Beat writer Marcus Jackson breaks down Friday night's game at State Farm Center: Alabama State at Illinois, 7 p.m.
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG*
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 10.6
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.8
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 7.3
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 6.4
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 6.5
* 2012-13 average
FYI: Rice’s numbers are from the 2011-12 season at Drake, where he was a second-team All-Missouri Valley pick. Ekey posted his numbers last season at Illinois State.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 N/A
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 N/A
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 N/A
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG*
G DeMarcus Robinson Jr. 5-10 N/A
G Jamel Waters So. 5-9 5.5
F Luther Page Jr. 6-6 4.4
F Brandon Graham Jr. 6-7 N/A
F Maurice Strong Jr. 6-5 N/A
FYI: We’ve found a Division I program with more newcomers than the Illini. The Hornets feature a revamped roster with 10 new players, leaving Waters, a starter last season, as the top returning scorer.
OFF THE BENCH
G Terrance LeFlore Fr. 6-1 N/A
F Tony Armstrong Fr. 6-6 N/A
G/F Bobby Brown So. 6-6 5.0
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
TV: ESPN3 (Internet only) — Wayne Randazzo (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) 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: First meeting.
FYI: Starting with Friday night’s opener, four of Illinois’ first seven games will not be available on traditional television. Sunday’s game against Jacksonville State and the Nov. 29 tilt against IPFW also will be on ESPN3. The Nov. 17 game against Bradley will be available online via BTDN.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
A concern for Illinois coach John Groce entering the game against Alabama State is offensive rebounding. In Sunday’s exhibition finale against Division II Northwood, the Illini surrendered 17 offensive boards to the Timberwolves, allowing 10 second-chance points. One of Alabama State’s strengths is a relentless effort to crash the offensive boards. In their two exhibition games, the Hornets averaged 14 offensive rebounds, leading to 12 second-chance points per contest. “They look like darts running in there on film,” Groce said of Alabama State. “They’re very active, so we’re going to be challenged there. That’s certainly a concern.”
After point guard Tracy Abrams sat out the exhibition finale against Northwood with a strained hamstring, there was some concern whether the starter at that spot would be ready for the start of the season. The feeling heading into the opener is the junior from Chicago is good to go. “He called (Tuesday) to say he was doing great. He’ll be ready to go,” Groce said. After Sunday’s game, Groce said Abrams tried to fight him to play in the meaningless exhibition game, but the wise, precautious choice was made. “I’ve just been getting treatment and stuff, trying to take care of my body,” Abrams said. “I had to be smart about it, rest it.”
It’s possible you’ll see an Illinois lineup with as many as four freshmen on the court at the same time. Not likely, but possible, because all five rookies are expected to figure into the playing rotation early on. That means an abundance of talent, but also leads to a probability there will be plenty of mistakes. “A lot of prayer,” Groce quipped when asked about dealing with freshman miscues. “It’s a very delicate balance. You do have to let them play through mistakes.” The concern for Groce, particularly early, with his young guys is making sure they defend and rebound consistently. “Everybody has to contribute there, and that’s what I’m most concerned about. The rest will take care of itself,” Groce said.
Prediction: Illinois 81, Alabama State 66
The most famous alum in Alabama State basketball history averaged 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game during the 1996-97 season, his only year in the program. His name is Tauheed Epps, a 6-foot-5 guard better known as 2 Chainz (left). 2 Chainz is a Grammy Award-nominated rapper whose album “Based on a T.R.U. Story” topped the Billboard charts last year. If this was a rap battle, 2 Chainz gets the edge over former National Player of the Year Dee Brown, who raps in his spare time. In a basketball game, the Illini get the edge. (N-G 2012-13 prediction record: 24-12)