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Game Preview: American @ #24 Illinois

The Illini will take on the American University Eagles this Saturday in Champaign. Here's all the info you need to know prior to the game.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

American (5-3) @ #24 Illinois (6-1)

When: Saturday, December 6th | 1:00pm CT

Where: State Farm Center | Champaign, IL

Television: None (online only) | ESPN3/WatchESPN.com

RadioIllini Sports NetworkListenTuneIn | Sirius – Channel 138, XM – Channel 204

A day after cracking the AP Top 25 poll, the 24th-ranked Illini dropped a tough one on the road to the Miami Hurricanes as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Now they will look to rebound from the nine-point defeat as they welcome the Eagles of American University to Champaign for a Saturday afternoon matchup.

American is in the middle of a stretch where they play nine of their first ten games on the road, and they just finished up a stretch of six games in thirteen days. So it's fair to say they're winded heading into their clash with the Illini, but John Groce's squad might be able to claim the same thing. Illinois is in the midst of a tough non-conference schedule that includes six-out-of-eight games away from the State Farm Center against opponents like Villanova, Oregon, and Missouri. They just completed a grueling travel schedule that started in Nevada and ended down in Florida.

But now the Illini are (briefly) back in Champaign for an afternoon game against the Eagles, who are coming off an impressive comeback win over Brown. American outscored the Bears by sixteen in the second half after trailing at halftime and pulled down a season-high 34 rebounds during the process. It was arguably their best overall output of the young season, but their opponent this weekend will be a significant upgrade from Brown, a team the Illini defeated by 21 a few weeks ago.

Probable Starters:

Illinois Fighting Illini:

  1. Ahmad Starks (8.3PPG, 2.0RPG, 3.1APG)
  2. Aaron Cosby (10.3PPG, 3.9RPG, 2.4APG)
  3. Rayvonte Rice (18.4PPG, 8.0RPG, 1.9APG)
  4. Malcolm Hill (14.0PPG, 6.3RPG, 1.6APG)
  5. Nnanna Egwu (7.9PPG, 5.2RPG, 1.6APG)

American Eagles:

  1. Devin "Pee Wee" Gardner (9.3PPG, 3.6RPG, 3.5APG)
  2. John Schoof (12.8PPG, 2.8RPG, 1.9APG)
  3. Jesse Reed (13.4PPG, 5.9RPG, 1.0APG)
  4. Charlie Jones (4.0PPG, 3.5RPG, 1.5APG)
  5. Zach Elcano (1.9PPG, 1.1RPG, 0.4APG)

Keys to the Game:

Don't Get Caught Looking Forward to 'Nova...

There is a monumental matchup against the 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats next Tuesday in New York City as part of the Jimmy V Classic and it might be one of the season-defining matchups. But that has to be shoved to the back of the players' minds until after Saturday's affair with the Eagles, otherwise they might give the Illini fits. It's easy to overlook a small team like American with a much larger game on the horizon, but it can't happen to John Groce's team this weekend.

... But Also Learn How To Rebound From Miami

And not the kind of rebound you're thinking. No, I'm talking about learning how to come back from a tough loss. The Miami game was the team's first true road game of the season and it delivered them their first taste of defeat too. It will be critical for them to shake off the loss to the Hurricanes and just focus on what American brings to the table and how to stop it. Also, the Illini were chucking up three's like nobody' business against Miami, and hardly any of them went in. So how do they respond to their first truly awful night from the field? Do they keep taking the outside shots? Or do we see the team start to back off the three-point line and try to go inside more often given how unsuccessful Tuesday's gameplan was? It will be key for the Illini to not be scared to take three's.

Dictate the Tempo

According to Ken Pomeroy's rankings, American is the slowest-paced team in the entire country. And if you know anything about John Groce and his preferred tempo, he likes his teams to run, run, run. This will be an enormous contrast in playing style and it will be vital that the Illini get some early turnovers to create buckets in transition so the speed of the game is where they're used to it being. If Illinois starts missing shots and playing more of a half-court offense it might be time to worry. Jesse Reed is probably the Eagles' best player, and he could go off if the game is slowed down to his liking.

Prediction:

If the Illini win this game, John Groce will have his 50th victory as an Illinois head coach. Might as well start celebrating that milestone now because the team will respond emphatically from their loss earlier this week and win easily. I anticipate a few struggles early on due to the Eagles' vastly different style of play, but by the second half this game should be a laugher.

Illinois 94, American 56