Jan. 26—CHAMPAIGN — Conference titles are very hard to win — especially in the Big Ten.
Illinois has won 18 regular-season titles and its bid for another conference crown took a hit on Wednesday night with a 96-91 overtime loss at Northwestern.
But, the 10th-rated Fighting Illini doesn't have time to wallow in self pity because one of their biggest rivals, the Indiana Hoosiers, are coming to town today for the 198th meeting between the programs. Tip off today at the State Farm Center is set for 2 p.m.
"We have to bounce back," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We have a very, very talented Indiana team coming in here. They have an elite front line in terms of size and athleticism. They are a team that has been spectacular, at times."
The Hoosiers haven't been that spectacular recently. Indiana (12-7 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten) has lost three of their last four games including three straight away from the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
"They are a really talented team that haven't fully put it together with their record," according to Illinois graduate senior Marcus Domask. "They are a team that you can't play around with."
Especially after the way that Illinois lost at Northwestern on Wednesday.
The Wildcats shot a remarkable 55.1 percent from the field and they were 10-of-14 from 3-point range in the second half and overtime combined.
According to Underwood, Illinois (14-5 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten) made a number of scouting-report mistakes. So how does the Illini correct those issues?
"More attention to detail in practice," Domask said. "Those are mental lapses that can't happen. It hurt us. That loss hurts."
While the mistakes are always a concern for Underwood, he did point out that Indiana is a very different team from Northwestern.
"It's a completely different type of game, it's a completely different team," he said. "Malik (Reneau) is a guy that scores at the rim, he steps out and shoots 3. Kei-el (Ware) is 7-foot and a great lob catcher. It's a different type of game.
"We are who we are defensively. we have to better at not making what we call scouting-report mistakes."
Underwood also said that credit should go to Northwestern for making "some really tough shots."
And in conference play, that's going to happen, so what does he want this team to do against the Hoosiers and their leading scorer Reneau?
"You have to make his catches hard," Underwood said. "He will shoot an occasional 3-pointer, but he is probably most comfortable in the 15-foot range. He is their priority. They go to him in various different looks.
"They have more weapons than just him, but he is a guy that on any given night can get 20-30, if you don't make his catches hard."
Another major difference in this game is that Indiana has had a week off since a 91-79 loss at Wisconsin on Jan. 19, Illinois is playing its sixth game in 17 days.
"We have 15 straight days without a day off," Underwood said.
Those quick turnarounds with players missing games because of injury and suspension has definitely tested the Illini depth.
Terrence Shannon Jr., who had his suspension lifted a little over a week ago, is still trying to get into game-shape after missing six straight games.
"The hardest challenge isn't physical, it's the mental," said Underwood, noting that players like Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn had missed games in the past. "It's the competing and it's the grind of getting hit.
"We need Terrence to guard and rebound. The shooting and the offense will come...we need him to be more active. Terrence is a guy whole defense drives his offense."
Today's game, which is set for a 2 p.m. tipoff, is a sell out. It is also 'Stripe the State Farm Center" day, where fans in odd numbered sections are encouraged to wear orange, while the fans in even numbered sections are asked to wear blue.
Underwood will also be wearing a special pair of sneakers in honor of Coaches vs. Cancer, as they will have the names of 30 individuals related to members of the basketball staff that have dealt with a form of cancer.
Fox will show today's game with Jason Benetti and Robbie Hummel serving as the commentators, while the game can also be heard on the Illini Sports Network, including Danville stations WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.