Illinois Head Coach John Groce’s Fighting Illini have hit a major bump in their road as of late, other wise known as the Big 10 conference schedule. Coming into tonight’s game, the Illini find themselves in 10th place out of twelve teams in the Big 10. Their 2-7 mark in conference and 15-8 overall have made tonight’s game a must win for their NCAA tournament resume.
Illinois does have quality wins at the then ranked No. 10 Gonzaga Bulldogs and No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes. However, Illinois has lost six of its last seven game and faces two top 20 teams in the Hoosiers and then the No. 18 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The NCAA selection committee does consider how teams are playing late in the year, so with March looming, this is a make string of games for Illinois.
Brandon Paul is performing at a all-conference level, averaging 17.4 points per game, which is third-best in the Big 10. Paul is also ranked 13th in assists per game, dishing out 2.9 per contest, and steals per game, at 1.9.
The formula is simple for Groce’s squad. Build an early lead, get Paul hot and use him as a playmaker to get others involved once the Hoosiers send a double team. Then lean on your home court advantage and let the “Orange Crush” student section to push the team through any Hoosiers runs they may go on.
Easier said than done against the Hoosiers.
Either way, the Fighting Illini’s season is on the line tonight so they better be ready to play all forty minutes.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo