Preview: Indiana at Illinois - Yogi Ferrell & Rayvonte Rice Tangle

Illinois Will Be A Rockin' - USA TODAY Sports

The Hoosiers are going on the road looking for a marquee win against the Illini, but John Groce has other thoughts.

By the Numbers:

Indiana

Team

Illinois

10-3

Record

11-2

Unranked

Rankings

Unranked

96

RPI

17

65

BPI

31

48

KenPom

50

56

Sagarin

42

Dec. 31, 2013 - State Farm Center - Champaign, Ill

3:00 PM EST - ESPN2/WatchESPN

Skinny:

This could be one of the most important games of the season for both Indiana and Illinois. Not only due to the fact that these teams are so closely rated, but also due to its implications. Indiana and Illinois are both considered bubble teams by most and are desperately in search of quality wins to add to their resume. Illinois did beat Missouri recently, but they are going to need more wins as the year goes along and beating the Hoosiers at home would be a great first step.

For the Hoosiers, they have to get a quality win soon. There was a real fear that Indiana could make it through the non-conference season without a quality win. This became reality when the Hoosiers fell against Notre Dame just a few weeks ago. Indiana may not be favored in this game, but this is about as dead even a matchup on the road as you can get. These are the type of games that Indiana has to eek out if they hope to be in the NCAA Tournament this March. Basically, a win would be huge for either team and a loss would be a big hit to the other's resume.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Indiana

Pos.

Illinois

Yogi Ferrell

G

Tracy Abrams

Troy Williams

G

Rayvonte Rice

Will Sheehey

G-F

Joseph Betrand

Jeremy Hollowell

F

Jon Ekey

Noah Vonleh

C

Nnanna Egwu

(Note: Keep an eye on Indiana's lineup. Not necessarily for the starters, but they have a lot of diverse players that can play multiple positions and move around. Guys like Vonleh could easily slide down a spot.)

Players to Watch:

Noah Vonleh: The player who many have already pegged as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season. Vonleh probably fits better as a power forward, but has seen a lot of time at the 5 due to Indiana's lack of frontcourt depth. Vonleh's best skill is his ability to control the boards. He averages 9.5 boards a game. Along with this, he can also score with his 12 points per game. If there is a guy on Indiana's roster that will be a threat upfront, it will without a doubt be Vonleh. He already has 6 double-doubles on the year.

Yogi Ferrell: Ferrell is a dynamic point guard that has become Indiana's primary outside shooting threat. Though his offensive contributions were limited last year, he has grown into his role this year and is shooting 42.7% from outside the arch already this year. The biggest thing to watch with Ferrell in this one is how he adjusts to a pretty tough defensive team in Illinois. The Hoosiers have had problems with turnovers this year and it will be crucial for Ferrell to hold onto the ball.

Rayvonte Rice: Rice has been very good this year with 18.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He has scored double digits in every game this season and scored 28 in his last game against UIC. RIce is a diverse player that can get things done in a variety of ways. He can shoot the long ball and also get inside for some quality buckets. He's one of the hardest workers on and off the court and will surely draw a lot of attention from defenders.

Tracy Abrams: Abrams is an interesting player because he does not necessarily light up the scoreboard or have the most efficient nights, but he always seems to do enough to impact the outcome of the game. He averages 12.7 points and 3.2 assists per game. He had big nights against Auburn with 17 points, Oregon with 16 points, and Missouri with 22 points. If Rice is Illinois' primary offensive weapon, Abrams is right behind him.

Staff Comments:

Indiana Perspective by Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit): Indiana enters this game with some mixed emotions. While they have performed pretty well against lower competition, they have yet to record a win against a marquee opponent in games against Syracuse, Notre Dame, and UConn. The Hoosiers have also only played on the road once this year and it was a brutal defeat against Syracuse, so maybe the orange surroundings will bring up painful memories. However, Indiana probably has the more talented roster, the better point guard, and the best big man of both teams. Still, they lack the experience that Illinois has on their roster and certainly have not been able to put together a big win like Illinois. For Indiana, the perception has to be that it will be a challenging test in a challenging environment, but at least they have the pieces to get it done.

Illinois Perspective by John Cassidy (@Champaign_Room): Questions surrounding Illinois' ability to finish games were settled in the win against Missouri, so if nothing else, the Illini enter this game confident. Credit that to Rayvonte Rice. In the past few years, guards settled for shots, they struggled grabbing rebounds and they struggled in the paint. There were moments of exception, of course, but for the most part, we played outside-in. Now, we have a brute who can muscle in there at anytime. It's like a gift. Tracy Abrams is playing some of the best ball of his college career right now, too, so it'd be especially disappointing to see that not carry over into the Indiana game. But it's possible, if for no other reason than that this Hoosier team is tough to gauge. I'm still wrestling with strategies and worries about Zeller, Oladipo, and the rest of 'em--not this new version of Yogi Ferrell. They might be the biggest question mark in the conference. Add into this equation Indiana's last trip to Illinois, which ended in a program changing buzzer beater for the Illini, and you get a close, bitterly fought rivalry game. That's what I'm prepared for.

Prediction:

Indiana is a good team and will play very hard basketball in this one, but so will Illinois. Though the Illini may not as much pure talent and length as the Hoosiers, their team has more experience and will have home court advantage. This game will be a great kickoff to Big Ten play. Illinois by 5

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