John Groce and his Fighting Illini face off against Chattanooga on Saturday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center as Illinois looks for its second win of the season. The Illini are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Providence on Wednesday; Chattanooga has had an impressive start to the season, taking a huge win at Georgia in overtime and defeating Hiwassee College to move to 2-0 on the young season. Illinois comes into the game 1-2 overall.
- Khalid Lewis | SR
- Alex Austin | SR
- Malcolm Hill | JR
- Michael Finke | FR
- Mike Thorne Jr. | SR
- Greg Pryor | JR
- Eric Robertson | SR
- Casey Jones | SR
- Tre' McLean | SR
- Justin Tuoyo | SR
Chattanooga Will Be Yet Another Tough Mid-Major Test for the Illini
Illinois has already faced two opponents that sounded like easy wins. North Florida and North Dakota State don't appear too daunting to someone who doesn't know basketball, but the two teams return players with NCAA experience and had enough in them to play Illinois head-on. Don't expect too much to change this weekend. Chattanooga is one of the better mid-major teams this year, as they've already beat a quality opponent in the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Mocs have 5 players averaging in double figures through two games. Casey Jones and Johnathan Burroughs-Cook lead Chattanooga in scoring with 15.5 per game. In the two matchups they've played this season, turnovers have been the name of the game for the Mocs. Chattanooga got Georgia to cough the ball up 21 times before defeating them in Athens with a slim 92-90 overtime. Against Hiwassee College, they forced 25.
Though Chattanooga has certainly forced a plenty of turnovers thus far (23 per game), they've also given up 19.5 per contest of their own. Illinois is only coughing the ball up 10 times per game. If a young Illinois team can take care of the ball, then it can take advantage of Chattanooga's carelessness with the rock and get buckets in transition.
One of the keys to the Mocs' upset win over Georgia was offensive rebounding. Illinois had a tough time controlling the boards against Providence due to their big men getting in foul trouble early. The Illini need to keep forwards Leron Black and Mike Thorne Jr. in the game as often as possible, as they can be dominant in the post.
Illinois Will Look to Capitalize on Solid Play From Its Freshmen
Jalen Coleman-Lands and Micheal Finke were superb during Illinois' last outing in Providence. The two combined for 29 points off the bench and were the driving forces that kept Illinois in the game. Chattanooga is shooting 42.9% from behind the arc compared to Illinois' 36.2%. Keep in mind, the quality of opponents faced thus far is much higher for Illinois than Chattanooga. That being said, the Illini will rely on guys like Finke and Coleman-Lands to fill it up from downtown, especially with the absence of sharpshooter Kendrick Nunn.
Aaron Jordan's contributions were limited in Providence, but he's still been a solid contributor this season and will continue to see his fair share of court time. D.J. Williams has gotten off to somewhat of a slow start for the Illini, and surprisingly, the freshman did not play a single minute on Wednesday. Expect John Groce to give him some more playing time as he tries to get going on the block.
Labedz: Illinois 85 - Chattanooga 73
Illinois will get battle-tested no doubt, but the Fighting Illini have been slowly improving each game and will have enough to keep a feisty Chattanooga team away. Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black will bounce back from rough outings and Illinois will get its second win of the season in Springfield.