Last season Illinois was caught napping in its final game of the calendar year, losing in overtime to Florida Atlantic.
This time around, the Fighting Illini (8-4) conclude their non-B1G schedule — and the 2010s — in Champaign against North Carolina A&T this Sunday afternoon. Here’s some intel about the Aggies.
Who Are They?
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is a historically black college located in Greensboro, N.C., with an undergraduate enrollment of about 11,000 students.
The Aggies compete in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), which includes schools such as North Carolina Central, Morgan State, Norfolk State, and Howard.
This Year So Far
North Carolina A&T was chosen to finish fourth in the MEAC in 2019-2020, one year after winning the league’s regular-season title. The Aggies have only three wins through their first 13 games (though one of A&T’s victories came against Charleston Southern, which beat Missouri. Insert “eye roll” emoji). They come in to Sunday’s contest on a four-game skid, including a 76-64 loss at Wake Forest last weekend.
The Aggies & Illini have each played and defeated Nicholls State. North Carolina A&T vanquished the Colonels, 66-54, in the Jamaica Classic last month.
North Carolina A&T ranks No. 342 in scoring offense, netting a pitiful 57.6 points per game. For comparison, the Illini are tied for 44th at 79.3 PPG. Defensively, the Aggies are ranked 209th, allowing 70.3 PPG, whereas Illinois has surrendered 66.4 (T-122nd).
Players To Watch
6-foot-8 senior forward Ronald Jackson is the team’s leader in scoring (12.2 points/game), free throw shooting (81.1%), and rebounding (8.5 per game). Statistically, nobody else really stands out for the offensively-challenged Aggies.
Keys to the Game
Both teams have been terrible in terms of three-point shooting. Illinois is right around 30% on the season, but A&T is substantially worse from beyond the arc, making only 27.9% of its triples.
What the Illini have done well is impose their will on the glass — the Orange & Blue lead the nation in rebounding margin, thanks largely to freshman phenom Kofi Cockburn and his 9.8 boards per game. This rebounding edge has led to many extra scoring opportunities, as Illinois is currently 20th in free throw attempts. Keep up the good work in these areas and Illinois should be able to distance itself early.
Finally, Cockburn & Giorgi Bezhanishvili should get plenty of looks against an undersized opponent — the Aggies have only three players taller than 6-foot-7.
The Fighting Illini have not performed well against its major conference foes (1-4 overall, 1-1 Big Ten), but with the exception of Nicholls State, has cleaned up against the cupcakes. This pattern ought to continue on Sunday.
I’m expecting a big game from the Illini guards. We know they have the capability to be great. The trio of Andres Feliz, Trent Frazier & Alan Griffin had little to no offensive impact against Missouri last Saturday. I think they’ll be able to get back on track against the Aggies.
This game will do little to allay the angst and frustration among the fanbase. It won’t inspire confidence that the Illini can hold their own against the best of the B1G. However, this should be a nice final tune-up against an Aggies squad ranked 323rd in the KenPom ratings.
Final: Illinois 84, North Carolina A&T 62