IOWA (20-10, 11-8) VS. ILLINOIS (20-10, 12-7)
After 30 games and 19 in the Big Ten, it all comes down to this: Iowa-Illinois, winner take all for the last double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
The book on Illinois is largely the same as it was when these teams first met a month ago. The Illini are the conference's worst-shooting team, and are shooting under 30 percent from three in Big Ten games. They get by offensively by being one of the nation's best rebounding teams; sure, Illinois misses a lot of shots, but two shots per possession can gloss over a lot of problems. Iowa's rebounding has struggled mightily in the last couple of weeks, which could present problems Sunday.
Illinois' other secret of success, as a poor shooting team, is to make the opponent just as bad. The Illini are second in the Big Ten in effective field goal rate allowed, behind only Michigan State. Opponents are shooting just 45 percent on two-point attempts and 31 percent from three in conference contests. In fact, Illinois is so stout in the middle that many opponents are just chucking from deep, which has only helped Illinois' defensive rebounding.
All of this has added up to twelve conference wins; were it not for a four-game losing skid that started after the first game at Iowa, the Illini could have run away with the conference title. Maryland and Sparty knocked them off at State Farm Center during that slump, but Illinois is otherwise undefeated at home since early December.
Iowa's not going to abandon the post game -- Luka Garza's mere presence won't allow for it -- and so Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili aren't going to get away easily. But if there is a lesson from the Purdue loss earlier in the week, it's that Iowa needs all three of its scorers firing if it's going to overcome rebounding difficulties. The rebounding difficulties appear certain, and Garza is about as certain as it gets. The Joe Wieskamp that scored 18 on 6/11 shooting in the first Illinois game needs to show up. If the Wieskamp that has scored ten or fewer in four of Iowa's last eight contests simply isn't enough to get by.