HQ pick: Illinois 70, St. Francis 63

HQ pick: Illinois 70, St. Francis 63

“They’re very aggressive, they try to punk you,” Illinois coach John Groce said.

We asked beat writer Marcus Jackson to break down tonight's game against St. Francis at the Assembly Hall:

St. Francis (N.Y.) at Illinois, 7 p.m. Monday
Illinois (1-0)

P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Tracy Abrams    So.    6-1    13.0
G    D.J. Richardson    Sr.    6-3    9.0
G    Brandon Paul    Sr.    6-4    20.0
F    Tyler Griffey    Sr.    6-9    10.0
F    Nnanna Egwu    So.    6-11    7.0
FYI: Five of McLaurin’s seven rebounds in the season opener were on the offensive glass, one more than Colgate’s team total.
G    Joseph Bertrand    Jr.    6-6    7.0
F    Myke Henry    So.    6-6    5.0
F    Sam McLaurin    Sr.    6-8    4.0

St. Francis (1-0)
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Ben Mockford    Jr.    6-2    14.0
G    Brent Jones    So.    5-10    0.0
G    Kevin Douglas    So.    6-5    13.0
F    Akeem Johnson    Sr.    6-6    15.0
F    Jalen Cannon    So.    6-6    13.0
FYI: Cannon averaged 8.8 rebounds last season, which was the second-best average in the country among freshmen.
G    Dre Calloway    Sr.    6-0    9.0
G    Aleksander Isailovic    Jr.    6-4    5.0
F    Travis Nichols    Sr.    6-4    7.0

The Assembly Hall, Champaign (16,618).

TV: ESPN3.com — Jim Barbar (play-by-play) and Brooke Wesibrod (color analyst) call the action for the StudentU broadcast.

Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.

Series: First meeting.

FYI: This is the second consecutive game where the Illini won’t play on live television. The first televised game will be the first game of the Maui Invitational against USC (ESPN2).

Marcus Jackson’s storylines
Big Ten season is still a little more than a month away, but a gritty, veteran St. Francis squad will test the Illini and give an indication of how they would fare against conference opponents who play a similar style. This Illinois group’s toughness has been questioned in recent years and tonight will show its progress. “They’re very aggressive, they try to punk you,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching (St. Francis) play.”

For the second straight game, the Illini guards will be asked to defend a potent three-point attack. Colgate finished in the top 25 in the country last year in three-point percentage and St. Francis was in the top 35 last season. The Illini gave up seven threes Friday on 23 attempts. “We’re hoping to be better in that area where we’re guarding the basketball better and not having to help and running at the ball as much,” Groce said. The Terriers made 5 of 13 threes in a season-opening win against Lafayette.
The biggest takeaway from the season-opening win against Colgate was how hard Illinois played for the full 40 minutes. That was a concern of the coaching staff entering the season. The key now is for Illinois to string together a series of games giving maximum effort, especially with such a quick turnaround. “The greatest thing about how hard they played and how unselfishly they played is now we can coach them up and get better execution,” Groce said. If the Illini play hard consistently, they’ll continue to give themselves a chance.

Prediction: Illinois 70, St. Francis 63
The Illinois rotation is still a work in progress and though Devin Langford played well during his opportunity as the ninth man Friday night, he’s still got some work to do to cement his place. “The biggest thing with Devin is he needs to learn our system better and be disciplined enough to execute it,” Groce said. “He needs to develop that trust level.” These early games will go a long way in determining how the ninth and potentially 10th guy can be. (N-G prediction record: 1-0).