The Old Dominion Monarchs arrive at State Farm Center on Saturday in the midst of a six-game losing streak stretching back to Nov. 16. Meanwhile, the Illini have been playing some of their best basketball lately and are fresh off a dramatic victory over the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines.
What They’ve Done So Far
ODU has played in Conference USA since 2013, which was also the year that head coach Jeff Jones took over at the helm of the program. In his five years as head coach, Jones has amassed an impressive record of 143-72 (.655). Last season, the Monarchs won the conference title and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, succumbing to the Purdue Boilermakers in the first round.
Jones has the program heading in the right direction, but the 2019-2020 team is off to a rocky start. They’ve played a difficult schedule and currently stand at 3-7 with wins over St. Joseph, Loyola University Maryland, and Northeastern. ODU was shut out in the three games that they played in the Cayman Classic, and most recently dropped back-to-back road games against William & Mary and VCU.
Players to Watch
The Monarchs are led in scoring by junior guards Xavier Green and Malik Curry, who are averaging 14.6 and 10.6 points per game, respectively. In the paint, ODU senior forward Aaron Carver is leading the team with 9.6 boards per game. Sophomore guard Jason Wade leads the team in steals by a wide margin, averaging 3.2 per game. ODU doesn’t have the size of a Big Ten team, but their scoring threats do flash some impressive athleticism, as seen in the highlights from one of their victories this season.
Keys to the Game
Illinois must maximize its size advantage against ODU, and in particular let Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili go to work in the paint. Since both of the Illini big men have substantial size and talent advantages over their counterparts from ODU, the Monarchs will need to adjust their defense to account for the Illinois duo. Doing so will free up Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier on the perimeter for open shots beyond the arc.
The Illini will come out flat against the Monarchs in the first half, which will include some liberal substitutions by Brad Underwood. However, Illinois turns it on down the stretch, and makes a few more highlight-reel plays before cruising to a comfortable victory.
Final: Illinois 88 - ODU 62