PREVIEW: Illinois vs South Dakota

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' nonconference test against South Dakota at the State Farm Center on Saturday.

Illinois (6-5) vs.

South Dakota (7-4)

Date & Time: Dec. 19, 2 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: ESPN3

Quick Hits

  • South Dakota went 17-16 last season and finished tied for fourth in the Summit League standings.
  • Coyotes head coach Craig Smith is in his second season at South Dakota, and he served as an assistant to Tim Miles at Nebraska prior to that.
  • South Dakota is coming off a double-OT win over UW-Milwaukee, who won at Wisconsin last week.
  • The Coyotes are top-50 in the country in field goal percentage (48.3).
  • Illinois is 1-0 all-time against South Dakota, as they won the previous meeting 96-56 in 1971.
  • The Illini are riding a three-game winning streak after squeaking by UIC last Saturday.
  • Illinois juniors Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn are the No. 2 scoring duo in the six major conferences (36.9 ppg).

Projected Starters

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate made his third consequtive start at point guard on Saturday against UIC - finishing with two points, four assists and one turnover in 14 minutes. John Groce elected to delegate more minutes to Khalid Lewis, who provides more of an offensive threat.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn tallied 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 31 minutes against UIC. He is averaging 19.8 points per game this season, while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from deep.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had just one point on Saturday, as he went 0-of-4 from the field. He is shooting under 19 percent over the last three contests.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill had a game-high 22 points against UIC, and he scored half of those at the charity stripe. He has scored at least 20 points in five of the team's 11 games this season.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke scored 14 points on Saturday - all of which came in the first half. He is shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three this season.

Bench

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis had his best game in an Illini uniform on Saturday, as he posted eight points and eight assists in 25 minutes. He played 13 minutes in the second half, while Tate played just six minutes.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands got back on track with his stroke, as he buried four triples against UIC on Saturday. He finished with 15 points in 27 minutes.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan had six points and three rebounds in 13 minutes on Saturday. He is shooting 63.3 percent from the field, but he has just 25 rebounds in 132 minutes played this season.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin was scoreless against UIC, as he was 0-of-2 in 11 minutes. He is shooting just 22.2 percent from the field and 10.5 percent from three this season.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams registered one point in six minutes against UIC. He's played seven minutes per game over the last three contests.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss has not played this season.

South Dakota Starters

Shy McClelland (JR): McClelland is quick off the bounce and he makes the Coyotes' offense go. He is averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 assists per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field.

Casey Kasperbauer (SR): Kasperbauer is South Dakota's top outside threat. He is averaging 12.8 points per game, while shooting 39.7 percent from three. 

D.J. Davis (SO): Davis is coming off a double-double outing of 17 points and 10 rebounds against UW-Milwaukee. He is averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Tre Burnette (SR): Burnette is a tough guard who can score on the dribble drive. He leads the Coyotes with 13 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Eric Robertson (SR): Robertson had 15 points and seven rebounds against UW-Milwaukee. He is averaging 10.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. 

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Play some defense. Neither side is particularly good at the defensive end, but the team that makes the biggest commitment to defense will win this game. The Illini have allowed opponents to score 75 points per game, while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from three. Meanwhile, South Dakota is allowing nearly 78 points per game, which puts them at No. 297 in the country in scoring defense. The Illini have made bad offensive teams look good, and that was the case last Saturday against UIC. That's a scary thought against South Dakota, who is top-50 in the country in field goal percentage.

2. More Hill and Nunn, please. The junior duo has a lot riding on their shoulders, and the Illini need them to continue leading the way. Hill and Nunn have combined for nearly 26 shot attempts per game during the last six contests. South Dakota will give up their fair share of points, and it will be on Hill and Nunn to spark the Illini offense. They have to show up each and every game for the Illini to have a chance.

3. Avoid a bad lapse. Whether it has been to start the game or the second half, the Illini have had some dangerous stretches. They were slow out of the gate on Saturday against UIC, as they found themselves down 12-5 through the first five minutes. Illini fans have only seen this team play one game of good basketball for 40 minutes. South Dakota will test the Illini on the defensive end, but the Illini should not go through a major scoring drought. With the way the Coyotes can score, they can't afford to either.

Prediction

These are less than ideal circumstances for Groce and this program. The first part of this season has been a grind, and that isn't likely to change during the last three months. But the Illini have an opportunity to get on a four-game winning streak heading into the Braggin' Rights game. South Dakota will pose a test, but the Illini should get the job done.

Illinois 81, South Dakota 75


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