HQ prediction: UI 83, Gardner-Webb 64
Marcus Jackson's breakdown: Gardner-Webb at UI, 3 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 14.3
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 11.8
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 19.7
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 10.5
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.5
FYI: Richardson leads the team in rebounding, averaging 5.5. He pulled down a career-high nine in the win against Butler.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 6.5
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 5.0
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.8
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tyler Strange So. 5-9 3.9
G Max Landis So. 6-2 13.6
G Donta Harper So. 6-6 13.3
F Kevin Hartley Sr. 6-6 7.1
F Corey Hensley So. 6-8 5.3
FYI: Landis, who scored 20 points in the upset at DePaul, came off the bench the first three games of the season but has found a home in the starting lineup.
OFF THE BENCH
G Onzie Branch Jr. 6-6 6.7
G Tashan Newsome Sr. 6-3 5.5
F Jerome Hill Fr. 6-5 5.3
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign. Tickets are available.
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and former Illini Sean Harrington (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) carry the load 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: Harrington, the former Illinois sharpshooter from Elgin, knows the Illini roster well. He was the director of basketball operations the last four seasons on Bruce Weber’s staff.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
There won’t be a whole lot of surprises on either side today. Illinois coach John Groce and Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann go way back. They were teammates at Taylor, both graduating in 1994. Holtmann was a member of Groce’s staff at Ohio from 2008 to ‘10. What it will come down to is which set of players executes its stuff better than the other. “This is his third year there, and they just keep getting better each year,” Groce said. “They’ve played really good basketball here early, and it’s going to take a great effort on our part.”
The Illini are back home after playing four games in six days four time zones away. The Illini handled that challenge well in Hawaii due in large part to the support staff. “We’re very blessed at the University of Illinois to have a terrific strength coach, Mike Basgier, a great trainer, Paul Schmidt, who’s extremely experienced and then we added Chelsea Zenner to our staff, who’s one of 28 registered dietitians in collegiate athletics,” Groce said. “We followed the script when we were out there; we followed the script since we’ve been back.”
One of the knocks on this group of Illini is it has rarely handled success well. Last season’s team started 10-0 and was 15-3 after beating No. 5 Ohio State, but it lost 12 of the final 14 games. Groce & Co. are taking steps to make sure this team doesn’t get too full of itself. “We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to rebound better; we’ve got to foul less,” Groce said. “We didn’t execute a couple things I thought we should have executed better offensively on some inbounds stuff, some (after timeouts). We’ve got some work to do. By no means have we arrived.”
Illinois 83, Gardner-Webb 64
If the Illini take care of business today, they likely will at least receive votes in The Associated Press poll released Monday — and might break into the bottom of the Top 25. Winning the Maui Invitational on national television in the dominating fashion it did has put Illinois on the map with college basketball folks. A question was posed to Groce on Friday that hinted Illinois got lucky in winning the title without having to beat a heavyweight. “Ask Roy Williams if Butler’s any good,” Groce responded. All the Illini have done to this point is play who is lined across from them. And they’ve done it flawlessly. (N-G prediction record: 5-1)