Game 27: Michigan at Illinois Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Michigan (16-10) at Illinois (16-9) Illinois%20Logo%201989[1]
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL
When: Wednesday, February 16th, 8:30 PM ET
TV: BTN (Eric Collins & Tim Doyle)
Radio: MGoBlue / WWWW 102.9 FM
More: Beilein video, Morris & Morgan video, Pick to Click

Michigan has been relatively successful on the road this season. The Wolverines have already won games at Clemson, Michigan State and Penn State – three of their biggest wins this season. The challenge gets tougher as Michigan heads to Assembly Hall, a venue where Michigan hasn’t won since 1995, to face off against a very talented Illini squad.

A quick rundown of the Illini schedule leads to the immediate conclusion that Illinois is struggling. Bruce Weber’s senior laden squad entered Big Ten play on a 2-game losing streak and is just 6-6 in conference games. When you dig a little deeper, one thing becomes very clear: Illinois is a great home team. The Illini have just two home losses and they were to Purdue and Ohio State, two of the league’s top three teams. Things aren’t perfect in Champaign, far from it, but they certainly could be worse.

Michigan's Darius Morris, left, and Zack Novak, right, try and steal the ball from Illinois guard Demetri McCamey during second half action of the Wolverine's 51-44 loss to the Fighting Illini, Tuesday night, February 23rd at UM's Crisler Arena. Lon Horwedel |
Photo Credit:

Illinois is led by a trio of seniors that feel like they’ve been wearing blue and orange for ages: Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, and Mike Tisdale. McCamey is a burly lead guard that loves to setup his teammates but can also score points in bunches. McCamey is averaging 14 poins and 7 assists while shooting 42% on twos and 47% on threes on the season. His recent form has been substandard, averaging just 9 points, four assists, and four turnovers with a 36% effective field goal percentage over the last six games. Tisdale (7-1) and Davis (6-9) are still the same players that they’ve been throughout their careers, tall rebounding jumpshooters:

Name %Jumpshots %Layups %Dunks
Tisdale 76% 13% 11%
Davis 68% 15% 17%

The 7-foot jumpshooter is a rare breed but it’s very tough to defend. Despite the high proportion of jump shots, Tisdale and Davis both connect on around 52% of their twos and Tisdale can even step out and hit a three (35%). Sophomore guards DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul both average a shade under 10 points per game and have the ability to slash to the basket or but are both above average three point shooters (Paul 36%, Richardson 41%). 6-foot-8 Jereme Richmond might be the most promising professional prospect on the Illini roster. The wing forward has size, handles, slashing ability, and can crash the boards. 6-foot-9 Bill Cole has the best offensive rating in the country and he prefers to shoot threes (42%) and is just 20 of 30 inside the arc.

Defense has been the strong point for the Illini in conference play. Illinois is allowing a conference best 1.02 points per trip thanks to the best two point (44%) and three point (30%) shooting percentage defense in the league. Illinois doesn’t force turnovers (10th) and is just an average at defensive rebounding and preventing opposition free throws, but when your opponents can’t make shots the peripheral stats don’t matter much.

Illinois’ offense hasn’t been all that bad in conference play either, averaging 1.08 points per trip (4th). The Illini have a third best shooting team with a 53% effective field goal percentage – 50% on twos and 41% on threes – and also do a good job of getting to the free throw line. That’s not to say the Illinois offense doesn’t have any weaknesses. The Illini are coughing the ball up on 20% of their possessions (9th) and only rebound 30% of their missed shots (8th).

There are two common denominators in Illini losses: bad shooting and too many fouls. The Illini are 1-8 when held under a 50% effective field goal percentage and 15-1 when they break that mark. Illinois isn’t going to beat you with rebounding or foul shots, they need to shoot well to win. When Illinois holds its opponents to a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) under 43%, the Illini are 18-2, when they allow more free throws than that they are 0-7. The bad news for Michigan is that the Wolverines might be the team least equipped to exploit Illinois’ weaknesses. Michigan ranks 11th in free throw rate and 11th in effective field goal percentage defense.

