PREVIEW: Illinois vs Rutgers

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' matchup with Rutgers on Tuesday night.

Illinois (11-14, 3-9) vs.

Rutgers (6-19, 0-12)

Date & Time: Feb. 16, 8 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • Rutgers will be without leading scorer Corey Sanders (16.2 ppg) after suspending him on Monday for violating team rules.
  • The Knights are coming off a 79-69 loss at Ohio State on Saturday.
  • Rutgers has lost 27 straight games against Big Ten opponents.
  • Illinois is 3-0 all-time against Rutgers, and they won 110-101 in triple overtime earlier this month.
  • The Illini lost 58-56 at Northwestern on Saturday.
  • Illinois is 16-17 under John Groce in Big Ten games at home.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis made his third straight Big Ten start on Saturday, as he posted three points, three rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes. Lewis had nine points and eight assists at Rutgers earlier this month.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands continues to shoot the rock at a high level. He had 12 points on four threes at Northwestern on Saturday. Coleman-Lands had a career-high 26 points against Rutgers.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn finally shook off some shooting woes on Saturday at Northwestern. He finished with 13 points and hit some clutch threes in the second half.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill has done it all for the Illini this season, and that description has extended to playing significant time at point guard. Hill had seven points, 13 rebounds and seven assists on Saturday.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan has taken his production up another level of late. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds on Saturday. Morgan has posted double-digit points in three straight games for the first time in his career.

Bench

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams has been one of the most encouraging signs for the future with how he has pieced some good performances together. He had six points and three rebounds on Saturday, while hitting the first two threes of his collegiate career.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke's production has dipped through the heart of Big Ten play. The redshirt freshman averaged more than 13 points per game in December, but his scoring average has been less than half of that since then. Finke had three points and four rebounds at Northwestern.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan was scoreless, while going 0-of-4 from the field on Saturday. He played six minutes in that contest. Jordan has the ability to make shots, but he's shooting under 33 percent from the field on the season.

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate's minutes have been cut back significantly over the last three games (7.3 minutes per game). He played just three minutes at Northwestern, as Hill played the majority of the minutes at point guard.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin was scoreless in four minutes of action on Saturday. He has been scoreless in seven of the last nine games, but he scored his most points (5) in the Big Ten season against Rutgers.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss did not play against Northwestern. He has appeared in two games this season, but Tuesday might be an opportunity for him to see the floor.

Rutgers Starters

Mike Williams (SO): With Sanders out, Williams is Rutgers' best scoring option at 12.1 points per game. He posted 15 points and five rebounds against the Illini earlier this month.

Bishop Daniels (SR): Daniels is averaging 8.6 points per game on the season, while shooting 40.1 percent from the field. He had six points and five rebounds at Ohio State on Saturday.

Omari Grier (SR): Grier has an ability to make shots, although he's gone just 2-of-10 from the field over the last two games. But he did post 18 points in the shootout against Illinois.

Jonathan Laurent (FR): The 6-foot-6 freshman had the best game of his career against the Illini - posting 23 points and eight rebounds. Laurent is averaging 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this year.

Greg Lewis (R-SR): Lewis isn't what you'd call a dangerous scoring threat. He is averaging 4.2 points per game, while shooting 36.8 percent from the field. But he had 16 rebounds (seven offensive) and three blocks against the Illini the last time they met.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Good defensive showing. Of the 351 D-1 teams, Rutgers is 305th in offensive efficiency, 315th in effective field goal percentage and 318th in three-point percentage. And they are without their best offensive weapon in Sanders, who went for 39 points against the Illini two weeks ago. Illinois' defensive execution was horrid for many stretches of that game. They allowed Rutgers to shoot over 45 percent from the floor and score 101 points - albeit in a game that lasted three overtimes. With the challenge of containing Sanders nullified, there is no reason for the Illini to allow much success at that end of the floor.

2. Win the rebounding battle. Illinois lost the game at Northwestern, but they won the rebounding battle for the second time in Big Ten play. Rutgers is worst in the conference in rebounding margin, but they beat the Illini on the glass in their previous matchup. The Knights managed to get 17 offensive rebounds, which simply should not happen. Hill and Nunn combined for 27 rebounds in that game, but no other Illini had more than four. Illinois got a more balanced rebounding effort on Saturday, and they hauled in 14 offensive rebounds. They should be able to build off that in this game.

3. Forget about the opponent. Rutgers is a bad basketball team, and they might be one of the worst D-1 teams in the country without Sanders. But that's not an excuse to play down the competition. Illinois should win this game by double digits, although they have done that just four times all year. Playing down to the competition was a concern in the nonconference. The Illini beat Chicago State and Illinois-Chicago by seven points combined, and both of those teams are in the bottom 20 of the Ken Pom rankings. Rutgers has lost their 12 Big Ten games by an average of more than 22 points per contest. The Illini need to focus on playing their best brand of basketball and not taking their foot off the gas, as they prepare for a trip to Madison this weekend.

Prediction

The first meeting may have been "epic" in the eyes of some, but that shouldn't be the case in this one. Even in close losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northwestern, Groce said he felt his team is getting better as unit. This is a good opportunity to show that in front of the home fans - even if it won't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Illinois 77, Rutgers 62


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