It’s a battle of Big Ten teams on the hardwood in the Great Lakes State. The #21 Illinois Fighting Illini is on the road as they travel to face the Michigan Wolverines Saturday afternoon. Illinois pulled away in the second half to down Purdue 79-62 on the road Tuesday night in their last contest. Michigan was dumped 72-63 at home by Penn State Wednesday night in their latest contest. The all-time series between the teams is even at 63 wins apiece with the Fighting Illini recording a 71-62 home win in the first meeting this season on December 11, 2019.
Illinois Fighting Illini Gunning for Season SweepIllinois has been on a roll of late as things have been clicking for Brad Underwood’s group. The Fighting Illini checks in 14-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten on the year entering this contest. Illinois won six of their first seven games to start the year before dropping back to back games, at home to Miami and at Maryland. The Fighting Illini won two straight but dropped two of their next three, including a loss to Missouri in the Border War on a neutral floor. Since that point, Illinois has five straight wins, including a sweep of Purdue along with a road win over Wisconsin and a home win over Rutgers in that stretch.
The Fighting Illini puts up an average of 76 points per game on the season, which puts them 76th in the nation in scoring offense. Illinois collects 40.8 rebounds per contest while handing out 14.4 assists per game. The Fighting Illini is very good defensively, ranking 71st in the nation by allowing 64.6 points per game. Ayo Dosunmu leads the team with 15.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists a night. Kofi Cockburn (15 points, 9.7 rebounds) and Andres Feliz (10.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists) are averaging in double figures. Alan Griffin, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanshvili are all averaging north of eight points per game this season. Illinois shoots 46.6 percent from the floor as a team. The Fighting Illini connects on 5.6 three-pointers a game while shooting 31.2 percent from long range. Illinois is solid at the free throw line this season as they convert 73.2 percent of their opportunities. Griffin has been suspended two games for stepping on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic on January 21.
Illinois has been very good on both ends of the floor this season according to KenPom. The Fighting Illini is 29th in the nation in offensive efficiency and 94th in defensive efficiency on the year. Illinois is fourth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (38.1 percent) and stands 71st in two-point field goal percentage defense (52.2 percent) on the year. The Fighting Illini is 140th in effective field goal percentage at 50.1 percent and they are 13th in two-point scoring as 58.6 percent of their points come from inside the arc. Illinois plays at a slower than average pace as they are 227th in tempo with 67.4 possessions per game.
Michigan Wolverines Looking to Get Back on TrackMichigan has had an up and down season in Juwan Howard’s first year leading the program at his alma mater. The Wolverines come into this contest 11-7 overall and just 2-5 in the Big Ten so there is room for improvement. Michigan started the season like a house of fire, running to a 7-0 start. Included in that run was a home win over Creighton along with neutral floor wins over Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga. Since that point, the Wolverines are 4-7 and have lost three straight and four of their last five. Their lone victory in that stretch was an 84-78 double-overtime win over Purdue at home January 9.
The Wolverines are 50th in the nation in scoring offense as they put up an average of 77.4 points per game on the season. Michigan grabbed an average of 35.7 rebounds per contest on the season last year while ranking 44th in assists by dishing out 15.9 dimes a night. The Wolverines are 206th in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 69.6 points per contest. Jon Teske leads the team with 14 points plus 7.8 rebounds a night on the season. Isaiah Livers (13.6 points), Zavier Simpson (12.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 8.6 assists), Eli Brooks (11.2 points) and Franz Wagner (10 points) each average in double figures. David DeJulius, Brandon Johns Jr., Austin Davis and Colin Castleton are key components of the Wolverines’ rotation. Michigan shoots 47.2 percent from the field as a team this season. The Wolverines drain an average of 8.6 three-pointers a night while shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc on the year. Michigan is average at the free throw line this season, hitting 72.1 percent of their attempts at the line. Livers is day to day with a groin injury he suffered against Presbyterian on December 21. He has missed the last six games for the Wolverines.
The numbers that KenPom shows for the Wolverines paint a better picture than what we’ve seen on the floor. Michigan is 31st in offensive efficiency and 47th in defensive efficiency on the year. The Wolverines are 25th in effective field goal percentage (54.1 percent), 23rd in turnover percentage (16.2 percent) and 12th in two-point field goal percentage (55.4 percent) on the year. A problem for Michigan is getting to the charity stripe. The Wolverines are just 337th in generating free throw attempts, attempting .236 free throws per field goal attempt. Michigan plays slightly faster than the national average as they are 160th in tempo with 68.8 possessions per game.
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