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Game Preview: Illinois vs Michigan

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The Illini are out for revenge as they travel to Ann Arbor to open up Big Ten play against the Michigan Wolverines.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois ESPN Logo

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
2:00 pm CT

Location: Chrysler Center | Ann Arbor, MI
Television/Stream: ESPN2 | WatchESPN
Opposing SB Nation SiteMaize N Brew

RPI Ranking: Illinois: 45 | Michigan: 155
KenPom Ranking: Illinois: 42 | Michigan: 80
Odds: Michigan (-3) | Over/Under: N/A

Michigan

There were only a few seconds left in the first half of play. Derrick Walton received the inbounds pass and quickly dribbled across the halfcourt line; he abruptly stopped on the left wing in order to fling a pass to Nik Stauskas. The shot went up and in, the buzzer sounded, and No. 12 Michigan entered the break with a 22-point lead. This was the last game at the "old" Assembly Hall and it was a complete embarrassment on national television.

The two teams met again in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The No. 8 Wolverines brought the ball up the court down one, with 15 seconds left to play. After a dribble-handoff from Spike Albrecht, Stauskas went right for a screen from Jordan Morgan. Egwu hedged up top and Stuaskas dumped it down low to Morgan for a contested layup. Timeout Illinois. Jon Ekey inbounded the ball to Tracy Abrams with 4 seconds left. He caught it up top...3...dribbled towards the basket..2..put up a floater.1. It was short. Time expired. The game was over and Illinois was N.I.T. bound.

This is a revenge game.

Illinois will be in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to open 2014-15 Big Ten play against Michigan in front of a sellout crowd at the Chrysler Center. The Illini lead the all-time series 85-78, but the Wolverines have won the last seven games.

Michigan's non-conference struggles have been well documented, but they're still a very dangerous team. Led by future lottery pick and one-time Groce commit Caris LeVert, the Wolverines boast one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten.

Probable Starters:

Illinois Fighting Illini:

  1. Ahmad Starks (7.7PPG, 1.7RPG, 3.1APG)
  2. Kendrick Nunn (9.0PPG, 2.8RPG, 1.8APG)
  3. Rayvonte Rice (17.7PPG, 6.5RPG, 1.8APG)
  4. Malcolm Hill (13.0PPG, 5.7RPG, 1.2APG)
  5. Nnanna Egwu (7.8PPG, 5.4RPG, 1.0APG)

Michigan Wolverines:

  1. Derrick Walton Jr (11.3PPG, 4.5RPG, 3.7APG)
  2. Caris LeVert (14.9PPG, 5.4RPG, 3.9APG)
  3. Zak Irvin (15.3PPG, 3.6RPG, 0.7APG)
  4. Kameron Chatman (5.1PPG, 4.3RPG, 1.2APG)
  5. Ricky Doyle (7.3PPG, 3.3RPG, 0.3APG)

Keys to the Game:

1. Rayvonte Rice

John Groce and the team captains (Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, and Ahmad Starks) named Rayvonte Rice as a fourth captain this week. They'll need him to play like one on Tuesday.

Rice impressed throughout non-conference play, but he's been especially great over the past several games; he logged a career high 29 points against Oregon, hit a game-winning shot against Missouri, and he scored 21 points on 7/7 shooting against Kennesaw State this past Sunday afternoon.

Rice is obviously an integral part of the Illinois offense, but his defense may be more important as he'll most likely be tasked with shadowing Caris LeVert. Guarding the future lottery pick won't be a easy, but the Illini will come out with a win if he can limit LeVert's production.

2. Perimeter Defense

It'll be interesting to see Groce's strategy for this game. Will the Illinois defenders "help" on drives to the basket, leaving Michigan shooters open? Or will the defenders shadow Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert the whole game? Illinois' perimeter defense has struggled this season and the Wolverine guards could pose some problems.

I think the Illini will start out with the former. Michigan has a very good backcourt, but they've struggled shooting the ball this season. If they decide to start hitting shots, look for more aggressive man-to-man defense from Illinois and more driving opportunities for the Wolverines.

3. Inside Production

The Wolverine's frontcourt is very young. Freshmen Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, and Mark Donnal are the primary contributors along with sophomore Zak Irvin and senior Max Bielfeldt. This group hasn't exactly been a defensive force and Nnanna Egwu, Malcolm Hill, Leron Black, and Maverick Morgan should be able to scrape together respectable combined stat line.

Speaking of Egwu, he'll need to stay out of foul trouble if the Illini want to be successful. This is true for virtually every game, but it's especially so against the Wolverines. LeVert, Irvin, and Walton will be looking to drive the ball; Egwu's presence in the lane will be needed to deter them.

Prediction:

Chrysler Center will be packed with Michigan Football fans thanks to Jim Harbaugh. The crowd will be definitely be a factor, but I believe most people are overestimating its impact as the students are all on Winter break. I'm expecting Michigan to come out hot, which means Illinois will have to weather an early storm. This will most likely be a back-and-forth affair for the most of the game, but I think Rayvonte Rice and the Illini will get their revenge on Tuesday afternoon.

Illinois 67, Michigan 59

*****

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