Michigan Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Illinois in B1G Clash
With the most critical juncture of the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines season approaching, the Illinois Fighting Illini will be rolling into Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon hungry for a fourth upset of a top ten opponent to bolster its NCAA tournament resume.
Michigan won the only other meeting between these two teams earlier this season in decisive fashion. The Fighting Illini will be out for revenge at the Crisler Center.
Illinois has not beaten the Wolverines in its last four tries, but will a fifth shot at the Maize and Blue bring different results?
A loss to the Fighting Illini would cripple Michigan's chances at a Big Ten Conference title. The Wolverines are already two games behind the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers and need a victory to keep pace.
What does Michigan need to do to avoid a letdown against the Fighting Illini this weekend? Click ahead to find out!
Get Tim Hardaway Jr. Some Open Shots Early in the Game
Shooting slumps can be difficult to break out of, but if the Michigan Wolverines are going to top the Illinois Fighting Illini they will need junior shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to start knocking down shots again.
Hardaway is shooting 46.1 percent from the field this season, though, his last two games have been far from efficient. The 6'6", 205-pounder has made just 4-of-22 attempts and only managed to score a combined 10 points against the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans and Penn State Nittany Lions.
Michigan need to focus on freeing up Hardaway with some screens early in the game to get their struggling star a couple of uncontested looks at the basket.
This will help Hardaway regain some of his confidence and draw extra attention from Illinois' defense, which will give the rest of the Wolverines easier opportunities to score for the remainder of the game.
If Michigan can get Hardaway going early, and he turns in an efficient performance from beyond the arc, the Maize and Blue should easily get by the Fighting Illini at the Crisler Center.
Keep a Hand in Brandon Paul's Face at All Times
It is no secret that Brandon Paul is at his best when the Illinois Fighting Illini are an underdog playing against a highly ranked opponent, which means the Michigan Wolverines cannot afford to give him an easy scoring opportunities.
Paul already victimized the nationally ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs this season to the tune of 35 points. Last year, the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes had Paul drop 43 points on them in a 79-74 loss in Champaign.
Although Paul has been in a bit of a rut as of late, the senior shooting guard is still the most dangerous player the Fighting Illini have on their roster.
Do not be fooled by Paul's 11 points and lowly 25 percent from the field over the past two games. The Gurnee, Ill., native is just waiting for an opportunity to topple a highly ranked opponent, like the one he will have on Sunday afternoon.
Michigan fans should be more than a little bit concerned if Paul is filling up the basket early and often.
Dominate the Paint
In the first meeting between the Michigan Wolverines and Illinois Fighting Illini, the Maize and Blue scored 42 points in the paint and pulled down 10 offensive rebounds.
The Wolverines will need a similar performance against the Fighting Illini on Sunday to earn a regular-season sweep.
Redshirt junior power forward Jordan Morgan could finally be back to full strength since injuring his ankle on Jan. 27, which will give Michigan a big boost on the interior at the defensive end of the floor.
On offense, the development of freshman big man Mitch McGary should help the Wolverines win the battle in the paint even more decisively than they did a little less than one month ago. McGary has scored 10 or more points in three contests since Michigan topped Illinois 74-60.
Unheralded redshirt sophomore power forward Jon Horford will provide the Wolverines with some quality minutes in the post as well. Horford went 3-of-3 and finished with seven points against the Fighting Illini.
There is no reason for Michigan's bigs to be outplayed by Nnanna Egwu, and if the Wolverines win the battle in the paint, it should result in a 10th Big Ten victory.
Make Sure Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas Get Involved Offensively
Although Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are just true freshmen, the duo have been a major reason for all the success the Michigan Wolverines have had this season. The pair will need to play significant roles in the offense for the Maize and Blue to continue their dominance of the Illinois Fighting Illini.
When Robinson scores less than 10 points against Big Ten opponents, the Wolverines are 1-4. Stauskas has also been held below double figures in two of Michigan's losses in league play this season.
Robinson got back on track last Sunday with a flurry of alley-oop dunks against the Penn State Nittnany Lions. Stauskas has shot better than 50 percent from the field in five of the Wolverines' last six contests.
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke is undoubtedly the most dynamic player on Michigan's roster; however, the two most important members of the Wolverines this weekend may very well be Stauskas and Robinson.
Don't Let Up in the Closing Minutes
The Indiana Hoosiers know all to well what can happen if the Michigan Wolverines were to let their foot off the gas pedal in the closing minutes against the Illinois Fighting Illini this weekend.
On Feb. 7, Illinois trailed the Hoosiers 70-61 with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Indiana began to settle for bad shots, missed open looks and turned the ball over at two critical junctures of the contest.
All the while, senior shooting guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul started hitting three-pointers and getting to the free-throw line. The two eviscerated Indiana's lead, and set up senior power forward Tyler Griffey's game-winning layup.
The Wolverines nearly let double-digit leads slip away in narrow victories over the N.C. State Wolfpack and Minnesota Golden Gophers earlier this season. Michigan cannot repeat those mistakes against the Fighting Illini.
Good shot selection and turnover-free basketball is a must for the Maize and Blue late in the game in order to secure a fifth consecutive victory over Illinois.