University of Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood figures he knows three things for certain about Wednesday night’s rematch with Indiana.
One, the game will be in Bloomington, Ind., at the always rowdy Assembly Hall. “Played there,” Underwood said, recalling his days as a guard at Kansas State. “Never coached there.”
Two, Indiana will do what every team now realizes it must do. The Hoosiers will make life difficult for freshman guard Trent Frazier, who on Monday was named the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week.
That honor was won largely because of Frazier’s 32-point outburst against Wisconsin. If Frazier wasn’t on every team’s radar prior to that game, he was after it.
Penn State demonstrated that Sunday by swarming him with bigger, more physical defenders and Frazier was limited to six points on 2-for-11 shooting. It was his lowest point production since Dec. 6, when he scored three against Austin Peay.
The third thing Underwood said he can count on is that Indiana will clog the lane with defenders in the 7:30 p.m. game (BTN), blanketing Illinois’ other main offensive option, Leron Black.
“We’ll see a loaded lane, no question,” Underwood said. “That’s the way Archie plays and we have to counter that. We have to move the ball.”
First-year Indiana coach Archie Miller has experimented with a variety of lineups but seems to have settled on one with Devonte Green as the playmaking point guard and Freddie McSwain as a rebounding forward. That lineup has contributed to consecutive victories over Rutgers and Minnesota, lifting Indiana’s record to 14-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten.
“They’re a little different than when we played them the first time,” Underwood said.
So is Illinois.
When those teams met in January, Illinois (12-14, 2-11) was coming off its low point of the season. Illinois was destroyed at Wisconsin 75-50 on Jan. 19. Three days later the Illini began an upward swing by playing well in a seven-point loss to No. 6 Michigan State.
Then came the Jan. 24 victory over Indiana that ended a six-game Illini losing streak. And that was followed by a 31-point victory over Rutgers. The arrow was definitely pointing up.
That seems to have changed, though, following a loss at Ohio State, a lackluster loss at home in a rematch with Wisconsin and Sunday’s 74-52 home loss to Penn State.
In the Penn State game, Underwood got a glimpse of several things that bother him about this team and that have slowed what he anticipated being greater progress in his first season.
Illinois played well early and led by four with seconds to go in the first half. Mental mistakes allowed the lead to evaporate before halftime and a lack of ball movement that helped build a first-half lead contributed to a long scoring drought to open the second half.
“We have to play with pace and tempo,” he said. “One of the habits we have is that when things don’t go well, we move like we have cement boots on.
“It’s amazing, but every team in the country has a weak defender. When you move the defense and move the ball, you can exploit it. That’s been a challenge to do it for 40 minutes.”
In the first matchup with the Hoosiers, Illinois had a hard time finding a defensive answer for Juwan Morgan, who made 12 of 14 shots and scored 28 points.
“He did it in a lot of different ways,” Underwood said. “He’s a talented kid, a hard guard. We have to make his touches hard. I didn’t think we fought him well. We gave into the catch.”
Underwood said Tuesday morning that Michael Finke was still being monitored by doctors after suffering a concussion Saturday at practice. He didn’t play Sunday and will only play Wednesday if cleared by the medical staff.