HQ prediction: UI 70, Indiana 66
Indiana at Illinois, 2 p.m. today
Illinois (11-2, 0-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.7
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 18.2
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 10.8
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.5
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 8.0
FYI: In the last three games, Abrams is averaging 18 points, the best three-game stretch of his career.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.6
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 2.9
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.2
INDIANA (10-3, 0-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Yogi Ferrell So. 6-0 16.8
G Will Sheehey Sr. 6-7 10.8
F Jeremy Hollowell So. 6-8 8.6
F Troy Williams Fr. 6-7 7.9
F Noah Vonleh Fr. 6-10 12.0
FYI: After shooting 30.3 percent from behind the three-point line as a freshman with 23 makes, Ferrell is shooting 42.7 percent from long range this season already having made 32.
OFF THE BENCH
G Evan Gordon Sr. 6-0 7.8
G Stanford Robinson Fr. 6-4 4.8
F Hanner Mosquera-Perea So. 6-9 3.8
Site: State Farm Center (16.618), Champaign
TV: ESPN2 — Dave O’Brien (play-by-play) and Dan Dakich (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: Indiana leads 85-84. Last meeting: No. 3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64, March 15, 2013 (Chicago).
FYI: This is the first New Year’s Eve home game for the Illini in 31 years. The last time Illinois played at home on the final day of the calendar year, it beat Loyola-Chicago 73-72 in 1982.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 Welcome home, Illini. It’s been three weeks since the Illini last played a game inside of their home building and only the second time in the month of December. Michigan and Illinois are the lone Big Ten teams to play as many as six games away from their home arenas during nonconference play. The challenge of playing on the road and on neutral courts while facing plenty of adversity could benefit the Illini in Big Ten play. “We’ve played a lot of different styles, traveled a lot, I thought that made our team closer,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “All those things allowed us to grow up at a pretty fast rate.”
2 After starting the season so strong on the glass, Illinois has been out-rebounded in six of the last seven games by its opponents. It doesn’t get any easier with Vonleh and the Hoosiers coming to town. Indiana is out-rebounding its opponents by an average of 14 boards, led by the 6-10 freshman, who’s pulling down a Big Ten-best 9.5 per contest. “He’s really terrific on the glass, among the nation’s best offensive and defensive rebounders,” Groce said. “He has a real knack for rebounding the basketball and being around the ball. He has great length. He plays really hard and all those attributes lead to him being really good on the glass.”
3 Today starts what Groce calls Season Two and of the regulars on the Illinois roster, only three — Abrams, Bertrand, Egwu — have been through the grind of an 18-game Big Ten schedule. Rice and Ekey have sech been through multiple grinds through the Missouri Valley, but they and the five Illinois freshmen are in for a real eye-opener in what’s expected to be a tough, tight Big Ten race. “We’ve talked about the toughness that it requires, 18 games two months,” Groce said. “You can’t get too high or too low in this league. I thought last year’s team did a really good job of that. We’ll remind them of that and take it one game, one day at a time.”
Prediction: Illinois 70, Indiana 66
It was just one game, but that win against Indiana last season in Champaign did wonders for the Illinois program. A team that was 2-7 in conference play and looking at missing the NCAA tournament turned the corner and has the program headed in a positive direction. Who knows where Illinois would be today without that season-changing win against the Hoosier “It was a great moment, good win for our team, for our program,” Abrams said. “That win just showed our effort and what we’re trying to do.” Today, Illinois has a chance to get its Big Ten season off on the right foot with another win against Tom Crean’s squad. (N-G prediction record: 11-2)