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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 6:30 pm

Pregame: Indiana (14-12, 7-7 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (12-14, 2-11)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — As I wrote in my advance for this game, Indiana's 73-71 loss to Illinois in January was probably the Hoosiers' worse loss of the season outside of Indiana State and IPFW. The Hoosiers turned the ball over 18 times and missed 13 free throws against the Illini, squandering a tremendous performance from Juwan Morgan, who scored 28 points and added nine rebounds.

For that reason, I expect an improved Indiana team to have a chip on its shoulder tonight against the Fighting Illini. This is an Illinois team that has really struggled under first-year coach Brad Underwood, and has lost three in a row since a brief surge that saw it beat Indiana and destroy Rutgers in back-to-back games.

Really the only thing Illinois does well is force turnovers. The Illini run a pressure defense that forces 17.7 giveaways per game, the No. 6 mark in the country and the best in the Big Ten. Indiana has been much better of late at limiting turnovers, and it will have a chance tonight to demonstrate exactly how much it has improved in under a month.

Morgan especially will be an important factor in this game. Illinois had no way to stop him last time and he got essentially whatever he wanted around the rim. The only place he struggled was at the free-throw line, where he went  3 for 8, one of the most important culprits in Indiana's awful free-throw shooting. Essentially, the only player who can stop Morgan against the Illini is Morgan himself. If he hits 70 percent of his free throws, he could finish with 25 points once again.

What I'm watching for: Devonte Green's pace. Green has been the breakout star of the last few weeks for the Hoosiers and after the Minnesota game both he and Archie Miller talked about how important it has been for him to keep his play "simple." Both coach and player mentioned not trying for "home run" plays, essentially taking what the defense gives him. That newfound ethos in Green's game will be sorely tested against the Illini. In the past he's had trouble against pressure defenses because he starts playing too fast and tries to make impossible passes or takes ill-advised shots. It will be a sign of his tremendous maturation if he can continue to slow the game down even against an aggressive Illinois defense that thrives on opponents' mistakes.

Prediction: Indiana 81, Illinois 63

dsinn@jg.net