HQ men's hoops prediction: UI 73, UIC 60
Illinois vs. Illinois-Chicago, 1 p.m. Saturday
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.4
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 17.4
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 10.6
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 9.1
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 8.2
FYI: In four career games at the United Center, Abrams is averaging 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.7
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 2.8
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.5
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Marc Brown Jr. 6-4 12.3
G Kelsey Barlow Sr. 6-5 16.6
G Pat Birt Fr. 6-5 6.4
F Hayden Humes Sr. 6-8 7.2
F Jordan Harks Sr. 6-8 7.8
FYI: Barlow, a Purdue transfer, scored 38 against Wagner and followed that with 31 vs. SMU, becoming the third Flame to hit 30 in consecutive games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Gabe Snider So. 6-4 5.0
F Jake Wiegand So. 6-8 7.1
G Markese McGuire Fr. 6-3 4.1
Site: United Center (20,917), Chicago
TV: BTN — Dave Revsine (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 12-2. Last meeting: UIC 57, No. 12 Illinois 54, Dec. 18, 2010 (Chicago).
FYI: Illinois has played 46 games at the United Center since it opened in the fall of 1994. Entering Saturday’s game against the Flames, the Illini hold a 34-12 record all time in the home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. Last week against Missouri, Illinois had to deal with a 6-foot-5 point guard in Jordan Clarkson, who gave Illini defenders fits on his way to 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds. The Illini will face a similar challenge and a familiar face Saturday in UIC guard Kelsey Barlow. The Purdue transfer leads the Flames in scoring (16.6), rebounding (5.2) and assists (4.5). “He’s really talented,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He’s a big key for them because he’s got his hand not only involved in their scoring but he’s got his hand involved in every play in terms of making their guys better. He has the ball in his hands so much that he makes plays not only for himself but for others.”
2. The Illini took their longest break from the court of the season after Saturday’s win against Missouri, going their separate ways to spend Christmas at home with their family and friends. Groce gave the team Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off before returning to campus Christmas night for a workout. There hasn’t been much rust from the players in their return to the court. “They came back, I thought, really refreshed mentally and physically. I think our effort’s been really good the last two days in practice,” he said. “We practiced light on Christmas night, and then we went twice (Thursday). They did a really good job, really dialed in. I thought our effort was really good.”
3. Saturday marks the final nonconference game of the year for Illinois ahead of Tuesday’s Big Ten opener against Indiana at State Farm Center. All in all, it’s been a positive run for the Illini, who have impressed their coach with their grittiness night in and night out. Heading into the Big Ten gauntlet, it’s going to be fine-tuning the little things that will prove the difference between winning and losing. “If we want to continue to get better, then we need some execution in some areas to start to match the toughness and togetherness and the grit that our team has played with,” Groce said. “If I was somebody watching our team play, I’d say, ‘Man, I like watching those guys play because they play hard.’ ”
Prediction: Illinois 73, Illinois-Chicago 60
The last time these two programs met, it was a dark day for Illini basketball. The program’s annual trip to the state’s largest and most influential city ended with a loss to UIC and left orange-wearing fans rushing to the areas above the tunnel to berate players and coaches with expletives. Three years later they meet again with an air of optimism radiating from the Big Ten school, playing free of pressure in front of the Chicago folks. “It’s really a treat to get to play in Chicago, where we have so many alums and so many people who care so deeply about Illinois basketball, so that part’s neat,” Groce said. “Then you get to play in the United Center, which is also a treat for our guys. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play up there.” (N-G prediction record: 10-2)