HQ men's hoops prediction: UI 62, Clemson 61

No. 2 Illinois at No. 3 Clemson,
10 a.m. Sunday

Lineups

Illinois (20-14)

STARTERS

P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG

G    Tracy Abrams    Jr.    6-2    10.8

G    Kendrick Nunn    Fr.    6-3    6.3

G    Rayvonte Rice    Jr.    6-4    15.9

G/F    Malcolm Hill    Fr.    6-6    4.4

C    Nnanna Egwu    Jr.    6-11    6.9

FYI: Rice’s 28 points at Boston University equaled the school record for an NIT game first set by Perry Range in 1982.

OFF THE BENCH

F    Jon Ekey    Sr.    6-7    7.2

G    Joseph Bertrand    Sr.    6-6    8.6

F    Maverick Morgan    Fr.    6-10    1.5

Clemson (21-12)

STARTERS

P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG

G    Rod Hall    Jr.    6-1    9.7

G    Jordan Roper    So.    5-11    7.3

G    Damarcus Harrison    Jr.    6-4    7.5

F    K.J. McDaniels    Jr.    6-6    17.4

C    Landry Nnoko    So.    6-10    6.3

FYI: McDaniels has six games this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, tops in the ACC.

OFF THE BENCH

G    Adonis Filer    So.    6-2    4.0

F    Josh Smith    So.    6-8    1.7

F    Ibrahim Djambo    Jr.    6-10    1.8

Details

Site: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000), Clemson, S.C.

TV: ESPN — Rich Hollenberg (play-by-play) and LaPhonso Ellis (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 3-1. Last meeting: Illinois 76, No. 18 Clemson 74; Dec. 2, 2009 (Clemson).

FYI: After Tuesday’s win against Georgia State, Clemson has won 10 consecutive NIT games played at home.

Marcus Jackson’s storylines

1. In Clemson’s win against Georgia State in its NIT opener, McDaniels made a series of highlight plays, earning some serious run on ESPN. He’s more than a highlight guy, though. He had 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots in that game. His skill set is unlike any that Illinois has seen this season. “He has great size at the 3; he has a post-up game at the 3, dribble-drive game,” UI coach John Groce said. “Obviously, he’s capable of making shots. He gets to the free throw line. He’s as good a shot blocker as we’ll play against all year. Normally when you hear shot blocking, you hear 4s and 5s. He’s a 3 that plays some 4 occasionally. He’s a pogo stick. He’s athletic; he’s got great length. I think he’s a mismatch problem for a lot of teams, watching him on film. He’s certainly a concern.”

2. For Illinois to advance to play Belmont in an NIT quarterfinal, it will need contributions from everyone. That includes Nunn, who had his least-productive game Wednesday at Boston University since being inserted into the starting lineup Feb. 9. Nunn finished the NIT opener with two points, two rebounds and two turnovers in 25 minutes. “Kendrick wasn’t real good the other night. He knows that. He wasn’t as good as certainly we’ve been accustomed to here lately,” Groce said. “Fortunately some other guys, I thought our seniors off the bench really did a great job of making some plays for us. I fully anticipate him bouncing back. Every game at this point is a learning experience for him. That was his first Season 4 postseason game in an Illinois uniform. I’m sure he would tell you he hopes to have plenty more postseason games in his career, and hopefully he can learn from that and be a little bit better (Sunday).”

3. Clemson blocks six shots per game, which leads the ACC and ranks 11th in the country. That could cause problems for Illinois, particularly Rice and Abrams, who like to get into the paint and score. McDaniels and Nnoko are two of the better shot blockers in the country, so the strategy with driving will have to change for Illinois. “I think they’ve adapted a little bit. They’ve gotten a lot better at it,” Groce said of Rice and Abrams. “When you play against teams that block shots on the level that Clemson does, you have to be willing passers, and you have to read situations well. You get in the paint, you’ve got to decide if you’ve got an angle, an opportunity to score, or whether or not you’ve got to pass. Those guys have gotten better at that. There’s been times, especially early, maybe we didn’t make the greatest decisions once we got in there. I think Ray and Tracy have learned and gotten better.”

Prediction:
Illinois 62, Clemson 61

The last time Illinois played a game at Clemson, it staged the largest come-from-behind win in program history, rallying from 23 down behind freshman Brandon Paul. In their last game, the Illini fell behind by 17 only to come away with a win. This team is capable, but it can’t afford to fall behind by a large margin early against the Tigers, who rank fifth in the country in points allowed (58.2). “You have to be ready. You have to be ready to play a 40-minute basketball game in any postseason tournament,” Groce said. “The NIT ... shows that if you’re not ready to play, it’s a one-game deal. There’s a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches and different styles, and if you’re not ready, it can put you in a position where you’re not going to get the result that you want. I think our guys have learned that throughout the year, and that was another moment the other night where we were able to teach them a little bit.” (N-G prediction record: 26-8)

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