PREVIEW: Illinois vs. IUPUI

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

Illinois (6-3) vs.

IUPUI (3-5)

Date & Time: Dec. 6, 7 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: ESPN3

Quick Hits

  • Illinois returns to the court after two quality wins last week against N.C. State and VCU.
  • Illini head coach John Groce is 20-9 at Illinois in the month of December.
  • The Illini are 1-0 all-time against IUPUI, as they won 87-59 in 2006 in Champaign.
  • IUPUI was picked to finish fifth in the Summit League in the preseason poll.
  • The Jaguars are coached by Jason Gardner, who has a 26-45 career record.
  • IUPUI is coming off a 73-62 win at Ball State on Saturday.
  • The Jaguars have losses to Eastern Kentucky, Michigan, Marquette, SIUE and Illinois State this season.

Projected Starters

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams had nine points, six rebounds and four assists against VCU on Saturday. Abrams was 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, and he is shooting higher than 62 percent from deep on the season.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands went 0-of-5 from three, and he missed six of his first seven shots against VCU. But he was huge in the clutch with four buckets in the final seven minutes.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill had 16 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals on Saturday. He enters this game tied for 18th on the all-time Illini scoring list with 1,409 points.

Leron Black (R-SO): Black was the HoopHall Invitational MVP with 18 points and eight rebounds, which were both game-highs. He has been an X-factor for the Illini by averaging 12.8 points and eight rebounds.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): Thorne had four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes against VCU. He's shooting higher than 60 percent from the floor, but he's playing just 14.6 minutes per game.

Bench

Maverick Morgan (SR): Morgan had two points, two rebounds and a block in 23 minutes on Saturday. He played solid defense, but he continues to leave more to be desired on the glass.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate had three points and four assists in 17 minutes against VCU. He was Groce's clear choice to spare Abrams by playing 10 minutes in the second half.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke has been in a funk over the last three games with five points by going 1-of-8 from the field in 48 minutes. He was scoreless with no points and two rebounds in 12 minutes against VCU.

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas had a steal and a turnover in five minutes on Saturday. He did not look particularly comfortable against VCU's pressure defense after playing well against N.C. State the previous game.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Jordan played seven minutes against VCU with two rebounds and a turnover. He's played 17 minutes combined in the last three games.

D.J. Williams (SO): Williams did not see the floor on Saturday, which happened for the second time in three games. He played two minutes against N.C. State.

IUPUI Starters

Kellon Thomas (GR): The fifth-year transfer point guard from Kent State is averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 assists per game. He's shooting just 28.8 percent from the field, though.

Darell Combs (SR): Combs is a combo guard, who transferred from Eastern Michigan. He leads the Jaguars with 16.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. The Chicago native has scored 20-plus three times this season, including 22 points at Michigan.

Ron Patterson (JR): The transfer from Syracuse is a threat from the outside, as he is shooting 38.3 percent from deep on the year. He's averaging 9.8 points per game.

Evan Hall (SO): Hall is a 6-foot-7 forward, who is averaging six points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season. He had 14 points and six rebounds against Ball State.

Matt O'Leary (SR): O'Leary is a skilled five-man at 6-foot-8, who is averaging 14 points, 6.9 rebounds and three assists per game. He likes to step out around the three-point line, as he's shooting 39.1 percent from deep

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Build on defensive progress. The Illini have focused on defense more than anything since the preseason. They are finally starting to see some positive strides, as Saturday was clearly the best showing. Illinois held VCU to just 46 points, which was the Rams' lowest point total in the last 11 seasons. That also marked two games in a row in which the Illini were able to disrupt what the opponent wanted to accomplish. N.C. State and VCU both wanted to attack off the dribble from the perimeter, especially with their talented point guards. But Illinois held N.C. State freshman phenom without a bucket in the second half, and VCU's all-conference point guard JeQuan Lewis had three points on the day. The Illini need to make that end of the floor a big part of their identity, and they can start by stringing some strong outings together.

2. Defend the three. How do you have success defensively against IUPUI? It starts with defending the three. The Jaguars shoot 35.4 percent from deep as a team. Patterson and Combs can be dangerous shooters. O'Leary can step out and knock down the three-ball if your bigs don't keep tabs. And while Thomas has a bad percentage from the field overall, he is 40 percent from deep on the season. N.C. State and VCU combined to go 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) against Illinois, although shooting from the outside certainly wasn't their strength. The Illini will likely continue to utilize some 2-3 zone, which has been effective for them. It helps for Illinois' fives against smaller and more mobile opponents. But they'll have to be smooth with their rotations and keep tabs on spot-up shooters in that defensive set.

3. Get the bench going. Illinois' starters played very well on Saturday as a whole. But Groce didn't get much production from his second unit. The Illini had five bench points in 64 minutes. Finke needs a shot of confidence. Williams needs one in a big way, and really just an opportunity to play. Illinois just finished up a challenging five-game stretch. With a lesser opponent lined up, this should give the bench more minutes -- which can be very valuable for those who haven't been seeing the floor as much as they'd like.

Prediction

The level of opponent has changed, but Illinois' level of focus, effort and execution should not.

Illinois 81, IUPUI 65


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