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Indiana has retained their spot as the No. 1 team in the country behind five straight wins, two over both Michigan schools. That hasn't been the case for Illinois who already lost their eighth game of the season on Sunday. The Illini have actually lost six of their last seven games after their 14-2 start. It's not getting any easier for them as they get Indiana and have to travel to Minnesota this week.
The Hoosiers are coming off a big home win over Michigan which not only catapulted them to the top team in the country, but put them a full game above the Wolverines and Spartans in conference play. However, like all Big 10 games, nothing is certain even for Indiana. They actually haven't had a real road test yet this season. Their hardest tasks came at Iowa and Northwestern and neither of those games were easy wins.
After beating Ohio State by 19 points in Champaign, Illinois has lost four straight home games which you don't see often, especially their 14-point loss to Northwestern. The Illini started last week with a tough loss in East Lansing and had hopes of turning things around against the Badgers at home, but a 10-2 Wisconsin run to finish out the first half did them in.
Illinois will need to improve vastly on their defense if they want to beat the Hoosiers because any time you allow 74 points to Wisconsin in two straight games, something isn't right. Indiana has one of the best offenses in the nation and brings the full package to the table. For starters, they have a down low presence with Tyler Zeller, three-point shooting with Jordan Hulls and basically everything else with Victor Oladipo.
The Illini have had problems guarding the three-ball and it won't get any easier facing the Hoosiers. Not only is Hulls hitting close to 50% of his long-range shots, but also Oladipo and Christian Watford. Not to mention Yogi Ferrell is hitting more shots lately and they still have Will Sheehey coming off the bench. It's not easy for anyone to stop this Indiana offense and when you throw in the current form of Illinois, this could be the makings of a disaster.
Still, this game isn't out of reach. Remember in their last home win, Illinois dominated a very good Ohio State team 74-55. It hasn't happened often this year, but their defense has shown the capability of shutting down the opposing team.
Offensively, Illinois will need its trio to step up even more. Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams have all been pretty consistent at scoring, but they aren't scoring enough. Lately, the three have all been getting somewhere in the low teens in scoring and that just isn't cutting it. A big game will be needed from one of those guys for them to get the win. Joseph Bertand and Nnanna Edwu combined for a nice 31 points in their game against Wisconsin, but it surprisingly wasn't enough. When two players double their season average and the rest of your squad hits their averages, you'd think Illinois would have been able to walk away with a win.
It comes back to defense which they have been lacking lately. If you leave teams open for three-pointers, they will hit them, especially Indiana. That'll need to change if they want to win this game.
Predicted Score - Indiana 77 Illinois 68
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