There is some encouraging news… Michigan’s defense is steadily improving in conference play. Chart:


Part of this improvement has been due to an easier stretch of schedule but Michigan’s last six games are its best defensive performances in conference play. Michigan will struggle to contest shots, but if the Wolverines can clean up the defensive glass they should be able to at least hang around. Offensively, you have to attack the Illinois defense from the inside out and really hope to get Morris, Hardaway and Morgan involved going toward the hoop. If you don’t get inside the Illinois defense, you’ll be left trying to shoot over their long perimeter defenders.

Pomeroy gives Michigan a 16% chance at stealing the upset and predicts a 70-61 Illinois win. Going by the numbers, this is Michigan’s least probable win remaining on the schedule. Three weeks ago, with their season left for dead, the Wolverines defied the odds and broke a 13 year losing streak in East Lansing. That game seemed to revive Michigan’s season but breaking another, longer, streak is still a tall task.

  • Alex

    When the goIng gets tough, the tough get going.

  • Marvin

    Great post. If we can somehow switch Jordan Morgan back into freak mode I think we will be able to catch Illinois off guard inside.
    OT: I just read a thread on RCMB entitled “I don’t ever want to see Durrell Summers in a game again” The commenters go on to accuse him of simply not trying, attempting to throw the season, and being baked during the game, This is what separates Michigan and Michigan State fans right? We would never write something like this right? I hope not. I am a little puzzled myself why Summers has been absent for the past few games but this just goes beyond the pale. Also, I love the decline of MSU basketball almost as much as I love the resurgence of UM basketball.

    • Azad

      Tough for Morgan to go into ‘freak mode’ against a team this big…also, the size of their wing players I think is going to make life difficult on Morris and Hardaway..we are just going to have to defend and gut out some baskets here and there

      • Mith

        Yeah I think it will be a struggle. I think if we win it might have to be an ugly 52-49 game or something like that.

        • sven

          I completely disagree. Tisdale has height and thats it. He moves like a sloth and is as weak as they come in the Big Ten and has been VERY foul prone all season. Morgan should be able to eat him alive.

          Whoever they put Cole on should be able to have a big game too as he’s just a shorter version of Tisdale.

          Heck Richardson and Paul are about the only two guys on their team that play any D at all.

          • Azad

            Illinois has been the best defensive team in the Big 10 in both 2 pointers and 3 pointers defended, and they are basically bigger at every position. Morris has thrived this year on size advantages versus opposing point guards; he’s not going to have that tonight. I’m not saying our guys aren’t capable, I just think it’s going to be tough sledding.

          • sven

            Their height is not what should worry you. If they try to go big against us we’ll tear them up.

            They’ll give us the more trouble if they go small. Their best line up is McCamey, Richardson, Paul, Richmond, and Davis. Even then that line up doesn’t really scare me that much.

          • Azad

            I have just watched Tisdale and Davis torch us the last several times we have played them, so I imagine those guys are going to be on the floor a lot. I’d be thrilled to see us handle them better than we have in the past though.

  • JimC

    Have to agree–watching the MSU debacle is entertaining. Baked DURING the game?! Hard to imagine.

    OK, we’ve struggled with the really tall teams this season, so it doesn’t look good tonight. Am more concerned how we bounce back @IA.

  • Mark

    McMamey has just absolutely shredded UM in the past. Unfortunately, I’m expecting the same type of performance tonight.

    I’ll still be cheering them on, hoping though. Go Blue!

    • sven

      So has Tisdale. Both guys are playing like crap the last 7 or 8 games. We are getting them at the perfect time.

      • Nick

        Unfortunately, I am sure that Illinois fans are thinking “we are getting Michigan at the perfect time” as well…

        Getting out of work early for this one. I haven’t been this excited for a basketball game in a long time! Go Blue!

        • jmblue

          Why would they think that? Wouldn’t it have been better to face us when we were 1-6 in conference?

  • Mason

    Basil Smotherman to Purdue. Sad to miss out on someone with such an awesome name.

