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Indiana-Illinois Preview

AP - Sports

Everything appears to be clicking for Indiana, which reclaimed the country's No. 1 ranking behind three impressive wins last week.

The Hoosiers, though, could be hard-pressed to keep their celebrations going with two difficult matchups in store.

Looking to open 5-0 on the road in Big Ten play, Indiana tries to avoid a 10th loss in 11 visits to Illinois on Thursday night.

Indiana (20-2, 8-1) opened 2012-13 ranked No. 1 and spent five weeks there before suffering an 88-86 overtime defeat to Butler on Dec. 15. While a 64-59 home loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 15 also raised some eyebrows, the Hoosiers have since won five straight by an average of 16.2 points.

That run includes a 75-70 victory over then-No. 13 Michigan State and a 97-60 rout at Purdue, but beating then-No. 1 Michigan 81-73 on Saturday was undoubtedly Indiana's most notable result. Sophomore standout Cody Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds as all five starters scored in double figures.

"It's a huge accomplishment," junior Victor Oladipo said of getting back to No. 1. "You know we started there, we had a hard road to get back here. We're just going to continue to keep working."

While Indiana is excited about the recognition, coach Tom Crean doesn't want his team getting caught up in the hoopla.

"That's not what they play for," Crean said. "I think they truly are learning that those things are nice, but playing to improve, to win games like this, to face some adversity and fight through it, that's what matters. When we were not No. 1 in December they heard those things. Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn't play very well that day."

The Hoosiers haven't played very well during their last several trips to Champaign, either. Indiana has dropped three straight and nine of 10 at Illinois, with its lone win coming 83-79 in double-overtime Feb. 7, 2008.

"We know that the challenge is great this week in going to Illinois and then to (No. 10) Ohio State (on Sunday)," said Crean, whose team took the last matchup in this series 84-71 at home last Feb. 9.

The Fighting Illini (15-8, 2-7), who've dropped six of seven while yielding 72.1 points per game, are hoping to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive loss after falling 74-68 to Wisconsin on Sunday. Illinois has allowed opponents to shoot 51.3 percentage during the skid.

"Defensively, I thought we were atrocious (last week)," coach John Groce said. "And until we get that figured out, then obviously we're not going to be where we want to be. At this point, we're kind of at a crossroads with our defense, we've got to get better."

The Illini figure to have their hands full against a Hoosiers team that's averaging 83.8 points, the country's second-best mark. Indiana's 50.1 field-goal percentage ranks sixth.

"Obviously, they bring several challenges. They're a really good basketball team, they're well coached," Groce said. "They've got size, they've got depth, they've got shooting, they've got point-guard play.

"But to be honest, as we approach this week, it's more about us. ... We've got to get recommitted and be more difficult to score against, regardless of who we play."

Senior Brandon Paul is averaging a team-leading 17.4 points for Illinois but has posted 13.8 per game in his last four.

Indiana freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is averaging 12.8 points over his last four contests - 5.1 more than his season mark.

The Hoosiers haven't won their first five league games in opposing arenas since opening 6-0 in 1992-93.

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