Top-ranked Indiana expects Illini’s best shot
By Andy Proffet Post-Tribune correspondent February 6, 2013 8:16PM
Indiana head coach Tom Crean during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana defeated Michigan 81-73. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:49AM
BLOOMINGTON — Back at No. 1 in the polls, Indiana faces two road opponents this week, meeting Illinois tonight and No. 10 Ohio State on Sunday.
“I think the whole thing with the team is that they have been down this road before,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They know what it means to the opponent’s fan base. They know what it means to the opponent. They know what that means on the national level.
“And really what has become so popular is once that No. 1 vote is made, is to predict who is going to be next and when you are going to lose and let somebody else get that No. 1 spot. I think the more we focus on that would not be good. But I think the more we understand the responsibility that comes with it, especially on the road and knowing that you are going to get the best shot from those teams. It is amazing what that number, whether it is a four, three two or one, what that does.”
It’s been awhile since Indiana has taken a No. 1 ranking to Illinois — 1976, as a matter of fact. Illinois is 2-20 all-time against teams ranked No. 1: a January 1979 win over Michigan State and a December 2004 victory over Wake Forest.
Still, Illinois has had a string of recent success at home against the Hoosiers, winning three straight and nine of 10 against Indiana in Champaign.
“We know going into Fighting Illini country will be a major challenge,” Crean said. “We will be as good as our preparation, toughness and execution.”
The Illini have struggled in Big Ten play. After starting the season 13-1 in nonconference play, the Illini are just 2-7 in the conference, including four straight home losses.
Part of the problem has been Illinois’ 3-point shooting percentage. After shooting 36.9 percent in nonconference play, the Illini have shot just 25.4 percent from beyond the arc in Big Ten games.
Brandon Paul is Illinois’ top scorer (17.4 ppg) and was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25, but he didn’t start the last game because of concerns about his defense.