No. 15 Illinois travels to Michigan on Sunday with season sweep on line

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Cameron Krasucki

Graduate student forward Jacob Grandison evades a defender from Ohio State during the game at State Farm Center on Thursday. The Illini will be heading to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan on Sunday.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

When the Illini clashed with the Wolverines in January, they were facing a wounded animal. Michigan’s best player, sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, did not play in its 68-53 loss in Champaign, but he’ll be looking for revenge on Sunday when the teams meet again.

“He’s one of the elite players in this league, so you can really kind of scrap what we saw in the last game,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Where he really hurts you is not necessarily just shooting it out there, but passing it.”

No. 15 Illinois is looking for a regular-season sweep as it travels to Ann Arbor to face unranked Michigan (15-11, 9-7).

Michigan has fallen out of the conference championship race despite beating a red-hot Rutgers team at home. Illinois (19-8, 12-5) is one game behind Wisconsin and 0.5 games behind Purdue in the Big Ten regular-season title race.

Underwood said he’ll be looking out for zone and press schemes on defense from Michigan as the Wolverines leaned on those heavily since the two teams last met. He’s also seen Dickinson play perimeter more than usual and expects it to continue as Michigan tries to draw Kofi out of the paint.

The Wolverines were without two key players in their most recent game, while Michigan head coach Juwan Howard is suspended for the remainder of the regular season for his role in the postgame incident between Michigan and Wisconsin. Moussa Diabaté and Terrance Williams II were suspended for one game for their involvement in the incident, but they served that time during the Wolverines’ win over the Scarlet Knights.

Underwood and his staff have had the unique challenge of planning for a team that changed coaches unexpectedly not long ago.

“I think what we’ll find out as we continue to go is that they were pretty limited. You had two guys that were out and didn’t play,” Underwood said. “There wasn’t a lot of change going on, you know. They did what they do offensively. You’re not gonna reinvent the wheel. Phil (Martelli) is one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game, so it’s not like he hasn’t slid over and been in that seat before.”

Following the Illini’s narrow loss to Ohio State on Thursday night, Underwood has repeatedly called for senior guard Trent Frazier to be even more aggressive on offense. 

Frazier has blossomed into a dangerous closer this season, but he was unable to seal the deal late against the Buckeyes after being hit in the air while driving to the hoop. Many, including Underwood, questioned the no call.

“I want Trent thirsty to score,” Underwood said. “Trent is the ultimate team guy. He knew we had Plummer going the other night. He was running offense to get Plummer going. He was making passes to Kofi, and yet they went under him twice on ball screens. He’s gotta shoot those shots.”

Frazier had an efficient yet low-scoring night against Ohio State, though he scored most of his 12 points in the final five minutes of the game. 

“We don’t need to be saved by Trent in the last six minutes and that’s the only time he’s looking to score,” Underwood said. “He needs to find that comfortable balance, and I talked to him yesterday about that.”

 

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