A new week, a new number one.
After knocking off the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, the Hoosiers find themselves on top of the polls for the second time this season.
Unfortunately, staying there won’t be any easier. If Indiana is keen on remaining the nation’s best after this week, they’re going to have to earn it on the road with games in Champaign and Columbus.
While playing on the road in the Big Ten is never a walk in the park, the Hoosiers will be facing an Illini team that’s in the midst of another mid-season freefall.
Entering conference play as the country’s 11th-ranked team, Illinois once had strong tournament aspirations; now they’re on the precipice of collapse.
Even though they’re a respectable 15-8 overall with wins over #10 Gonzaga and #8 Ohio State, they’re currently in the basement of the Big Ten with a 2-7 conference record and have lost six of their last seven with their only win out of those games coming at home to Nebraska.
Desperate might be the best word to describe this Illini team ahead of Thursday’s game, but unfortunately for them it probably won’t translate into a win over the Hoosiers.
In this preview, we’ll look at our favorite metrics to see exactly where our teams are excelling, where they’re struggling, and what we can expect to see during Thursday’s game.
We’ll look at eFG%, TO%, OR%, and FTR, as well as offensive and defensive efficiency for both teams.
For future reference, I’ve written a glossary page that provides definitions and formulas for all of the statistical components and metrics that we use. If you need help understanding one of the statistics, check it out.
In our first table, we’ll compare the Four Factors for each team:
FOUR FACTORS: HOME vs. AWAY
Even on the road, the Hoosiers come out on top in all four phases of the game.
FOUR FACTORS: SEASON & CONFERENCE AVGs
For the sake of comparison, I’ve also added in the season averages for our factors, as well as conference averages.
Surprisingly, the Hoosiers are consistent across the board – minor variations of only a few percentage points across each of the three averages, with the only notable exceptions being their eFG% on the road and Big Ten play; the Hoosiers can sometimes have a little more difficulty shooting the ball outside of Assembly Hall.
Indiana has a clear advantage over Illinois in eFG% and FTR, so I’ll expect the Hoosiers to shoot better and visit the free throw line more often on Thursday.
The turnover battle will be a close one – if Indiana wants to make a deep tournament run, it’s going to be an area of their game they need to clean up. A 16 or 18 turnover game in March could very easily result in a loss, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Crean really wants to focus on ball control this week.
Furthermore, look for a 3-point barrage from the Illini. They’re eighth nationally in three point attempts, and if they have trouble getting the ball inside the paint or get down early (both of which are likely to happen), I fully expect Illinois to try and open it up from beyond the arc in order to try and keep it close. A total of 40+ three point attempts for both teams combined is certainly in the realm of possibility here.
Lastly, we’ll compare Offensive and Defensive Efficiency:
OFFENSIVE & DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: BIG TEN
|Pts per Poss.||Pts Allowed per Poss.|
In conference play, Indiana emerges as the clear leader in terms of points scored and points allowed per possession, two of the best metrics in terms of overall team offense and defense. The Hoosiers are undefeated (4-0) on the road in conference play this season, and I expect them to extend their unbeaten road streak for at least one more game before a true road test in Columbus.
Prediction: Indiana 75, Illinois 63