HQ prediction: UI 77, Dartmouth 63
Illinois vs. Dartmouth,
7 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.3
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 18.4
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.9
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 8.3
FYI: Illinois’ 61.5 percent shooting performance Sunday against Auburn was its highest under John Groce, still shy of the school record of 70.5 percent against Northwestern in 2011.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.8
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 3.0
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.6
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tyler Melville Sr. 6-2 8.8
G Alex Mitola So. 5-11 11.3
F John Golden Jr. 6-6 10.7
F Connor Boehm So. 6-7 11.5
C Gabas Maldunas Jr. 6-9 9.8
FYI: Boehm, a product of north suburban New Trier, is the Big Green’s top scorer, but his 15 points in the last game at IPFW was the first time he’s led team in scoring in a single game this season.
OFF THE BENCH
G Kevin Crescenzi So. 6-3 5.8
G Malik Gill So. 5-9 5.0
F Eli Harrison Fr. 6-6 4.8
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTDN (Internet only) — Matt Maniscalco (play-by-play), Brett Lerner (analyst) and Taylor Rooks (sideline) 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: Tonight’s Internet-only broadcast is the final game on the schedule that will not be shown live on television. The remaining games will all be carried by one of the ESPN networks, Big Ten Network or CBS.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 On paper, this looks like a game in which the Illini should roll, but if we’ve learned anything through nine games it’s to be careful when trying to figure out this team. Making matters worse tonight is the fact Illinois is coming off a second trip to Atlanta in a five-day span with just one day to prepare for the Big Green. Dartmouth runs a Princeton-style offense, which takes discipline on the defensive end, and with so many young players commanding minutes, mastering that scouting report in one day of practice is a tall task.
2 Back when Rex Grossman was the quarterback of the Bears, coach Lovie Smith weekly had to remind fans and media calling for the QB’s benching that “Rex is our quarterback.” While John Groce hasn’t had to go that far in backing Abrams, there are voices outside the program loud enough to be heard that want the junior’s role reduced. When Abrams plays as well as he did against Auburn, the Illini are tough to beat, though his contributions go deeper than the stat sheet indicates. But for the Illini to reach their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament, they’ll need Abrams to remain consistent and play at a level near what he displayed Sunday.
3 Understandably, most folks got excited about Illinois blistering the nets to the tune of 12 three-pointers, 61.5 percent shooting and scoring 81 points. But the defensive effort shouldn’t be overlooked. Illinois yielded just 17 first-half points Sunday, and only once has an opponent scored more than 63 points in a game. That takes a complete team effort, and it’ll take that tonight against the Big Green and its disciplined offense that’s predicated on precision. Get caught in the wrong spot and Dartmouth will have a layup line and wide-open three-pointers.
Prediction: Illinois 77, Dartmouth 63
The last time the Illini got off a plane to play a game at home, they played poorly and nearly lost to IPFW and then followed that up with a late-game collapse at Georgia Tech. After playing its best game of the season on Sunday, it’s worth paying attention to how Illinois approaches tonight’s contest — the lone home game until the New Year’s Eve Big Ten opener against Indiana. Groce doesn’t like being a light switch, and if his team consistently tries to turn it on and off as it pleases there will be more bumps in the road than it might be prepared for. (N-G prediction record: 8-1).