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Illinois looking for first Big Ten win of the season against Iowa

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Illinois is bringing Big Ten basketball back to the State Farm Center Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Underwood and the Illinois Fighting Illini are looking for their first conference win when they host the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday, Jan. 10.

The Illini are currently sitting with a 10-7 overall record, while also failing to pick up a win in Big Ten action play, going 0-4 on the season so far.

The Hawkeyes (9-9 overall record), on the other hand, are the only team off to a worst start to conference play with an 0-5 record.

Underwood still will not be sleeping on Iowa despite its dismal start to the season.

“They throw a lot of different defenses at you,” Underwood said. “They have tremendous size and length, probably as big as any team in our league, especially on the perimeter... They test your principles and that’s something we have to be really solid in tomorrow.”

The biggest threat Illinois is going to face in Thursday’s game is 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Tyler Cook, who is currently averaging 14.7 points per game while shooting 58 percent on the season. Cooks also has five games this season where he’s scored over 20 points.

“I think he is one of the best players in our league, he’s outstanding,” Underwood said. “They’re a team that’s struggled a little bit, but is very very good nonetheless.”

The struggles of trying to play a full 40 minutes of basketball

All season long, the Illini have failed to play a full game of basketball. Against Minnesota, the team failed to come out strong in the first half. Against Michigan, they shut down in the second half after leading at halftime.

“We just got to be consistent, we’re still trying to figure out how to play a full game of 40 minutes,” said freshman guard Trent Frazier. “It’s either we play the first half great or the second half great.”

Before the Michigan game, the story for Illinois was its slow starts to games, which in turn, resulted in Underwood making a change to the starting lineup when he inserted Frazier in favor of sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas.

Frazier said there were some nerves before the game with it being his first collegiate start.

“I had a little butterflies with this being my first career start,” Frazier said. “After that, running up and down the court a little bit, I was comfortable.”

The growing confidence of Greg Eboigbodin

At the start of the season, freshman forward Greg Eboigbodin looked lost whenever he stepped onto the court. But in his last two games, however, Eboigbodin has been emerging as an important contributor off the bench for Illinois.

During this two-game stretch, he averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.5 minutes off the bench. Eboigbodin also showed his rim protecting ability against Michigan, swatting two shots away.

“I started shaky in the first half of the season, but coaches have been really helping me out, and have been doing really well in practice, that just translated over into the game,” Eboigbodin said.

Underwood has taken notice of the increased confidence from the 6-foot-9 forward from Nigeria.

“There’s tremendous comfort with what Greg’s doing,” Underwood said. “His athleticism was so evident in the Michigan game.”

There were two plays in the Michigan game which Underwood cited just how impressive one of Eboigbodin’s blocks were. He also said how that wouldn’t have happened a month ago because he would’ve fouled him on the first dribble and “tried to put him in a headlock.”

Eboigbodin isn’t afraid to guard anyone, something that can be traced back to his high school days.

“In high school I did check a lot of guards that liked to switch, I’m really confident in checking anyone,” Eboigbodin said. “I just have to keep doing my thing, keep my confidence up, and I can guard any position.”