WHO: Illinois Fighting Illini (10-7, 0-4 B1G) | KenPom #87
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: State Farm Center (Champaign, IL)
ONLINE: Fox Sports Go
RADIO: Learfield Sports affiliates
ONLINE AUDIO: TuneIn
VEGAS: Illinois -5
0-5 in the Big Ten travels to 0-4 in the Big Ten... that's right, folks: LET'S GET RRRRRREADDDYYYY TO PILLOW FIGHT! SOMEONE'S 0 MUST GO TONIGHT! There must be a winner (really) so after tonight there will be just one team without a conference win in Big Ten play. That team will still be looking up at virtually every other team in the league standings -- aside from Rutgers, every B1G team already has at least two wins so far -- but at least they won't be sitting there all alone with no wins. That team will be a bunch of sad, miserable bastards. (That team will probably be Iowa because we are hopeless pessimists and also because this Iowa team has shown no capacity to actually win games against teams that put up a fight.)
Some notes from the PILLOW FIGHT OF THE WEEK TALE OF THE TAPE:
- Neither Iowa (#90) nor Illinois (#87) are the lowest-rated teams in the current KenPom rankings. In fact, there are two teams lower than the Big Ten's two UIs: Indiana (#91) and Rutgers (#110).
- Illinois' defense looks like the best unit on the court: they're ranked 45th nationally in defensive efficiency and have seventh best defense in the Big Ten. Iowa will try to counter with an offense that checks in at 63rd nationally in efficiency and eighth in the Big Ten. That said, Illinois' defense has been much worse in B1G-only action: they rank 11th in defensive eficiency, 12th in eFG%, 13th in free throw rate, 14th in 2FG%, and 14th in block rate.
- The other side of the ball, though, will be another one of those classic battles of the very stoppable force meeting the very movable object; Iowa has the worst defense in the Big Ten (#152 nationally), while Illinois has the second-worst offense in the league (#158 nationally; only Rutgers' 243rd ranked offensive shitshow is worse). Of course, Iowa's defense has made a habit of stopping very few teams so far this season, so the Illinois offense ought to be encouraged.
- Illinois' best win of the season was their border brawl victory over Missouri in a game where the Tigers averaged 0.93 points per possession and shot a stupefyingly bad 18.5% from 3-point range. Iowa's best win of the season was... um... I'll eschew the [ERROR: FILE NOT FOUND] joke for a more serious answer and say Colorado or UAB. UAB is still higher ranked by KenPom (#93 versus #115), but Colorado had a pair of pretty impressive wins over Arizona State and Arizona last week.
- DANGER, HERKY, DANGER STAT OF THE GAME: Illinois is 7th in the nation in forcing turnovers on defense (24.3% of opponent possessions), including steals on 10.4% of opponent possessions (63rd best), which is alarming news for an Iowa team that's coughing the ball up on 19.1% of their possessions (185th nationally); that figure is even higher in B1G-only games too (where 21.7% of Iowa possessions end in giveaways). HOLD. ONTO. THE. DANG. BALL.
- Both teams are good at grabbing their own misses: Illinois is 6th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (37.9%), while Iowa is 54th (33.8%), though Iowa is tops in the Big Ten in league-only action (hauling in 32.2% of their own misses).
- If this game hinges on 3-point shooting, that should favor Iowa: the Hawkeyes are making 38.5% of their triples this season (50th nationally) and are actually tops in conference play (42.7%*). Illinois has been dreadful at making threes all season: 31.6% (297th nationally). And they've been even worse in Big Ten play, converting just 24.7% of their threes. So, you know, remember this as Illinois gets unreasonably hot from outside in this game.
- These two teams play at two of the fastest tempos in the Big Ten; for the season Illinois is averaging 72.7 possessions per game (44th nationally) and Iowa is averaging 71.7 possessions per game (72nd nationally) and they rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in league play. So if this is an ugly game between two bad teams, well, at least it will probably be played at a brisk clip.
- Individually, you may remember Leron Black, a 6-7 forward who's leading the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg), while shooting 52% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. You may also remember Michael Finke, a 6-10 center who had a near career game against Iowa in Illinois' win over Iowa in Champaign last year (17 points on 7/10 shooting, including 3/5 from deep). Expect him to give Iowa's bigs fits again this year. 6-5 forward Aaron Jordan is Illinois' most dangerous outside threat -- he's averaging 9.9 ppg and shooting 53% from deep (3.5 attempts per game).
- Illinois also has someone named Kipper Nichols, a 6-6 forward averaging 8.7 ppg and 4.9 rpg on 42% shooting, and my pick to torch Iowa tonight. Getting lit up by a dude named KIPPER NICHOLS seems like a very "Iowa basketball 2018" thing to have happen.
So yeah: shootyhoops between (probably**) the two worst teams in the Big Ten! FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!
* Yes, that's correct: Iowa is shooting over 40% from 3-point range in Big Ten play and has yet to win a conference game. Huzzah for mind-meltingly bad defense!
** Rutgers just took Michigan State to the brink of defeat in East Lansing, so I'm going to say that they're better than both Iowa and Illinois right at this moment.
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