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Game Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. South Dakota Coyotes

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On Saturday, Illinois plays host to a South Dakota team that beat Minnesota earlier in the season.

Malcolm Hill playing defense against UIC.
Malcolm Hill playing defense against UIC.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

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Saturday, December 19, 2015
7200 pm CT

Illinois (6-5) vs. South Dakota (7-4)

Location: State Farm Center | Champaign, IL
Television/Stream: ESPN3 | WatchESPN
Opposing SB Nation Site: None

Illinois returns to its home court at the State Farm Center after a week of final exams for a showdown with the South Dakota Coyotes. Illinois' last contest, a matchup against UIC at the United Center, may feel like a long time ago as the Illini have had the entire week away from the court.

As we've seen it all season, Illinois has played just about every opponent down to the wire, and a game against the Coyotes on Saturday shouldn't be any different. This team comes in with some good wins on its record and will be looking to pull the upset in Champaign.

Projected Starters

Illinois Fighting Illini

1. Jaylon Tate | PG

2. Kendrick Nunn | SG

3. Aaron Jordan | SG

4. Malcolm Hill | SG/SF

5. Michael Finke | C

South Dakota Coyotes

1. Shy McClelland | PG

2. Casey Kasperbauer | SG

3. D.J. Davis | SG

4. Tre Burnette | SF

5. Eric Robertson | PF

1. Will South Dakota's Balanced Scoring Cause The Illini Troubles?

The South Dakota Coyotes aren't necessarily overwhelmingly good in any particular statistic. They shoot the ball fairly well from the floor (48.3%), decently from three point range (38.3%), and pretty poorly from the charity stripe (66.0%). They tend to play a smaller lineup without a true big man and subsequently get beat on the boards; the Coyotes have a -4 rebounding margin on the season. All this aside, the thing that makes South Dakota tick is balanced scoring. Each player finds a way to put points on the board, and that's what wins basketball games.

South Dakota has five players averaging in double figures and has had four consecutive games where at least five players have scored 9 or more points. This means that team defense is very important for the Fighting Illini. In its last outing against UIC, the team had to hone in on two key players in order to stop the Flames down the stretch. This matchup requires stopping 5 or 6 players that know very well how to put the ball in the basket. John Groce has repeatedly stated that his team needs to play more ferocious defense as a whole, and this matchup will be a great chance for us to see just how much improvement has been made.

2. South Dakota Can Beat Big Ten Teams

Put the Coyotes on upset watch when they come and visit the Fighting Illini because earlier this season, they proved that they have the capacity to compete with the Big Ten conference. South Dakota went into Minnesota two weeks ago and shocked the Gophers on their own floor. Though it took double overtime to get the job done, they walked away with their biggest win of the season and handed their opponent yet another tough home loss. Watch out for the Coyotes, because they're coming in hot and hungry.

Though Illinois can't play tentative in this one, it certainly has all it needs to win this home matchup on Saturday. The Illini will be playing without forward Leron Black who is out indefinitely with a recurring meniscus injury. The Illini have proved to be effective in the paint even without his presence thanks to the uplifting play of Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have been solid scorers all season long, and they should be able to compete with a fairly solid South Dakota offense. That being said, the Coyotes will certainly be hungry to pull this one out on the road.

Prediction

Labedz: Illinois 81, South Dakota 76

Illinois will build a good first half lead like it always does, and then that lead will slowly start to slip away in the second. South Dakota will take its first lead of the game 30 minutes into the contest, but Illinois will use home court advantage and Malcolm Hill's scoring ability to claw its way to a five point victory. It won't be easy, but the Illini should pick up their fourth straight win this weekend.