The series between Indiana and Illinois couldn't be any closer over the last 10 meetings, but the direction each team is headed in Big Ten play couldn't be much farther apart.
The 25th-ranked Hoosiers are seeking an 11th straight win Tuesday night against the visiting Fighting Illini, who will try to halt Indiana's best conference start under Tom Crean.
Despite its worst shooting effort of the season, Indiana (15-3, 5-0) got out of last-place Minnesota with a 70-64 win Saturday. The Hoosiers were limited to 41.3 percent but held the Golden Gophers to the same. The difference came on the glass, where Indiana hasn't conceded a rebounding advantage on the 10-game win streak while averaging a plus-9.6 differential without a fall off in the league.
“We've just got to keep finding ways (to win),” Crean told the school's official website. “That's what this team is doing in the Big Ten.”
It marks the Hoosiers' top winning streak since beginning 2011-12 with 12 straight victories, and they last won six straight in the conference to open 2007-08 before Crean arrived the following season.
But the style of the latest win is far from Indiana's identity. The Hoosiers rank third in the country in field-goal percentage (52.0) and fifth from 3-point range (43.6) with the former leading all schools from major conferences.
The up-tempo attack is paced by Yogi Ferrell, who averages a Big Ten-leading 19.8 points in conference play and finished with 20 against Minnesota. He added seven assists, passing Quinn Buckner for second on the school's all-time list and moving within one of matching Michael Lewis' record of 545.
“I definitely want milestones, but the main thing that I want is to win,” said Ferrell, who has been limited to 10.5 points on 4-of-22 shooting in his last two games against the Illini. “No matter what I do on the floor, no matter how I impact the game. I just want to win at the end of the day.”
The border rivals have split the last 10 and traded wins and losses with the Hoosiers holding a 0.7-point scoring edge, though Indiana has won the three meetings in that time in Bloomington. It also won 80-74 at Illinois on Jan. 18, 2015, despite Ferrell finishing 1 of 9 with seven points. The all-time series stands at 87-86 in favor of Indiana, but Illinois will need to really turn things around to again even it.
The Illini (9-9, 1-4) haven't won a true road game in nearly a year, going 0-7 since a five-point win at Michigan State on Feb. 7. They're also coming off Saturday's 78-67 home loss to Nebraska while being outrebounded 42-24. Dating to their win over Missouri on Dec. 23 as their final tune-up before conference play, the Illini have been outrebounded 40.3-28.0.
The absences of big men Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black certainly play a role in that, but 6-foot-10 forward Michael Finke isn't falling back on injuries for the reason behind the struggles.
“I hate to say,” said Finke, the tallest player on the Illinois roster. “That's inexcusable.”
Thorne and Black are out indefinitely, and that's led to an increased reliance on the perimeter game, albeit with destructive results. The Illini were 11 of 37 from 3-point range against the Cornhuskers, which led coach John Groce to call out his team's choices.
“Shot selection was awful,” Groce said. “It was terrible.”
Illinois has averaged 25.8 3-point attempts in the last six games and made 33.5 percent after trying 21.7 at 37.7 percent through the first 12.
Top scorer Malcom Hill has at least shown improvement in the last two games, averaging 23.5 points and shooting 53.6 percent after opening conference play with 11.7 on 32.4. The Illini are 4-1 when he passes 20 points.