The Illini return to the State Farm Center on Thursday to take on the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
Illinois is coming into the game following one of the most disappointing losses in the Brad Underwood era, falling to Mizzou 93-71 in St. Louis. The Wildcats are 4-8 and enter the contest on a 4-game skid. This is the Wildcats’ third game this season against the Big Ten after dropping games to both Iowa and Indiana.
Here’s a few things to note before you tune into the game on Thursday.
3 Things to Watch Out For
Wildcats Perimeter Shooting
One of the strengths of the Wildcats this season has been their three-point shooting, which ranks second in the SWAC (they’re shooting about 35% from deep). Marcus Garrett (SWAC Player of the Week) and Zion Harmon are the players to watch out for from the perimeter.
Opponents’ three-point shooting has been one of the main causes of the Illini’s last two losses; both Penn State and Mizzou shot 50% from 3 in those games. The Illini can’t afford to take the Wildcats’ shooting ability lightly.
Team Morale/Body Language
It’ll be interesting to see how this team responds following the worst three-game stretch they’ve had under in the past four years under Brad Underwood: two disappointing losses to Penn State and Mizzou and a tougher-than expected win against Alabama A&M.
We have to see some of the signs of accountability and leadership that Underwood has pointed out to be lacking. Illinois also has to start the game with intensity and confidence and not just wait to turn it on in the second half and expect to always be able to come back. If the Illini come out flat and let the Wildcats hang around, it doesn’t bode well for what’s to come in conference play next week.
Coleman Hawkins Bounce Back
Hawkins struggled mightily against Mizzou, putting up only 4 points while also having 6 costly turnovers. Illinois simply can’t have that level of play coming from one of the team’s veterans. Hawkins, when he’s at his best, is the pulse of this team with his playmaking ability from the post and tenacious defense.
This matchup gives him a good opportunity to just go out and play his game and build some confidence before Big Ten play restarts. He needs to see some shots go in and he shouldn’t have an issue going up against a team that allowed both Kris Murray and TJD to score 14+ points in their respective matchups against Bethune-Cookman.
For this game, the focus should be on getting the team’s mindset right and building back confidence before the Big Ten season starts.
Let’s hope the Illini take care of business and end the year with a W.