PREVIEW: Illinois at Rutgers

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' road game at Rutgers on Wednesday evening.

Illinois (10-12, 2-7) at

Rutgers (6-16, 0-9)

Date & Time: Feb. 3, 5:30 p.m. CT

Location: The RAC (Piscataway, N.J.)

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • Rutgers has lost all nine conference games this year, and they have lost thier last 24 games against Big Ten opponents dating back to last season.
  • The Scarlet Knights have been within single digits just once in Big Ten play this season - at home vs. Indiana (79-72).
  • They have lost six of their nine Big Ten games by at least 20 points.
  • Illinois is 2-0 all-time against Rutgers, and they won last season's matchup 66-54 in Champaign.
  • The Illini are coming off back-to-back home losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
  • Illinois is 10-21 on the road in Big Ten contests under John Groce.
  • Groce said Illini big man Mike Thorne Jr. is officially out for Wednesday, which marks the fourth straight game he will miss.

Projected Starters

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate had no points, two assists and one turnover in 19 minutes on Sunday against Wisconsin. He has nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, but he is still a major offensive liability.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan made his first Big Ten start on Sunday, and he was productive with seven points on four shot attempts. The key for him is to cut down on his mistakes, and he had a pair of turnovers against the Badgers.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn has scored in double figures every game he has played this season, and he finished with 15 points on Sunday. However, he wasn't particularly efficient - going 5-of-14 from the field and missing some easy ones around the basket. The hip contusion that he suffered earlier in the game may have been a factor, though.

Malcolm Hill (JR): It's been a season filled with doom and gloom for the Illini, but Hill's production has been big-time. On Tuesday, he was named as one of 10 finalists for the Jerry West Award - given to the nation's top shooting guard. Hill had 22 points in 38 minutes against Wisconsin.

Maverick Morgan (JR): It looks like Morgan will make the fourth start of his career on Wednesday with Michael Finke likely sidelined. Morgan had six points and four rebounds in 27 minutes against Wisconsin.

Bench

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): On Sunday, Coleman-Lands was held out of the starting lineup due to a violation of team rules - which was the second occurance in a span of three weeks. The Illini need their talented freshman to get that cleaned up. Coleman-Lands had two points in 17 minutes against Wisconsin.

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis missed all four of his shot attempts on Sunday, and they were all pretty good looks around the hoop. He has gone scoreless in each of the last two games.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams played four minutes against Wisconsin only to register two fouls on the stat sheet. He has produced no points and one rebound combined in 19 minutes over Illinois' last five games.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin played his typical amount of limited minutes on Sunday, as he was on the court for five minutes against the Badgers. His role is to play defense in spurts. He hasn't attempted a shot in the last three games.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss has appeared in just two games this season for a combined five minutes of action. But he could add to that total against Rutgers. Groce said that Morgan, Hill and Liss will be the options at center if Finke is out.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke suffered a knee contusion during Sunday's game, and he did not practice on Monday or Tuesday. Groce said that it is "very unlikely" that Finke will be ready to play on Wednesday.

Rutgers Starters

Corey Sanders (FR): This freshman point guard has electricity to his game with his quickness and ability to score. Sanders has averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 assists over the last five Big Ten games. But he can be erratic at times, and he's had three turnovers in eight of Rutgers' nine conference contests.

Mike Williams (SO): Williams has put together a trio of nice offensive games of late. During that stretch, he has averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 50 percent from the field.

Bishop Daniels (SR): This 6-foot-3 guard does a little bit of everything for the Knights. He is averaging 8.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game this season.

D.J. Foreman (SO): Foreman isn't afraid of contact with his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame. He leads Rutgers with 6.3 rebounds per game to go along with 7.8 points per game as well. Foreman had a season-high 12 rebounds against Michigan State on Sunday.

Greg Lewis (R-SR): Lewis has been rather inconsistent with his production this season. The 6-foot-9 big man is averaging 4.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, but he's converting just 36.4 percent of his field goal attempts.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Let the best players shine. Hill and Nunn (even less than 100 percent) will be the best players on the court, and it's not even close. Technically, Nunn is a game-time decision - as stated by Groce on Tuesday. But the odds point to him suiting up. Statistically, Hill and Nunn are the most productive scoring duo in the Big Ten (36.3 ppg). They've carried a heavy load for the Illini this year, as they've tallied more than 49 percent of the team's points in conference play. Ideally, Illinois would have a little more balance with their scoring attack. But look for Hill and Nunn to continue scoring the bulk of the points. Rutgers has given up an average of 87.8 points per game in Big Ten play this season. That should set up Illinois' best to have big nights.

2. Outrebound the Knights. Rebounding has been a recurring issue for the Illini. They have won the battle on the backboards just once in the last 10 games (at Minnesota). Even if Finke is out, this is still an opportunity to have a favorable outcome on the glass. Rutgers has the worst rebounding margin in the Big Ten at minus-6.3 per game. The Illini are 13th in the conference at minus-5.5 per game. Rutgers was outrebounded at Michigan State on Sunday by 29. The Illini were outrebounded against the Spartans by 19 earlier in conference play. Let the games begin.

3. Just win. The injury misfortunes that the Illini have faced this season have been ridiculous. If Finke sits on Wednesday, Illinois will have seven different players who have missed a combined 68 games this season. As telling as that stat is, the Illini simply can't lose this game. Find a way to get it done. PERIOD.

Prediction

Illinois beat Purdue by 14, and the Boilermakers beat Rutgers by 50. So...Nevermind. The Illini are banged up beyond proportion. It isn't likely going to be pretty. But Rutgers is the worst power conference team in college basketball - per the Ken Pom rankings. They're 0-for in their last 24 tries against Big Ten teams. Illinois has plenty of excuses for why this season hasn't gone according to plan. But excusing a loss to Rutgers is another story.

Illinois 66, Rutgers 60


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