PREVIEW: Illinois vs. Central Michigan

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' matchup with Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon.

Illinois (7-3) vs.

Central Michigan (8-2)

Date & Time: Dec. 10, 2 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: BTN Plus

Quick Hits

  • Illinois is riding a three-game winning steak after defeating IUPUI 85-77 on Tuesday.
  • After this game, Illinois will not play a home game until New Year's Day against Ohio State.
  • Malcolm Hill scored 32 points on Tuesday, which was the sixth 30-plus outing of his career and second this season.
  • Central Michigan sports the nation's leading scorer, as junior point guard Marcus Keene is averaging 31.4 points per game.
  • The Chippewas have the No. 5 scoring offense in the country (91.7 ppg) with the third most three-pointers made (123).
  • Central Michigan is 69-68 under head coach Keno Davis, who is in his fifth season.
  • The Chippewas are 10-75 all-time against current members of the Big Ten.

Projected Starters

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams had seven points, six assists and four steals in Tuesday's win. He hit only two shots, but he made veteran, savvy plays to help lift his team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands had nine points with a trio of trey-balls against IUPUI. He has made six of his last 15 attempts from long range.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill was Superman -- or 'Orange Mamba' -- for the Illini in the second half on Tuesday with 23 of his 32 points coming after halftime. He put his teammates on his back to get the victory.

Leron Black (R-SO): Black's surge of impressive outings continue, as he posted 16 points and nine boards against IUPUI. He had more than double the rebounds of anyone else wearing an Illini uniform.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): Thorne had seven points and three rebounds in 17 minutes on Tuesday. He has made 15 of is last 23 shot attempts (65.2 percent) over the last five games.

Bench

Maverick Morgan (SR): Morgan contributed with six points and two blocks, including a big one late, on Tuesday in 16 minutes of action. He had only one rebound, though.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke's funk stretched into the IUPUI game, which appeared to be a great bounce-back opportunity. He had no points and two rebounds in 13 minutes.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate had two points, two turnovers and a steal in 12 minutes on Tuesday. The senior has been the second option behind Abrams the last two games, but it will continue to operate by committee.

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas posted two assists and one turnover in 11 minutes against IUPUI. He hasn't played his best basketball the last two games, but he's still firmly in the mix for minutes.

D.J. Williams (SO): After failing appear in two of the previous three games, Williams had five points in eight minutes on Tuesday. Groce liked his energy off the bench, and the hope is that he can build from it.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Jordan played three minutes against IUPUI and didn't record anything on the stat sheet. His last bucket came against Florida State.

Central Michigan Starters

Marcus Keene (JR): Keene is an absolute nightmare for opponents to defend with his quickness, ball skills and ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor. He is coming off a 40-point outing against Green Bay, and he will come into the State Farm Center with supreme confidence.

Braylon Rayson (SR): The fellow 5-foot-7 guard is averaging 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He scored 30 against Green Bay.

Josh Kozinski (R-JR): Kozinski is averaging 8.2 points per game, and he is second on the team in made threes (26). More than 95 percent of his shot attempts are from three.

Cecil Williams (JR): Williams is averaging 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He had 12 points in 19 minutes against Green Bay.

Luke Meyer (JR): The 6-foot-10 big man is averaging 5.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He had five points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on Tuesday.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Prevent Keon Johnson Part 2. We all remember the last time a dynamic, sub-six-foot point guard strolled into the State Farm Center. Winthrop's Keon Johnson went off for 38 points and the Eagles pulled the upset in overtime. Enter a point guard who is every bit as talented and maybe even more confident. Keene makes video-game plays out on the court. He will pull up from long range, and he's hitting threes at a 43.8 percent clip. He will get to the basket off the dribble. He draws contact to get to the line. He hits you with stop-and-pops in the mid-range. Keene is the total package at the offensive end. The Illini did well against very talented point guards in Dennis Smith Jr. and JeQuan Lewis, but Keene is more of the Johnson variety with an extra level of shiftiness and the highest level of ability to create his own shot. Illinois must do much better with help defense than they did against Winthrop.

2. Guard the three-point line. One thing that helped the Illini against Smith and Lewis was the 2-3 zone, which was utilized pretty effectively. Illinois was able to close off driving lanes by collapsing in, and that forced N.C. State and VCU to try to win the game by shooting outside jumpers. Not their game. Cutting off runways to the hoop against Keene and Rayson sounds good in theory. The Illini were pretty bad at stopping the dribble-drive against IUPUI. But the problem with that is Central Michigan loves to shoot the three. They make more than 12 per game, and they've put up more than 35 attempts per game. They love to spread the floor and they have lineups with five guys who can all shoot it. Freshman forward David DiLeo is an effective player off the bench, and the Chippewas use him in the pick 'n pop. He's shooting 38.7 percent from three. Illinois can't leave him like they left Matt O'Leary on IUPUI.

3. Be in control. Central Michigan wants to push the pace and put up a ton of shots. They want to force you to play their style of basketball. Groce said on Friday that his team has no problem playing uptempo. The Chippewas can give up buckets in bunches just as they can get them. But the Illini have to avoid chucking ill-advised shots just to keep up with Central Michigan's scoring attack. Playing quick-trigger offense can get them in trouble. Furthermore, just because the opponent wants to shoot a bunch of threes doesn't mean Illinois has to as well. Some of Illinois' long stretches without a field goal this season have been due to them settling for jump shots. They need to find of mix of taking it to the rim and imposing their will on this game. As the home Big Ten team, the Illini need to be the ones in control. Don't let the opponent come in and dictate things right into their comfort zone.

Prediction

Central Michigan will have no fear and a ton of confidence when they step onto the court. The question is whether the Illini will bring 'it' defensively. Hill said that the 'it' factor is often a mindset when it comes to focus and execution. With this kind of challenge, the Illini have no excuse but to bring their best. It seemed like they were feeling a little too good about themselves heading into the IUPUI matchup. They survived a scare there, and hopefully learned an important lesson. With Hill leading the way again, Illinois should be able to outlast Central Michigan in a shootout.

Illinois 88, Central Michigan 82


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