The Illinois Fighting Illini and No. 13 Michigan Wolverines meet for the second time this season on Thursday night in Champaign, and the Illini need a victory on Senior Night to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. In the first matchup, Wolverines Zack Novak, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Evan Smotrycz each scored in double digits and Ilini Meyers Leonard was held to just five points as Michigan claimed a 70-61 home win back on Feb. 12. This time around, the Illini (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten, No. 63 RPI) are desperate for a win and riding the bubble for the NCAA Tourney.
In the Big Ten rematch on Thursday, Illinois has a serious home-court advantage. Michigan has a 13-game losing streak at Assembly Hall, and is up against the emotion of senior night this time around. Then again, the Illini don't really have any strong ties to the two seniors on the roster this year. As FigthingIllini.com points out, Guard Sam Maniscalco transferred from Bradley following the completion of his undergraduate degree last season, and Jean Selus is a two-year player in the program after walking on following his time at Parkland Junior College in Champaign.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines in scoring for most of the season, and still holds a respectable 14.1 points per game mark, but freshman guard Trey Burke has really been the lead player during the second half of the season. Burke has scored in double figures in 26 of 29 games this season, and adds 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per contest as well. Stopping the Wolverines backcourt will be a huge key to the game for the Illini.
Illinois is led by Brandon Paul (14.8 PPG), Meyers Leonard (13.4 PPG) and D.J. Richardson (12.1 PPG). Leonard responded to some tough love from Bruce Weber by dropping a 22-point, 14-rebound double-double in Sunday's win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, and they will need a similar performance to knock off a talented Michigan team on Thursday.
Game date/time: 6:00 PM CT, Thursday, March 1, 2012
Location: Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL
TV: ESPN, ESPN3
Radio: Illini Sports Network
For more on this game stay with SB Nation Chicago. For more on the Illini check out Hail to the Orange and for more on the Wolverines head over to Maize n Brew. For more news and notes around the country, stick with SB Nation's college basketball news hub.