An important Big Ten matchup between two teams needed a win; can Illinois take care of business on the road against a Michigan team that’s really struggled lately?
TV schedule: Thursday, January 18, 8:30 pm ET. FS1
Arena: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
It’s been quite the season already for Illinois (12-4), who head into their sixth game since the suspension of star Terrence Shannon Jr. The Fighting Illini have been surviving without him, with a blowout win over Northwestern during that stretch, but are just a few days removed from Sunday’s disastrous home loss against Maryland; their first big step in the wrong direction.
What’s kept Illinois afloat minus Shannon has been the phenomenal play of Marcus Domask (14.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.2 apg), the Southern Illinois transfer who’s really come on strong in recent weeks. Fellow transfer Quincy Guerrier (11.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) has shined as well alongside frontcourt mate Coleman Hawkins (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Other pieces like Luke Goode (7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) have also stepped up.
The recent loss to the Terrapins bumped the Fighting Illini down to #14 in the AP Top 25, though they still sit 12th on the KenPom ratings. Their offense is still Top 10 in the nation in the efficiency ratings and they have looked good at times even during Shannon’s suspension. Illinois has leaned on a prolific offense, though came up flat against Maryland and are certainly hoping for a bounce back performance on the road.
On the other side, Michigan (7-10) is in the midst of a dreadful season. While the Wolverines did upend Ohio State at home as recently as Monday night, they’ve suffered a plethora of losses already this season, including four at home already. The team is inconsistent, the shooting and defense haven’t always been there, and it’s hard to imagine Juwan Howard’s squad suddenly becoming a contender in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines lost a lot of talented pieces from last season, but have added a nice weapon in Olivier Nkamhoua (17.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg), who transferred in from Tennessee. In the backcourt, Michigan is getting great work from sophomore guard Dug McDaniel (17.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.0 apg) who has been the Wolverines’ best piece this season. Another name to keep an eye on is Terrance Williams II (12.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg) who had 18 points in that win over the Buckeyes.
Michigan’s record speaks for itself and it’s almost a surprise that they’re sitting up at 72nd in the most recent KenPom rankings. While Michigan does have nice road wins against St. John’s and Iowa, their play in recent weeks has been miserable, with losses to several of the lower tier Big Ten teams since the New Year. One positive is that the defense looked better this past week.
On paper, Illinois should win this game, but that was certainly true for their last outing as well. What this boils down to is how this Fighting Illini team plays without Shannon, who ironically committed to Michigan nearly two years ago before switching to the Illini. It’s an Illini squad leaning heavily on some of that other talent, but it’s the same story for the Wolverines. Neither team is clearly firing on all cylinders right now.
How Illinois handles a hostile road environment will be interesting to watch, as will Michigan’s response after that great performance earlier in the week. It’s been dreadful to this point for the Wolverines, and home losses to McNeese State and Long Beach State have certainly made Crisler Center seem less frightening. This should be a close one, but expect the Illini to bounce back after their disaster against the Terrapins.
Prediction: Illinois 79, Michigan 73