The Illinois Fighting Illini (14-8, 4-5) will be looking to reach .500 in Big Ten play on Tuesday night as they welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-13, 2-8) to the State Farm Center. The Illini are coming off a dramatic win over Penn State in which sophomore Malcolm Hill scored the game-winning shot with five seconds left in regulation; Hill went on to be named the Big Ten Co-Player of the Week after scoring an astounding 27 points against the Nittany Lions. Illinois is currently tied for ninth in the conference, but a win on Tuesday could boost them to eighth.
The Illini will still be without Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby in this contest as they're both still serving an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules. According to media reports, Cosby would've been able to play on Tuesday after recovering from his recent eye injury, but Rice still would've been doubtful for the game (hand surgery).
Rutgers has really struggled in their first season as a member of the Big Ten. You may recall that the Knights scored a HUGE upset over Wisconsin last month, but they've since lost six straight while compiling a conference record of 2-8. Senior point guard Myles Mack leads the team in points (14.5PPG) and assists (4.5APG) per game while Junior Etou is their leading rebounder (6.8RPG).
This is the second ever game between the two programs; the first came in November of 2005 when the No. 15 Illini demolished the Scarlet Knights 77-57 at South Padre Island, Texas.
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Jaylon Tate | SO
- Kendrick Nunn | SO
- Malcolm Hill | SO
- Leron Black | FR
- Nnanna Egwu | SR
Rutgers Scarlet Knights:
- Myles Mack | SR
- Bishop Daniels | JR
- Junior Etou | SO
- Greg Lewis | JR
- Kadeem Jack | SR
Keys to the Game:
1. Buckets, Malcolm
Dear Illinois Basketball players,
Please allow Malcolm Hill to touch the ball on every possession. He's the team's active scoring leader at 14.6 points per game and he's doing so while shooting 48.7% from the field and 44.4% from three. He just recorded his third 20 point effort of the season and he's reached double-digits 19 times this year. He's averaging 17.9 points per game since Rayvonte Rice went down with his broken hand.
TL;DR: Give Malcolm Hill the damn ball. Except for you, Kendrick--you keep doing you.
2. Closeout Under Control
The Illini need to control themselves when closing out on jump shooters. The Knights are only shooting 30.3% from behind the arch and 43.6% from two-point range; odds are they won't be hitting too many contested shots. Furthermore, the Knights only score 24.5% of their points from three. You'll be seeing a lot of ball fakes and dribble-drives when they catch the ball on the perimeter. If Illinois can close out under control while not jumping at fakes, it'll pretty much eliminate most of Rutgers' offense
3. Off-Ball Movement
Are y'all tired of hero ball? I'm tired of hero ball.
The team has to start moving the ball better on offense and that starts with off-ball movement and screens. I don't have a problem with the team's standard pick-and-roll sets, but those generally require good screens in order for them actually to work. The Illini don't set screens well and I'm still not exactly sure why that's the case. I can't tell if it's the guards' fault, the bigs' fault, or both.
As for off-ball movement, Kendrick Nunn should be the only person that's allowed to stand still because he's one of the best spot-up shooters in the conference. Everyone else should be moving to either get open for a shot, or to create an opportunity for a teammate.
TCR Prediction: Illinois 66, Rutgers 52
KenPom Prediction: Illinois 68, Rutgers 58 (86% W)