The Illini host the Colonels of Nicholls State tomorrow night for the first men’s basketball game that’ll actually count. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm at State Farm Center.
What is a Nicholls State?
Nicholls State University is a public school located in Thibodaux, Louisiana. It was founded in 1948 as Francis T. Nicholls Junior College and has an undergraduate enrollment of 5,896 currently. Its mascot is the Colonels which pays tribute to their history of being a very ROTC-dominated school. Their sideline mascot is named Colonel Tillou, which is the middle name of Nicholls State’s namesake, Francis Nicholls, a Confederate soldier and Louisiana governor. Since 2005, Nicholls State has been the home of the Manning Passing Academy.
What about the basketball?
Not great, both historically and recently. Since transitioning to Division I in 1980, Nicholls State has made a grand total of two NCAA Tournaments, bowing out in the first round both times. In 2017-18, the Colonels won the regular season Southland Conference title for the first time in 20 years, but that success was a flash in the pan. They lost their top scorers to graduation and the transfer market, and their head coach was plucked away by South Alabama. 2018-19 was rough for first-year head coach Austin Claunch, who is the youngest head coach in Division I at 29 years old. Nicholls State compiled a 14-17 record overall while going 7-11 in the Southland, putting them at ninth.
In terms of style, the Colonels seem very average. They ranked 193rd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom last year, way down from 12th in their relatively spectacular 2017-18 season. Their defensive efficiency took a similar tumble, down from 172nd in 17-18 to 308th in 18-19.
Coming into this season, Nicholls State is picked to finish 11th out of 13 in the Southland in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Players to look out for?
I’ll give you one in the frontcourt and one in the back. First up is junior forward Ryghe Lyons. Standing at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, he should be the main Colonel who will be trying keep Kofi Cockburn at least somewhat honest in the post. Lyons led the Colonels with 44 blocks in 17-18.
The Nicholls State backcourt is dealing with the graduation of the top two scorers on the squad from last season in Jeremiah Johnson and Gavin Peppers. Coach Claunch will probably look to senior Kevin Johnson to be the main offensive engine for the Colonels. He dished out 5.1 assists per game last season, accumulating over 100 more assists over the full season than anyone else on the squad. He’s the only returning player who averaged more than 10 points per game last season at 10.5.
As a tried and true Illini fan, I hate predicting anything positive for the Illini because it always seems like they’ll find a new and interesting way to let me down. However, this is not a good team that the Illini are playing. The Colonels weren’t good last year, and they lose some giant cogs in the machine. This should be a comfortable win for the Illini, key word of course being “should”.