Illinois at Michigan
TV: Big Ten Network
If you remember correctly, Illinois (12-7, 2-4) beat the pants off Michigan (12-7, 2-4) 10 days ago. You probably don’t, however, because Illinois has since rolled over for Maryland and been beaten senseless by the likes of Purdue. Those two games stand out prominently because, like Illinois, Michigan is not doing so well this year.
Michigan is about the only team in the conference as poor defensively as the Illini. The two are holding down the basement in field goal percentage defense, with Illinois at .445 (13th) and Michigan at .468 (14th). Illinois has some advantages over the Wolverines, however, as Michigan fares worst in offensive and defensive rebounding and three point field goal defense. If these issues are highlighted in the rematch, Illinois can turn the tide of losing around rather easily.
And to be honest, the tide has to turn for Illinois. The calls for John Groce’s head are at fever pitch and the window for making the tournament grows more narrow with each loss. Illinois’s schedule is easier from here on (no more Purdue, Indiana, or Maryland!), but the Illini still have to travel to Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, and Nebraska, and only one of those teams is below .500 in conference play (Iowa, surprisingly, at 3-4). Including the Michigan game, Illinois likely needs 9 wins from its remaining 12 games to clinch an at-large bid. Pressure’s really on now.
My prediction: A much closer contest than the last, but Illinois edges the hosts backed by a return to form from Tracy Abrams.