Breaking down Iowa basketball’s matchup against Illinois

The Hawkeyes clash with the Illini in the Big Ten tournament in the final game on Thursday.


Lily Smith

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon drives to the hoop during the Iowa/Illinois men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, January 20, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 95-71.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

Following its 74-69 overtime win over Northwestern, Illinois advanced to take on Iowa on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. The Hawkeyes and Illini will clash 25 minutes after the conclusion of Penn State-Minnesota.

These two teams have met once this season. Iowa came out on top, 95-71, thanks to an electrifying offensive performance. The Hawkeyes shot 68 percent from the floor, hitting 15 of their 21 attempts from 3-point range.

However, that was back in January. Here’s a full breakdown of Thursday’s matchup.

Illinois’ strength is in its young players.

According to Sports Reference, the average experience for Illinois (weighted by minutes played) is 0.8 years in college hoops.

Illinois has some of the better guards in the conference. Freshman Ayo Dosunmu averages 13.9 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting, and sophomore Trent Frazier averages 13.8 on 41.1. Frazier dropped 21 points in the win over Northwestern on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili averages 16.6 points (53.4 percent shooting) and 5.2 rebounds per game. He scored a team-high 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting against the Wildcats.

Illinois runs its offense through these three players, especially in conference play. Bezhanishvili (26.7), Dosunmu (24.8), and Frazier (22.3) lead the Illini in usage percentage during conference play (out of players with at least 20 games).

Illinois wins if…

It turns Thursday’s matchup into a track meet. Illinois is 5-1 when scoring 80 points or better this season, and with some of the better guards in the conference, it can heat up in a hurry. Iowa is 4-7 when allowing 80 points or more.

Iowa wins if…

Defense is a priority. It was the Hawkeyes’ Achilles’ heel last season, but things have improved. Iowa’s best bet for a win is to shut down the Illini attack. Illinois is 0-11 when scoring fewer than 70 points. Iowa is 11-2 when holding opponents to less than 70 points.