The Illini defense has been outstanding in the past four league contests as Illinois has held four straight Big Ten teams under 50 points for the first time since the 1947 season.
“They are creating turnovers, and that’s a big thing,’’ said Beilein, as Illinois has forced 46 turnovers in its three-game win streak. “Michigan State is a good passing team, and they hard to guard. But, I think (Illinois) had something like 24 or 25 points off turnovers. That’s where they are creating a lot of their offense.
“They have two freshmen (Nunn and Hill) that are playing really well, they are getting their hands on the ball. And then (Rayvonte) Rice is getting like 3 steals a game during this stretch. Those are like Rajon Rondo’s numbers at Kentucky.’’
Rice, who is also the leading scorer for the Illini at 15.8 points per game, has had nine steals in the past two games.
And that Illinois defense, which is the second best in the Big Ten, will be put to a test tonight as Michigan has the third best offense in the conference, averaging 71.7 points per game. The Wolverines, who are led in scoring by guards Nik Stauskas (17.1) and Caris LeVert (13.4) along with forward Glenn Robinson III (13.0), have an impressive 6-2 record on the road in the Big Ten Conference play.
“Michigan is a great team,’’ Groce said. “They are very, very good on offense. They have multiple shoots and multiple weapons. Our defense has been good here lately, but it will certainly be tested with their personnel and their system.
“We are looking forward to that challenge.’’
With three straight victories, the thoughts of Illinois making a run to the NCAA Tournament have brighten. Realistically, the Illini will either need to win the Big Ten Tournament to get the league’s automatic berth or they might get an at-large by winning the final two regular-season games and winning at least two games in the conference tournament.