PREVIEW: Illinois vs Nebraska

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois vs. Nebraska on Saturday at the State Farm Center.

Illinois (9-8, 1-3) vs.

Nebraska (10-8, 2-3)

Date & Time: Jan. 16, 1:30 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • Nebraska is on a two-game winning streak after dropping their first three in Big Ten play.
  • The Huskers are coming off an 84-59 win over Minnesota on Tuesday.
  • Illinois is 12-5 all-time against Nebraska, and they won the last meeting 69-57 in March 2015.
  • The Illini ended a three-game losing streak by defeating Purdue on Sunday.

Projected Starters

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate had two points, three assists and two turnovers in 15 minutes against Purdue. He has 14 assists and five turnovers total in Big Ten play.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands provided a nice spark off the bench on Sunday, as he hit two threes and posted 10 points in 20 minutes. The freshman was out of the starting lineup due to a "slight violation of team rules", but he should return to the starting five against Nebraska.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn may have missed Illinois' trip to East Lansing, but he didn't miss a beat in his return against Purdue on Sunday. The new father had 22 points and five rebounds, while going 8-of-12 from the field.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill tallied his second 30-point outing of his career on Sunday. That was especially impressive against the Boilers, who were No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Foul trouble limited Finke to just 19 minutes against Purdue. He finished with six points, two assists and one rebound.

Bench

Khalid Lewis (GR): Another game Tate starts, another game Lewis plays the majority of the minutes. Lewis had two points, three assists and two steals on Sunday in 26 minutes.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan held his own against a tough Purdue frontline. He had six points and two rebounds in 20 minutes, while also providing resistance down low.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams has John Groce excited about how he is coming along. The freshman has received 18 minutes in each of the last two games. Williams had two points, three rebounds and a steal on Sunday.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had four points in 13 minutes against Purdue. But he has shot just 1-of-9 from the field in Big Ten play.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin played less than a minute against the Boilers, as Groce elected to utilize his young guys instead.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss did not play against Purdue.

Nebraska Starters

Benny Parker (SR): The 5-foot-9 point guard is quick off the dribble and he challenges the defense to rotate after he gets through the first level. Parker is also a pesky defender, and he is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc.

Glynn Watson Jr. (FR): Watson is the brother of former Illini point guard Demetri McCamey, but the home-state program took a pass on him. He has been a bright spot over the last two games, as he has posted a combined total of 20 points, seven assists, six steals and only one turnover.

Andrew White III (R-JR): The transfer from Kansas has been a big-time addition for the Huskers. White can score at a high level and he leads the team in rebounding. The athletic wing is averaging 18 points per game in Big Ten play, while shooting 60 percent from long range.

Shavon Shields (SR): The Illini are no strangers to Shields' ability at the offensive end. He had a 33-point outing against Illinois as a sophomore. This season, he is averaging 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

Michael Jacobson (FR): Like Finke, Jacobson is not a true center at 6-foot-8, 222 pounds. The freshman big man is averaging 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Be on the right side of the mirror. These two teams have quite a bit of similarities - both on paper and with personnel. They have similar records, rely on a one-two scoring punch and play freshman at a high volume. Illinois and Nebraska both average more than 74 points per game, while shooting over 36 percent from deep. Furthermore, they don't have a true inside threat. Head coaches typically don't focus solely on head-to-head battles, but whoever wins those will likely win this game. The Hill-Nunn (36.9 ppg) and Shields-White (32.8 ppg) duos are the top two active scoring tandems in the Big Ten based on points per game. Illinois needs to win that matchup, and they also need their freshmen to provide a favorable outcome. Nebraska starts a pair of freshmen in Watson and Jacobson, and Simeon product Ed Morrow plays a significant role as well. The Illini have to win that battle - especially being that they passed on Watson and Morrow in the 2015 class.

2. Stay hungry. The win against Purdue on Sunday was a big one for the Illini. But Groce was quick to say that he isn't interested in seeing that kind of performance just once. Groce continued to challenge his team in practice this week - demanding the same level of effort and toughness that resulted in their best showing of the season. The Illini have a great chance to keep that momentum rolling by adding another home win before a tough road test at Indiana. Illinois has to avoid a letdown, even though the opponent isn't in the same echelon as their previous Big Ten tests. 

3. Win the game at the defensive end. The Illini had a great game plan for slowing down Purdue's interior attack. They were able to neutralize Purdue's strength, while forcing them into 16 turnovers. Nebraska poses an entirely different challenge, but the Illini need to find that same level of execution. White and Shields will be big tests with their ability to hit shots. If they get it going, the Huskers have the ability to put up points in a hurry. Nebraska has averaged 87 points per game in their last two wins, although those outings came against Big Ten bottom feeders. The point remains though, as the Illini still rank No. 312 in the country in effective field goal percentage defense. Forcing turnovers will be key once again. Illinois has forced more than 14 turnovers per game in Big Ten play, and the Huskers have turned it over on 19.5 percent of their possessions.

Prediction

The result can go either way when you have teams that are this similar. Illinois has the luxury of playing at home. They also got nearly a week in between games, which helped them to recover, strategize and fine-tune some things. Even if the battle of duos is a wash, the Illini should get more from their supporting cast.

Illinois 78, Nebraska 72


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