Illinois (2-0) vs Austin Peay (1-2)
When: Friday, November 21st | 7:00pm CT
Where: State Farm Center | Champaign, IL
After a 114-56 victory over Coppin State, the Illinois Fighting Illini will look to improve their record to 3-0 on Friday night against Austin Peay. The Governors are coming off a narrow 68-69 loss to Samford on Wednesday night are looking to bounce back against an Illinois squad who's rated as the toughest on their entire schedule.
The Illini are featuring an extremely balanced attack as five players--Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby, Ahmad Starks, Leron Black, and Malcolm Hill--are all averaging double figures in points. As a team, Illinois is averaging 97.0 points and 17.5 assists per contest.
On the other side, Austin Peay is lead by junior C Chris Horton, who's off to a blistering start as he's averaging 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.0 blocks per game. Horton registered a triple double (15/13/10) this past Sunday against Berea College.
Senior F Chris Freeman is also off to a nice start for the Governors; he's averaging 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 65% from the field.
Numbers to Know:
According to Ken Pomeroy, Austin Peay is ranked 269th out of 351 teams in Division 1 College Basketball. For comparisons sake, Georgia Southern was 248 while Coppin State was slotted at 317. Kennesaw State (329) is the only remaining opponent on Illinois' schedule that's ranked lower than the Governors.
The tallest players on the Austin Peay roster are Chris Horton and sophomore F Assane Diop (both of whom stand at 6'8). The Illini had a similar height advantage over Georgia Southern in the season opener, but they were still out-rebounded 41-34. It's up to Nnanna Egwu, Malcolm Hill, Leron Black, and Illinois' great rebounding guards to make sure that doesn't happen again.
The height advantage also means that Austin Peay could utilize some zone on defense. The Illini need to get a man to the free throw line when they initiate an offense against such a look; shooting out of a zone with 4 players spaced around the arch can't be relied upon on a consistent basis.
Illinois is currently shooting 46.8% from behind the 3-point line (22/47 on the year); it's extremely early, but that's an improvement of over 15% from last season. The team's effective field goal percentage, which takes into account the difficulty of 3-point attempts, currently sits at 57.7%. The difference? Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby are giving the Illini a completely different dimension offensively. In 2013-14 opposing teams packed the lane in anticipation of a Rayvonte Rice dribble-drive, but that simply can't be done this year. The addition of legitimate 3-point threats is keeping defenses honest and opening up the floor for the entire offense.
Keys to the Game:
1. Rayvonte Rice
Rayvonte Rice is off to a great start this season. Despite having the lowest usage rate amongst the players in the starting lineup, he's averaging a team-high 19.0 points per game and he's doing it while shooting 62% from the floor (13-21). When Rice is present on the court he's taking less than a quarter of the team's shots (23.9%) which indicates he's been more willing to make the extra pass. The Illini have obviously only played two games, but this is a nice development nonetheless.
Containing Rice will be no small task for Austin Peay, but it'd be a nice start for them on the defensive end if they can figure something out. Look for the Governors to sag off and force him to the outside when he has the ball in an effort to make him pass and/or shoot more jumpers.
2. Frontcourt Play
Austin Peay's strength is clearly their front court play, but Illinois has one College Basketball's best defenders in Nnanna Egwu; he'll deliver a huge blow to the Governor's offensive efforts if he can stay out of foul trouble. Horton plays about 36 minutes per game which means either Maverick Morgan or Austin Colbert will need to provide some quality minutes when Egwu is on the bench. Morgan has been somewhat hampered with a hand injury to start the year and Colbert has been seeing more playing time.
Who is the "go-to" rebounder for Illinois? Is it Egwu, Black, Hill, or someone else? With great rebounding guards like Cosby, Nunn, and Rice in the backcourt, this aspect of the game has been more of a collective effort. That's fine, but look for someone--most likely Egwu or Black--to step up and fill that role as the season progresses.
Illinois has the height advantage over Austin Peay so keep an eye out for the second-chance point opportunities that are generated on the offensive end. Rebounding is perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Illini, so the Governors will most likely crash the boards in an attempt to exploit this weakness.
This game is what it is--a typical non-conference game against a bad opponent. However, the Illini could be in trouble if Austin Peay establishes an early lead. The Orange Krush will not be in attendance on Friday since the athletic department has considered it a "break game"; students needed to purchase tickets on their own in order to sit on the floor. The atmosphere in State Farm Center will be lacking compared to previous games and the Governors will try and take advantage. Despite this, I expect Illinois' combination of shooting and defense to lead them to a comfortable victory.
Illinois Fighting Illini - 82, Austin Peay Governors - 54