Champaign, IL – The Illinois Fighting Illini have a chance to ranked Michigan Wolverines to Assembly Hall for a Big Ten Conference battle.
The Wolverines and Fighting Illini have already squared off this season, as they met on Feb. 12 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines picked up a 70-61 victory over Illinois in the first matchup after they shot an even 50 percent from the floor and held the Illini under 40 percent shooting. Illinois still holds an 85-73 advantage in the all-time series and has won 13 straight at Assembly Hall against Michigan.
The Wolverines were upset, 75-61, by the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday in their home finale. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak and ruined Michigan's perfect 15-0 record at home. Head coach John Beilein will need to urge his squad to be more aggressive this time out, as it managed to attempt just four free throws in the loss to Purdue. The Wolverines have their best record at this point in the year since the 1997-1998 season.
A reason for the Wolverines' increased success this season has been its blue chip point guard Trey Burke. The freshman is leading the team with 14.2 points and 4.8 assists per game. While Burke has made a legitimate case for himself as a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate, Tim Hardaway Jr has provided 14.1 ppg from the off guard slot. Hardaway Jr has scored in double figures in four straight outings, but he must improve on his 5-of-13 shooting performance he submitted in Saturday's loss to Purdue. Jordan Morgan is yanking down a team- high 5.6 boards per game.
Bruce Weber's squad finally ended its six-game losing skid on Sunday as they earned a 65-54 to ground the red hot Iowa Hawkeyes, who had won two straight games over ranked opposition coming into the contest The Fighting Illini ended their losing streak with an exceptional defensive effort, as they held Iowa to 36.7 percent shooting in the bout. Illinois is now 17-12, and still has a slight chance at earning an NCAA at-large bid despite its late season collapse. The Fighting Illini can finish anywhere from seventh to 11th in the Big Ten. Weber's team has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 2.3 ppg.
Illinois' three-headed monster of Brandon Paul, Meyers Leonard, and D.J. Richardson returned to its strong play from earlier this season. Paul had been held to 11 points total in two games after he shot 3-of-16 from the field versus Nebraska and Ohio State. The junior guard persevered through the struggles and netted 17 points to contribute to the winning effort last time out. Meyers Leonard had a huge game against Iowa as he recorded a double- double of 22 points and 14 rebounds. Leonard has surpassed the 20-point mark in his last two games after being held under 10 points in the previous three games. Richardson chipped in 12 points which matches his season average to give Illinois a glimmer of hope.