The Illini will cap off a five-game homestand tonight against Miami and look to keep their momentum going as conference play opens up later this week. The Miami Hurricanes (4-3) come to town for the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge and with No. 3 Maryland and No. 4 Michigan on the horizon, this game is one Illinois would really like to win. Miami has struggled as of late, losing two in the Charleston Classic. Its last loss against UCONN wasn’t really all that close as the Hurricanes fell, 80-55.
Players to watch out for?
The Hurricanes are a very guard-oriented team and rely on a plethora of scorers. Leading the way is Dejan Vasiljevic. The senior has been putting up a career best 13.9 PPG to go along with 3.9 RPG and 1.7 APG. Vasiljevic has deep range and is shooting 43% from three-point land this season. He also possesses a nice mid-range game and is an all-around scorer. Sound close outs will be key as the Illini will have to know where he is at on the floor at all times.
Next on the scouting report is a 6-foot-5 junior guard, Kameron McGusty. McGusty is also a respectable shooter (35% from deep) and averages 13.3 PPG. A bigger guard and a good defender, I would expect McGusty to draw the Ayo assignment so watch out for that matchup. Down low, the Hurricanes rely on a three-man rotation with Rodney Miller Jr. getting the starting nod at center. Miller Jr. has great size at 7 foot and weighing 255 pounds. He is averaging 7.4 PPG and 5.7 RPG. It will be interesting to see how Kofi plays against a guy who is relatively the same size as him (minus about 30 pounds). This will be a great test for him before conference play starts against Maryland.
Keys to the game?
The Hurricanes come into this game with experienced guard play and that is not something you can take lightly. With three upperclassmen in the backcourt, the Illini would like to get off to a good start which has been a problem this season. For Illinois to take that next step, it need to cut down on turnovers. On the season, the Illini are averaging 16.3 turnovers per game — yikes. That number won’t affect games against teams like Hampton or The Citadel, but against Maryland and Michigan that will bury them. Once again the Illini possess an advantage on the interior and should exploit that early and often. I expect a big game out of Giorgi Bezhanishvili because of all the attention Kofi Cockburn is going to receive.
The Hurricanes have been struggling and the Illini are starting to play better basketball. Players like Da’Monte Williams and Alan Griffin have stepped up majorly. I expect the Illini to maintain their momentum heading into a big matchup against Maryland later in the week. Illinois 79, Miami 67.