Given the fact that four projected starters (Leron Black, Kendrick Nunn, Tracy Abrams and Jalen Coleman-Lands) were unable to participate in Sunday's #ILLINIALLIN scrimmage due to injury, some of the backups got a chance to shine and perhaps make their case for more minutes this coming season. Consisting of three eight minute periods, the teams were divided up between the Orange and the Blue. Here are a couple quick highlights:
1. Mike Thorne Jr., Senior
Thorne definitely stood out throughout the game, dominating the paint with a double-double (15 points, 15 rebounds). His play was magnified given he was guarded by Maverick Morgan most of the scrimmage, but the big man still demonstrated the physical presence he brings to the Illini frontcourt. Over the past couple years, Illinois has lacked a top-tier rebounder and true big man down low. Thorne's play opens up a lot of options as far as the drive and kick, as well as the down low feed.
Here are two of his signature baby hooks from today:
.@bigmikethorne12 with the hook! #Illini #ILLINIALLIN pic.twitter.com/W8lJQ2F5KR— Illini Basketball (@IlliniMBB) October 25, 2015
and this one well defended by 6-9 Finke...
Thorne with another strong finish in the post. He's been a force today. #Illini #ILLINIALLIN @bigmikethorne12 pic.twitter.com/j6wyccqo53— Illini Basketball (@IlliniMBB) October 25, 2015
That shot is nearly impossible to guard. Thorne demonstrated he'll be a key asset for the Fighting Illini throughout the season.
2. Michael Finke, Freshman
After redshirting during his first season at Illinois, Finke has significantly improved his body and scoring ability (12 points). Because of his 6-9 frame, he has the ability to play the four position, but act as a wing. We saw some great passes from him in this scrimmage, particularly on feeds to Thorne down low. With all the injuries early, this is a combination that we will likely see at least over the first month of the season.
He also showed off his range, hitting two three-pointers and a couple pull of jumpers. However the biggest exclamation point came on this drive and finish:
— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 25, 2015
Finke offers so much in terms of versatility on the court. He's got a high basketball IQ and should be an important asset early on in the season, and through the coming years.
3. Aaron Jordan, Freshman
While he may not have put up the numbers of a Thorne or a Finke, Jordan was making solid plays all over the court. He set a couple key screens that opened up some shots and hit a couple three pointers of his own. As a part of that 2015 recruiting class, he has been mostly overshadowed by the commitment of Jalen Coleman-Lands. However, with JCL out Jordan held his own. As it appears right now, he will be the starting shooting guard once the season tips off on November 13th against North Florida.
Position Battle Updates
The main battle to look at is for the starting point guard position. Khalid Lewis and Jaylon Tate began the scrimmage on opposite teams, but Groce eventually moved them to the same squad so Malcolm Hill could get some reps at the 1 position. Overall, Tate outplayed Lewis, demonstrating better versatility and getting to the hoop when needed. Tate scored 10 while Lewis only had 2. Groce will need to make the decision soon on whether he goes with the veteran transfer Lewis or the more adjusted Tate who enters his junior season. This should be an interesting story over the next couple weeks.
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