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Game Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Chicago State Cougars

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The Illini look to bounce back after a rough loss against Chattanooga when they play Chicago State Monday night

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Ugh. So at least we'll win this one, right? I mean...right?

After getting upset by another mid-major Saturday night, the bitterness within Illini Nation deepened even further. Sure, Providence was a tough one. But losing to North Florida and Chattanooga, both at "home"? Simply ugly. Thankfully, this will be the last game Illinois plays in Springfield before the official home opener against Notre Dame on December 2nd. Who would have thought the Illini would be fighting to leave the PCCC with an even .500 record? Regardless, here's what to watch for.

Illinois ESPN Logo

Monday, November 23, 2015
7:00pm CT

Illinois (1-3) vs. Chicago State (3-1)

Location: PC Convention Center | Springfield, IL
Television/Stream: ESPN3
Opposing SB Nation Site: N/A

Projected Starting Lineups

Illinois Fighting Illini

  1. Khalid Lewis | SR
  2. Aaron Jordan | FR
  3. Malcolm Hill | JR
  4. Alex Austin | JR
  5. Mike Thorne | SR

Chicago State Cougars

  1. Jared Dimakos | SR
  2. Jordan Madrid-Andrews | JR
  3. Trayvon Palmer | JR
  4. Jawad Adekoya | SR
  5. Elliot Cole | JR

Illinois' defense needs to get A LOT better

Is it sad/surprising/depressing that the least points Illinois has given up this year came against a team with a legitimate Naismith Award contender? The Fighting Illini have given up 93, 74 and 77 points to teams that have no business dropping that sum against a Power 5 conference program. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that teams are shooting a collective 40% from beyond the arc against Illinois this season. Toss out the Providence game (an outlier) and opponents are shooting 43% from three on the year. That spells trouble.

Some of the freshmen in particular have struggled with perimeter defense early on. Be it not for Jalen Coleman-Lands' lack of defensive ability, he would be in the starting lineup. Instead, John Groce is forced to start Eastern Illinois transfer Alex Austin.

For the Fighting Illini to have any chance this season at stringing a couple wins together, defending the three will be a top priority. The Illini frontcourt has been doing a fine enough job at defending the paint, but its from the outside that this team is getting killed. Luckily for Illinois, Chicago State has been shooting just 31.4% from downtown so far. Expect a man-to-man defense, at least to start, when the Illini tip off against CSU.

M&M: Mike Thorne and Malcolm Hill run this offense

So far, Mike Thorne and Malcolm Hill have accounted for 46.3% of all Illini points this season. While its great that both of these guys have been putting up big numbers, other role players will have to step up and provide a spark if Illinois is to become a multi-dimensional team. Three guys specifically come to mind: JCL, Michael Finke and Leron Black.

Coleman-Lands has flashed signs of brilliance early, but will need to be more consistent in the long run. After going off for 17 points against Providence, he scored zero vs. Chattanooga. Look for him to get more looks against CSU.

Finke also had a very solid game against Providence, scoring 12 and pulling down 7 rebounds. Personally, I'd like to see him start at the four position, but as Groce and assistant Dustin Ford currently have it, he's coming off the bench. Sidenote, it was...well...interesting to watch him take the ball up the court against Chattanooga. But when you don't have a reliable point guard, this is what you get.

Black has been all but non-existent thus far. Keep in mind, he still is coming off of knee surgery, so look for him to get more and more involved over the next couple games. Just as long as he gets off that bike behind the Illini bench.

Also, one more sidenote: why is Maverick Morgan suddenly good? At times he's looked like a legitimate Big Ten starter! This season has already been so weird...

Prediction

Hooten: Illinois 85, Chicago State 70

Will Illinois lose this game? No. Possible. Way. I'll go out on a limb and say that if Illinois loses this game, Groce gets fired within the week. The Illini will respond with a big victory. Expect a strong game out of JCL, and maybe Finke as well. Sit back and enjoy this one. Its the easiest game the Fighting Illini have left this year.