A (hopefully) newly inspired Indiana Hoosiers visit a hot Illinois team. (IU-ILL pregame thoughts)

(2-4) Indiana is taking on (4-3) Illinois Thursday at 8:30 pm. After a highly emotional and much needed win, the Hoosiers are playing an Illinois team that is currently on a four game winning streak. With so much momentum gained and faith restored following the Hoosiers getting the ever-illusive Wisconsin win, Illinois may be the last team the Hoosiers could want to face right now.

Following a dominant 78-60 road victory over Minnesota, Illinois will be looking to extend their current streak to 5 wins. Illinois commanded the paint against the Golden Gophers. Matthew Mayer had 19 points and 10 rebounds as the Illini took over in the second half. Team scoring leader, Terrence Shannon Jr., amassed 11. Shy of his 17.6 points per game. Another case of a team that could take advantage of Indiana’s backcourt defense.

That is if Indiana doesn’t show up with the same pride, swagger, mojo, or whatever it was on the defensive end that they had against Wisconsin. Holding any Big Ten opponent to 45 points is a testament to the pressure brought throughout the entire 40 minutes. Indiana’s defense against Wisconsin was stifling. The energy produced through smothering play resulting in frustrated shots taken by the opposition is essential for the Hoosiers success. The offense is fueled by this defensive intensity. The toughness displayed on the defensive end absolutely bleeds throughout the Hoosiers game when they are playing their best ball. Looking to put the skids on Illinois’ conference comeback, Indiana will need every bit of intensity they can muster on that end.

A huge part of that energy in the Wisconsin game was Jordan Geronimo. Ending his night with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 block, Jordan had easily his most influential and meaningful performance of the season. He was absolutely an injection of energy to this squad. Geronimo’s sheer athletic abilities are something to behold. Now that he is beginning to be able to channel all of that energy and freak athleticism, he may just become the third piece to this Hoosier squad necessary to compete in the Big Ten. While it remains to be seen if Jordan is a true 3 or true 4, I don’t really care if he continues to bring the emotion and energy that he had unpacked for Wisconsin. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of great things to come from the much needed forward. He will be needed against the Illini.

Speaking of needed frontcourt personnel, of course Illinois will be looking to shut down our captain, our All-American, the TJD. Trayce Jackson-Davis has been playing through pain and looked his healthiest as the Hoosiers were able to top the Badgers. While Trayce has been great, despite his back pains, he looked like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders in the Wisconsin game. He ended the afternoon with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 blocks within his 33 minutes on the court. He set a tone on the defensive side of the ball that bled into interior dominance on the offensive end. You can bet Illinois will be looking to collapse on him, as every team has to date. As I imagine the Illini frontcourt may be able to present a larger issue than Wisconsin’s had, I still believe Trayce can dictate this game. Whether it is through muscling to the rim or kicking out to open shooters, I’m confident Trayce can get his stat line in this one, and provide the defensive pressure necessary (5 blocks last game, come on now!) to give the Illini fits.

If the defense is collapsing far more competently on Trayce Jackson-Davis the Hoosiers are going to need more shots taken by their best shooter. Miller Kopp shoots at a tremendous percentage. Only problem is he isn’t taking those shots. Miller is best lurking on the perimeter, waiting for a kick out from the front court. But, the veteran has to find a way to slither around that perimeter and find more open opportunities. With 7 shots taken over the last 3 games, I’m hoping to see Miller get open a bit more here.

While Matthew Mayer may present the Hoosier frontcourt with issues, Terrence Shannon Jr. will be looking to take advantage of an Indiana back court that has been suspect defensively since the injury to Xavier. Suspect until they had found the emotion necessary to absolutely smother the Badger’s offense. While it is a sample size of one game, the Hoosier backcourt that left the court Saturday, had not showed up all year. If the Hoosier guards can continue to bring that pressure, the Hoosiers are without a question contenders.

As part of that back court, Jalen Hood-Schifino, unlocked a defensive commitment against Wisconsin that he had yet to display for the Hoosiers. While still tallying 16 points, Jalen’s defensive mind-shift, along with the rest of the Hoosiers’ was essential to ending the tailspin that the Hoosiers had found themselves in. Each game Jalen Hood-Schifino looks more comfortable, and he is now beginning to look for the best opportunities each time down the court. With defense being the name of the game for Big Ten matchups, Jalen appears to be starting to understand that no possession can go wasted. The Hoosiers can always get the NBA range 3, Jalen looked in the Badger game to take a moment and see if the Hoosiers couldn’t find the easier and more reliable shot. With 8 turnovers committed, the improved number could be testament to that. The Hoosiers will need to make the most of each opportunity when visiting the Illini. With the step displayed in his handling of the offense, I’m excited to see how Jalen Hood-Schifino can build on this performance.

The Hoosier role players will be as important as ever in this matchup. Trey is a great wrench for any team to throw onto the court when he is playing his most tenacious defense. He gives the backcourt fits, and looks like a fast zombie (the 28 Days Later kind, the absolutely SCARIEST kind) thrashing through screens and retaining defensive pressure. That will be absolutely needed to halt a hot Illinois squad. Malik has also taken a stride in the last game. While not posting the craziest stat line, Malik Reneau showed an ability on the defensive end to battle with the beef the Big Ten can throw at you. I’m hoping to see his confidence continue to snowball and grow. His contributions come March could look vastly different than his December.

Mike Woodson finally said the magic words prior to the Wisconsin game and I hope he wrote them down. He found a way to get the Hoosiers ready to set an identity of defense and fueled that offense through the energy gained by that identity. The Hoosiers are going to need Mike Woodson to have them ready, but also be ready to make adjustments. As the the Fighting Illini will have the personnel to throw different looks at the Hoosier defense. I have faith that Mike Woodson can find a way to address whatever Brad Underwood may have to throw his way.

The Hoosiers are currently sitting as underdogs in this one, and rightfully so. A hot Big Ten opponent, on their floor, should spell doom to most visiting those conditions. Not in this game though, while I may be high on a sample size of one emotionally charged dismantling of Wisconsin, I think the Hoosiers can absolutely win this one. I feel like can’t truly compare the Hoosiers’ performances as of late, because they appeared to be made by two very different teams. If the Hoosiers have finally turned the corner to understand what this teams’ identity is moving forward, the Big Ten better watch out.

Thanks for reading these short thoughts by a Hoosier fan, covering his team as a hobby, passing the time in between tips. If ya like what you read feel free to give me a listen on the OFTEN DAUNTED podcast. Available the morning after each game. Have a great day Hoosier fans. Down with the Illini!

LUX ET VERITAS!

-Burke

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