3 keys vs. Illinois 

February, 11, 2012
The No. 25 Michigan basketball team faces Illinois on Sunday. The Fighting Illini are coming off a loss at No. 23 Indiana, and the Wolverines are returning from their second road win of the season.

"They certainly are a very talented team," Michigan coach John Beilein said of Illinois. "You watch their team and they have had some great wins over Ohio State and Gonzaga. Now we have to play really well against them. Just because we're home doesn't mean we're going to play well, but after five of six on the road and coming out 3-3, I think there's a lot of hope right now that we can finish strong."

Michigan is undefeated at home this season, and if the Wolverines want to stay that way here are three keys:

  1. Be smart when driving. The Illini's big man, Meyers Leonard, leads the Big Ten in blocked shots per game (2.1) so when the Wolverines drive, they're going to have to be smart. Just because there's a presence in the paint doesn't mean Michigan should avoid the key, but each player (specifically freshman point guard Trey Burke) needs to remember that a 7-foot-3 wingspan awaits them. Against Michigan State, the Wolverines were tentative when going inside and because of this they missed a lot of layups. They can't allow Leonard to change their shots or form, but they need to be cognizant of their shot selection.
  2. Contain Brandon Paul. He's the conference's third-leading scorer (19.4 points per Big Ten contest) and has reached double figures in each of the Illini’s conference games. He might be one of the most consistent players the Wolverines face this season. But what Beilein said he fears most about the 6-foot-4 junior is his ability to get to the free-throw line. Paul shoots six shots from the charity stripe per game and has gotten his fair share of defenders in foul trouble this season.
  3. Tim Hardaway Jr. needs to get out of his funk. The Wolverines will still have a good shot to win this one if the sophomore guard goes scoreless for a half. But at this point in the season, the Wolverines need to start looking forward. Michigan doesn't make a deep run in the Big Ten or NCAA tournament if Hardaway Jr. is silent on the stat line. The Illini are a struggling team and this could be a solid opportunity for Hardaway Jr. to find his shot again. If he can get hot against Illinois, Michigan has a better chance against Ohio State next weekend. If he’s cold from the field, it will be a very long week for the sophomore.
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