January is far too early to call a game a must win but this is one that Michigan could definitely use. It certainly won’t be easy, Illinois comes in riding high at 13-1 after stealing a win in West Lafayette. Michigan on the other hand is looking to bounce back after being handled by Wisconsin at home.
This one matches up one of the conference’s best offenses (Michigan) versus one of the conference’s best defenses (Illinois). Both teams are coming off frustrating seasons which saw them tied near the bottom of the Big Ten standings at 5-13. While both teams’ strengths differ they like to play at about the same pace, 65 possessions per game.
On offense Illinois does a very good job of passing the ball, 71.8% of their field goals come off of assists (1st in the country). They also shoot a lot more 2 point shots (71.4%)Â than three point shots but surprisingly don’t get to the line very well. Their offense’s bread and butter is the mid-range jumpshot.
On defense Illinois holds their opponents to 26.3% on three pointers (3rd in the country), this is scary for a team like Michigan who relies on the three. Illinois also forces turnovers on 24.4% of their opponents possessions and holds opponents to an eFG% of 43.3% (28th) while still keeping opponents off the line with a free throw rate of 28% (37th). Illinois’ opponents have shot 33-86 (57%) at the free throw line this year and this is the second lowest percentage in the country. Illinois clearly has no control over how opponents shoot at the stripe but hopefully Michigan can escape the curse at the line.
In terms of personnel the Illini are the definition of balanced with 4 starters averaging 12.1 ppg: Trent Meacham, Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey, and Mike Tisdale. Meacham and McCamey make up the 3 guard backcourt along with senior point guard Chester Frazier who focuses on distributing (6.5apg) more than scoring (5.9 ppg). Davis and Tisdale bring size and skill to the front court. Tisdale is a 7 f00ter who loves to step out and stick the mid range jumper. Davis is 6-10 and averages almost 8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.4% from the field.
Overall Illinois doesn’t have the kind of size at every position that Wisconsin did but they still have two very skilled big men in the post that could give Michigan fits. Michigan is going to need a big game from DeShawn Sims and even then he might need some help. Novak (6’5″) against Mike Davis (6’10”) is going to be an issue so I would expect Beilein to do some tinkering.
The advantage for Michigan might be on the wing, McCamey is strong but he doesn’t match Manny Harris in terms of height. I wouldn’t be surprised to see sixth man Calvin Brock get a lot of time to try and slow down Manny. Over the last few years Brock has started plenty of games and he played 28.5 minutes per game last year versus Michigan.
There is another guy on the Illini bench that Michigan fans are all too familiar with, sophomore guard Alex Legion. Legion is averaging 5.5 ppg and 2rpg but he is shooting only 33% from the field in his four games back. Legion has been around the block after two Michigan commitments, a year at Oak Hill, and a stint at Kentucky. Through it all though the scouting report on Alex is the same: good shooter, poor shot selection, and lackluster defense. It’s a pretty good bet that Alex will be the Maize Rage’s “bum of the game”.
The good news for Michigan is that they have played some of their better games after a loss including the upset of Duke after a frustrating loss at Maryland. The bad news is that Illinois is playing very well and this is another student break game. I think Michigan has let their offense dictate their defense lately and it’s absolutely critical to get out of the gates with a good start, hit a couple shots and get a couple stops and set the tone.
Let’s hear thoughts and predictions in the comments, KenPom has the Illini 67-63.Â Michigan is going to need help from the big two as well as some of the role players. I’d also like to see Laval Lucas-Perry have a good game but most of all a solid second half.