Norfolk State at No. 10 Illinois, 7 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.6
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.2
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 19.5
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 9.8
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 5.6
FYI: After his 35-point performance at Gonzaga, Paul raised his scoring average nearly two points from 17.8 and has scored 20-plus 18 times in his career, including five this season.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.3
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.4
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 4.5
Norfolk State (6-5)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Jamel Fuentes Jr. 6-3 7.4
G Pendarvis Williams Jr. 6-6 12.1
G Malcolm Hawkins Jr. 6-5 12.0
F Rob Johnson Sr. 6-8 10.5
C Brandon Goode Jr. 7-0 7.8
FYI: Hawkins enters the Assembly Hall on a hot streak, averaging 19.5 points on 12-for-21 shooting, including 5 of 10 from long range, in the last two games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Kris Brown Sr. 6-3 5.2
F Rashid Gaston Fr. 6-8 7.6
F Kievyn Lila-St. Rose Jr. 6-6 3.1
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign.
TV: ESPN3.com — Mike Couzens (play-by-play) and Brooke Weisbrod (analyst) have the call for the Internet-only broadcast.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: First meeting.
FYI: Tonight’s broadcast is online only, but the remainder of Illinois’ games will be available on live television.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
There was a time when Illinois students camped out overnight for prime seating. It’s about time that excitement level returned to the fan base. The Illini are ranked in the Top 10 for the first time in more than six years and the team is playing an exciting brand of basketball while achieving the lofty rating. “These kids, they deserve to have a crowd,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I just came out of a place Saturday (Gonzaga) that was revved up like none other. It would be great to have the same type of environment here this week at home. The more the merrier.”
Groce has tried to downplay the ranking and attention that’s come Illinois’ way during the unbeaten start, but there’s no running from it. Illinois is 10-0 for the second straight season, but neither the players nor coaches talk about that. The trick for the Illini is to embrace the acclaim while still doing the same things that helped them get to 10-0 and No. 10 in the country. “How hard we play and how focused we are, how tough we are will be the biggest barometers,” Groce said. “Things like loose balls, energy level, rebounding, deflections, active hands. ... How locked in are we will be the barometers.”
While some of the key parts from last year’s Norfolk State team that upset Missouri in the NCAA tournament last year are gone, this is still an outfit that knows what it’s like to play against a highly regarded opponent and win. “They’re very aware of Norfolk State and how athletic they are and their ability and what they did last year,” Groce said. “The reality is our guys are starting to figure out if we play with toughness and togetherness, we can play really, really good basketball. If you don’t, we’re not very good. ... If you play like we did Tuesday night against Western Carolina, we didn’t have it. That might have been the worst game of the 10 we played and then Saturday night might have been as good as we played, and those were just a few days removed from one another. That’s more mental.”
Prediction: Illinois 84, Norfolk State 60
Sunday’s opponent, Eastern Kentucky, will come to the Assembly Hall unbeaten (9-0), and the Colonels own a 24-point win against Norfolk State. The Illini haven’t blown the doors off an opponent since returning from the Maui Invitational. A blowout win tonight would temper the Colonels’ expectations coming into Sunday. It would also show Illinois’ maturity in how it has handled all the attention that’s come its way since Saturday’s emotional win in a tough environment at Gonzaga. (N-G record: 8-2).