Saturday, January 03, 2009

Michigan Preview

The Illini head to Ann Arbor this weekend with expectations skyrocketing. And while the Illini are off to an incredible start, and anything is possible, it's important to focus on the big picture: Bruce Weber has done a great job creating a team out of his guys, but less than a week into conference play, it's likely that the Big Ten ain't gonna be easy for anyone. For example, after beating Michigan on the road, Wisconsin just barely hung on at home against Penn State. (And yes, we are talking basketball.)

But the Illini need to take the gruelling Big Ten season one game at a time. Michigan already knows they are behind in the Big Ten race with a home loss to Wisconsin. Most teams in the conference are unlikely to lose back-to-back home games (see: Minnesota). Especially a team that already has two wins against a #4 team (UCLA, Duke).

On paper, these teams look fairly evenly matched. Illinois is averaging 48.4% shooting with opponents at 39.5%, Michigan 44.3% with opponents at 41.6%. Rebounds are almost equal, with Illinois at 35.5 and Michigan at 35.0. And the lines on blocks and steals are also similar: Illini -- 42 and 88; Wolverines -- 42 and 85. Plus, DeShawn Sims shared Big Ten co-Player of the Week honors with Trent Meacham.

On the court, the Illini will have to work hard to contain Manny Harris, the conference's second leading scorer, and Sims, who leads the Big Ten in rebounds and is third in scoring. The Illini who willed themselves to an overtime win at Purdue could upset these Wolverines, but the team that struggled last weekend against Eastern Michigan will struggle at Crisler Arena. However, the Illini are on a 7-game winning streak, so who knows?

Go Illini!


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