February 24, 2016

Indiana will open March with what amounts to a mini-tournament that could decide the Big Ten regular-season title. First, the Hoosiers will be careful not to overlook Illinois.

Although they've struggled offensively during consecutive road losses, that certainly wasn't the case during a historic shooting performance last month against the rival Illini.

With Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell on track, No. 18 Indiana will try to remain on target in its bid for a second league crown in four years by winning its third straight in this series Thursday night.

The Hoosiers (22-6, 12-3), who won their only regular-season Big Ten title under Tom Crean in 2012-13, will visit No. 8 Iowa on Tuesday before returning home to face No. 10 Maryland on Sunday. One game separates the three teams with three remaining.

Indiana should have a major advantage if it can take care of business against Illinois. The Hoosiers lead the conference with 83.2 points per game and a 50.2 field-goal percentage, but they've scored only 66 on 37.1 percent in losing their last two on the road.

Ferrell, who averages a team-high 16.6 points, had scored 11.8 on 23.8 from the field over a four-game stretch before finishing with 18 on 7-of-13 shooting in Saturday's 77-73 home win over then-No. 17 Purdue. Since averaging 7.8 points over his previous four, Williams has totaled 37 while hitting 15 of 20 shots in the team's back-to-back victories.

"The worst thing that could happen when somebody is struggling is you keep reminding them of it," coach Tom Crean told the school's official website. "The last thing we want to do is dwell on what's not working. We want to make sure we're spending enough time on what is."

The Hoosiers should be able to get some open looks as they try to avoid their fourth loss in five road games. The Illini allow a league-high 45.9 field-goal percentage, the second-most points (74.9 per game) and the second-highest 3-point percentage (37.1).

Williams led the way with 21 points, while Ferrell and Max Bielfeldt had 16 apiece in a 103-69 home win over Illinois on Jan. 19. Ferrell added nine assists to set the school's career record and sank five of the team's conference-record 19 3-pointers in 36 attempts.

The Illini fell to 4-10 in league play following Sunday's 69-60 loss at Wisconsin. Malcolm Hill had 20 points and seven rebounds, while Kendrick Nunn scored 15 off the bench.

Hill, averaging team highs of 18.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists, has totaled 42 points in his last two games since scoring a season-low seven on Feb. 13.

Illinois (12-15) will try to take better care of the ball after committing 12 turnovers against the Badgers. Indiana ranks among the league leaders, forcing 13.3 per game, and owned a 20-3 advantage in points off turnovers against the Boilermakers.

''When you have 12 turnovers in a low-possession game, that's not good enough,'' Illini coach John Groce said.

The Hoosiers had dropped 11 of 12 trips to Champaign before a 80-74 win Jan. 18, 2015. Williams has scored 21 points in each of the past two meetings, shooting a combined 16 for 21.

The Illini have split their two home games versus ranked opponents, topping then-No. 20 Purdue 84-70 on Jan. 10 before falling to then-No. 5 Iowa 77-65 on Feb. 7.

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