Illinois (20-12)


P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Terrence Shannon Jr. Sr. 6-6 17.1 Chicago

G RJ Melendez So. 6-7 5.9 Arecibo, Puerto Rico

G/F Matthew Mayer Gr. 6-9 12.8 Austin, Texas

F Coleman Hawkins Jr. 6-10 9.9 Sacramento, Calif.

F Dain Dainja R-So. 6-9 9.7 Brooklyn Park, Minn.

FYI: Shannon has tapped back into his go-to scorer mode the last five games, with three games scoring at least 20 points. What’s held true all season, though, has stayed that way in that span. Shannon is shooting 51.2 on two-pointers — primarily from attacking the basket — and 32.1 percent from three-point range.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G/F Ty Rodgers Fr. 6-6 3.2 Saginaw, Mich.

G Sencire Harris Fr. 6-4 3.7 Canton, Ohio

G Luke Goode So. 6-7 3.8 Fort Wayne, Ind.

Arkansas (20-13)


P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Anthony Black Fr. 6-7 12.8 Duncanville, Texas

G Nick Smith Jr. Fr. 6-5 14.0 Jacksonville, Ark.

G Davonte Davis Jr. 6-4 10.5 Jacksonville, Ark.

F/C Makhi Mitchell Sr 6-9 7.1 Washington, D.C.

F/C Makhel Mitchell Sr. 6-10 4.0 Washington, D.C.

FYI: The Mitchell twins are on their third team in four seasons after starting their careers at Maryland and spending the previous two years at Rhode Island. The sum total of their history against Illinois is the eight minutes Mahki played in a Dec. 7, 2019, win against the Illini. He came off the bench and finished with two assists and one rebound.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Ricky Council IV Jr. 6-6 15.9 Durham, N.C.

G/F Jordan Walsh Fr. 6-7 7.2 DeSoto, Texas

F Jalen Graham Sr. 6-9 5.5 Phoenix


Site: Wells Fargo Arena (16,110); Des Moines, Iowa.

TV: Brian Anderson (play-by-play), former Ohio State guard Jim Jackson (analysis) and Allie LaForce (sideline reports) will have the call on TBS.

Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Deon Thomas (analysis) will have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDWS 93.9-FM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WPXN 104.9-FM, WDAN-1490-AM and WDNL 102.1-FM.

Series history: Illinois leads 5-0.

Last meeting: Illinois won 72-60 on Dec. 4, 2004, in North Little Rock, Ark.

FYI: The four-game series Illinois and Arkansas played in the early 2000s was held exclusively at neutral sites. The Illini’s “home” games were played at the United Center in Chicago, while the Razorbacks hosted at what was then Alltel Arena (now Simmons Bank Arena) across the Arkansas River from the state’s capital.

Beat writer Scott Richey’s storylines

Distance shooting key to victory

Illinois-Arkansas could make an old school turn in the first round. All twos, no threes. It wouldn’t necessarily be by choice — at least on the Illini’s part — but neither team has shown much proficiency from three-point range this season. Illinois has 17 games this season, including four of its last five, in which it shot 30 percent or worse from beyond the arc. Matthew Mayer is the team’s most efficient three-point shooter (not counting Luke Goode in his nine games played), and he’s still only shooting 33.8 percent from deep. Mayer’s efficiency, of course, has taken a nosedive after he shot 1 of 15 from three-point range in the last two games. Beating Arkansas might be as simple as making shots.

“It’s how we beat Texas,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said, referencing one his team’s two Quad I victories this season. “When we’ve made shots, we’ve been really good. When we take good shots — good threes — we have a tendency to make them. ... We can’t take isolation threes all night. We’ve got to take good threes.”

Some familiar faces

Eric Musselman didn’t have to dive too deeply into Illinois’ top two scorers as he prepped his team for Thursday’s first-round game. The Arkansas coach was more than familiar with Terrence Shannon Jr. and Mayer.

Musselman’s Razorbacks beat Shannon and Texas Tech in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament and lost to Mayer and eventual national champs Baylor in the Elite Eight.

“Illinois presents us with a lot of issues,” the Arkansas coach said. “You can start with Shannon, one of the most versatile players in all of college basketball. He is an excellent downhill player, can stretch the defense out with threes. They’re long. Excellent rebounding team. One of the best shot blocking teams in the country.”

Bothering the young guys

Both Illinois and Arkansas have leaned heavily on freshmen guards this season. The Illini turned to Jayden Epps to run the point after fellow freshman Skyy Clark left the team, and the Razorbacks have paired former five-star recruits Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. in the backcourt. Black and Smith are both projected lottery picks in the NBA draft. Containing that duo will be key for Illinois.

“Our job is to force tough twos, warring over ball screens set and being a presence for them the whole night,” Illini forward Coleman Hawkins said. “Forcing them to take tough twos, that’s one of the big things.”

The News-Gazette’s pick

Arkansas 77, Illinois 73

This matchup personifies the “dueling Spider-Men pointing at each other” meme. Because the similarities run deep between the Illini and Razorbacks. Young guards. A transfer as the team’s scoring leader. Poor three-point shooting. And enough inconsistent play that neither team can probably be fully trusted. But somebody has to win to move on and face Kansas (save for some massive upset) on Saturday. Arkansas’ un-Big Ten-like athleticism might tip the scales in the Razorbacks’ favor. (N-G prediction record — 17-15)

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).