HQ men's hoops prediction: Oregon 76, UI 71
Illinois vs. No. 15 Oregon, 8 p.m. Saturday
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.1
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 17.9
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 9.1
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 8.6
FYI: Rice is one of two Big Ten players to have scored at least 12 points in each game this season. Penn State’s D.J. Newbill also has accomplished the feat.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 3.6
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 2.9
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 4.2
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Joseph Young Jr. 6-2 20.1
G Johnathan Loyd Sr. 5-8 11.1
G Damyean Dotson So. 6-5 10.3
F Mike Moser Sr. 6-8 15.0
C Waverly Austin Sr. 6-11 3.8
FYI: Loyd’s 15 assists in Oregon’s 115-105 overtime win against Ole Miss on Sunday were a career high and the second-highest total in program history.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jason Calliste Sr. 6-2 11.1
F Elgin Cook So. 6-6 10.9
F Richard Amardi Sr. 6-8 7.3
Site: Moda Center (19,980), Portland, Ore.
TV: ESPN2 — Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play) and Sean Farnham (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 4-0. Last meeting: Illinois 89, Oregon 59, Dec. 10, 2005 (Portland).
FYI: With Tuesday’s win against Dartmouth, the Illinois program now has 1,699 wins. With their next win, the Illini, whose win total is 13th all time, would become the second Big Ten program to reach 1,700 wins. Indiana (1,727) is 10th in all-time wins.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. In games as a decided underdog, all parts of the operation have to be clicking. That needs to be the case for Illinois tonight, and one of the areas that has been a strength much of the season — rebounding — took a step back in Tuesday’s win against Dartmouth. The smaller Big Green outrebounded Illinois 33-27. That likely won’t get it done against Oregon. “I’m really concerned about our rebounding. Our rebounding has got to get back to where it was,” Groce said. One player in particular whom Groce wants to see more from is Joseph Bertrand. Groce considers the 6-foot-6 guard one of the best perimeter rebounders he’s ever coached, yet Bertrand pulled down just two against Dartmouth and none on the offensive end. “That’s below his standard and below mine for him in that area.”
2. Time and again, Groce has said for Illinois to get where it wants to be this season (NCAA tournament) that it’s going to have to get things done by committee. We know what the veterans can do; they’ve carried the load the bulk of the season. But the bench, comprised of five freshmen and a sophomore walk-on, is beginning to turn the corner in its development on the stat sheet and with intangibles. “Those guys make really impactful plays in the minutes that they play,” Groce said. “They’re really evolving and improving, and that’s really exciting to see.” They will be key against a deep, talented Oregon squad in a tough environment.
3. For two straight weeks, Illinois received votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. The loss at Georgia Tech knocked the Illini off ballots, but a win on a neutral court against the Ducks might be enough to get them into the poll for the first time this season. It’s not a huge deal, but the recognition would be nice. “Our guys follow that stuff,” Groce said. “I don’t talk about that a whole lot because I’m more concerned how we finish than I am where you are in November and December. It’s nice to have a chance to get that type of recognition, but I think most coaches would tell you they’re in it for the long haul and they want their team playing its best basketball late in the year regardless of what number is in front of their name.”
Prediction: Oregon 76, Illinois 71
It’s hard to tell at times when opposing coaches gush about the talent of an upcoming opponent if they really mean it or if they’re trying to get their own team riled up. When Groce went on about Oregon’s talent, he most likely meant it. “They are really talented; they’ve got multiple weapons. They are well-coached; they’re a great shooting team,” he said. Illinois has been very good defensively this season, but it will be challenged at a high level tonight against a Ducks outfit that’s scoring better than 90 points per game with six guys averaging in double figures. “Our defense is going to be tested big time,” Groce said. If the Illini could find a way to return home with a victory, it would be a big-time accomplishment. (N-G prediction record: 9-1)