HQ men's hoops prediction: UI 79, Jacksonville St. 61
Beat writer Marcus Jackson's look at ... Jacksonville St. at Illinois, 5 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 9.0
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 22.0
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 14.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 10.0
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 2.0
FYI: Rice (22 points against Alabama State) tied Brandon Paul for the most points by an Illini making his debut with the program. Paul scored 22 as a freshman against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in 2009.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.0
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 2.0
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 7.0
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Brian Williams Sr. 6-1 8.0
G Darion Rackley Jr. 6-3 13.0
G Grant White Jr. 6-2 16.0
F D.J. Felder Jr. 6-7 10.0
F/C Jamal Hunter Jr. 6-8 8.0
FYI: Williams, a preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference selection, played all 40 minutes of Friday’s loss at Bradley and has started 72 consecutive games for the Gamecocks.
OFF THE BENCH
G Undra Mitchem Fr. 6-2 0.0
G Rico Sanders Sr. 6-3 2.0
F Nick Cook Sr. 6-6 8.0
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: Randazzo is an anchor and host on WSCR 670-AM The Score in Chicago. He’s also the play-by-play voice of the Kane County Cougars, a Cubs Class A affiliate.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
During the early part of last season, Illinois’ three-point shooting was all the rage. Friday’s 4-for-20 effort might have those following the program concerned, or even raging. Coach John Groce expressed some worry about the long-distance shooting, but it’s not time to panic yet. “We had some really good looks early, and maybe when we missed some of those that was part of us being tentative. Maybe a couple were rushed; most of them were pretty good,” Groce said. Ekey, Illinois’ best three-point shooter, went 0 for 4. “Ekey didn’t shoot the ball as well as he’s been shooting the ball, but I’ll live with that any day of the week; he’s too good a shooter,” Groce said.
When looking over the stat sheet following the Alabama State win, Groce was disappointed to see his team turned the ball over 15 times. The number increased in the last few minutes of the game with a group of young players on the floor who didn’t finish as strong as the staff would have liked. The Hornets cut Illinois’ lead from 28 to 17 in the last five minutes. “A couple guys got baptized a little bit (Friday night) and they’ll learn from it; they care. We’ll watch the film and clean that up a little bit. I thought we had a couple soft plays there to close,” Groce said. “We got a little sloppy; it’s a 40-minute game every night.”
There’s a lot for Illinois to clean up after the opener, but there’s not much time to do it (one day). Groce said after Friday’s game he knew nothing about the Gamecocks (the assistant coaches already started to scout JSU). They’re approaching the two games in three days much like an NCAA tournament weekend. “Obviously, maturity is the biggest challenge. You’ve got to be able to learn and move on. We’ll take a look at the film and at that point we’ve got to learn from that, move on and prepare for Jacksonville State because it’s going to be here in a hurry,” Groce said. “I expect our veterans, certainly our captains (Abrams, Bertrand, Egwu, Ekey), to lead us in that charge.”
Jacksonville State 61
The Illini used all 11 players Friday — and each of them played at least 10 minutes. It’s a step in the right direction for developing a deep bench which is a necessity in order to play the up-tempo style Groce prefers. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, aren’t very deep. Only one reserve played more than nine minutes. Today could provide another opportunity for the Illini to use their depth to wear down an opponent by forcing their tempo. (N-G prediction record: 1-0).