HQ men's hoops prediction: Iowa 68, UI 63
Illinois at No. 24 Iowa, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Illinois (17-13, 6-11 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 10.6
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 6.1
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 15.8
F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 4.2
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 6.9
FYI: Rice, Illinois’ top scorer, led the Illini with 16 points against Michigan. It was just the second time in the last seven games he was the team’s top scorer.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.2
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 9.0
Iowa (20-10, 9-8 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Mike Gesell So. 6-1 8.2
G Roy Devyn Marble Sr. 6-6 17.3
F Aaron White Jr. 6-9 13.3
F Melsahn Basabe Sr. 6-7 7.7
C Adam Woodbury So. 7-1 5.4
FYI: Marble has scored 20-plus points in five consecutive games and moved into sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list Thursday at Michigan State.
OFF THE BENCH
G Josh Oglesby Jr. 6-5 7.2
F Jarrod Uthoff So. 6-8 7.6
F Zach McCabe Sr. 6-7 6.1
Site: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (15,500), Iowa City, Iowa
TV: BTN — Josh Lewin (play-by-play) and Jim Jackson (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 81-69. Last meeting: No. 12 Iowa 81, Illinois 74, Feb. 1 (Champaign).
FYI: The Illini have lost four of their last five Big Ten finales, the last win coming at the end of the 2010-11 season when they beat Indiana 72-48 at home.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. That Michigan game was a rough one for Illinois, losing by 31 in the home finale. But it wasn’t all bad. The Illini have been offensively challenged a good portion of the Big Ten season but shot 54.2 percent in the first half against the Wolverines, their best first-half showing in conference play. Some confidence from that can be carried across the border to Iowa on Saturday night against the Hawkeyes, who have allowed an average of 86 points the last five games — opponents are shooting 58 percent in that stretch. “I think our shot selection has continued to improve. I like the way Nnanna’s starting to develop with our inside-out game,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I think what we’re running, we’re running a little more crisp and clean, which is good. We’ve improved there.”
2. It would be natural to expect a team coming off its worst home loss to enter a road game against a ranked opponent battling confidence issues. But if we’ve learned anything about this Illinois team this season, it’s that it’s going to continue fighting no matter the adversity. These Illini lost eight straight and battled back to win four of their next six games. “Stuff happens. College basketball is a long season, and you see just about everything throughout the course of a season,” Groce said. “The most important thing is how we respond. We’ve had a team that’s fought all year. I don’t see that changing. It’s part of their makeup.”
3, The Illini enter Saturday night’s Big Ten finale somewhat banged up. Freshman point guard Jaylon Tate missed the Michigan game with an ankle injury, and senior Joseph Bertrand played just nine minutes against the Wolverines after he bumped knees with teammate Jon Ekey. Both have undergone treatment in the days since Tuesday’s loss. “Joe practiced (Thursday) and seems to be doing fairly well, moved around well (Thursday), so I thought that was definitely encouraging,” Groce said. “Tate will be more of a game-time decision.” In Tate’s absence, Illinois was without its backup point guard, meaning Mike LaTulip filled in that role against Michigan. LaTulip played seven minutes after not seeing any action in the previous 13 games. He had played just five minutes in conference play before Tuesday.
No. 24 Iowa 68, Illinois 63
The Hawkeyes are at a disadvantage, getting just one day to prepare for the Illini after Thursday’s road loss at Michigan State. “One-day preps are atypical, for sure,” Groce said. But Iowa still has a lot to play for, solidifying seeding for the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. Plus, it’s Senior Night, and the Hawkeyes have not played particularly well lately, losing four of their last five. “This is Marble’s last game and Basabe’s last game, so they’re going to play with a lot of pride and hunger as Fran (McCaffery)’s teams typically do,” Groce said. “They’ve had some real dogfights. Sometimes the ball will bounce your way; sometimes it won’t. It’s just a play or two here or there. This is a big-boy league, and we’re playing big-boy teams, so a lot of these games can go either way with just a play or two. The margin’s small.” (N-G prediction record: 23-7)