HQ prediction: Illinois 66, Nebraska 64
Nebraska at Illinois,
8 p.m. today
Illinois (15-12, 4-10 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.3
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 5.4
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.2
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.8
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.0
FYI: Egwu ranks second in the Big Ten in blocked shots (2.3 per game) and his 62 blocked shots are second on the single-season list all-time at Illinois.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 9.7
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.3
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.1
Nebraska (16-10, 8-6 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tai Webster Fr. 6-4 4.7
G Ray Gallegos Sr. 6-2 7.3
G Terran Petteway So. 6-6 18.4
F Shavon Shields So. 6-7 12.0
F Walter Pitchford So. 6-10 9.1
FYI: Petteway is 21 points shy of becoming the 13th Nebraska player to score 500 points or more in a season and the first since Aleks Maric in 2007-08.
OFF THE BENCH
G Benny Parker So. 5-9 1.7
G David Rivers Jr. 6-7 2.7
F Leslee Smith Jr. 6-8 6.0
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Kevin Kugler (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 10-4. Last meeting: Nebraska 67, Illinois 58, Feb. 12. (Lincoln, Neb.).
FYI: Nebraska’s Petteway, a transfer from Texas Tech, and Illinois’ Rice, a transfer from Drake, are the only two Big Ten newcomers among the league’s top 20 in scoring.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 Nebraska is arguably the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Huskers have won five straight and seven of their last eight. But they’ve played two games since Illinois last played a game. Will the fresher legs of the Illini playing in front of the home crowd make a difference? It’s an unfortunate schedule turn for the Huskers, who next will play Northwestern on Saturday with the Wildcats having a week off, too. “I think it’s great for us,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I don’t think it’s a disadvantage for us. It’s given us time to come up for air, to refresh mentally, to refresh a little bit physically and work on what we need to work on to improve and still have time to prepare for the game, so we certainly looked at it as an advantage.”
2 When these two teams met two weeks ago, Shavon Shields exploded for a career-high 33 points in the win for the Cornhuskers. The key to slowing him down this time? Keep him off the free throw line. The son of former Nebraska and NFL offensive lineman Will Shields shot 15 free throws and made all of them, tying a school record. Getting to the line is something the Huskers have used to their advantage, shooting better than 27 foul shot per game during the five-game win streak. “Most of the time those big nights happen when guys get to the free throw line,” Groce said. “We’ve got to do a better job there. You’ve got to talk about playing hard without fouling. Some of it’s physical strength, part of it’s technique. We’re working hard every day addressing those things.”
3 In the four games since freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill entered the starting lineup, Joseph Bertrand has seen his production and playing time drop off. Part of it is because the two youngsters have played so well, commanding more minutes. Another part of it is Bertrand hasn’t played up to his capabilities during the last two weeks. Illinois has played better basketball of late, winning two of its last four, and if Bertrand can get going again, this team has a chance to steal a couple more wins to solidify postseason opportunities. “Joe’s the type of kid, he can break out of that snapping your fingers,” Groce said. “He has a great way about him even when he didn’t play as particularly well here recently. He’s cheering like crazy and encouraging guys. Joe’s a big part of our team, he has been for two years, and that’s also exciting because if we get him playing to his capability down the stretch we can take another jump.”
Illinois 66, Nebraska 64
Nebraska hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game in the history of its program, joining Northwestern as the only BCS schools with that notorious distinction. But in just his second season, Tim Miles has the Cornhuskers in the NCAA conversation — they haven’t been since 1998 — and a strong finish could get them into the Dance, where they’re talented enough to make some noise. If not this season, it’ll happen soon under the charismatic Miles, who led Colorado State to an NCAA tournament win in 2012. “Our goal is to hunt the NCAA tournament. We’ve got a long way to get there. We’ve got almost no margin for error,” Miles said. Groce has been impressed with the work tonight’s coaching counterpart has done in Lincoln. “He’s done a great job. I thought they played really hard last year. Really competitive, physical,” Groce said. “This year’s team, they’re playing as good as they’ve played, certainly I would think in the two years he’s been there. Their team plays to their strengths and seem to maybe understand that now more maybe than they did before just watching from the outside. Those are the things I see. They’ve certainly improved and gotten better.” (N-G prediction record: 21-6).