PREVIEW: Illinois vs Michigan

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' Big Ten opener against Michigan on Wednesday.

Illinois (8-5, 0-0) vs.

Michigan (10-3, 0-0)

Date & Time: Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: ESPN2

Quick Hits

  • Michigan enters with highlight wins over Texas and N.C. State, and they have losses against SMU, Xavier and UCONN.
  • The Wolverines are riding a four-game winning streak, while averaging 89.5 points per game during that stretch.
  • Michigan is shooting 41.9 percent from three on the season, which is second in the Big Ten.
  • Illinois is 86-80 all-time against the Wolverines, but they are 1-6 against them under John Groce.
  • In their last matchup, Michigan crushed Illinois 73-55 in the Big Ten tournament.
  • The Illini are riding a five-game winning streak into conference play for the first time since 2008-09.
  • Illinois freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands was named after Fab Five standout Jalen Rose.

Projected Starters

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate continues to start at point guard, but the lion's share of the minutes are going to Khalid Lewis. Tate played 13 minutes with no points and one assist against Missouri last week.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands has earned big-time minutes over the last three games with the way he is shooting the rock. He scored eight points in 31 minutes against Missouri, and he has hit 50 percent of his threes over the last three games.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn was sensational against Missouri - as he filled up the stat sheet, wowed the crowd with highlight-reel plays and even taught Groce "the dab". Nunn finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 38 minutes.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill is on a roll right now with four straight games with at least 20 points. He posted 21 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals against Missouri.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke has proven to be a solid No. 3 behind the dynamic duo of Nunn and Hill. The redshirt freshman is averaging more than 14 points per game over the last five contests, and he posted 16 points in an impressive outing against Mizzou.

Bench

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis is Illinois' best point guard on the roster right now, and the minutes have shown that. He has played at least 22 minutes during the last four games, and he had two points and four assists in 24 minutes against Missouri. But according to reports, he is doubtful for Wednesday's game with the mumps -- another bad blow for the Illini.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes against Missouri. He is averaging 5.5 points per game, while shooting higher than 60 percent from the field.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams has played double-digit minutes in two straight games, but he had zeros across the stat sheet against Missouri.

Aaron Jordan (FR): As Williams has played more minutes, Jordan has seen less action. He played seven minutes against Missouri, and he registered two rebounds and no points.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin did not play against Missouri, which was the first time this season that he didn't record a minute.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss has yet to play this season.

Michigan Starters

Derrick Walton Jr. (JR): Walton is a big key to the Wolverines offense, and they sorely missed him during an 82-58 drubbing against SMU. The junior point guard is averaging 10.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

Zak Irvin (JR): Irvin has not been his typical self from deep this season, as he is shooting just 20 percent from beyond the arc. However, he is coming off his best game of the year against Bryant with 16 points and six rebounds.

Caris LeVert (SR): LeVert loves playing against the Illini, and he's not shy in saying that. He has never lost to Groce, who was set to coach him at Ohio before leaving for Champaign. LeVert is a top-five scorer in the Big Ten with 17.3 points per game.

Duncan Robinson (SO): Robinson has been a huge addition for the Wolverines this season - making their offense even more dangerous. The 6-foot-8 transfer is 12.5 points per game, and he leads the Big Ten by shooting 59.5 percent from deep.

Ricky Doyle (SO): Doyle brings toughness and a high motor to the Michigan frontcourt. He is averaging 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. DEFEND THE THREE. Yes, the all-caps is necessary. Michigan is 11th in the country in three-point field goal percentage (41.9). They are coming off a game against Bryant in which they set a school record with 17 threes. Then you have the Illini, who rank 320th in the country in defending the three. Opponents have shot 39 percent from beyond the arc against the Orange and Blue this year. There are no excuses for personnel mix-ups in this one. The Illini have to guard the three-point line at a high level to come out with a victory.

2. Fight fire with fire. There will be plenty of firepower to go around at the State Farm Center on Wednesday. Hill is the top scorer in the Big Ten. Nunn and LeVert are both top-five on that list. Robinson is the best three-point shooter in the conference. Finke is top-50 in the country in ORtg (offensive rating), per KenPom. Good teams play both ends of the floor, and the Illini have slowly gotten better on defense. But there's no question that they'll have to win some games at the offensive end. Who can light more fire to the nets?

3. Let revenge be a motivator. The Illini have some momentum riding on their side after winning their last five games. But beyond that, they have reason to be even more driven against the Maize and Blue. Illinois' NCAA tournament hopes have been erased by Michigan in back-to-back seasons during the Big Ten tournament. Last season's display was an utter embarrassment for the program, and Hill said that it has left the team with a bad taste in their mouth about the Wolverines. That's certainly not a bad thing. LeVert has kept a bad taste in his mouth after Groce left for Illinois and didn't try to recruit him. In most cases, rivalries carry more weight in the stands than on the court. But this one should be different.

Prediction

Michigan has owned the Illini during Groce's tenure. Only Wisconsin has been more dominant over the Orange and Blue during that stretch, but the losses against the Wolverines have been far more crushing. This one will be a toss-up with Michigan coming in as two-point favorites. The Illini have the talent to win the game and they have the homecourt advantage. Unfortunately, that isn't aided by a 2 p.m. mid-week tip with students on break. And when it all boils down, Michigan's offense may prove to be too good.

Michigan 76, Illinois 72


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