Trending toward its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years, Indiana looks to add another high-profile victory to its resume Saturday when it hosts 18th-ranked and Big Ten-leading Illinois at Assembly Hall.
The Hoosiers (16-5, 7-4 Big Ten) are in sixth place in the conference, but only two games behind the Illini (16-5, 9-2). Indiana has already claimed two wins over ranked opponents in Bloomington, defeating then-No. 13 Ohio State 67-51 on Jan. 6 and then-No. 4 and archrival Purdue 68-65 on Jan. 20.
The Hoosiers are 13-1 at home, with the lone blemish an 80-62 pounding by Michigan three days after defeating the Boilermakers. Indiana has won back-to-back games since that loss, including a 68-55 victory at Maryland last Saturday when Race Thompson had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Indiana has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016, its longest drought since an eight-year absence from 1959-66.
Illinois has reeled off three straight wins since back-to-back defeats to Purdue and Maryland and is coming off an 80-67 win over No. 11 Wisconsin Wednesday. Kofi Cockburn scored 37 points, one off his career high, on 16-of-19 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season.
The 7-foot junior is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 22.1 points per game and in shooting at 61.1%. Cockburn leads the conference in rebounding at 11.6 per contest and is one of only two Division I players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Illini have won the last three meetings between the teams, including a 75-71 overtime road victory last season that snapped a seven-game skid in Indiana. Illinois has not won four straight over the Hoosiers since sweeping the 2009 and 2010 series.
Woodson leading Hoosiers out of the wilderness
Finding his voice: The House that helped shape IU's Mike Woodson #iubb https://t.co/iu5RKCHQtN via @daily_hoosier
— Mike Schumann @ The Daily Hoosier (@daily_hoosier) February 4, 2022
After the failed tenure of Archie Moore, turning to former Indiana player and NBA coach Mike Woodson appeared a curious hire on the surface. But the Hoosiers have clearly bought into his defensive principles, limiting opponents to 37.3% shooting and 63 points per game while leading the Big Ten in both categories and ranking eighth nationally in defensive field goal percentage.
At home the numbers have been even more stout as Indiana has held teams to 35.6% shooting and 58.6 points per game. The Hoosiers have held four of their six Big Ten rivals to 60 or fewer points at Assembly Hall, but getting there again will prove a challenge against an Illini squad third in the conference in scoring at 77.3 points per game.
On the offensive side, Thompson has come on of late with back-to-back 18-point efforts that also represent his season high in scoring. The senior is averaging 11.4 points and emerging as a complement to Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is averaging team highs of 18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. He had 17 and nine in the victory over the Terrapins, narrowly missing his ninth double-double of 2021-22.
Jackson-Davis has averaged 14 points and 11.3 rebounds in the three losses to the Illini but also has shot just 35% (14 for 40) in those games. Indiana has struggled inside the arc in those defeats, shooting 38.8% from 2-point range compared to 45.2% from beyond the arc.
There’s more to the Illini than Cockburn
Piper: #illini Kofi Cockburn's epic performance vs. Wisconsin intensifies Wooden Award chase https://t.co/pqPQ8MXHIt
— Illini Inquirer (@IlliniOn247) February 4, 2022
While Cockburn rightfully garners most of the national attention, the 7-footer has plenty of perimeter firepower around him. Alfonso Plummer is averaging 15.3 points while shooting at a 40.4% clip from 3-point range and is one of three Illini players with at least 40 3-pointers made.
Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison are also averaging in double figures at 12.8 and 10.9 points, respectively, and Illinois is second in the Big Ten with 197 3-pointers. The Illini are also sixth in the country in rebounding margin at plus-9 per game and grab 36.2% of their missed shots, according to KenPom.
Oddsmakers predicting a tight contest
Among sportsbooks that offered early odds, all were pegging this to be a tight contest. PointsBet and FanDuel listed the Hoosiers as a 1-point favorite, with the former offering -105 and the latter -110. PointsBet also had a better offer on the moneyline at -105 versus -118 at FanDuel.
WynnBET and Caesars were looking to entice bettors with Indiana a 1-point home underdog at -110. WynnBET also had a +100 moneyline play on the Hoosiers. BetMGM was most bullish on Indiana, offering -1.5 points at -105 and as a -120 selection on the moneyline.
WynnBET and BetMGM serve as the brackets for the over/under, with WynnBET offering 134.5 points and BetMGM one full point higher. The other three books split the difference at 135, and all five were offering -110 in both directions.
Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY