This is the first of two scheduled meetings this season between these two teams, and the 158th matchup between Illinois and Michigan in history. The Fighting Illini hold an 85-72 lead in the rivalry, after they split the season series in 2010-2011.
Illinois comes into this bout on a two-game losing streak after suffering an 84-71 setback to Indiana on Thursday night. The loss dropped the Fighting Illini's overall record to 16-8, and made its Big Ten record 5-6, which has them tied for sixth place in the standings. Head coach Bruce Weber could not have been too disappointed with his team's offensive performance against the Hoosiers though, as it shot 52 percent from the field. Illinois is being outscored slightly by its Big Ten brethren this season, as it averages 64.2 ppg while permitting 66.2 ppg.
The Illini are one of a select group of teams that has three quality players who can be relied upon to put up big numbers. Brandon Paul is the team's leading scorer with an average of 15.0 ppg, and he also averages a team-best 3.2 apg. Paul had an unbelievable performance in Illinois' upset of Ohio State last month as he scored 43 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor. Paul has scored in double figures in 13 straight games. Meyers Leonard (13.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) adds frontcourt depth as he is one of the top centers in the Big Ten, while D.J. Richardson (12.5 ppg) joins Paul in the backcourt to give Illinois one of the best guard duos in the league.
Michigan head coach John Beilein led his team to a 62-46 home victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Wednesday to stay just 1 1/2 games back of first place in the conference. The Wolverines own an impressive 18-7 overall record, which includes an 8-4 mark in league play. The Wolverines put forth a stellar shooting performance against Nebraska, knocking down 52.2 percent of their field goal attempts, which included an 11-of-24 effort from long range. The Wolverines provide a challenge for their opponents as they allow a mere 60.4 ppg, which is fourth-best in the league coming into the weekend.
Michigan has one of the best backcourts in the nation as Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke both have the ability to take over a game. Hardaway is the team's leading scorer with an average of 14.3 ppg, but the sophomore guard has been struggling lately, as he has gone a mere 4-of-21 from the field to score a total of 10 points in the last two games. Hardaway has a big impact every time he steps on the floor, whether he is scoring or not, due to his athleticism, which he utilizes at both ends. Despite being a freshman, Burke is third in the conference in assists (4.9 apg) and second on the team in scoring (14.0 ppg). Jordan Morgan leads Michigan on the boards with 5.5 rpg, and Zack Novak is a third-scoring option as he is netting just under 10 ppg.