3 keys and a prediction for Michigan basketball vs. Illinois

Michigan basketball is fresh off one of its best games of the season. Can the Wolverines upset Illinois? We offer three keys and a prediction for Illinois.
Jan 15, 2024; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13) celebrates
Jan 15, 2024; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13) celebrates / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Monday offered a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark season for Michigan basketball. The Wolverines knocked off their rival Ohio State and with 14th-ranked Illinois coming to town, maybe the Wolverines can turn that into something more than a one-off performance.

There have been signs for Michigan basketball. Heck, in their last three Big Ten losses, Michigan wasted leads of seven, 10, and 12 points. So this team can play winning basketball. Doing it for 40 minutes has been a struggle.

The good news is that Michigan basketball has Dug McDaniel tonight. Juwan Howard has never beaten Illinois but sometimes, things like that happen in the weirdest way possible. Here are three keys and a prediction.

Dug McDaniel needs to be at his best

Illinois has given Michigan basketball plenty of problems over the years with its defensive scheme. Part of that had to do with Hunter Dickinson. Illinois forces players to make one-on-one players and the Fighting Illini had the guys to defend Dickinson inside.

Michigan didn't have the players able to make Illinois pay. But Dug McDaniel could be perfect for that role. The Illinois like to drop under on ball screens, which should give Dug plenty of chances to shoot the ball. He'll also get some chances to make plays for Olivier Nkamhoua and Tarris Reed. Those guys have to score inside and Nkamhoua will have to hit some shots as he did against Ohio State.

But the biggest key in this matchup is Dug. Illinois starts five players who are 6-foot-6 or talller, so Michigan will have to figure what to do with Dug on defense too. He's struggled with his shooting lately, but if he could play as he did early in the season, Michigan will have a chance.

Hit the glass

The Fighting Illini do a spectacular job of crashing the boards. They rank 29th in college basketball with 13.7 rebounds per game. Michigan hasn't been great on the boards.

The Wolverines allow 11.7 per game to opponents. With all of their size, it's going to be essential for Michigan basketball to keep Illinois off the glass. The Wovlerines don't have much margin for error in this game and one thing they can't do is get dominated in terms of second-chance points.

Hit some treys

Michigan basketball had Illinois on the ropes last year before losing in double overtime. The Wolverines made eight 3-pointers in that game. But in the previous three losses to Illinois, Michigan made just eight combined. That's 16 triples in four games or an average of four per game.

The Wolverines shoot 38.3 percent from 3-point range (23rd). They also make 9.1 3-pointers per game, which ranks 47th in college basketball. However, Illinois ranks among the top-100 defenses in 3-point percentage defense, attempts, and makes.

Illinois has won this battle in the past. But if guys like Terrance Williams, Nimari Burnett, and Nkamhoua can hit some treys, along with U-M getting a good game from Dug and this would be very winnable. Terrance Shannon won't play for Illinois due to his suspension, but Marcus Domask is dangerous and the Illini still have five players who average at least one 3-point field goal per game.

Prediction: Michigan vs Illinois (-2.5) (8:30 EST, FS1)

Sports can be funny at times and while this isn't a game Michigan basketball should win, the Wolverines have momentum and a point guard capable of scoring a lot in one-on-one situations. It might not salvage the season, but a win over Illinois would be sweet. Maybe this is wishful thinking after Monday's win, but give me the Wolverines, in a surprise, at home.

Michigan 77, Illinois 71