Illini set for exhibition at Eastern Illinois


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Michael Finke (43) goes up for a hook shot during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Tuesday, January 31. The Illini lost 57-43.

By Thomas Polcyn , Illini hoops columnist

As October passes and the regular season draws nearer, the Illini are set for their first public exhibition of the season. Friday, Illinois will travel to Charleston, Illinois to take on Eastern Illinois in an effort to help with hurricane relief.

Prior to this matchup, Illinois has played in two “secret scrimmages,” against Indiana State and Vanderbilt. According to tweets from Jeremy Werner, publisher of the Illinois affiliate of, Illinois narrowly fell to Indiana State, but were able to secure a convincing 10-point victory over Vanderbilt this past weekend.

So, the question is, what is there to take away from these scrimmages, and how does that project into Friday’s game?

In the Indiana State game, Werner reported that the Illini did not play all of their starters for various reasons, and that even though the end result was a loss, they won each of the first three quarters.

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    This may surprise some or even give off a bad rep, considering Indiana State has had some rough seasons over the past few years, but it is nothing to worry about. It was the first game action with Underwood’s new system, and playing without the full roster certainly hurt the Illini as well. Indiana State might not be the toughest opponent, but this game doesn’t really concern me at all in the grand scheme of things.

    The Vanderbilt game was a bit of a different story, as Underwood and Co. were able to bust out the full lineup for the first time in game action. Reports from Werner said that the Illini won by 10, and that many of the new faces had big games.

    While it is hard to get a great read of who did what considering stats were not released, it is encouraging to see that the new players — as well as the veterans — are adjusting to the new style of play and are shaping up just in time for the start of the season.

    While it was still an exhibition, and the results must be taken with a grain of salt, Vanderbilt was a tournament team last season, and have been a consensus pick to finish in the top-five of the Southeastern Conference this season. That is a big step up from Indiana State, and to see that the Illini were able to secure a solid win before heading into the final stretch is definitely promising.

    So, what should you expect this Friday in Charleston?

    It looks like this could be the game where the Illini really put it all together. This is still just an exhibition, but with the season starting on Nov. 10, the team will look to really kick it into high-gear and get some momentum going before the season officially starts.

    Contrary to the previous scrimmages, this will be the closest to a full-speed game, and the teams will certainly be giving it their all.

    This is just an educated guess, but the starting lineup looks to be along the lines of Te’Jon Lucas, Mark Smith, Mark Alstork, Leron Black and Michael Finke. Those five will likely get plenty of time together, working out any kinks that may have shown up in the previous scrimmages. That lineup gives Underwood a great mix of size, speed and scoring ability that will allow the Illini to attack the rim at will. Not to mention they should be able to create plenty of turnovers and start a lot of fast breaks from their own end.

    With those five as the projected starters, that leaves the likes of Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Aaron Jordan, Kipper Nichols and some of the other young guys starting off on the bench. I see Frazier, Williams and Nichols as the first three guys off the bench, and they will also get plenty of minutes on Friday. Each offers a unique skill set that also plays well into Underwood’s style. Frazier will score in bunches while flashing his speed and athleticism on both sides of the court. Williams is already looking like a lock-down defender, and has a great finishing ability at the rim. Nichols can jump out of the gym and will be a monster on the glass this season. He will flash some strong post moves, as well as the ability to stretch the floor from time to time. Together, they should get plenty of opportunities, and might even find themselves starting the game on some nights.

    So, in the final tune-up game, look for a more polished product of Underwood’s new system, and for all of the top guys to get their last adjustments in before the season starts. I expect Illinois to win big, and it’s all in the name of a great cause.


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