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No. 25 Illinois (11-3, 4-0 Big Ten)


P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Trent Frazier Sr. 6-2 11.5 Wellington, Fla.

G Alfonso Plummer Gr. 6-1 16.4 Fajardo, Puerto Rico

G Da’Monte Williams Sr. 6-3 4.4 Peoria

F Jacob Grandison Gr. 6-6 12.1 Oakland, Calif.

C Kofi Cockburn Jr. 7-0 22.5 Kingston, Jamaica

FYI: The Illini starters played 171 of the available 200 minutes in last Thursday night’s win against Maryland. That’s the most playing time for the starters this season. The Arizona game on Dec. 11 was similar in terms of minutes distribution, save for Jacob Grandison playing 32 minutes as a reserve in place of starting forward Coleman Hawkins, who played just 12 minutes.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

F Coleman Hawkins So. 6-10 7.9 Sacramento, Calif.

G Luke Goode Fr. 6-7 2.7 Fort Wayne, Ind.

F Omar Payne Jr. 6-10 1.5 Kissimmee, Fla.

Nebraska (6-10, 0-5 Big Ten)


P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Alonzo Verge Jr. Sr. 6-3 14.3 Chicago

G Keisei Tominaga So. 6-2 7.9 M. Nagoya Aichi, Japan

G Bryce McGowens Fr. 6-7 15.7 Pendleton, S.C.

F Lat Mayen Jr. 6-9 4.7 Adelaide, Australia

F Derrick Walker Jr. 6-9 10.0 Kansas City, Mo.

FYI: Verge was an Illinois recruiting target under former coach John Groce. The in-state product started his high school career at Willowbrook, intended to transfer to Proviso West before winding up at Arlington Country Day (Fla.) as a junior and finished his high school career at Thornton, where he would up a News-Gazette All-State first-team selection in 2017. Verge’s college basketball path has taken him from Moberly Area (Mo.) to Arizona State and now Nebraska.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G CJ Wilcher 6-5 Fr. 8.1 Plainfield, N.J.

G Kobe Webster 6-0 Sr. 6.8 Indianapolis

F Trevor Lakes 6-8 Sr. 1.5 Lebanon, Ind.


➜ Site: Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,000); Lincoln, Neb.

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

➜ TV: Jeff Levering (play-by-play) and Brian Butch (analysis) have the call on BTN.

➜ Series: Illinois leads 18-8.

➜ Last meeting: Illinois won 86-70 on Feb. 25, 2021, in Champaign.

➜ FYI: While Illinois holds a decisive advantage in its series against Nebraska, five of its eight all-time losses have come in Lincoln, Neb., since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. Last season’s Ayo Dosunmu-driven overtime win was the Illini’s first at Nebraska since 2017, which was the first since 2013. Dosunmu finished with 31 points and six assists in last season’s win after taking control of the game late. Kofi Cockburn added 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.

Beat writer Scott Richey’s storylines

Locking in defensively vital in Illini success

Illinois has held each of its last four opponents, including three high-major foes, to fewer than 65 points. Illini coach Brad Underwood was quick to point out two factors that have turned the tide defensively for his team: fewer scouting report mistakes and establishing a set rotation. Underwood credited Da’Monte Williams’ efforts in the last four games for upping the ante defensively, while also mentioning Trent Frazier’s steady play, Alfonso Plummer’s growth at that end of the court and Kofi Cockburn’s less heralded contributions. “Collectively, as a group, our chemistry has gotten better,” Underwood said. “We’ve seen less mistakes from our freshmen when we’re playing them. Those are all positive signs.”

Steady improvement in other areas

Per Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Illinois boasts a top-10 offense in terms of adjusted efficiency and the defense has moved into the top 25. It’s turned into a classic Underwood team that can turn some early struggles into improved play in the second half of the season. “I hope we’re coaching them,” Underwood said. “I hope guys understand this is a process. You’ve got to harden your guys. You’ve got to toughen them up. Those things we work on early, we work on a lot of different combinations and try to get it right with our bench. I’d like to win them all, but I get it. I think it’s the process.”

Going for another Big Ten road win

Illinois’ wins at Iowa and Minnesota through the first 20 percent of conference play extended the team’s streak of Big Ten road wins to five after winning at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in the final three games of the 2020-21 regular season. The Illini boasted the best record in the Big Ten in the previous two seasons combined at 29-11. That includes going 13-7 in league games away from State Farm Center. “There’s a formula there,” Underwood said. “It’s been good rebounding and assignment-sound defense. That’s the one thing that travels is what you do with your effort on the defensive side. Offense doesn’t always travel. This league is the toughest place to play. (Nebraska is) going to have a sellout crowd. They have radical fans and a good basketball team.”

The News-Gazette’s Pick

Illinois 90, Nebraska 63

Illinois has won nine of its last 10 games and is one of two teams still unbeaten in Big Ten play. Nebraska has lost eight of its last nine games, and the Cornhuskers’ only win in that stretch came three days before Christmas against a bad Kennesaw State team. So there’s a reason the Illini are considerable favorites on the road. This one shouldn’t be all that close. If it is, that’s just the vagaries of the Big Ten grind. (N-G prediction record — 11-3)

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).

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