P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown
G Andre Curbelo So. 6-1 10.3 Vega Baja, Puerto Rico
G Trent Frazier Sr. 6-2 11.7 Wellington, Fla.
F Jacob Grandison Gr. 6-6 11.5 Oakland, Calif.
F Coleman Hawkins So. 6-10 11.3 Sacramento, Calif.
C Kofi Cockburn Jr. 7-0 18.0 Kingston, Jamaica
FYI: Monday’s 71-51 loss to Cincinnati marked just the third time in Frazier’s career he was held scoreless. The veteran Illini guard went 0 of 9 from the field and didn’t attempt a single free throw. Frazier going 0 for the game against the Bearcats was also just the third time that’s happened in his career, including last season’s home loss to Maryland and the 2019-20 season opener against Nicholls State.
Off the bench
G Da’Monte Williams Sr. 6-3 3.8 Peoria
G Alfonso Plummer Gr. 6-1 6.3 Fajardo, Puerto Rico
F Omar Payne Jr. 6-10 4.3 Kissimmee, Fla.
Kansas State (2-1)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown
G Nijel Pack So. 6-0 15.7 Indianapolis
G Mark Smith Sr. 6-4 9.0 Edwardsville
G Selton Miguel So. 6-4 10.7 Luanda, Angola
F Ismael Massoud So. 6-9 6.7 East Harlem, N.Y.
F Kaosi Ezeagu R-Jr. 6-10 6.3 Brampton, Ontario
FYI: Smith hasn’t fared all that well against his former team — at least individually. Missouri did win three consecutive Braggin’ Rights games with the former Illinois guard in the lineup, which made him perfect in his career after picking up a win with the Illini in 2017. Smith, the 2017 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year, was held scoreless in 25 minutes in the 2019 Braggin’ Rights game and averaged 3.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in his three previous games against Illinois.
Off the bench
G Mike McGuirl Sr. 6-3 4.0 Ellington, Conn.
G Markquis Nowell Jr. 5-8 9.0 Harlem, N.Y.
C Davion Bradford So. 7-0 4.0 St. Louis
Site: T-Mobile Center (18,972); Kansas City, Mo.
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, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDAN-1490-AM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads series 8-2.
Last meeting: Illinois won 76-56 on Dec. 2, 2000, in Manhattan, Kan.
FYI: The last time Illinois and Kansas State played Frank Williams was the point guard. Now his son, Da’Monte, will play against the Wildcats on Tuesday in Kansas City. Frank Williams was actually held scoreless in the Illini’s last victory against Kansas State, but his team-high eight assists helped set up his former Peoria Manual teammates. Marcus Griffin led Illinois with 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Wildcats, and Sergio McClain added 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Beat writer Scott Richey’s storylines
The number of connections between the Illinois and Kansas State basketball teams is actually fairly wild. Let’s start with the coaches. Illini coach Brad Underwood played at Kansas State and was an assistant for the Wildcats under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, of course, coached at Illinois from 2004-12. Illini assistant coach Chester Frazier played for Weber at Illinois and started his coaching career as an assistant for Weber with the Wildcats. On the player front, Kansas State’s Mark Smith started his career at Illinois before transferring to Missouri (and now Kansas State), and the Illini recruited the Wildcats’ Davion Bradford, Luke Kasubke and Ismael Massoud (a Wake Forest transfer) out of high school. There’s also a local connection on the Kansas State staff, with former St. Joseph-Ogden standout Nate Michael — the son of former Illini turned Eastern Illinois athletic director Tom Michael — serving as the Wildcats’ video coordinator.
Connection the key
Underwood went deeper on his bench in Monday’s loss to Cincinnati than he did a week prior at Marquette. The difference in the two games? Illinois had a second half lead on Marquette and was in the game until the final buzzer, so Underwood mostly stuck with a seven-man rotation. Underwood leaned on Da’Monte Williams off the bench against Cincinnati and got solid minutes from Austin Hutcherson and RJ Melendez. The reason? The Illinois coach was trying to find somebody to lead. “Anybody,” Underwood said. “All of them. … It’s about being connected. It's about being together. It's about being a cohesive group, and, obviously, we're not that — especially on the offensive end. I didn’t like our energy. Everybody’s got to be held accountable. It’s an excuse, yet it’s relevant because we've been so fractured here early in the season and had no continuity and no togetherness and guys out and guys not even being able to come to practice. We’ll get it right, but right now, that was ugly (Monday). That was hard to watch.”
Offense not clicking
Illinois managed to hold on to the No. 1 spot in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings after Monday’s 20-point loss to Cincinnati. This early in the season, there’s still some previous year influence, and the Illini did play well defensively through the first three games. That provided some cushion to absorb the defensive failings against the Bearcats. Illinois has fallen off significantly from an adjusted offensive efficiency standpoint, though, ranking 41st nationally compared to the top 10 offense it had last season. Underwood’s main issue with his team right now is execution — or lack thereof. “We run a little play at the end where we run Trent (Frazier) off a couple baseline screens to play into a ball screen,” Underwood said. “Something we’ve run and executed many, many times for the last couple years. Nobody screened Trent. That little sucker fought over every screen that they set — and they set a bunch of them — and we don’t screen. Everybody’s got to do their job. We’ve got too many people right now we’re not connected. We’re not spraying the ball off of dribble drives. We’re not spraying the ball and moving it offensively."
Illinois 71, Kansas State 66
One of the final statements from Underwood after Monday night’s loss to Cincinnati was telling. “We're going to see what our character is,” the Illinois coach said. He’s not wrong. The Illini are in a “prove it” scenario heading into the Kansas State game off consecutive losses where they’ve just looked lost offensively and let that negatively affect them against the Bearcats. This isn’t a ranked Illinois team anymore. The Illini will hold on to that No. 14 in front of their name for six more days, but even if they beat Kansas State to wrap up play in Kansas City and UT Rio Grande Valley on Friday back in Champaign, they’ve got an uphill climb to being recognized as one of the nation’s best programs. (N-G prediction record — 2-2)