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Game Preview: #25 Illinois vs Oregon

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Game information for Illinois' Saturday night matchup at the United Center against Oregon.

Throwback to 2005!
Throwback to 2005!
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

#25 Illinois (7-2) vs Oregon (5-3)

When: Saturday, December 13th | 6:00pm CT

Where: United Center | Chicago, Illinois

Television: BTN | BTN2Go

Programming Note: BTN is airing a record six games in one day, in a ridiculous back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back (did I miss one?). So if any of the games before ours run over their allotted time slot, the game may not start on BTN and you may have to resort to online streaming or radio outlets only.

RadioIllini Sports Network

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*****

The Illinois Fighting Illini are coming off of their second loss of the young season this past Tuesday night at the hands of the Villanova Wildcats. The Illini were able to hang tough against the seventh-ranked team in the country for the majority of the game, but after Aaron Cosby hit a deep three to tie the game at 50 in the second half, Nova went on a 23-9 run to end the game and came out of the Jimmy V Classic with a double-digit victory.

It was certainly a disappointing defeat for Illinois, and guards Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby are partially to blame. Eight points were scored between the two of them on Tuesday and it continued a disturbing trend at the lack of production from the guard positions. So John Groce's squad will try its luck on a neutral court once again Saturday night when they take on the Oregon Ducks from the Pac-12 conference at the United Center.

These two teams got together in Portland last season for a non-conference matchup and the Ducks rallied from a late deficit to beat the Illini 71-64. They started last year with a 13-0 record but have regressed greatly this time around and are only 5-3 overall through eight games with losses to Ole Miss, VCU, and Michigan. It is fair to say that both teams are looking for jump-start to their non-conference seasons, and whoever loses Saturday's battle may be in a bit of trouble.

There were discussions throughout the week of Kendrick Nunn possibly replacing Cosby in the starting lineup, but Coach Groce seemed to be rather dismissive of any rotation changes:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/illini?src=hash">#illini</a> Groce: Technique not an issue with either Starks or Cosby right now.</p>&mdash; Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) <a href="https://twitter.com/WernerESPNCU/status/543423357102743555">December 12, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>On his teleconference today, Groce wouldn&#39;t hint at lineup change. But I&#39;ll still guessing it&#39;s Nunn over Cosby vs. Oregon. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/dechr?src=hash">#dechr</a></p>&mdash; Mark Tupper (@MarkTupper) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkTupper/status/543425694173106176">December 12, 2014</a></blockquote>

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I'll go ahead and assume that Cosby will still get the starting nod.

Probable Starters

Illinois Fighting Illini:

  1. Ahmad Starks (7.8PPG, 1.8RPG, 3.3APG)
  2. Aaron Cosby (9.1PPG, 3.6RPG, 2.0APG)
  3. Rayvonte Rice (16.6PPG, 7.0RPG, 1.7APG)
  4. Malcolm Hill (14.6PPG, 5.8RPG, 1.4APG)
  5. Nnanna Egwu (7.6PPG, 5.8RPG, 1.4APG)

Oregon Ducks:

  1. Ahmaad Rorie (6.1PPG, 3.5RPG, 2.4APG)
  2. Dwayne Benjamin (7.7PPG, 8.3RPG, 1.7APG)
  3. Joseph Young (20.4PPG, 4.8RPG, 4.9APG)
  4. Dillon Brooks (14.8PPG, 6.4RPG, 2.9APG)
  5. Elgin Cook (12.3PPG, 6.3RPG, 0.9APG)

Keys to the Game:

1. Take Advantage of the Ducks' Defense

Oregon allows the most three-pointers per game of any team in the Pac-12 conference, and guess what? Illinois loves to take and make shots from behind the arc. Yes, the outside shooting has admittedly dropped off since earlier in November, but if there's ever a time for the Illini to start getting their rhythm back from three-point land, it's here and now against the Ducks. It's pretty simple; exploit their main weakness and the offense will come along with it.

2. Force Turnovers

Oregon is equally bad offensively and defensively in the turnover department. They don't force many of them but they're also forced to give up a lot of them. If the Illinois defense can force some early mistakes from the Ducks, it will translate into easy points on the offensive end and hopefully discourage them into a big deficit before they even know what hit them. It will also be key for Illinois to not turn the ball over too many times themselves, because this Oregon offense can make you pay for giving them extra possessions.

3. Slow Down Their Offense

Speaking of offense, if there's one strength of this Oregon team, that's it; their offensive abilities. They have a stud in Joseph Young, who is scoring over 20 points per game and they're 20th nationally in offensive output per game. Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook are two more offensive weapons in the frontcourt who are averaging 15 points and 12 points per game respectively. if you can slow down this all-star offense (they like to run at a fast tempo like Illinois does), then you've certainly got a good chance at beating them.

Prediction:

This game certainly won't be easy by any means, especially coming off of a tough loss this past week, but this Illini team will be able to rebound in what will practically be a home game for the orange and blue. Oregon can score, but they aren't that great at defending outside shots, and that's exactly what the Illini excel in, so I think Groce's squad gets it done in the UC without too many problems from the Ducks. This will be a high-scoring and offensive-minded game so I'll go with Illinois 82, Oregon 70.