Illini and Hoosiers duke it out in Big Ten brawl

The Illinois Fighting Illini are hoping a win tonight at No. 23 Indiana will give them a boost as they come down the home stretch in what has been a fairly odd season thus far.

Illinois is 16-7 on the year, but the bulk of those wins came against lesser competition during a non-conference slate that really only featured a couple of tough bouts. Since the start of Big Ten Conference play, the Illini are an even 5-5, and going back to the middle of December, they are just 6-7 in their last 13 games. Illinois dropped a 74-70 decision at home to Northwestern on Monday night, and coach Bruce Weber's club comes into this clash sporting a 2-3 record in true road tilts.

Indiana was one of the surprise stories during the first couple of months of the 2011-12 season, as coach Tom Crean's team jumped out to a 12-0 start, which included an upset of No. 1 Kentucky on December 10. Since the start of conference action however, the Hoosiers have split a dozen games, and have alternated wins and losses over the last few weeks. IU is coming off a 78-61 victory at Purdue, and the team will try to improve upon its stellar 13-1 home mark with a win tonight.

The all-time series between Illinois and Indiana is knotted at 83-83, but the Illini have won five of the last six meetings.

Illinois isn't the most explosive offensive team around, but the Illini certainly hold their own in netting 66.8 ppg on 44.9 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 32.1 percent showing from three-point range. Defensively, the team allows just 61.3 ppg with foes converting a mere 41.0 percent of their total shots, but 35.7 percent of their long-range tries. UI boasts three double-digit scorers in the form of Brandon Paul (15.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.1 apg), Leonard Meyers (13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and D.J. Richardson (12.2 ppg), but only Meyers, the team's starting center, is shooting at what anyone would consider an acceptable rate (.582). Paul and Meyers both hit for more than 20 points in the recent loss to Northwestern, with the latter also grabbing nine boards and blocking a pair of shots for good measure. Unfortunately for the Illini, even a 54.2 percent shooting performance couldn't offset a sizzling 60.4 percent effort put forth by the Wildcats, who scored 36 points in the paint, compared to 24 for Illinois.

Indiana is clearly the better of these two teams in terms of offensive efficiency, as the Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in scoring offense (78.5 ppg), field goal percentage (.495) and three-point FG percentage (.431). The club's defensive effort yields an average of 65.7 ppg, and opponents are hitting their field goal attempts just 41.9 percent of the time, and IU owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+3.9) and turnovers (+0.9). Freshman Cody Zeller (15.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 34 steals, 33 blocks) has been Indiana's most consistent performer this season, and he is one of four players currently averaging double digits in the scoring column. Christian Watford (12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Jordan Hulls (12.1 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Victor Oladipo (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 37 steals) have all contributed, and Oladipo was high man for the Hoosiers in the recent win over Purdue, as he went 6-of-14 from the floor and 10-of-12 at the foul line to finish with 23 points. He also wound up with eight of the team's 53 rebounds in the game, and Zeller tallied 16 points and eight boards as well. Indiana shot just 41.8 percent from the field, but held the Boilermakers to 29.6 percent while claiming a 29-14 edge in points from the charity stripe.