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Illinois’ “get right” game is here

Hello, Alabama A&M!

TCR // Evan McClintock

After a week of finals, Illinois is back in action Saturday afternoon taking on the Alabama A&M Bulldogs from Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).

And I’m not sure Alabama A&M could have shown up on the schedule at a better time.

They are currently 3-6 on the season having won three in row before Monday’s defeat to South Alabama. Going into Monday’s contest the Bulldogs ranked No. 330 in the KenPom rankings for Division I, and No. 347 in offensive efficiency. (Not great.)

Alabama A&M is led Garret Hicks, a 6-foot senior averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting 47.5% from the field entering Monday’s game. The Bulldogs second-leading scorer is Dailin Smith, a 6-foot-6 junior who is averaging 13.1 points per game on the season.

Where the Bulldogs really struggle is in the rebounding department, averaging just 32.5 rebounds a game, good enough for No. 344 in the country. Their leading rebounder is Olisa Blaise Akonobi, a 7-foot senior who averages 4.8 rebounds a game, but their second-leading rebounder is 6-foot-3 senior Brandon Powell, who averages 4.3 rebounds per game. So the Illini should use their Big Ten muscle, and pound the Bulldogs on the glass.

One other interesting player for the Alabama A&M is 5-foot-8 junior Messiah Thompson who is averaging 9.8 points per game on the season, and whoever gets the task of chasing him all afternoon should have fun because he is quick.

Overall, this is a game that the Illini should win handily. This is the first Power Five team the Bulldogs are facing this year, and hopefully Brad Underwood can find a leader, the team can get its confidence back, and get ready for what many Illini fans — including yours truly — think is the biggest game of the year against Missouri on Thursday.