On Sunday, Michigan will be playing its 3rd rematch of the season against Illinois. In the first game, Michigan won by a final score of 74-60 in Champaign in route to securing its first #1 ranking since the early '90s. However, the tables have turned this time, with Illinois caring the momentum and Michigan searching for a win to help advance its Big Ten chances. Illinois has won their last five games including wins over Indiana at home and Minnesota on the road while Michigan has lost three of its last five games. Of course, the Wolverines will be favored at home, but a game that looked irrelevant just a few weeks ago now holds quite a bit of significance for Michigan, who is two games behind Indiana in conference play.
Hopefully not a lot of this today.
The Fighting Illini: Though Illinois has much more momentum than they did in the first matchup, the primary weapons on the team are the same. Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson are 1st and 2nd on the team in minutes, points, attempts, and 3 pt shots made. Along with this, Paul has really developed his defensive game. As pointed out in the first preview, the interesting thing about these two players is the way their play can influence the team. Over the course of the season, Paul and Richardson have taken just shy of 40% of the team's attempts. Not out of this world in terms of attempts for the top two players on a team, but when you consider that over 58% of their attempts are from outside the arch, it becomes pretty clear why this team has such up and down play. Essentially, if they shoot well outside the arch, the team is quite efficient, when they do not shoot well, Illinois struggles.
Outside of Paul and Richardson, the players that typically receive the most attention are Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand. Abrams averages 27.8 minutes, 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Bertrand leads the team in rebounds with 4.5 per game and comes away with 8.2 points per game. Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu both contribute much as well. Griffey snags 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Egwu is tied with Bertrand with 4.5 rebounds per game and averages 1.3 blocks per game. If Illinois had an imposing big man, Egwu would be it. Of course, Illinois is not known for their frontcourt play.
The main part of this Illinois team is the offense. They rank #24 in adjusted offense by KenPom, but only #64 in adjusted defense. The big piece of this offense as mentioned above is its 3 point shooting. Illinois ranks 1st in the Big Ten in both 3 pt shots made and 3 pt attempts. Along with this, they are #21 in the nation in 3 pt shots made, but an impressive 6th in the nation in 3 pt attempts. The big players that contribute to these numbers are Paul and Richardson, but Griffey and Henry also shoot a decent amount and make their fair share as well.
Keys To The Game: Guard the perimeter. Illinois can do damage on the inside, but their main weapon is their outside shooting. Paul has the ability to create a lot by himself, but Michigan needs to control outside of the arch and particularly Richardson, who can do some major damage shooting. The Wolverines have had trouble stopping several shooters this season including Gary Harris from MSU. A lot has been made of the way Indiana let Illinois get an easy lay-up at the end of the game to lose to Illinois, but the Hoosiers also let Richardson go 4-8 from outside the arch, which was a major factor in their loss. Michigan will look to avoid this on Sunday.
The other key piece for Michigan will be improving their play in the frontcourt. They are having trouble rebounding the ball and are allowing opponents to get in the lane for easy baskets. Illinois is not necessarily known as a great rebounding team, but they're 5th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding and can quickly turn these rebounds into a lot of points due to their 3 point shooting prowess. Along with this, Illinois does shoot a lot of 3 pt shots, but players like Paul can do a lot of damage if they're allowed in the lane. Preventing this with big men will be key.
Players To Watch: Jordan Morgan is the first player highlighted for this week. Reports have been that his injury progress has been going well. If so, he will likely get a lot of playing time in this game, especially considering the recent injury to Max Bielfeldt. The next player to watch is Tim Hardaway, Jr., who had a pretty rough game against MSU. This gives him the chance to rebound from his poor performance. The final player to watch is GR3. He had a good game against Penn State, but it will be interesting to see if he can continue this momentum against a tougher opponent on Sunday.
Prediction: Michigan by 5
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