The Illinois Fighting Illini (16-8, 6-5) tallied a surprise win over Michigan State in East Lansing this past weekend, but there's still some more work to be done if the team is to make the NCAA Tournament. Thursday night could be another big step in the right direction. The Michigan Wolverines (13-11, 6-6) are coming to town for the second and final scheduled game of the season series between the two programs.
The big question surrounding Illinois is whether or not Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby will be allowed to play on Thursday. John Groce didn't rule them out during his weekly press conference, but he reaffirmed that the two are still suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The bottom line is, it appears that Rice and Cosby will once again be a game-time decision; this could very well be in an effort to keep Michigan guessing during their preparation.
The first game against Michigan in late December was extremely disappointing for the Illini. Illinois was up by as many as 13 in the second half, but the Wolverines came storming back for a 73-65 overtime victory thanks to an incredible 20 point performance from freshman Aubrey Dawkins. The good news for Illinois? It's a completely different Michigan squad this time around.
Michigan star and leading scorer Caris LeVert has been out for the season since January with a left foot injury that he suffered in the team's game against Northwestern. Sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has also been out several weeks with a foot injury of his own. Combined, the Wolverines are missing out on 25.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game thanks to the two injuries.
Like Illinois, though, the holes in Michigan's lineup have created opportunities for several underclassmen. Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman have been starting lately while both Kameron Chatman and Andrew Dakich have seen a nice increase in minutes.
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Jaylon Tate | SO
- Kendrick Nunn | SO
- Malcolm Hill | SO
- Leron Black | FR
- Nnanna Egwu | SR
- Spike Albrecht | JR
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman | FR
- Zak Irvin | SO
- Aubrey Dawkins | FR
- Ricky Doyle | FR
Remember the crazy Jim Harbaugh crowd in Ann Arbor for the first game of the season series? You can expect the atmosphere at State Farm Center on Thursday night to be even better. A record-setting crowd will be on hand and the athletic department is promoting an 'orange-out' for the game; it'll surely resemble scenes from the Assembly Hall during the early 2000's.
Thursday is also Dee Brown bobblehead night. Why is this important? The Illini are 3-0 when giving away bobbleheads this year; they've tallied victories over No. 11 Maryland, Purdue, and Rutgers. The 2004-05 team holds a special place in the hearts of Illini fans and, with the exception the Rutgers contest, they've attended these games by the thousands for a chance at taking home the giveaway.
It'll be yet another celebration of the most iconic player in Illinois Basketball history. Dee, unfortunately, won't be in attendance since he's currently playing professionally overseas. However there will be some sort of video message from him during the game; his wife and two daughters will also be honored at mid-court during one of the media timeouts.
The State Farm Center will be rocking and I'm expecting the atmosphere to have a huge impact on the game.
TCR Prediction: Illinois 67, Michigan 53
KenPom Prediction: Illinois 63, Michigan 58 (74% W)