Yogi Ferrell had 17 points and five assists, and talented freshman Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds as the Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 56-46 on Sunday afternoon in Bloomington. Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice scored 20 in the losing effort.
This was a pivotal game, featuring two teams who currently sit square on the NCAA Tournament bubble. It’s a greatly important win for the Hoosiers and disappointing loss for the Illini, who continue to stumble. Illinois has now lost six straight games after starting the season 13-2. And the road doesn’t get any easier. John Groce‘s team hosts top 10 teams in each of their next two games; Iowa and Wisconsin. But that’s the wonderful thing about playing in a conference like the Big 10. While today offers disappointment and and a missed opportunity, so many chances still lie ahead to get “signature” wins.
For Tom Crean‘s Hoosiers, this was a game they had to have. After beating then-third ranked Wisconsin at Assembly Hall last Tuesday night, the Hoosiers slipped up in their last two games with a brutal home loss to Northwestern and crushing defeat at Michigan State, nearly pulling off a stunner.
It’s starting to get to that point of the season where every game is crucial. The Hoosiers’ win today sets up an enormous week ahead. They’ll travel to Lincoln on Thursday to take on Nebraska before for a showdown next Sunday with the conference leading, red-hot Michigan Wolverines. Playing at Nebraska is really tricky and could serve as a dreaded “trap” game. If the Hoosiers can get out of Nebraska with a win, next Sunday in Bloomington will be electric.
Indiana is an NCAA tournament team, there’s no doubt about it. Ferrell is one of the top players in the country. His exceptional quickness and ability to shoot nearly 41 percent from beyond the arc is what makes him elite. And Vonleh is a budding star. He’s freakishly athletic, tremendously tough inside and already possesses a polished post game for a kid just 18 years old. While all the top freshman talk in college basketball has centered around the likes of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid, I’m telling you, Vonleh needs to be included in these discussions as well.
The Hoosiers have the talent to make some noise in March, but based on their resume, there’s still plenty of work to be done before they can feel confident about getting there.
That work starts in this crucial next week.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball writer for RantSports.com. He covers the Big 10 Conference. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27