PREVIEW: Illinois at Providence

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' road test at Providence on Wednesday.

Illinois (1-1) at

Providence (1-0)

Date & Time: Nov. 18, 6 p.m. CT

Location: Dunkin' Donuts Center (Providence, RI)

TV: FOX Sports 1

Quick Hits

  • Providence won their season opener 76-64 against Harvard.
  • The Friars went 22-12 last season and lost to Dayton as a No. 6 seed in the East Region of the NCAA tournament.
  • Junior point guard Kris Dunn is a preseason first-team All-American and a projected lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
  • Providence is 2-0 all-time against the Illini - winning the last matchup 70-51 in Dec. 2003.
  • Illinois is 2-10 in their last 12 true road games, including postseason play (NIT).
  • The Illini are 22-1 under head coach John Groce in November during his tenure.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis played just 15 minutes as the starting point guard on Sunday in an outing that was limited by foul trouble.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin has played 20-plus minutes in each of the first two games, and his defensive ability earned him a spot in the starting lineup against North Dakota State.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill is averaging 16.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game through the first two contests, although he's shot just 31 percent from the field.

Leron Black (SO):  Black played 15 minutes in his season debut on Sunday, as he posted five points and five rebounds.

Mike Thorne (GR): It didn't take long for Thorne to become the first Illini center since Meyers Leonard to post back-to-back games with at least 20 points.


Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands had 15 points and four steals against North Dakota State on Sunday, and he is shooting 44.4 percent from deep so far this season.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had 14 points in his season debut last Friday, and he has gone 5-of-8 from deep in the first two games.

Maverick Morgan (JR): The Illini big man tied a career high with 10 points against North Dakota State, and he is 8-of-10 from the field on the season.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams did not attempt a shot in nine minutes of action on Sunday, although he did add four rebounds off the bench.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke played sparingly in the opener, but he posted four points and three assists in 13 minutes against North Dakota State.

Providence Starters

Kris Dunn (JR): Dunn stuffed the stat sheet last Saturday with 32 points, eight steals, six rebounds and five assists against Harvard.

Junior Lomomba (JR): The Canadian native didn't have to do much offensively against Harvard, as he took just one shot and scored two points in 21 minutes.

Ryan Fazekas (FR): Fazekas scored 10 points and hit a pair of triples in his collegiate debut last Saturday.

Rodney Bullock (R-SO): After being suspended as a freshman and tearing his ACL before last season, Bullock played his first game in a Providence uniform against Harvard, and he posted 20 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

Ben Bentil (SO): Bentil had eight points and 11 rebounds last Saturday, although he was just 3-of-12 from the field.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Have a containment plan for one of the nation's best. Dunn is one of the most talented offensive weapons in the country and his usage rate is going to be through the roof this season. The 6-foot-4 point guard presents a huge problem for opposing defenses with his combination of length, quickness and athleticism. The Illini defense has struggled mightily to guard the dribble drive so far this season, and Dunn is a scary matchup given the circumstances. Simply put, Illinois does not have someone who can defend him one-on-one. Lewis will do his best but he struggled with fouling against North Dakota State. Groce will have to find ways to guard Dunn with plenty of help after he gets past the first guy. Providence loves to use the high ball-screen with Dunn to free him up, and he has great vision when the defense collapses. Dunn's 32-point outing in the season opener tied for the fourth most points of any Division I player in the first game of the season. The Illini will try to force the ball into other's hands, but Groce noted in the teleconference on Tuesday that the elimination of the five-second call makes that an even more difficult task.

2. Match the intensity from the tip. The Illini have been subject to sluggish starts in the first two games. They were down by as many as 18 in the first half against North Florida, and they allowed North Dakota State to open up a double-digit lead in the first seven minutes. That can't happen on the road against a good team. Illinois needs to find that defensive grit they displayed in the second half on Sunday or Dunn will eat them alive. The tone will be set early on with the way the Illini respond to the challenge. This is their first road test as a group, although the European trip and games in Springfield have the Illini used to the hotel life. Still, the Illini are a team that relies heavily on freshmen right now, and this will be their first experience with college hoops in a hostile environment. Illinois has to bring it for 40 minutes in order to come out with a win.

3. Execute offensively under pressure. The focus of this game will be on defending Dunn, but Providence presents problems at the other end as well. Head coach Ed Cooley likes to mix up defenses and apply a great deal of pressure. Providence forced 22 turnovers against Harvard in the opener, which tells you what kind of challenge awaits the Illini. Dunn led the way with eight steals, and he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Crisp cuts and smart passes will be important for the Illini, as they need to find a way to get in an offensive groove. Feeding Thorne early and often will be a big key, and he'll need to be ready for some double-team looks with how he's performed in the paint. Thorne will have a big opportunity on the glass being that the Friars allowed Harvard's big man to collect 16 rebounds. Illinois needs Hill to find his stroke as well. He was off with his shot over the weekend, and there isn't a better time to regain his form.


Groce has been focused on defense as much as Dick LeBeau recently, and he said practice ran late on Tuesday to drive home some more defensive accountability and assignment pieces to his younger players. Groce added that he is considering another change to the starting lineup, and that could give Black a start. The sophomore forward exemplifies the toughness and intensity that the Illini will need on Wednesday night. As a whole, Illinois and Providence are both young teams. But the Friars have the benefit of playing in front of the home crowd, in addition to having one of the best players in the country to lead the charge. Illinois' defensive tendencies aren't going to change overnight, and that will likely set Dunn up to have a highlight reel night.

Providence 80, Illinois 73

Illini Inquirer Top Stories