Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gordon Finally to Illinois...

... But as a Hoosier.

Eric Gordon and Kelvin Sampson (along with the rest of the Indiana Hoosiers) are playing in Champaign tonight, and Illinois' Orange Krush student section is ready for them. Indeed, they seem quite eager for a good night of taunting, probably interspersed with some lusty booing. And that's probably their due. I have felt the ire of the jilted fan before, and I wanted the jilters to feel the fans' collective wrath, specifically when Luke Recker came back to Bloomington as an Iowa Hawkeye (after a brief interlude as an Arizona Wildcat) during the 2002 season and when Sean May came to town as a Tarheel in the 2005 season.

The question is how much difference will the Illini crowd's animosity make to Eric Gordon or to the Hoosiers? One IU Hoops blogger isn't too concerned, but I think it might be an issue. The reason I think that is that the Hoosier faithful seemed like they might have had some sort of effect on both of those players. In Recker's boo-fest at Assembly Hall (Bloomington), he went 3 of 10 from the floor en route to 8 points. When May came to town, he was also limited to eight points while shooting 2 for 7 from the floor in only 19 minutes. In May's case, the officials might have had something to do with it, as he was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game. I vaguely recall thinking he did commit those fouls, but we shouldn't talk about my vague memories of things that were likely colored by my bias at the time. Either way, neither player who was vilified by the Hoosier faithful had much of a game in his first trip to the hostile atmosphere in Bloomington. For the record, the Hoosiers beat Recker's Hawkeyes 79-51 in their national runner-up season, but they lost to May's eventual national champion Tarheels in the '04-'05 season.

That anecdotal evidence, which I fully admit is not necessarily indicative of anything that will happen tonight, makes me think it might be a tough game for Gordon. Either way, this will be a tough game for the Hoosiers. The Illini are very stout on D, especially -- as seems to be the case a lot lately -- at limiting their opponents' eFG%. It's just very hard to put the ball in the basket against Illinois. As Ken Pomeroy pointed out, "no Big Ten team should take the Illini lightly," despite their less-than-stellar record this year.

If the Hoosiers could just play D like they did against Wisconsin, but play O like they did against Northwestern, they'd be in fine shape. However, Illinois' tough D will pose a problem with that plan. I think the key in this game might be for the Hoosiers to get to the free throw line (and hit their free throws), given that Illini opponents get to the free throw line an awful lot (Illinois is ranked 218th in the country in defensive free throw rate). I suspect they'll win if they do. Otherwise, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see IU come away with a close road loss.

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