Since Michigan coach Juwan Howard took over at his alma mater in 2019-20, he has beaten every Big Ten team multiple times — except the one that represents the Chicago native’s home state.
Heading into Thursday night’s meeting in Champaign, Ill., Illinois and coach Brad Underwood have swept all five tilts between the Wolverines (17-12, 11-7 Big Ten) and the Illini (19-10, 10-8) over the last four years.
There is plenty at stake as Michigan, winners of three straight, looks to fight its way off the NCAA Tournament bubble and Illinois tries to avoid moving closer to the bubble. The Illini plummeted to 36th in the NET rankings after suffering a 12-point defeat Sunday at Ohio State that snapped the Buckeyes’ nine-game losing streak.
“We’ve had two of these games now where we’ve had no life,” Underwood said. “We had nothing. And when we get this way, we not only become poor on the defensive side, we don’t execute.”
Underwood also noted his team hasn’t had “the fire and the bite” recently, but longtime rival Michigan tends to bring that out in the Illini. However, almost nobody in Illinois’ rotation knows what it’s like to beat Michigan.
Coleman Hawkins and Luke Goode are the only returnees who played in both Illinois wins over Michigan last year. The Wolverines, meanwhile, retain their best player from last year: 7-footer Hunter Dickinson, who no longer must contend with Illinois All-American Kofi Cockburn in the middle.
The Illinois and Michigan rosters both needed such radical overhauls during the offseason, they went after some of the same transfers. The Illini landed Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr., who ranks seventh among all Big Ten scorers (17.1 points per game) — two spots behind Dickinson (17.6).
Prior to Thursday’s game, Shannon and Baylor grad transfer Matthew Mayer will be honored during Illinois’ Senior Night ceremony.
Michigan sits at 55 in the NET rankings but has two great chances to climb with Thursday’s contest at Illinois and Sunday’s regular-season finale at No. 15 Indiana.
“One game at a time,” Howard said. “That’s what we’re going to keep focusing on.”
–Field Level Media