Big Ten battle pits Wolverines against Illini

The Sports NetworkMarch 4, 2014 

Champaign, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Both the 12th-ranked Michigan Wolverines and the Illinois Fighting Illini will attempt to continue their respective three-game winning streaks on Tuesday night, as the Big Ten Conference rivals square off at the State Farm Center.

Michigan's winning streak has allowed it to improve its record in the Big Ten to 13-3, clinching at least a share of the conference title, and with a win in either of its final two games it will claim the league championship outright for the first time since 1986. The Wolverines most recently downed Minnesota at home on Saturday, 66-56, to move to 21-7 overall.

Illinois has made a late push with its three-game surge, and a few more wins down the stretch and in the conference tournament would go a long way in improving its NCAA Tournament resume. The Illini posted their most impressive win of the season on Saturday, as they went into East Lansing and toppled nationally-ranked Michigan State, 53-46, to improve to 17-12 overall and 6-10 in the league.

The Illini leads the all-time series with Michigan, 85-76, but the Wolverines have won each of the past five meetings.

The Wolverines opened up an 11-point lead over Minnesota over the weekend and held on down the stretch for the impressive double-digit victory, as they outshot the Golden Gophers from the field, 50 percent to 45.8 percent, while holding slim advantages in both the rebounding (28-27) and turnover (11-10) battles. Nik Stauskas was on point from 3-point range (5-of-8) on his way to a game-high 21 points. Caris LeVert tallied 13 points and five assists, Glenn Robinson III scored 12 points and Jordan Morgan hauled in 10 rebounds.

On the season, Michigan has been one of the nation's most well-rounded teams, shooting 47.7 percent from the field for 74.9 ppg while allowing just 65.1 ppg on 43.9 percent shooting. The squad also makes 8.3 3-pointers per game at a 38.9 percent clip, drains 75.7 percent of its free-throw tries and owns positive rebounding (+1.4) and turnover (+1.6) margins. Stauskas pours in 17.1 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while LaVert (13.4 ppg) and Robinson (13.0 ppg) have also been stellar.

The Illini trailed Michigan State early in the second half of their latest contest but pulled ahead with a 9-0 run and held on down the stretch for the low-scoring victory. They attempted just 44 field goals but were very efficient overall (.477) and from 3-point range (.444), while also forcing MSU into just 39.1 percent shooting and a game-high 16 turnovers. Tracy Abrams put up 12 points to lead the way, while Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice netted 10 points apiece.

Illinois' offensive effort has been suspect all season long, as it shoots a lowly 40.7 percent from the field for 65.1 ppg, but it has remained a factor thanks to its outstanding defense, which holds opposing teams to just 41.4 percent shooting and 62.0 ppg. Rice is the top scoring threat with 15.8 ppg and is also tied for the team lead in rebounding with 6.0 per outing. Abrams (10.9 ppg) and Joseph Bertrand (9.2 ppg) are also solid scorers, while Nnanna Egwu makes up for his low point total (6.9 ppg) with 6.0 rpg and 2.2 bpg.

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