Illinois (18-13) vs. Indiana (17-14)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 13, 12 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (18,165) -- Indianapolis, Indiana. Television: BTN. Home Record: Illinois 10-6, Indiana 14-4. Away Record: Illinois 5-6, Indiana 2-8. Neutral Record: Illinois 3-1, Indiana 1-2. Conference Record: Illinois 7-11, Indiana 7-11. Series Record: Indiana leads, 86-85.
GAME NOTES: The 2014 Big Ten Conference Tournament gets underway on Wednesday, with the first matchup pitting the Illinois Fighting Illini against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Illinois picked up the ninth seed for this event after going 18-13 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten, while Indiana, which finished with the same league ledger as part of its 17-14 overall mark, was awarded the eighth seed.
Indiana leads the all-time series by the slimmest of margins, 86-85, and the teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season, with each winning on its home floor.
The winner will move on to Friday's quarterfinal round where it will contend with top-seeded Michigan.
Illinois had gotten off to a tremendous start to the season, going 7-0 and winning 11 of its 13 non-conference games. The Illini then won their first two Big Ten bouts, but then lost eight in a row and 10 of their next 11. Coach John Groce rallied his team to win three straight and four of its final five games, giving it a head of steam heading into this tournament.
Illinois, which has a pair of Big Ten tourney titles to its credit (2003, 2005) and has the second-most wins (24) in the event, features only two double-digit scorers in Rayvonte Rice (15.7 ppg) and Tracy Abrams (10.5 ppg), as the team has had issues finding the bottom of the net (.408 FG percentage, 11th in the conference), as well as putting points on the board (64.7 ppg, also 11th). However, the team's defensive effort (62.8 ppg, second) has helped it achieve the success it has enjoyed this season.
While Indiana hasn't exactly received rave reviews for its performance this season, the team did manage to notch a few big wins (Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State). Unfortunately, more than a few demoralizing defeats (Illinois, Northwestern Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue) took some of the shine off. Indiana has never won this event, going just 10-16 all-time, and has only one championship game appearance to its credit (2001).
Despite some obvious talent residing on the roster, the Hoosiers have been inconsistent at both ends of the court this season, ranking fifth in the conference in scoring offense (72.8 ppg), and eighth in scoring defense (67.7 ppg). The team has three double-digit scorers, led by standout point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell (17.4 ppg, 3.9 apg). Big Ten Freshman of the Year Noah Vonleh (11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and veteran Will Sheehy (11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) have both been productive players in the frontcourt, but carelessness with the basketball has resulted in a turnover margin of -2.7. The Hoosiers do however, own the Big Ten's best rebounding differential (+7.7).
While the Illini are sure to put forth maximum effort, they are likely to come up short in their bid to continue playing in this tournament as the Hoosiers simply have the more balanced attack.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Indiana 67, Illinois 62
03/13 10:24:13 ET