Head Coach: John Groce
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL
Conference: B1G 10
Nickname: Fighting Illini
Last time out: Beat Purdue
Typical Rotation Depth: 7-8 players
Opening Line: Illinois by 3.5
Fun Fact : The last time Illinois had a week to prepare for Nebraska at home they were the only team to beat Nebraska in their last 9 games of the magical 2013-14 season
Player to watch - Malcolm Hill
The more I look at the 6'6" Jr's numbers, the more I see Terran Petteway. Hill is a volume scorer...not super efficient but he's the guy who can score when they need it. He's a so-so 3pt shooter but good enough. He gets to the FT line a lot. There are too many good shooters for Illinois to stop him without them killing you...it's really about containment.
Player to watch - Kendrick Nunn
Nunn is more like pairing White with Petteway than Shields if we're going to follow along with our Hill comparison as Nunn can just flat shoot, hitting 42.9% from 3 and 54.7% from 2. His biggest problem has been staying on the court, much like a lot of his teammates, as he's missed 6 games this year.
With the exception of last year's trainwreck, Tim Miles teams improve over the course of the year and this team is no exception. Sure they should have beaten Rutgers and Minnesota. Absolutely demolished them? That's impressive and is a nice sign to see from a team about to face a gauntlet of 5 rough games starting with a hobbled Illinois team on the road.
Much like Nebraska, Illinois has little inside presence with the loss of senior transfer Mike Thome and forward Leron Black, leaving only redshirt freshman Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan at their 5 spot. Thus, the team is more about Hill creating and the rest of his teammates like Finke, frosh SG Jalen Coleman-Lands, and Nunn hitting 40% from 3 if you double anyone. The Illini don't turn the ball over much and cover the defensive boards well. Can the Huskers be even more aggressive on the offensive boards while not being burned by a Illinois team that like to run on offense?
Illinois has a chance to win this one at the FT line but other than Hill it's not their game. To me, this game all comes down to who makes the most 3s. While Nebraska has defended that shot more effectively than Illinois this year, I'll have to take the home team in this one. In what should be a close and competitive game, let's home Nebraska does figure out a way.
Prediction: Illinois 71 - Nebraska 67