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Key Matchups: Illinois vs. Southern University

Who to watch for in Friday’s season opener!

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Holy Cross vs Southern Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini

Mark Smith

Easily the most anticipated debut by any recruit in recent history, Mark Smith will be one of the guys to watch for in Illinois’ season opener against Southern University on Friday night.

Although the freshman guard didn’t start last Friday during the exhibition at Eastern Illinois, he was one of the lone bright spots in what was an otherwise underwhelming performance from the Illini. Smith should provide a spark on both sides of the court whether he starts versus the Jaguars or not.

Mark Alstork

The second factor of the Mark2 duo Is the graduate transfer from Wright State. Alstork stuffed the stat sheet for the Raiders last season with averages of 19 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting from deep, 4.7 rebounds per game and 3.5 assists per game.

His veteran experience will be instrumental if the Illini are going to have any success this year. He will look to get the ball rolling for the Illini offensively.

Leron Black

The junior forward is looking to have a breakout season this year for Brad Underwood. Luckily for Black, Underwood’s style gives him that opportunity.

His high motor, great rebounding ability and ability to hit a jump shot will allow him to succeed in this offense. The Illini will need him to stay out of trouble not just Friday night, but the entire year.

Southern University Jaguars

Jared Sam

The 6-foot-10, 240-pound senior is the only returner who started every game last year for the Jaguars. Sam was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, averaging 13.6 points per game, and he also pulled down 7.4 rebounds per game. He can give an already susceptible Illinois post defense fits at the State Farm Center.

Chris Thomas

Thomas is a 6-foot-4, redshirt senior for the Jaguars He started 12 games and was the fourth-leading scorer for the Jags last season with 8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Look for him to fill some of the void left behind by Shawn Prudhomme.

LaQuentin Collins

Another one of 12 upperclassmen on the team, LaQuentin Collins started in 17 of 24 games he appeared in last season. He shot 38 percent from the three-point line last year and will be another senior trying to make the most of his last season.