HQ forecast: No. 2 Michigan 73, UI 67
No. 2 Michigan at Illinois, 5 p.m. today
Illinois (15-5, 2-4 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.4
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 11.8
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.0
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 3.9
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.3
FYI: Richardson and Paul each have scored 30-plus points in a game this season. The last time Illinois had two 30-plus performances in one season was ’03-04, when Deron Williams did it twice.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.7
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.5
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.2
Michigan (18-1, 5-1 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Trey Burke So. 6-0 17.8
G Tim Hardaway Jr. Jr. 6-6 16.2
G Nik Stauskas Fr. 6-6 12.6
F Glenn Robinson III Fr. 6-6 12.1
F Jordan Morgan Jr. 6-8 6.7
FYI: Burke leads the Big Ten with an average of 7.2 assists per game, and the native of Columbus, Ohio, needs seven assists to reach 300 for his career.
OFF THE BENCH
G Caris LeVert Fr. 6-5 3.4
F Mitch McGary Fr. 6-10 5.5
F Jon Horford So. 6-10 1.7
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Shon Morris (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 85-74. Last meeting — Michigan 72, Illinois 61, March 1, 2012.
FYI: Illinois has lost two straight games at the Assembly Hall entering today. The Illini haven’t lost three straight in their own building since the last three home games of the 2009-10 season.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
The last time the Wolverines played on a Sunday with the opportunity to move to No. 1 in the polls with a win, they lost on the road against rival Ohio State. Today is another opportunity for John Beilein’s club after top-ranked Duke was blown out earlier in the week at Miami. The last time the Wolverines were the No. 1 team in the country was the beginning of the 1992-93 season. “For me, personally,” Beilein said, “I want to know where we’re going to be in March.”
One surprising aspect of Illinois’ win at Nebraska was that the Illini handled the Huskers with ease without getting much from point guard Tracy Abrams, who didn’t score in 22 minutes while battling foul trouble and some bumps and bruises. The sophomore will be counted on today against one of the nation’s best teams and point guards in Trey Burke. “It’s definitely frustrating sitting when you’re trying to find the rhythm of the game when you’re coming in and out,” Abrams said. “I’ve just got to be a little smarter on (defense) and not get silly fouls.”
So often it’s said the best teams in the country are the ones with the most experience. That’s what makes Michigan’s dominance this season all the more impressive. The Wolverines have veterans like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, but six of the top eight players are freshmen and sophomores, including three of the league’s top first-year players in Stauskas, McGary and Robinson. “They’ve got a good blend of guys that have experience and guys that are younger and bringing things to the table for their teams,” Groce said. “Obviously they’re very, very talented, and that freshman class is a big part of that.”
Prediction: Michigan 73, Illinois 67
The Illini got back on track with an impressive performance in a win Tuesday at Nebraska. It will take that effort and then some to prevent the Wolverines from ascending to the top of the polls Monday. Entering this tough stretch of games with four of the next five coming against teams ranked in the Top 15, the key for Illinois is just to play well and be competitive. “For us, the biggest thing has been ourselves. We worry far less about the opponent, especially here of late, and worry more about ourselves,” Groce said. “I think that’s how you have a chance to get better, especially with a Year 1 team that’s learning the system and the terminology and the habits that we want them to develop on both ends of the floor.” (N-G record: 11-9)