Pre-gamin’: Illinois vs. Michigan

8:00 pm January 11, 2017

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS; 1400 AM WDWS

Questions worth asking:

  1. Will the Illini defend better on their home turf than they have on the road? Illinois has struggled mightily to stay in front of their marks in the man-to-man and to rotate quickly enough in zone to prevent open three-pointers. Rotations have been slow on the baseline, too. Illinois will have to keep track of 6’11” Wolverine sophomore forward Mo Wagner, who shoots nearly 44% from three. Michigan and Illinois boast identical records of 11-5 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. These are the kinds of games both teams must win if they want to dance in March.
  2. Speaking of defense, will the Illini make changes to the lineup and/or rotation to improve athleticism? John Groce suggested as much in his remarks yesterday. When asked in particular about freshmen Te’Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols, Groce replied, “They’re playing. They’re going to play.” It will be interesting to see who loses minutes to make room for Lucas and Nichols. The easy assumption is that Lucas will take backup point guard minutes from Jaylon Tate, and perhaps Tracy Abrams as well, especially if Abrams runs into foul trouble. Nichols may see time that had been allocated to Leron Black and Michael Finke at the 4 and could spell Malcolm Hill at the 3. Finke could see time backup time at the 5, as Maverick Morgan will probably see an increased role in place of Mike Thorne, who hasn’t regained the effectiveness he showed before last season’s knee injury.
  3. Will this be a bounce-back game for Tracy Abrams? Three games into the Big Ten season, he’s 1-15 from three and 8-29 (28%) overall. After two years of working on his shot while rehabbing knee and ankle injuries, Abrams got off to a scorching start to this season. A fierce competitor, he’ll be looking for a better performance tonight. The Illini need Abrams’s leadership and toughness. Here’s hoping he sees some shots fall early and gets on a roll.

Final Thoughts

I’m not much for predicting sports scores. There are way too many things that can happen in a game to swing it one way or another. That’s why we love to watch! But I do think Illinois and Michigan are pretty evenly matched, and that we’ll see a good game tonight as neither team wants to get down 1-3 in conference play. I’ll be surprised if the final spread is more than 10 points either way.

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