Illinois basketball set to host McKendree on Tuesday


Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce shouts instructions to his team from the sideline during the game against Northern Kentucky at State Farm Center on Sunday, November 13. The Illini won 81-62.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

After taking down Southeast Missouri State and Northern Kentucky to open the season, the Illinois men’s basketball team will host Division II McKendree on Tuesday.

Head coach John Groce said it is not too far out of the ordinary for the team to be playing a Division II opponent outside of exhibition play.

“We’ve done it a few times in my career, both as an assistant and as a head coach. Obviously a lot of it comes down to RPI and other things you can look and see non-Division I teams don’t count into that formula,” Groce said. “We’ve put a lot of thought into the schedule. We spent a lot of time on it, and regardless of who we play we’ve got to come out and play a lot harder.”

This Tuesday matchup will give the Illini the perfect opportunity to fine tune and address some glaring issues before gearing up for the NIT Season Tip-off.

Illini big men not living up to hype

At the surface, Illinois has had two double-digit wins over mid-majors to open up the season. This was expected at this point, but upon diving deeper into the numbers, there are some troubling points for the Illini in the paint.

Against Southeast Missouri State, the Illini were even with the Redhawks in points in the paint at 26 apiece, although Illinois was +15 on the glass. Against Northern Kentucky, Illinois battled back and scored more in the paint than their opponent, but were out rebounded 42-31.

These numbers normally would not be cause for concern in the conference portion of the schedule. The issue is neither team so far has had a player over 6-foot-8, and most of the big men battling with the likes of Michael Finke, Maverick Morgan and Mike Thorne Jr. have been below that height.

Groce shakes up starting lineup

In the 79-64 Illinois win over Northern Kentucky, Groce made a surprising change to the starting lineup.

Instead of having senior Jaylon Tate back up Tracy Abrams at point guard, Groce inserted Tate in the lineup for struggling guard Aaron Jordan, who was held scoreless in the opening game against SEMO.

“Those two have played well together in practice, (Te’Jon) Lucas has played well with those guys too, so we looked at that some in practice, and we certainly have that as part of our arsenal,” Groce said. “We have a lot of flexibility because of our depth, because of guys being able to play multiple positions.”

While Groce said the decision to start Tate was to help ease the pressure of the Northern Kentucky full-court press, he has not said if this lineup change will stick moving forward.

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