Illinois basketball needs to be consistent against IUPUI

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) gets fouled on a floater during the game against North Carolina State at State Farm Center on Tuesday, November 29. The Illini won 88-74.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

gertsmeier-mattIllinois basketball’s three-game losing streak back in November may soon be reversed.

After hitting a bit of a rough patch, the Illini (6-3) have bounced back and have an opportunity to keep bouncing even higher as the team pursues a three-game winning streak. The only thing that stands in the Illini’s way is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI (3-5), who comes to the State Farm Center on Tuesday.

Without a strong performance in its 64-46 win over Virginia Commonwealth University, or VCU, the Illini would not be in the position they are to capitalize this three-game swing.

Defense proved to be a major key for Illinios against VCU. The Rams entered the game averaging 75 points per game and the Illini limited them to 46 points. VCU shot 30 percent and turned the ball over 14 times. Illinois also got a little careless with the ball with 11 turnovers, but the biggest difference was that Illinois capitalized off of VCU turnovers.

“I thought it was a great test for our defense,” head Coach John Groce said. “It’s the best we’ve played defensively and I thought it started with our mindset.”

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    This is encouraging to see, as the defense was an area of concern in the beginning of the season.

    Illinois now shifts its focus to its next matchup against IUPUI (3-5).

    This is going to be a much different opponent than the Illini’s last four. IUPUI enters Tuesday night with wins over one MEAC and two MAC schools. The Jaguars have had a tough run on the road, going 1-5.

    Despite IUPUI not playing at the same caliber as NC State or VCU, Illinois should not rest on its laurels. If Illinois plays inconsistently like it has earlier this season, IUPUI might jump all over it.

    Michigan came out with only a 12-point win over IUPUI in early November.

    With four non-conference games remaining I’m challenging Illinois to put it all together against the Jaguars.

    If Illinois looks for high quality shots like it did in the second half of the NC State game, and pressures the ball like it did against VCU, things will go well for the Illini. It would also be reassuring to see that Illinois can be consistent. Because as it stands, the Big Ten has three ranked teams and four teams receiving votes.

    Leading Illini scorer Malcolm Hill agrees with the philosophy of consistency to finish out the last games before conference play.

    “I always say we can improve on defense, but just staying consistent how we’ve been playing the past two games,” Hill said. “If we play consistent like this, that’s when we’ll be able to play our best basketball.”

    IUPUI has two players averaging double figures in scoring: guard Darell Combs and forward Matt O’Leary. As a team, the Jaguars average about 73 points per game.
    Groce is not taking them lightly.

    “I think they’re really well coached,” Groce said. “Their one, two and three scare you because all of them can get 20 plus in a given night.”

    Matt is a Junior in Business

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier