Doing anything tonight? You might want to check out ESPN for what will likely be one of the most interesting games of the Big Ten regular season: Iowa at Illinois.
The Hawkeyes are coming off an embarrassing 11-point loss at home to Indiana on Saturday. They are 2-2 after the loss, and face an Illinois team that has not lost in Assembly Hall in 26 games.
Illinois is also 2-2 after returning home on Saturday to defeat Michigan, 94-70. The Illini had dropped two-straight Big Ten road games, and their toughness and readiness were being questioned by their coach, Bill Self, and by their fans. While defeating Michigan (which is smaller and generally less talented than the 11th-ranked Illini) was a necessary step to recover from what could have been a nasty downward spiral, the true test for this injured Illini squad will be tonight.
“(This) is obviously a game both teams have had circled on their calendars for quite some time,” Self said. “Three losses for either team early on would certainly make it a tough row to hoe, so to speak.”
Illinois will still be missing forwards Lucas Johnson and Damir Krupalija. Johnson, who has not yet played this season, hopes to return to the lineup by the end of January. Krupalija, who played outstandingly well for the Illini during the stretch run last year, says that he is “in the early stages of a stress fracture.”
Without them, it will be up to center Robert Archibald and forward Brian Cook to carry the load down low against an equally apt Iowa frontcourt. Both Illinois big men played well against Michigan, but the Wolverines do not have a post player like Iowa”s Reggie Evans. Evans leads the Big Ten in rebounds with 11.7 per game and is fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.7 points per game. He will be helped by the Big Ten”s leading scorer, Iowa guard Luke Recker, who is averaging 18.4 points per game.
Hoosier daddy?: Indiana forward Jared Jeffries was named Big Ten Player of the Week yesterday. Jeffries averaged 23.5 points per game in the Hoosiers” two wins over ranked teams last week. In Indiana”s 83-65 win over Michigan State, Jeffries scored 21 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Against Iowa, Jeffries scored 26 points including the Hoosiers” final six and pulled in seven rebounds. Indiana is one of two unbeaten teams in the Big Ten with a 4-0 record, along with Ohio State. It cracked the Top 25 yesterday, moving up to the No. 25 spot.
Tournament consideration: It”s never too early to start thinking about March. With every Big Ten team beating up on every other Big Ten team, it is starting to seem like there are no clear powerhouses in the conference. No Big Ten team is ranked in the top 10 nationally, and only three teams rank in the Top 25.
The conference has, in the past, been allowed as many as seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, but some are concerned that this new Big Ten (in which everyone seems to be .500) won”t place well come March. Iowa is among the teams in the conference that are playing below expectations, but coach Steve Alford is confident that the conference will still receive its due respect.
“There”s such good parity from top to bottom,” Alford said. “On a down year, the Big Ten has usually taken five (teams to the tournament). When you look at the history of the Big Ten it”s “up” all the time. The Big Ten has been, consistently, one of the best leagues in the country.”