So, what does that mean for this game against Illinois? It's a MUST win. If this team wants any chance of winning the Big Ten, or at least sharing the title, they have to win just about every remaining game. They have the easiest remaining schedule of the four title contenders and capitalizing on that is vital, especially at home. With a match-up against the Buckeyes next Saturday, winning this is essential.
So, let's compare these two teams:
Illinois is averaging more points that the Wolverines right now, but almost everything goes through their point guard Brandon Paul. He's currently averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, and over 3 assists per game. The other true play-maker for the Illini is Meyers Leynard. He's a great inside man and will probably cause some problems for the Wolverines, especially if Morgan gets in foul trouble.
However, Michigan's offense has become pretty diverse, especially with the increased use of Morgan. Morgan's role will likely be diminished with Leynard's presence, but he's going to be vital if Michigan is going to win. I expect a big day from some role players (I'm looking at you Novak, Douglass and Vogrich). Along with this, if Hardaway has a big day I find it doubtful the Illini can slow down the Michigan offense. Frankly, I just believe Michigan has more weapons
Advantage: Slight Edge Michigan
Unlike on offense, this is an area where Michigan has a size-able advantage. Not only do the Wolverines allow fewer points that Illinois, but also do a good job of defending places like the perimeter. This is one thing that I think will be key if the Wolverines are to beat Illinois. Sure, Illinois has a great inside attack with Leynard, but it was the 3-PT shooting that vaulted them to their best wins like against Ohio State. If Michigan slows this down, the upset potential should be reduced pretty significantly.
Michigan's 1-3-1 scheme is also pretty unusual, as you're probably tired of hearing by now, which could cause Paul a problem. He's an outstanding point guard, but he's going to have Burke or Douglass guarding him, which should slow him down. Plus, with the lowered potential for outside shooting they are going to have to go inside. Sure, Leynard has an advantage over Morgan, but the Wolverines didn't do too bad against Zeller, who is pretty good himself. Considering this I think Michigan has the defensive advantage.
Michigan will certainly be coming in a lot hotter than the Illini. Not only has Illinois lost five of their last six games, but they've also lost to Penn State, Minnesota, and Northwestern, not exactly the pride of the Big Ten. Along with this, Illinois lost to Michigan when they met last season. Certainly it was last year, but I'm sure some of that will be on their minds. Finally, Michigan will be playing at home for the first time in what seems like forever, which will have the crowd pumped up.
Advantage: Significant Michigan
I certainly don't expect a blow-out from either side, but I'd be shocked if Illinois upset or made it extremely close at the end. The Wolverines have given up huge leads in Crisler this season to make them close games, but I don't see it in this game. The two teams are headed in opposite directions and I think most people thought Michigan was better even before Illinois began their downturn.
Without an insane performance from Paul I can't see Illinois coming into Crisler and winning. The Wolverines have played outstanding defense all season in Ann Arbor and will likely continue that on Sunday. Along with this, Michigan is simply the better team. That means that Illinois will have to play better than their average and Michigan will have to play pretty bad. This will be a competitive game, but I think Michigan will take control of the tempo from the start.
My Magic Pick Is...
Photo Credit: AP