Illinois men’s basketball looking to shake things up moving forward

Malcolm+Hill+attempts+to+pass+the+ball+to+TeJon+Lucas+against+Purdue+on+January+17th%2C+2017.+The+Illini+lost+98-61.

Photo courtesy of Alex Kumar/The Purdue Exponent

Malcolm Hill attempts to pass the ball to Te’Jon Lucas against Purdue on January 17th, 2017. The Illini lost 98-61.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

This season has been somewhat of a carousel of starting lineups for Illinois men’s basketball head coach John Groce. While he has tried to find a consistent fit, he has started nine different players.

The most notable benching of the year may be Jaylon Tate, who has struggled to get going during his senior campaign. Instead, Groce has looked into turning a starting guard role over to the new kid on the block: freshman point guard Te’Jon Lucas.

Lucas has seen increased playtime as the season has worn on, and he was the first player off the bench in Illinois’ most recent game against Purdue. While Illini fans have been mulling the idea of Lucas starting the game, Lucas said Groce has a lot of confidence in him.

“Me and coach Groce, we have a great relationship,” Lucas said. “We talk constantly. He keeps telling me to just do good, and my time will come. It’s just a process.”

Lucas is seventh on the team in minutes played during Big Ten games at 88 minutes.

Michigan rematch a must win for Illini

At 2-4 in conference play, Illinois currently sits at 12th in the Big Ten, with only Ohio State and a winless Rutgers team below. While there are still 12 conference games left on the schedule, the Illini are going to have to start a new trend this weekend to get their season back on track.

The remaining 12 games are split between six at home and six on the road, and the path for Illinois to reach a .500 record in conference play is becoming slimmer and slimmer. Groce has an 11-28 record in Big Ten road games in his career, and on top of that, he still has to play Wisconsin and Michigan State in Champaign.

Illinois bigs, struggling to play big

In nonconference play, it appeared Illinois would have a tough time matching up down low against Big Ten opponents. Though the Illini have three players 6-foot-10 and over, they struggle to deal with smaller big men from mid-major teams.

Those fears came to the forefront of Illinois problems in the team’s most recent matchup with Purdue. The Illinois front line gave up 46 points to Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. The Illini bigs were also out-rebounded by the Boilermaker duo.

The schedule doesn’t get easier for the Illini moving on in conference play. With two matchups against Iowa and one with Wisconsin still on the schedule, it remains to be seen how the frontcourt will respond to the weak play so far throughout the season.

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