 cost head coach Bruce Weber his job, Illinois started the 2012-13 campaign 12-0 under new head man John Groce. Instead of a storybook turnaround, however, it's been déjà vu for the Illini, losers of five of their last eight games with a brutal stretch ahead (Michigan, @ MSU, Wisconsin, Indiana, @ Minnesota).
6'4" guard Brandon Paul reprises his role as the team's leading scorer, and he's much more efficient than he was last year, shooting 49.6% from two and 34.1% from three while getting to the line frequently. Paul is at his best when he's attacking the basket, though he takes half his shots from beyond the arc; Michigan would probably prefer to keep him on the perimeter. Defensively, Paul is actually the team's second-best rebounder—Groce asks his guards to hit the glass hard, and as you'll see there's a good reason why.
Point guard Tracy Abrams distributes the ball well and is a solid shooter inside the arc, but he's struggled with turnovers and is just 17-for-60 on three-pointers. Joining him and Paul in the starting backcourt is 6'3" gunner DJ Richardson, who's already launched 141 threes (against 62 twos) this year but is hitting them at just a 32.6% clip. Richardson is mostly content to spot up and shoot—both his assist and turnover rates are quite low.
6'6" wing Joseph Bertrand is the team's best defensive rebounder and most efficient shooter, hitting at 59.1% inside the arc and 38.5% from outside. He's got a lower usage than any of the three guys above, however, and as a result is the Illini's fourth-leading scorer.
6'11" center Nnanna Egwu is the object of fascination for somehow being an atrocious defensive rebounder, posting a paltry 12.1% rate despite being, again, six-foot-eleven. Egwu is a non-factor as a scoring threat, though he at least manages to pick up a decent number of offensive rebounds, but does provide a shot-blocking presence defensively.
The rest of the Illini big man rotation doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents, either. 6'9" forward Tyler Griffey takes over half his shots from three and is a rebounding non-factor on both ends. 6'8" backup Sam McLaurin shoots just 44% from two and has posted an astounding 7.1% defensive rebound rate—lower than Trey Burke and Caris LeVert.
The only other backup to see significant time is wing Myke Henry, an offensive black hole (2.9% assist rate vs. 20.6% turnover rate) who's hitting just 34.5% from two and 32.3% from three.
Illinois built that 12-0 against a slew of cupcakes and huge wins over #28 Butler (by 17 on a neutral court) and #12 Gonzaga (by 11 on the road), as well as KP100 triumphs over USC and Georgia Tech. The last month hasn't been kind, however. Their first loss came by nine to #36 Mizzou, they were upended by seven at Purdue, and then—after blowing out Ohio State at home—they suffered three consecutive blowout losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern, the third a 14-point home loss. Illinois is coming off a 20-point home win over Nebraska, but, well, that's Nebraska.
Four factors, conference play only:
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||44.6 (9)||19.4 (8)||33.3 (5)||32.2 (7)|
|Defense||48.7 (8)||21.4 (1)||33.2 (10)||44.0 (11)|
You can see why the wheels have come off this season: Illinois isn't shooting the ball well in Big Ten play and is coughing up the rock too much, and on the other end their forced turnovers are offset by fouling all the time and giving up too may rebounds. Their offensive efficiency has dropped over ten points per 100 possessions in conference play, while their PPP allowed on defense has risen by nearly as much.
The Illinois live and die by the three, and right now they're dying: they take the third-most threes in the conference and are hitting just 24.8% of them. They're actually second-best in the conference at shooting inside the arc, but that hasn't been enough for a team that jacks up so many outside shots.
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 plently 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 SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 9
With Illinois, there's always the fear that they catch fire from outside—when they do, this team is capable of beating anyone. We saw against Purdue, however, that it takes more than a half-long hot streak from outside to beat Michigan, and the Illini haven't been able to sustain much of anything in conference play.