Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Pick & Prediction MARCH 10th 2024

For No. 12 Illinois, there’s little at stake in the regular-season finale at Iowa on Sunday afternoon.

The Big Ten title is out of reach, the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament is clinched, and a No. 4 or 5 NCAA Tournament seed seems virtually assured. But for Iowa, there’s so much more than Senior Night on the agenda.

The Hawkeyes have won four of their last five games to enter this weekend at No. 48 in the KenPom rankings and No. 57 in the NET – two key metrics monitored by the NCAA Tournament committee. If Iowa (18-12, 10-9) knocks off Illinois (22-8, 14-6) at Carver Hawkeye Arena to avenge their only loss since Valentine’s Day, it will represent the Hawkeyes’ third win over a Quad 1 foe in the last three weeks – yet another bullet point the committee can’t ignore. “You always hope that your team will continue to get better,” said 14th-year Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. “The league is as balanced as it’s been, certainly since I’ve been here. Every game seems like it’s going to be close, so you have to figure out how to win those close games if you can – and we’ve done that recently. I’m just proud of the fight.” Before the game, three of Iowa’s top six players will go through Senior Night festivities: Fourth-year guard Tony Perkins (14.9 ppg, 4.5 apg), grad transfer center Ben Krikke (13.9 ppg) and sixth man Patrick McCaffery (8.7 ppg). “Those guys have sort of set the standard for the young guys,” Fran McCaffery said. “We’ve had a lot of young guys contribute this year, but they’ve had great examples of how to prepare, how to work and essentially how to win.” Of course, nothing comes easy against the Illini.

When the teams met in Champaign two weekends ago, Iowa built a seven-point second-half lead only for its offense to go quiet late in a 95-85 Illinois victory. Senior center Coleman Hawkins poured in a career-high 30 points for Illinois – hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers, all six of his shots inside the arc and 9 of 11 from the foul line – but his knee has been aching recently. Tendinitis caused him to miss three games during non-conference play and he was clearly favoring it during Tuesday’s 77-71 loss to No. 3 Purdue. With little on the line Sunday, perhaps Illinois head coach Brad Underwood will limit Hawkins’ minutes and give backups Dain Dainja and Amari Hansberry more time. But Underwood will never limit his overall expectations. In the wake of surrendering multiple offensive rebounds late in the Purdue game – two of which led to five crucial second-chance points in the final 90 seconds – Underwood threw down a challenge. “We’ve got to have better rebounding from our perimeter players,” Underwood said. “Plain and simple. Terrence Shannon had zero defensive rebounds. Zero. The best athlete on the court. We’ve got to have better rebounding from our guards. “When you get a stop and you’ve got three guys around the ball and nobody even makes an attempt to get on the floor for it, those (plays) send you home. It’s winning and losing. And there’s winners and losers in life. You can’t not go make those plays. “If we don’t understand that we’re really, really good and we can be a Final Four team – I believe that, I’m just telling you now – but you’ve got to make those plays. You have to make those plays. And you can put that in bold italics on every newspaper, on every damn chat line that I never read. I don’t care. Make big plays to stay alive.”

–Field Level Media

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