    • Beilein’s Bricks

      Oh noooooo! Can’t believe we lost out on Mr. Smotherman…really wanted him on the team on name alone (plus he sounds like a good prospect).

  • MikeSal

    I look at this game and see different ways why we could lose but ultimately i still can’t see us playing poorly. We are getting Illinois at the perfect time, granted the game is away but things look good for us. Every time I think this team will struggle or hit a peak they have bounced back. I am so stoked for the game tonight and the players should be too. This is the perfect stage to show the country (or at least B10 nation) that we are damn close to being back. We just need to do what we do and things will work itself out. Attack the bigs and make open shots. Tisdale and Cole do not scare men and I bet they don’t scare the team either. An issue I see is how long their wings are. Boxing out the bigs and letting our guards/wings clean up might vbe tested tonight.

    GO BLUE!

    • Mattski

      They did look intimidated against OSU this last time, and Alexander gave Morgan a nice little half-time pep talk and he came out and played extremely well. Unfortunately, the rest of the team looked like they hadn’t gotten the message. I hope that the coaches are reminding them of that game, which was there for the taking. . .

  • eddie

    Might help to revisit what worked against Utah earlier in the season. They had a huge front line and we were able to get them in foul trouble and neutralize their advantage. That said, the Utah bigs were a different animal from these perimeter-loving tall boys in Champagne.

    On another note, as much as I can’t stand Tisdale, I’d love for McLimans to turn into him.

    • bird

      I wonder if we might not see Blake tonight. Wasn’t there some recent positive news about his performance in practice? Seems pretty unlikely, but it could be a nice shot to get even a little something out of him down the stretch. Has he even hit a three this season?

      • the_white_tiger

        He’s made one.

  • wooderson

    Tisdale has always seemed like a guy that just ended up playing basketball because he was really tall.

  • Giddings

    Unfortunately I see this as the game where McCamey gets back on track. Weber called him out and I think he’ll respond. We don’t really have anyone ideal to guard him – Stu is great at chasing guards around screens and preventing open threes, but struggles to keep penetrating guards from getting into the lane. Darius is a little better with stopping penetration but he tends to get lazy out on the perimeter guarding shooters.

  • KRN

    So, do you think we’ll start Smotrycz this time around for added height or is Douglass permanently in the starting lineup from here on out?

    Also, thanks Dylan for telling us ahead of time that Tim Doyle is commentating tonight. I’ll be sure to numb my mind in preparation.

  • KAB

    I think it is going to be tough but I think we keep the 50% shooting from 3 alive…


  • jihadistjohn

    vega$ lines:
    illinois -9.5
    over/under 131.5
    UM outright +425

    for the doyle impaired, brian barnhart & jerry hester of the illini sports radio network can be picked up on sirius 121 and XM 141

    if you’re in one of the way too many spots in michigan that doesn’t carry UM basketball, your best bet is more than likely is AM 560 WIND out of the windy city


  • KAB

    Usa today spread is 9 even!That seems like alot of points for an IL team that has been anything but good as of late???Can we get some respect please!!!

  • steve sharik

    Sorry to pee in the kool-aid, but I think we’re gonna get blasted tonight. The freshmen will see an intimidating crowd that brings a different energy than the Izzone (not better or worse, just different) and we don’t have the rivalry factor going for us. Illinois is a close second to Indiana in places we just don’t play well.

    As for Summers, I saw the iso shot on him where his eyes were red, and it was at the end of the game–I thought he was just so upset at his performance and role that he was tearing up. But, hey, maybe some of the students at Moo U. have some inside “dope.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    • KRN

      Well you could have told us that before we all drank it. :P

      Something about this game just reminds me of the Minnesota game 2 years ago.

      Michigan 68 Illinois 64.

  • Mattski

    Not making any claims, but this link worked for me last game:

    Look down the page for Michigan at Illinois today, the 16th. If you already have the software (see links above, same page) then you have to set your calendar task bar back to 2010 or it will not function.

  • JDiesel

    Any other ideas out there for a live stream for the game?