After a solid 72-58 win over UAB last night, the Fighting Illini will take on the top-5 ranked Iowa State Cyclones in the finals of the Emerald Coast Classic. Here’s what to expect from Illinois’ first super tough matchup of the 2015-2016 season.
1. Jaylon Tate | PG
2. Kendrick Nunn | SG
3. Malcolm Hill | SG/SF
4. Leron Black | PF
5. Mike Thorne Jr. | C
1. Monte Morris | PG
2. Nazareth Mitrou-Long | SG
3. Abdel Nader | F
4. Georges Niang | PF
5. Jameel McKay | PF/C
Does the Illini defense stand a chance against the Cyclone scoring attack?
If one thing is for sure about Iowa State, its that they can score. Through four games this season, ISU is averaging 89 points, putting them 15th in the nation in scoring. Five players average double figures, including Georges Niang, the third-team All-American senior for the Cyclones. He leads a strong Iowa State front court that also features Jameel McKay, who dropped a team-high 23 points against Virginia Tech.
The Illini have notoriously struggled with their perimeter defense thus far, but in all reality, the post defense has been quite solid. Mike Thorne leads the Illini with 7.3 rebounds per contest and has been racking up the blocks as of late. He will be key in stopping ISU penetration. Leron Black also looked good when helping on D in the post against UAB. He and Michael Finke will have the task of taking on Niang/McKay.
Realistically, Illinois will be able to provide suitable defense in the paint, and will have to guard the perimeter to prevent open three-point shots. That’s something the Illini did well against UAB, and will have to continue to do going forward.
Can Kendrick Nunn keep up the pace?
In his first game back from injury last night, Nunn scored a team high 18 points and went 3-5 from downtown. His likely insertion into the starting lineup for this game will be key, and allows for a formidable shooter in Jalen Coleman-Lands to come off the bench. Equally as important, Aaron Jordan will not have to play big minutes as he’s become a liability on the defensive end. I’d expect Nunn to take around six threes in this contest, and if he’s hitting, even more.
Hooten: Iowa State 80, Illinois 74
Look, Iowa State is clearly the superior team in all facets of the game. The killer combo of McKay and Niang is likely too much for this team to handle, but don’t completely count out the Illini interior D. Its been a crazy season of college basketball upsets thus far, so it wouldn’t be beyond the basketball gods to allow something crazy to happen. Illinois has shown significant signs of improvement and could keep this game close, but don’t get your hopes up. Cyclones should win this one.