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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 07, 2017 12:35 pm

Pregame: Indiana (10-5) vs. Illinois (11-4)

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — Indiana takes a three-game losing streak into today's game against Illinois here at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers haven't lost four straight since the 2010-11 season, back in the rebuilding days.

This is no gimmie. Nothing is a gimmie for these Hoosiers right now.

The Fighting Illini are 2-2 against the Sagarin top 50. They have one of the Big Ten's best players in Malcolm Hill, who is averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. They have been hot from 3-point range, shooting 38 percent as a team this season. They have size inside: Maverick Morgan, Mike Thorne Jr. and Michael Finke. And they have more depth than they did in recent years with 11 players averaging at least eight minutes a game.

Everyone's seen the Hoosiers' lack of focus, as evidence by the inordinate number of mental errors. They don't just need to win today. They need to play a complete game.

Here are three things to watch for when the ball is tipped shortly after 5 p.m.

King of the Hill: The Hoosiers faced Hill once when he was a sophomore, and the 6-foot-6 forward had 12 points and five rebounds. As a junior last season, Hill got 20 points and five boards in Bloomington on Jan. 19, a 103-69 Hoosier win. But come Feb. 25, Hill endured a five-point home dud in a 74-47 loss against Indiana.

Unless they meet Illinois in the postseason, this is the Hoosiers' last scheduled game against Hill, who's had a solid career.

Staying big: Last time out, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean shuffled Juwan Morgan into the starting unit with OG Anunoby, marking the first time all season he had opened with traditional size at both forward spots. Crean also paired centers Thomas Bryant and De'Ron Davis together more, allowing the 6-foot-10 Davis to be an imposing presence at power forward.

If the Hoosiers stay big today, they will have to get back because the Illini will attempt to run against that size when they generate stops.

Bench roulette: Crean noted during his weekly radio show Monday that each game a player or two are not stepping up when needed. He didn't name names, but Indiana's bench has been woefully inconsistent and prone to lulls that have made many games a grind (just look at Tuesday's loss to Wisconsin in which a one-point lead with 7:06 left became a seven-point deficit with 4:30 to go, a span in which reserves Curtis Jones and Freddie McSwain Jr. were on the floor). The Hoosiers need their bench to quickly hit its stride.

Injuries have forced Crean to use a larger rotation, but with Devonte Green expected to return, only Collin Hartman (knee) is out of action now, and Crean can lean on his core guys to carry this team.  With the immense value of every game from here on out, Crean should shorten his rotation as Indiana tries to turn around its season.