Battle of the bye week for Illinois basketball
Both Illinois and Iowa should be well rested for Saturday.
But, who is going to be energized and who is going to keep hitting the snooze button when it’s eventually game time?
Bye weeks aren’t tracked as heavily in basketball as they are in football, but I think they are still an important stat to consider on the hardwood.
Playing after an entire week off, John Groce and Illinois have gone 9-2 in the last five years. Iowa and its head coach Fran McCaffery, on the other hand, have gone 14-9 after a bye week in the last seven years.
Groce has the advantage when it comes to win percentage and McCaffery has the experience.
So, who has the advantage on Saturday?
Iowa is coming off of a brutal shooting performance in a loss to Michigan State. The Hawkeyes shot about 33 percent from the field and 19 percent from deep. If it wasn’t for his performance at the free-throw line, Peter Jok would have had four points in the game.
Jok continues to lead the Big Ten in scoring and is always a threat when he has the ball in his hand, even after a bad shooting game. The same goes for freshman Tyler Cook. The forward is putting up around 12 points per game and snagging about five rebounds.
I am curious to see if Groce matches freshman Kipper Nichols up with Cook. Nichols is undersized by three inches and about 30 pounds, but with his most recent start, I expect Nichols to be playing a lot of minutes against Iowa.
Illinois shouldn’t bank on another shooting performance like last week from Iowa, especially after a week off from game action. Iowa typically averages about 80 points per game and shoots about 36 percent from beyond the arc.
The last time Illinois and Iowa squared up this season, the Illini came out on top, 76-64. It was freshman guard Te’Jon Lucas’ first start of the season. Since that game, Lucas has become a regular in the starting lineup and has been performing well with the extra minute-load.
I want to see Lucas continue this type of play and take Iowa by surprise. In his last two games Lucas has been averaging 11 points and six and a half assists. He’s become a more confident player in the last five games.
This Saturday will also be a good opportunity for forward Malcolm Hill to get out of his funk. Hill has not looked himself as of late. He seems indecisive with the ball, turning the ball over more than usual and shooting poorly from the field.
Having an entire week off might allow him to pinpoint what is causing the slump and Iowa can be the game he nips it in the bud.
The Illini are 1-4 in their last five games and Iowa is 3-2. Both teams boast a 14-12 record and their NCAA Tournament hopes are all but out the window. So, what are they playing for?
We’ll find out Saturday.
Matt is a Junior in Business.