After a win over Western Carolina last weekend, Illinois returns to its newly renovated home, The State Farm Center, in hopes of grabbing a second straight victory. Illinois is 1-1 since coming back to Champaign and playing in its new arena. The Illini lost the opening game at the SFC to Notre Dame.
While Illinois will be the slim favorite in this one, this Ivy League squad has enough firepower to give the Fighting Illini a run for their money. Here's what to expect from tonight's game.
1. Jaylon Tate | PG
2. Kendrick Nunn | SG
3. Alex Austin | SG
4. Malcolm Hill | SG/SF
5. Michael Finke | C
1. Makai Mason | PG
2. Jack Montague | SG
3. Nick Victor | SF
4. Brandon Sherrod | PF
5. Justin Sears | PF
1. Will This Game Mirror Illinois' Games vs. North Florida, North Dakota State, and Chattanooga?
There's a very good chance that Yale takes Illinois right down to the final buzzer in this one, as yet another very solid mid-major team will come into the State Farm Center to face Illinois. Yale's record on paper tends to be a bit misleading. Two of the three losses that the Bulldog's have suffered this year were against Top 25 opponents in SMU and Duke. Southern Methodist, who just moved to 7-0 on the season with a dominating home win over Michigan last night, got taken right down to the wire by this veteran Bulldog squad. Yale led by 8 at half against the Mustangs before falling just short 69-71 back in November. Regardless, this team has more than enough talent to make it into the NCAA Tournament this season.
Illinois will need to rebound the basketball if it wants to beat Yale. The Bulldogs are +11 on the glass this season compared to the Fighting Illini who are just +4. Without Mike Thorne Jr. in the lineup, Illinois could be in for a long night if it doesn't secure rebounds on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. At 6'5", Nick Victor is a ferocious rebounder for the Bulldogs, pulling down 7.8 per game. Justin Sears is a huge boost for Yale in terms of getting second opportunities, as he is averaging 4.3 offensive rebound per game. Simply put, if Illinois can control the glass in this one, it should have the advantage over Yale.
2. Kendrick Nunn and Micheal Finke Need to Stay Hot
If you watched the highlights of Illinois' recent victory over Western Carolina, you would notice two players scoring just about every single bucket for the Fighting Illini: Kendrick Nunn and Michael Finke. The two combined to score 51 of Illinois' 80 points on Saturday. Michael Finke's 24 points totaled a new career high for the freshman. He also managed to pull down a team high 6 rebounds. Kendrick Nunn was on fire as he hit 9 of his 14 field goals to tally 27 points for the Illini. If his shots are falling, it gives Illinois a much better chance of emerging victorious.
The dynamic duo in Nunn and Finke was very uplifting for Illinois, a team that desperately needed a victory on Saturday. If these two can carry that momentum into tonight's contest, then it will be difficult for Yale to stop the Illini. It's promising to see guys like Finke step up and have career nights, because it gives Illinois more options in terms of scoring. Rather than have Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill carry the entire load, it's always nice to have an array of players who can give you 15 points on any given night. Michael Finke is becoming one of those players, and if he continues scoring like he has been, he can really make a difference for this injured Fighting Illini team.
Labedz: Illinois 71, Yale 75
It's unfortunate that I have to pick Yale to beat the Illini, but I don't see this game going very well for Illinois. The Illini have yet to prove that they can play two halves of consistent basketball, and I think this Yale team has just enough in its tank to pull this one out. Not having Mike Thorne Jr. is going to hurt the Illini on the glass. Expect second chance points to be the difference maker as Illinois will fall just short.