Pregame blog: Illinois vs. Rutgers

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper gets you set for Illinois vs. Rutgers on Tuesday night at the State Farm Center.

10 minutes until tipoff

Here are your Illini starters...

https://twitter.com/IlliniMBB/status/699773540640432128

20 minutes until tipoff

Back to the AD talk, as Illini nation is buzzing about hiring Whitman. The former Illinois tight end has been a success on and off the playing field. He played in the NFL. He worked in the Illinois athletic department during Ron Guenther's tenure. Whitman may be inexperienced, but he is smart, energetic, connected and very charismatic.

The next question that comes to many fans' minds is what does that mean for Groce? Obviously, Whitman will have some time to evaluate him throughout the rest of this season. Groce talked about the imminent hire yesterday.

"We're excited, obviously, once that decision gets made and takes place," Groce said. "One of the things I've always believed in is that leadership is important."

"We look forward to bring that to culmination and moving forward. That's the biggest thing."

That leader in place can help to solidify the Illinois basketball program. The uncertainty surrounding the athletic director - and subsequently Groce's status - has not been helpful on the recruiting trail. Recruits want to see stability, and other programs are throwing dirt at every opportunity.

The Illini are in great position with Peoria Manual guard Da'Monte Williams, who would be a huge addition to the 2017 class. Williams' camp has certainly been aware of the situation at Illinois, and they want to know Groce is going to be in Champaign before they consider jumping on board.

This move can only help, and it will put an end to the overall stalemate in the athletic department. Now, Whitman will be given an opportunity to evaluate Groce on this season, the future and what's best for the program.

45 minutes until tipoff

More injury news for the Illini.

https://twitter.com/JWernerScout/status/699759185546895360

https://twitter.com/JWernerScout/status/699761304173543424

75 minutes until tipoff

Welcome to the latest installment of the Illini hoops pregame blog. Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper here to get you set for the action at the State Farm Center.

Illinois (11-14, 3-9) and Rutgers (6-19, 0-12) are ready for a rematch after a 110-101 triple-overtime shootout less than two weeks ago. Most people in Champaign, outside of our own Jeremy Werner, are hopeful that this one won't be nearly as "epic". Illinois is coming off a tough loss on the road at Northwestern on Saturday 58-56. The Illini had an opportunity to tie or win the game on the final possession with the ball in Malcolm Hill's hands, but he couldn't get a shot off that counted.

On the other side, Rutgers continues to do what they're good at in Big Ten games: Lose. The Knights fell 79-69 at Ohio State on Saturday, as they have now lost 27 straight games against Big Ten opponents. To make matters worse, Rutgers announced on Monday that leading scorer Corey Sanders is suspended for two weeks for violating team rules. Illini head coach John Groce won't mind that. Sanders had a career-high 39 points against Illinois in the first meeting.

The Illini are 14.5-point favorites in this riveting matchup. You can read my preview HERE for scouting reports, keys and my prediction. I also give my take on what the Illini need to show in this battle of bottom-feeders.

While this might surprise you, there is bigger things brewing in Illini nation than the game that will take place tonight. According to multiple reports, Illinois is set to hire Josh Whitman as their athletic director.

https://twitter.com/JWernerScout/status/699751500164128768

Yes, the wait is finally over. I personally like the hire. I'll have much more coming, including what hiring an AD means for Groce.


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