The final matchup of 2017 is here, and it pits the Illini up against the Grand Canyon Antelopes in what should be high-scoring affair in Champaign. Both teams score over 70 points per game (GCU @ 74.1, Illini @ 81.6), and the Antelopes are 0-2 on the road this season.
As the Illini seek their tenth win of 2017, what exactly needs to happen in order to walk away with a victory?
Come out hot
As seen against Missouri this past weekend, Illinois can benefit greatly from a hot start. A 20-point halftime lead helped the Illini secure a victory in the Bragging Rights game, and after being outscored 42-28 in the second half, that halftime lead was clearly needed.
Grand Canyon is not the same caliber program that the Missouri Tigers are, and that is no disrespect to the Antelopes, but the Illini will want to score early and often in order to set themselves up for success.
A common theme for the Illini this season has been the stifiling and turnover-heavy defense. They rank 39th in the country in steals and sixth in the country in turnovers forced per game.
That is an incredible mark to make on a program in Underwood’s first season. Illinois will need to force Grand Canyon into mistakes throughout the game.
Get The Ball Down Low
Grand Canyon may not be a power conference team, but that does not discount their stingy defense. GCU ranks second in the country in three-point defense, allowing opponets to hit on a mere 26 percent of their three-point attempts.
As we have seen this season, the Illini live and die by the three ball, taking 305 shots from behind-the-arc through 14 games. The Illini have been able to hit on just over one-third of their attempts, so the battle may be passing up the long shot for something a little more high percentage.
Second Chance Points
One of the brightest spots for the Illini in 2017 has been the play on the offensive glass. With just over 14 offensive rebounds per game, the Illini rank in the top 15 nationally and have been a problem for opposing defenses.
If Illinois can keep up this pace throughout the season, there is a good chance they would be able to hit that 20-win plateau.
Focus On Today
After a huge win against Missouri this past Saturday and the Big Ten schedule continuing next week, the Illini could be looking to the past and to the future as opposed to the game on Saturday.
If that is the case, Grand Canyon could come in and steal a win if Illinois does not take this game seriously.
I have to assume Brad Underwood has been preaching this over the past week, so expect a team that is focused on the task at hand, and not one looking at the schedule.