Day 2 of the Big Ten Tournament brings the conference’s elite to the table for the first time. On Day 1, the entire All-Conference First Team, ten of the fifteen all-conference players, and four of the six bestowed with “honorable mention” all sat on the sidelines. Friday’s action brings the conference’s three heavy-weights into action as well as a tasty Michigan/Illinois matchup in the #4/#5 game – a game that could mean staying out of the play-in round for the winning team.
With most of the matchups yet to be determined, here’s a look at the game we do know – Michigan and Illinois.
#4 Illinois (-2.5) vs. #5 Michigan – 2:30 PM
This game is a re-match between two teams who only met once in the regular season, in a tightly contested game that saw an Evan Smotrycz game-winning three-pointer bounce off the heel, and a Stu Douglass overtime-forcing follow suffer the same fate, as Illinois preserved a two-point home victory. That game, frankly, was a bit of a mess. The two clubs combined to shoot 16.7% from behind the arc, drowning both of their shooting percentages, despite both clubs sporting some of the best eFG%’s in the nation.
In that first game, Illinois’ height gave the Wolverines problems, particularly in the first half. While Illinois is a surprisingly poor rebounding team, given their size (their effective height is top in the NCAA) they did manage to stymie what had been Michigan’s most effective scoring option up until that point – the low-post offense of Darius Morris, frustrating him into 4/12 shooting. On the day, Michigan’s most effective offensive player was freshman Jordan Morgan, who scored 12 points (10 in the second half) and collected three offensive rebounds. The Illini will have to contend with the blossoming Tim Hardaway Jr. as well – he didn’t play inefficiently against the Illini (4/9 from the floor) but was quiet from three-point range. Over his past ten games, the freshman is scoring 18.8 points per game on 51.6% three-point shooting. He’s sure to be a factor.
For their part, the Illini won mostly behind Demetri McCamey’s bounce-back performance – scoring 18 points after a stretch that had seen him score in single figures for six straight games. They also got solid contribution from Mike Tisdale, who was and continues to be in a funk of mediocrity.
It’s highly unlikely we see either team shoot the ball as badly as they did in the first game. As a matter of fact, the teams are at a virtual dead heat in eFG% on the year, and probably equivalently as good at rebounding the ball.
The key will be in turnovers – both teams struggle to take the ball away from opponents, but Michigan tends to cough it up on 3% fewer of their possessions than Illinois. Michigan’s total efficiency margin, per Pomeroy, is negative – generally a bad sign against NCAA caliber teams, which Illinois is likely one (despite Bruce Weber’s apparent paranoia). However, as UMHoops points out, Beilein seems to have a knack for bucking this trend.
In terms of the spread – Michigan has been perenially under-rated by Vegas and the betting public all year – going 17-8 and 9-1 in their last ten games. Illinois, for their part, is 16-13, 6-3. Illinois has somewhat struggled down the stretch, going 5-5, and is abysmal away from Champaign (4 wins total, two of which were on neutral courts). Michigan, for their part is 7-3 in their last ten games, with 5 pure road wins. Michigan is the hotter, tougher team. Take them and the points.