Beat writer Marcus Jackson breaks down Saturday's game.
Sneak peek: No. 15 Iowa at Illinois, 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Illinois (13-8, 2-6 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.1
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.7
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 10.6
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.0
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.0
FYI: Rice, who ranks sixth in the Big Ten in scoring, bounced back from a scoreless night at Ohio State to score 20 at Indiana. He’s scored in double figures in 19 of 21 games this season.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.6
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 4.0
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.3
Iowa (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Mike Gesell So. 6-1 7.0
G Roy Devyn Marble Sr. 6-6 16.3
F Aaron White Jr. 6-9 13.5
F Melsahn Basabe Sr. 6-7 8.1
C Adam Woodbury So. 7-1 5.7
FYI: Marble is the second player in Iowa history with at least 1,450 points, 325 assists and 425 rebounds. Jeff Horner was the first player to do so.
OFF THE BENCH
G Josh Oglesby Jr. 6-5 6.2
F Jarrod Uthoff So. 6-8 8.9
F Zach McCabe Sr. 6-7 6.8
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and former Illini Stephen Bardo (analyst) have the call.
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: Illinois leads 81-68. Last meeting: Iowa 63, Illinois 55, March 5, 2013 (Iowa City).
FYI: The Illini are riding a six-game losing streak. The last time Illinois lost six games in a row was the 2011-12 season. The skid ended with a 65-54 win against Iowa in the Hawkeyes’ last visit to Champaign.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. During the current losing streak, the Illini are averaging 55.7 points per game and twice were held to fewer than 50 — in losses at Northwestern and Sunday at Indiana. After the setback to the Hoosiers, Illinois coach John Groce’s message was that his team has to find ways to put the ball in the basket. It’ll be especially important Saturday against the Hawkeyes, who enter the contest leading the Big Ten and ranking ninth nationally in scoring at 84.5 points per game. The six days in between games gave the Illini plenty of time to work out some of the offensive kinks. “We’ve done a lot of different things. We’re fully aware that our offense needs to get better,” Groce said without divulging any trade secrets. “We’ve worked that this week hard. We talk about being solutions-based all the time. I think we’ve seen some strides there, for sure.”
2. After going scoreless Jan. 23 at Ohio State, Rayvonte Rice bounced back and went for 20 Sunday at Indiana. Groce said his top scorer was more aggressive against the Hoosiers, but because of how limited the Illini are in terms of having true scorers, they still need more from the Champaign native. They’ll continue to look for consistent production from him at both ends throughout the conference season. “We ask him to do a lot on the offensive end. A lot of nights he’s guarding the other team’s best offensive perimeter player, certainly for portions of the game, for sure, sometimes even more than portions of the game,” Groce said. “We ask him to rebound. We’ve got a lot on his shoulders, and he can handle it. He’s a really good player. We need some other guys to step up to alleviate some of that pressure off him in more consistent fashion.”
3. Against Iowa, the Illini are going to match up against an experienced team with few weaknesses at either end of the floor. The Hawkeyes use 10 players regularly. The core of this team, excluding Jarrod Uthoff, who sat out last season after transferring from Wisconsin, was together for last year’s run to the championship game of the NIT, and they have a chemistry about them that has the Hawkeyes near the top of the Big Ten. “That’s one of the strengths of their team, they truly do it by committee. They’ve got good individual talent. I have a lot of respect for Marble as a senior. I think he’s one of our league’s better players,” Groce said. “They’ve got other guys that are really, really talented. As I watch them, I think they play the game the right way. You can tell they’re older, they’re more mature, they’re experienced, they have great timing and anticipate well in things they’re doing.”
Prediction: Iowa 74, Illinois 67
Based on the six-game skid, it’s easy to pick against the Illini. But if the Big Ten taught us anything this week, it’s that there’s no such thing as a lock. Wisconsin got handled at home by Northwestern, and Ohio State dropped a contest at home to Penn State. “I kept saying I thought, top to bottom, it was as good — if not better —than it was last year, top to bottom. The true depth of a league and how good a conference is, is judged by 1-12. I think right now in our league on any given night, any place, anywhere, if you don’t come to play, you don’t execute, any of these teams can win,” Groce said. The Illinois players saw the developments in the league this week, and it’s given them more confidence that they can come out Saturday night to pull a stunner. “It’s one of those things where you see all those guys going and winning big games on the road,” Jon Ekey said. “If those guys are doing it, why not us? It’s our time to get a big win like that.” (N-G prediction record: 17-4)