Michigan vs. Illinois: Breaking Down Each Side's Keys to Victory

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 09:  Tim Hardaway Jr. #10 of the Michigan Wolverines high fives Trey Burke #3 and Glenn Robinson III #1 of the Michigan Wolverines during the first half while playing the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Crisler Center on January 9, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 62-47. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are trying to become the No. 1 ranked team in the country for the first time since 1993. However, they will first have to win a difficult matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini.

This season, the Big Ten is arguably the deepest conference in the nation. For this reason, there is no such thing as an easy victory, especially on the road.

Despite the Wolverines coming in as the No. 2 team in the latest rankings, either team is capable of winning this close battle. The eventual winner will be the one that is able to follow these keys to victory.



Defend the Perimeter

When facing the 10th-highest scoring team in the nation, defense should be the primary focus. Against Michigan, the key is defending the perimeter.

The Wolverines shoot 41.1 percent from three as a team, and their four top scorers can all hit from deep with regularity.

Fortunately, the Illini have the quickness to be able to stay with this club. They need to stay on the opposing players with or without the ball to avoid giving up easy shots.

In Michigan's only loss of the season, Ohio State held the team to only 6-of-20 from behind the arc. This led to the squad's lowest scoring output of the year.

Illinois needs to follow this strategy and prevent Michigan from shooting for a high percentage.


Win the Rebounding Battle

Michigan has one of the top teams in the country, but it is still relatively weak up front.

The team's best rebounder, Glen Robinson III, is only 6'6". The only real big man is Mitch McGary, but the freshman averages just over 16 minutes per game.

This means that Illinois must take advantage of its opponent's biggest weakness. Whether that means better boxing out or simply bigger lineups with more minutes for Nnanna Egwu, the team has to win the rebounding battle.

Against Ohio State, Illinois was able to win thanks in part to a decisive advantage on the glass. The same needs to happen on Sunday.

If the Wolverines are able to get second chances at baskets, they will be almost impossible to beat. Illinois must limit all possessions to one shot as it tries to keep this a low-scoring game.



Pass the Ball

Trey Burke is one of the best point guards in the country, and he is averaging 7.2 assists per game. However, the team is much more successful when everyone distributes the ball.

In the team's loss to Ohio State, players started getting frustrated and tried playing one-on-one games instead of working as a unit.

This led to Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. combining to go 9-of-28 from the floor and the Wolverines totaling only eight assists all game.

However, the great road win over Minnesota featured 19 assists on 28 field goals. They shot 54.9 percent from the floor as they defeated the No. 9 team in the country. 

There is enough talent on the roster to get a lot of people involved. Everyone has to keeping looking for open men to give the whole team better looks at the basket.


Keep Focus on This Game

It is often very easy for college players to lose focus on the game in front of them.

In this case, Michigan is looking at the chance to be No. 1 in the rankings after Duke lost this week. Additionally, games at Indiana and home against Ohio State loom in the next couple of weeks.

The Wolverines have to make sure they are not looking past the game against Illinois.

Big Ten squads have struggled on the road this year, and the crowd in Assembly Hall can get really loud if the game remains close.

Michigan has to avoid falling into this trap and get out to a good start early. If they can get momentum in the first half, it should carry them to a victory over an inferior team.