Times have been trying in Bloomington so far in the 2023-2024 season. With a few lopsided losses in the recent rearview mirror, is there any hope for the frustrated Hoosier faithful as Indiana prepares for their matchup with Illinois tomorrow night?
After the ugly loss to #1 Purdue at home andless-ugly-but-still-not-pretty defeat at the hands of #11 Wisconsin in Madison, it is tough to find even a glimmer of hope for the Hoosiers prior to their competition with the #10 ranked Illini. With that in mind, the team will have Kel'el Ware back for this one according to the Big Ten availability report after he missed the game against the Badgers. His return will surely help, but Indiana is still going to have it's hands full.
The 14-5 Badgers (5-3 in conference play) are fresh off of a tough upset loss at Northwestern, but that is not to say that they are not the overwhelming favorites to come out on top in this contest. Brad Underwood's team may not have the strongest defense in the nation (currently ranked 114th in opponents PPG at an even 69.0 average), but they have a balanced offensive attack which currently slots in at 24th in the country in PPG (82.7). Their offensive onslaught is spearheaded by the extremely dangerous 6'6", 225 pound senior swingman Terrence Shannon Jr., who returned to the court in the team's last game following a serious criminal investigation which he was tied to. Shannon was rusty in the loss to Northwestern (12 points on 3-8 shooting to go with 5 turnovers), but he has been a monster across the entire 13 games in which he has been active (20.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 BPG and 1.2 SPG). Aside from him, the Illini are home to 3 additional double-digit scorers in fellow seniors Marcus Domask, Coleman Hawkins, and Quincy Guerrier (who also leads the team in rebounding). Sophomore forward Ty Rodgers rounds out Illinois's starting unit, which features no one standing shorter than 6'6".
Similar to Indiana, Illinois is not a great outside shooting team. They prioritize getting into the paint and utilizing their size to overpower opponents. The Hoosiers will definitely be happy to have Ware back for this one, as his 7-foot presence was sorely missed in the L to Wisconsin. All eyes will be on he and his paint pal Malik Reneau as usual, and the duo has struggled at times to cope with opponents who equal/overmatch them in the size department. Beyond them, it will be essential for Mackenzie Mgbako to sustain his ongoing wave of momentum if the Hoosiers are going to have any type of shot at winning this game. Finally, the senior backcourt pairing of Trey Galloway and Xavier Johnson are going to need to turn in solid performances in their final trip to Champagne. Johnson in particular is currently plopped on a scalding hot seat as his on-court struggles and character concerns have raised everyone's eyebrows everywhere. If Indiana is going to turn their season around, it is going to start with Johnson. If he is unable to regain his rhythm, this will almost undoubtedly go down as a lost season for Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers.
The two teams have nearly split their all-time series leading up to this installment, with the Hoosiers holding a slight lead at 96 wins to Illinois' 91. Indiana swept the season series in 2022-2023, and the hope is that history will repeat itself in this one. In all reality, however, the chances of that coming to fruition seem very slim.
Tipoff for tomorrow's game is at 3 P.M. ET and the game will be streamed on FOX Sports. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for good luck.