Illinois Fighting Illini Preview
Date: Sunday, February 26th - 6:30 pm - Pinnacle Bank Arena - Lincoln, NE
2015-16 Record: 15-19 (5-13 Big Ten)
2016-17 Record: 16-12 (6-9 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Jim Groce (5th year)
A once proud Big Ten basketball school is having another down season.
If I was to add that sentence to any team this year, would you know who I was talking about? It could apply to a number of teams this season. However, the team I am addressing today is a team that has been down for a few years now. They’ve shown some hope with their current coach over the years, but nothing close to their former glory.
As you all know by the title I am talking about the Illinois Fighting Illini. They are 16 and 12 and are barely looking into the NCAA Tournament. At one point this would have been unheard of. Not anymore.
The Illini are currently riding a two game win streak with wins over Iowa and the conference’s cinderella team this year Northwestern. A team the Illini have beat twice this year. A nice feather in the cap for the in state rival. However, unlike the Wildcats, the chances are slim of the Illini making the tournament. This would be going on four years without making the dance.
This predicament has made many of the Illinois alumni base very restless and calls for a new head coach are getting stronger. Whatever Groce has done isn’t working anymore for many in the Land of Lincoln. While recruiting has been fairly good, there just hasn’t been the results on the floor. If they were to get rid of Groce, the person taking over wouldn’t not be left with an empty cupboard.
Anyway, I’m sure we will find out more once the season is over. On to the team.
This team started out the season fairly well and ended the non conference slate with a 10 and 3 record. Two of those losses were to current #12 West Virginia and #19 Florida State. The real problems started to show once conference started. Since the first game they’ve gone 6 and 9 with their only major wins against Northwestern (twice).
Illinois is lead by by Senior Guard Malcolm Hill. A player who has been averaging double digit points for the last three season and was second team all Big Ten his junior year. He will most likely give the Husker defense the most headaches out of all the Illini. He is currently averaging 17 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 2.9 apg.
After Malcolm the scoring drops off a bit and you can see how much this team relies on it bench during games. Senior Maverick Morgan will be their next highest scorer at 10 ppg and 4.4 rpg. If Nebraska can get aggressive in the paint early on they should be able to push around this 6’10” center. His rebounding is not terrible but his productivity has been hit or miss all season.
From here on you will see round robin of players on the court with sophomores Leron Black and Jalen Coleman-Lands and senior Tracy Abrams taking their turns on the court. Again, nothing spectacular here but there’s enough to give teams problems.
This could be a nice win if the Huskers come out and strong on Sunday. If they can keep their field goal % above 35% they should have a decent chance against the Illini. If not, it could be another ugly loss against another sub part team.