The Michigan offense was on fire against Iowa last Friday, helping the Wolverines start Big Ten play 1-0. The Wolverines now head on the road for the second of two early conference matchups, facing a solid-looking Illinois team. After struggling to get it going against Louisville, the maize and blue proved that this offense can annihilate non-elite defenses with ease and seem to be right back on track.
The Illini were seen as a potential sleeper in the preseason and have lived up to that so far, going 6-3 to start the year with wins over the lesser teams and losses against upper opponents, including a close defeat at Maryland last Saturday. Facing Michigan at home will be a great opportunity for them to get a signature win.
Kenpom currently puts the home side No. 43 overall, which is a definite step up from previous seasons. The offense sits at 35th in the country, fueled by a 54.8 percent two-point mark and an elite 42.8 percent offensive rebounding rate, much due to center Kofi Cockburn. The defense is not too shabby either, but both Arizona and Maryland were able to put up 80+ points against the Illini. Points should be available for the Wolverines.
What to watch
Comfort on offense: Louisville boasts one of the top defensive units in the nation, and while Michigan could have played better at times, a lot of its struggles were because of the competition. Against a bad defense like Iowa, the Wolverines picked up where they left off. Illinois is no pushover, but should allow the offense to keep clicking. This happens when Michigan moves the ball well and when shooters take the open shots given to them. Even with the loss to the Cardinals, the Wolverines are shooting over 40 percent from deep over their last six games — that should continue on Wednesday.
Foul troubles: Both Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske had issues staying on the floor against the Hawkeyes, and that will probably not be the last time it happens this season. This opened the door for Brandon Johns, Colin Castleton, and even Austin Davis to play some valuable minutes, and depth among the bigs is a requirement in this conference. Johns, especially, impressed on Friday, showing good knowledge of the offense and contributing on defense. Teske will always be a large factor on both ends of the floor, but knowing there are options behind him is important.
Emerging Wagner: Though it has just been five games, Franz Wagner has been drawing intrigue since joining the starting lineup. The freshman dropped a career-high 18 points against Iowa and has strung together a couple decent defensive performances as well. Shooting will always be his calling card, however, and a 26.3 percent clip from behind the arc is due to improve. Look for Wagner to take on smaller Illinois guards and finish at the rim as his long-distance shot works its way back to form.
Analytics see this game as a coin flip, but if Michigan can clean up the defense a little bit, it should turn out to be a solid road win. 77-71 Michigan.
Teams: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (8-1, 1-0) at Illinois Fighting Illini (6-3, 0-1)
Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Location: State Farm Center, Champaign, IL
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET