GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini will welcome the Michigan Wolverines to Assembly Hall tonight for a Big Ten Conference matchup.
Michigan enters this game in search of a fourth straight victory after topping Indiana on Saturday, 73-69. After a 1-6 start in league play, the Wolverines have rebounded with wins in five of their last six contests overall to improve to 6-7 against Big Ten teams, with the lone loss in that stretch coming at top-ranked Ohio State earlier this month. Beginning with tonight's bout, three of the team's next four games will be on the road.
It will be no easy task going up against an Illinois squad that has an .858 win percentage at Assembly Hall since 2000, and the team's only two home losses on the year have come against No. 1 Ohio State and 11th-ranked Purdue. That loss to Purdue came this past Sunday in an 81-70 final. Along with Michigan, the Fighting Illini (16-9, 6-6) are one of five teams separated by just a half game in the conference standings.
Illinois has won each of the last three meetings against Michigan, and the Fighting Illini hold an 84-71 edge in the all-time series.
Michigan led Indiana by 20 with just under seven minutes to play on Saturday, but the Hoosiers put together an 18-5 run to make a late charge. The Wolverines did not seal the victory until the final seconds when Darius Morris knocked down a pair of free throws. Poor free-throw shooting allowed the Hoosiers to hang around, as UM made only 19-of-37 (.514) at the charity stripe for the game. Somehow, the team shot better from the field (.535) and from three-point range (.533).
Tim Hardaway, Jr. shot 9-of-11 from the field and knocked down 4-of-6 treys for a game-high 26 points. Morris added 15 points, while Stu Douglass scored 13, and Zack Novak finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Novak (9.3 ppg) has shot 50 percent (31-of-62) from three-point range since Big Ten play began, which is up from his 29.3 percent (17-of-58) accuracy in non-conference games. The 6-4 Novak also leads the team with 6.0 rebounds per game.
Still, each offensive set filters through point guard Morris (15.4 ppg), the Big Ten's assists leader with 6.81 dimes per game, which is also the best-ever average by a Michigan player in a single season. Hardaway, Jr. is also averaging double figures with 12.7 ppg.
The Fighting Illini also have a very capable maestro to initiate the action on the floor in Demetri McCamey, a First-Team All-Big Ten selection a year ago who ranked second in the nation in assists. This season, McCamey leads the squad in scoring with 14.4 ppg, and he ranks second in the league in assists with 6.5 per game, just behind Morris. McCamey has also flashed marksman-like accuracy from the perimeter, knocking down 47.2 percent (50-of-106) of his three-point attempts.
He is complemented down low by Mike Davis, a 52.6 percent shooter from the floor who is posting 11.7 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds per tilt. Three other players are averaging at least nine points for the Wolverines. However, they struggled in the paint against a tough Purdue squad on Sunday, as they were outrebounded by a 42-28 margin for the game. Michigan led by as many as seven early in the second half, but the taller Boilermakers kept attacking the boards and ultimately swung the momentum in their favor. Brandon Paul came off the bench to lead UM with 23 points, while Davis tallied 16 points and seven boards in the loss. McCamey had a miserable day from the floor, finishing with just four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
This game pits two of the nation's premier point guards against one another, but don't expect McCamey to turn in a second straight clunker at home. The Illini no doubt will need McCamey on his game to take down a surging Michigan squad.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Assembly Hall (16,618) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Michigan 13-4, Illinois 11-2. Away Record: Michigan 3-4, Illinois 3-4. Neutral Record: Michigan 0-2, Illinois 2-3. Conference Record: Michigan 6-7, Illinois 6-6. Series Record: Illinois leads, 84-71.
Wednesday, February 16th, 8:30 p.m. ET
TSN PREDICTION: Illinois 71, Michigan 70