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Key Matchups: Illinois vs. Marshall

The Illini look to go 4-0 on Sunday against the Herd.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they did it. The Fighting Illini men’s basketball team is 3-0. This Sunday, they’ll look to continue their season with win number four against the Marshall Thundering Herd at the State Farm Center.

Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall, a team that competes in Conference-USA, comes to Champaign Sunday night with a 2-1 record. The Thundering Herd has wins over Tennessee-Martin (a 102-91 win in OT) and Southern (an 83-74 win on Nov. 13), both of which are teams the Illini have defeated this year.

Let’s take a look at ways in which the Illini can take down the Herd:

Key Matchups:

Marshall Post Play vs. Finke/Black

Marshall has three players that are listed at 6’9”, but two of those guys are averaging three points or less this season. In a way, this could actually be an advantage for Illinois, with Michael Finke (6’10”) and Leron Black (6’8”) taking the brunt of the play in the paint for Illinois. Greg Eboigbodin has also shown he has good defensive prowess this season, but I’ll get to him later.

Right here - this is exactly what we need from Finke down low. Against DePaul last night, he made a solid play on the ball. As Brandon Cyrus was driving, Finke rotated over and got the easy block.

Overall, this should be a matchup that Illinois can win. Underwood will need to keep his eye on 6’9” Ajdin Penava, who has had a great start to the year, but I don’t foresee this as an impossible task should perimeter defense do its part. However, as the season goes on and the opponents get tougher, defense in the low post area will become more difficult for the Illini.

Illini defense vs. Marshall transition/out of bounds plays

In the first three games of the season, it is easy to see that this team is young. Youth can be especially present on the defensive side of the ball. The game against Southern was a breath of fresh air, and the Illini left no doubt en route to a 47-point win.

Things came back own to earth for the Martin game. Obviously giving up 74 points to a team in the Ohio Valley is not ideal, but the way in which it happened was what alarmed most people. There were several plays where the Illini gave up easy points. Many were under the basket, either when they tried to be aggressive and double UTM’s ball handler (and rotation didn’t happen quite perfectly) or there was an out-of-bounds play and they just got caught sleeping.

(BLOB stands for base line out of bounds. S/o to Brad Sturdy.)

Because Marshall doesn’t totally outsize Illinois, this could be less of an issue, but moving forward the intensity needs to increase and rotations needs to be faster.

Now, there have been some great moments on defense for sure. Certainly you remember Greg Eboigbodin’s transition defense here in the game against Southern. This is exactly the kind of thing we were hoping to see from him - long arms and a nose for the ball. Underwood wants to see this in every game.

I haven’t even mentioned Jon Elmore - a 6’3” junior guard and the Herd’s leading scorer at over 28 points per game. He has great vision on the court and can score in a lot of different ways. Underwood will have his hands full trying to subdue Elmore in the half court, and the task will be even greater in transition and out of bounds plays. It should be fun to watch.

If the Illini get outscored in the transition game, expect it to come down to the wire.

Illinois vs. Marshall 3-point shooting

This Illini team can score points, we know that. Everyone also knows that a 23.1% mark from three point range is not ideal, which is what Illinois is shooting from beyond the arc so far this season.

If Illinois is going to continue to win against solid teams, they need to heat up. That’s not to say that we need to relive the Groce-era teams that heave up 30 threes per game, but eventually this team will not win unless they can make them when they count. 15-of-65 on the year is not going to cut it. Guys like Mark Smith and Trent Frazier, who are good shooters, need to make open looks. It’s as simple as that.

Marshall comes in shooting around 33% on the season, so I wouldn’t define them as “elite” in that category. Elmore is not an outstanding three-point shooter, either, which definitely helps in this department. He’s just 4-for-21 on the year, but Illinois will have their hands full stopping him in every other way he can score.

On just one day’s rest and facing a solid Marshall team, the Illini will have their hands full tomorrow night. It should be fun to watch.