HQ forecast: Illinois 77, Western Carolina 63
Western Carolina at Illinois, 7 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.5
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.3
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.3
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 11.3
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.1
FYI: Entering the season, Griffey had scored 11 or more points in a game four times. He’s equaled that in eight games this season.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.4
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.8
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.4
Western Carolina (3-5)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tom Tankelewicz Jr. 6-4 10.6
G Trey Sumler Jr. 6-2 17.6
G James Sinclair So. 6-3 6.6
F Tawaski King Jr. 6-8 14.1
F Preston Ross Jr. 6-4 7.4
FYI: Sumler led the team in scoring last season (13.5) and has reached double figures in 14 straight games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Brandon Boggs Jr. 6-5 9.1
G Mike Brown Fr. 6-3 4.1
F Josh Mendenhall Jr. 6-8 3.0
Site: The Assembly Hall, Champaign (16,618).
TV: BTN.com — Zach Groth (play-by-play), Jamal Collier (analyst) and Kyle Breitbarth (reports) 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: Illinois leads 1-0. Last meeting: Illinois 58, Western Carolina 35, Dec. 17, 2007.
FYI: The live broadcast of the game is on the Internet only. The Big Ten Network will re-air the game at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
Before Illinois’ six-day break between games, John Groce made the comment that players love games and coaches love practice. This stretch was an opportunity for the coaches to shine, being able to get the players in the gym to work out some kinks without having to prepare for a game. Groce said he had a long list of things he wanted to implement, and he and his staff made progress on that list. “We got to quite a bit,” he said. “I don’t know if we got to it all. We made some strides for sure.”
After getting off to a torrid start to the season, sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams has struggled the last two games, averaging three points and four turnovers against Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech. Abrams’ biggest problem? He’s trying too hard. “He wants to play perfect and there’s no such thing,” Groce said. Abrams, however, doesn’t appear to be shaken by it. Asked about his recent struggles on Monday, the Chicago Mount Carmel product chuckled and said, “Some games are good, some are bad. I’ll be fine.”
The record doesn’t indicate so, but Western Carolina isn’t a bad team. The Catamounts return seven players from a team that lost to Davidson in double overtime in the Southern Conference championship game with a berth in the NCAA tournament at stake. The Illinois guards will have their hands full with Trey Sumler and the post players with big man Tawaski King. “They’re going to be tough, they’re physical, very blue collar,” Groce said. “They’re gonna screen you, they’re gonna cut hard.”
Prediction: Illinois 77, Western Carolina 63
The last time the Illini were ranked in the Top 15, they were 12th in The Associated Press poll entering a game at the United Center in 2010 against Illinois-Chicago. We know how that turned out. Those Illini thought they had arrived. This group, featuring four scholarship players who were on that 2010-11 team, knows what can happen. And they’re spreading the message down to their younger teammates, too. “It’s been fun, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Abrams, one of four team captains. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We just need to focus on getting better.” (N-G record: 7-1)