Location: Champaign, IL
Nickname: Fightin Illini
Chief Illiniwek They got rid of Chief Illiniwek in 2007
Line: Illinois by 14
Typical Rotation Depth: 8+
KenPom rank: 28
Offensive Style: Slower, in the paint, offensive rebounds
Defensive Style: Sit back and make you take a bad shot
Players to watch: Kofi Cockburn
The freshman center is a monster, checking in at 7'0", 290#. Cockburn is 1st on the team in rebounds and blocks, 2nd on the team in scoring. His name is pronounced 'Co-burn', so not the same as Christian Standhardinger's nickname.
Players to watch: Ayo Dosunmu
Illinois' leading scorer was Underwood's big 5 star recruit out of Chicago last year. Dosunmu was a fringe NBA draft pick last year but came back and is the focal point of Illinois' offense, capable of scoring from anywhere. His 3pt shooting, like a lot of his teammates, is down this season.
Illinois return almost everyone from last year's team in addition to adding Cockburn.
- Feliz and Frazier are both PGs who play a bit off ball with Dosunmu in the lineup. Frazier is more of an outside shooter, Feliz more aggressive with his shot
- Da'Monte Williams plays because he provides rebounding and defense. Look for Nebraska to not guard him outside the paint when he's on the court given his lack of offense.
- Giorgi remains a high energy stretch 4 for Illinois. His shooting percentage has gone down as he's taking more mid range 2s, perhaps a side effect of trying to not clog the lane for Cockburn
- 6'5" guard Alan Griffin is the team's best shooter and needs attention whenever he is on the court hasn't ever developed any sort of consistency and gets 'let's see if he has it tonight' minutes
- Senior Kipper Nichols was once an exciting dunking highlight machine but the last active player from the John Groce era
Brad Underwood spent the first two years at Illinois running his spread offense and high pressure defense that gain him so much success at Stephen F. Austin to propel him to Illinois via Oklahoma St. The pressure defense specifically didn't work as even though they generated tons of turnovers teams often turned the game into a layup drill once they got past the pressure. Credit Underwood for basically scrapping everything as the defense is now focused on forcing bad shots and the offense is geared around Dosunmu's and Cockburn's abilities. They've changed from one of the faster offenses in the country to one of the slower. This is most likely an NCAA tournament team.
The Nebraska defense is once again going to implement their pack and prey defense. Look for the Huskers to ignore Williams when he's on court to the point where Underwood won't play him if he's hurting their flow. No doubt the Illini will hunt for offensive rebounds in this one. If they can do so without giving up transition buckets it will be a long night for Nebraska. Given the patience of the Illinois offense, Nebraska will need to maintain its focus throughout the shot clock. At some point you have to imagine that the Illini break Nebraska.
Defensively, Illinois is trying to run you off the 3pt line. Oddly, they aren't really a shot blocking team so Nebraska might be able to find success inside. Most likely, it's going to be a struggle. Speaking of struggle, when will Cam Mack's shot return? Since being taken out of the starting lineup vs Penn St Mack has shot 2-18 from 3pt (11%) and 8-31 from 2pt (25.8%).
It is a lot to ask to win on the road in this conference and it's very much to ask for this constantly overwhelmed Nebraska team.
Prediction: Illinois 79 - Nebraska 66