Struggling Illinois has chance to rebound against Iowa

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+shoots+a+pull-up+jumper+over+Marylands+Melo+Trimble+during+the+game+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+January+14.+The+Illini+lost+62-56.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) shoots a pull-up jumper over Maryland’s Melo Trimble during the game at State Farm Center on Saturday, January 14. The Illini lost 62-56.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

Two struggling men’s basketball teams will meet in Champaign on Wednesday night in a matchup between the Big Ten’s bottom teams — Illinois and Iowa.

The Illini, whose struggles have peaked in recent games, are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, while the Hawkeyes come in having lost their last two and remain just one game ahead of Illinois in the standings.

Fans will get a chance to see a high-caliber matchup between Iowa guard Peter Jok and Illinois do-it-all senior Malcolm Hill. Both of the talented guards are in the top-five in points per game in the Big Ten, with Jok leading the way at 21.6 points per game.

For the Illini, the biggest challenge will be finding some kind of rhythm, as they have looked out of sorts lately. In the team’s three-game losing skid, Illinois has lost by an average of nearly 13 points per game and have shown major inconsistencies on the offensive end.

In Saturday’s loss to Michigan, Illinois tallied 17 turnovers, which led to 22 Michigan points. The 22-12 spread on points off of turnovers was enough for the Wolverines to edge out a nine-point victory.

The Illini were cold from the three-point line, free-throw line and in the paint in a blowout loss to Purdue last week. Illinois was only 3-for-17 from deep accompanied with 11-for-22 from the foul line. Despite only committing three turnovers, the Illini suffered their largest conference loss of the season, 91-68.

Aside from the Jan. 11 win over Michigan, Illinois has yet to put together a complete game on the offensive end during conference play.

For Iowa, the challenge has been finding consistent scoring outside of Jok’s outbreaks. Freshman Tyler Cook has been able to provide some relief to Jok from the post, but the 6-foot-9 forward has been about the only other option the Hawkeyes have. Freshman Jordan Bohannon has proved to be a three-point specialist for Iowa; however, even he trails Jok’s three-point shooting percentage.

With 11 games left in the Big Ten schedule, the Illini are on the outside looking in with regard to the NCAA Tournament.

Currently at 2-5 in conference play, the only team behind Illinois in the standings is Rutgers, who just managed their first conference win of the season against Nebraska.

For a realistic shot, Illinois is going to have to string together some wins starting with the Iowa matchup at home. The team has not done itself any favors moving forward, however, as it has a date with Wisconsin soon after this weekend’s matchup in Happy Valley against Penn State.

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