Illinois-Indiana Preview

Indiana and Illinois are experiencing up-and-down seasons –

especially in the Fighting Illini’s case.

Meanwhile, the gap separating each team from the top of the Big

Ten standings continues to grow.

The No. 23 Hoosiers seek back-to-back wins for the first time in

a month when they host the Illini, who are struggling but can beat

a ranked opponent for the fourth time in five tries this

season.

Indiana’s 15-1 start included victories over No. 1 Kentucky,

then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 16 Michigan, leaving it poised

to compete for the program’s first Big Ten title since it played

for the national championship in 2002.

The Hoosiers (18-6, 6-6) have struggled in the eight games

since, however, and are three games behind the conference-leading

Buckeyes. They are coming off a 78-61 win at Purdue on Saturday, a

victory in which coach Tom Crean saw vast improvement.

”Our guys did an excellent job of understanding that if you’re

going to beat a really good team on the road, you’ve got to have

great resolve, you’ve got to have toughness, you’ve got to get to

the foul line, you’ve got to have a rebounding mindset and you’ve

got to communicate,” Crean said. ”I’m proud of the way that they

played.”

Indiana hasn’t won consecutive games since beating Ohio State,

Michigan and Penn State from Dec. 31-Jan. 8.

Victor Oladipo scored a career-high 23 points Saturday for the

Hoosiers, 13-1 at home.

”This win is huge,” Oladipo said. ”We learned tonight to make

better decisions and be poised when the game is on the line.”

Indiana has lost five of the last six meetings with Illinois,

which like the Hoosiers has played inconsistently over the past

three weeks.

The Illini (16-7, 5-5) have played up to their competition,

upsetting then-No. 19 Gonzaga on Dec. 3 and then-No. 5 Ohio State

on Jan. 10 before a 42-41 victory over then-No. 9 Michigan State on

Jan. 31.

However, Illinois followed each of those victories with marginal

efforts. It trailed late before beating St. Bonaventure following

the Gonzaga win, lost 54-52 at Penn State after beating the

Buckeyes and fell 74-70 at home to Northwestern on Sunday.

Meyers Leonard hit his first nine shots and finished with 21

points while Brandon Paul scored a team-high 22, but Illinois

allowed the Wildcats to shoot 60.4 percent from the field.

“It would be an understatement to say it’s a disappointing

loss,” coach Bruce Weber said. “I thought the last couple games we

did what we needed to do as far as playing hard and as far as

defending, taking some pride in that. Obviously, that wasn’t the

case (Sunday).”

Illinois has lost four of five and is in danger of falling out

of the Big Ten race. Each of the Illini’s last five games have been

decided by five or fewer points, matching a school record set in

1929.

Illinois has had 12 games decided by five or fewer this season –

tied with Louisiana Tech for most in the nation – and has gone 7-5

in those contests.

Jordan Hulls scored a game-high 18 points to lead Indiana to a

52-49 upset of then-No. 20 Illinois on Jan. 27, 2011, in the most

recent matchup in Bloomington.