BY CHAD DARE
IOWA CITY, IOWA —
Depending on which NCAA Tournament expert you listen to, the postseason fates of Iowa and Illinois could use a little help.
While most people believe the Fighting Illini have secured a berth, albeit a low seed; the Hawkeyes appear to be on the outside looking in.
So tonight’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City will be important for both team’s résumés.
“They are playing for a lot right now, as we are,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. “That’s a pretty neat thing here in March, you have two teams that are competing, and both teams have aspirations of doing more in their seasons.’’
When it comes to his team’s postseason prospects, Groce prefers not to talk about it.
“That’s carrot has in front of them since the summer,’’ he said. “We are going to keep doing what we’re doing. The important thing is to continue to get better and to play well, so that other stuff takes care of itself.
“I will let everyone else talk about that. We have to be ready to play in a difficult environment against a team that has the same aspirations.’’
But a unique aspect of this game is that it’s the first meeting between Iowa and Illinois since last year’s Big Ten Tournament game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini 64-61, basically ending the coach career of Bruce Weber.
“It’s a great challenge,’’ Groce said. “Preparing for them this late in the year — a Big Ten opponent, you haven’t played previously — is unique.
“That’s the way the schedule is this year. We have to be ready to do, and be ready to play a good Iowa team.’’
The Hawkeyes have been two different teams this year. The one that plays in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is 14-2, while they are 2-8 on the road.
Indiana and Michigan State are the only teams to beat Iowa at home this season.
“They have played really well at home,’’ Groce said. “They are really deep. Defensively, they mix it up as much as any team we’ve played all year in Big Ten play. Offensively, they push the ball. They are playing 10 guys and that’s going to be a challenge.’’
Roy Devyn Marble, a 6-foot-6 junior guard, leads Iowa in scoring at 14.2 points per game, while Aaron White, a 6-8 sophomore forward, is next at 13.7 to go along with a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.
Marble is the starting point guard, but he’s also played the off-guard and the small forward positions this year.
“He is so versatile. He is a mismatch guy,’’ Groce said. “He has a big game. He’s a well-rounded offensive player. I think he posses that regardless of what position he plays.’’
Illinois, which had five players in double figures during its win over Nebraska on Saturday, is led by Brandon Paul (16.1), D.J. Richardson (12.8) and Tracy Abrams (10.8).
The status of senior forward Sam McLaurin, who turned his ankle in the first half of Saturday’s game, will likely be a game-time decision.
“It’s a mile sprain,’’ Groce said. “Sam has gotten multiple treatments and I’m sure he will try to do whatever it takes to be there.’’
Tonight’s game will tip off at 6 p.m. The game will be shown on the Big Ten Network, while it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
Illinois will conclude the regular season on Sunday with a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to face the Ohio State Buckeyes, who play the Indiana Hoosiers tonight in Bloomington, Ind.
Illinois Fighting Illini
vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Where — Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
When — 6 p.m.
Records — Illinois 21-9 overall, 8-8 in the Big Ten Conference; Iowa 18-11 overall; 7-9 in the Big Ten Conference.
Rankings — Neither Illinois nor Iowa is rated in the latest Associated Press Top-25 Poll, but the Fighting Illini are receiving votes.
Television — Big Ten Network with Dave Revsine and Jim Jackson.
Radio — Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL 102.1
Previous results — Illinois leads the all-time series 8-167 over Iowa but the two teams split their meetings in 2012. The Illini won 65-54 on Feb. 26, 2012, in Champaign while the Hawkeyes won 64-61 on March 8, 2012, in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Last game results — Illinois defeated Nebraska 72-65 on Saturday in the final home game of the season; while Iowa lost to Indiana 73-60 on Saturday in Bloomington, Ind.
Next game — The Illini will conclude their regular season on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, against the Ohio State Buckeyes; while the Hawkeyes will travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday.
Scoring — Illinois: Brandon Paul 16.1, D.J. Richardson 12.8, Tracy Abrams 10.8. Iowa: Roy Devyn Marble 14.2, Aaron White 13.7, Mike Gesell 9.0
Rebounding — Illinois: Nnanna Egwu 4.5, Joseph Bertrand 4.4, Paul 4.3, Richardson 4.1. Iowa: White 6.2, Adam Woodbury 4.9, Zach McCabe 4.5, Marble 3.9
Assists — Illinois: Abrams 3.4, Paul 2.9, Richardson 1.7. Iowa: Anthony Clemons 3.2, Gesell 2.9, Marble 2.8.