Mercer at Illinois Game Preview

The Illini will play game number two tonight against the Mercer Bears,the next game will be against the Temple Owls. Read here for Illini-Nation.Com game preview.

The Mercer University Bears finished 3-23 and in last place in the Atlantic Sun Conference the year before head coach Mark Slonaker took the reigns. Five years later the Bears finished 23-6 and in first place due to Slonaker's coaching and vision. When he got to Mercer he implemented the triangle offense and stuck with it, recruiting the players he deemed necessary to make it successful. He recruited size and shooters, which are very important attributes in running the triangle offense. The offense is less structured then most offenses and allows the players to read and react for easy inside shots by the post players or open threes on the perimeter. The players enjoy the freedom of this offense and opposing coaches find it difficult to scout, which definitely works in Mercer's favor. Coach Slonaker had an outstanding basketball career at the University of Georgia from 1976 to 1980. He was team captain of the Bulldogs his senior season and once posted a triple double in a game with rebounds, assists, and blocks! He earned an MVP honor at a Christmas tourney once while scoring zero points. Slonacker was the quintessential team player and instills this trait into his players now. In 1989, his former coach at Georgia, Hugh Durham, asked him to be an assistant for the Bulldogs after being an assistant at Georgia State. He accepted, and emerged as one of the top assistants in the SEC from ‘89 to '95, coaching and recruiting players such as Shandon Anderson, Charles Claxton, Litteral Green, Alec Kessler, Carlos Strong and Dominique Wilkins.

Mercer's Probable Starters: Per Game Averages:

Scott Emerson Sr. F 6-9 235 20.3pts 10.3reb 2.3ast 1.0blk

Wesley Duke Sr. F 6-5 225 8.0pts 7.3reb 1.7ast 3.3blk

James Odom Jr. G 6-5 195 7.7pts 2.0reb 1.3ast 1.0stl

Jay January Jr. G 6-2 195 12.7pts 3.0reb 3.3ast

Tyler McCurry Jr. G 5-10 180 3.3pts 2.7reb 3.3ast

Off the Bench:

Bobby Hansen Sr. F 6-9 215 3.3pts 3.0reb 1.0ast

Jacob Skogen Fr. G 6-4 175 3.0pts 1.5reb

Will Emerson So. F 6-10 235 2.0pts 1.3reb

Andrew Walker Jr. F 6-9 245 3.5pts 2.5reb

What to look for:

Mercer comes into the game with a 1-2 record with loses against Xavier and UIC so they are used to playing quality opponents. The Bears will be without senior guard Delmar Wilson, who was a starter on last years squad, which will make the Bears thin for quality guards in the backcourt. They will struggle with turnovers against the Illini's speed and athleticism and the absence of Wilson will magnify this problem. The Bears will rely heavily on Scott Emerson, he is the Atlantic Sun's preseason player of the year and has the ability to play down low and also step out and can the three. The triangle offense is used effectively by Mercer, getting the ball on the block to Emerson and then kicking out for the three if his shot is not there. Nearly 40% of Mercer's shots are three pointers, and they have shot an outstanding 41% (24-58) so far this season. Mercer's most dangerous outside shooters are January and Odoms, they have combined in making 16 of 36(45%) threes through three games this season. Those two along with Emerson, who is also capable of hitting the three make Mercer's triangle offense difficult to defend as the inside-outside combination fits the offense very well. However, this is not the Atlantic Sun as Illinois has the players to defend the post and the quickness to extend the D out beyond the three point line. Mercer struggled against Xavier as Xavier also had size and athleticism to defend well against both. They will have the same problem against Illinois, but are a solid team and shouldn't be taken lightly. Emerson is a big time player and can play against anyone. For Mercer to have a prayer Emerson needs to get off to fast start which would enable Odoms and January to get some open outside looks, and if left open they WILL drain the three so Randle and Williams, who will probably be guarding them initially, need to stick with them. Illinois matches up well against Mercer and their speed and athleticism will cause the Bears lots of problems, especially with Wilson out. Defensively, Mercer will use multiple defenses to try and slow the Illini down much like Western and seeing a zone part of the time is likely as they will try and force the Illini to beat them from downtown. Xavier canned their first five threes of the game against Mercer and forced them to switch to a pressure man to man early in the game. If Illinois can hit some threes early like Xavier it will be a long game for Mercer. A slow start from the outside by the Illini will just delay the inevitable ……another home victory for the Illini. Illinois win 85-63


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