Despite ESPN excitement, Illini must remain focused

Excitement may be building in Champaign for Saturday’s ESPN College GameDay contest against No. 5 Michigan State, but the Fighting Illini can’t look that far ahead just yet.

At the halfway point of the conference schedule, the Illini (14-8, 6-3 Big Ten) sit in a tie for third place in the Big Ten. They open part two of the Big Ten slate on the road Wednesday against Iowa (8-14, 2-7) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

So while the Illini may be looking forward to the national attention come Saturday, junior guard Demetri McCamey knows there is plenty riding on the midweek contest, too.

“(If) we win at Iowa, we’re going to have tremendous confidence and a team that we think we didn’t play well, that we should (have beaten before), against Michigan State coming in to our house on GameDay,” McCamey said. “But right now it’s all about Iowa (tonight) and taking care of that.”

McCamey leads the way for the Illini offense, averaging 15.1 points and a league-leading 6.1 assists per game. But the junior isn’t underestimating the Hawkeyes.

“They run a lot of pick-and-roll stuff and they make it difficult on defenses, and they like to change things,” McCamey said. “We know they’re going to come out and play 110 percent and do some things on offense that’s going to be real difficult to defend.”

Sophomore guard Matt Gatens is the lone Hawkeye averaging in double figures at 12.1 points.

Until Dec. 20, Gatens had been joined in the scoring effort by fellow sophomore guard Anthony Tucker, who was averaging 11.9 points in 11 games.

But the 20-year-old Tucker was indefinitely suspended from the squad after being arrested in Iowa City, Iowa, for public intoxication.

The Hawkeyes are coming off consecutive losses to Ohio State and Michigan and dropped a 59-42 contest at the Assembly Hall on Jan. 5.

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber liked what he saw from his team in that first meeting.

“When I watched the film, it was one of our better defensive efforts, getting the shooters contesting shots and some scrambling,” Weber said. “I hope we can do that again on Wednesday.”

Junior center Mike Tisdale is expecting a different Iowa team at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday than the one the Illini defeated in January.

“They’re definitely improved over the last time we played them,” Tisdale said. “They’ve been playing teams real tough, and Iowa’s a tough place to play, so we’re going in there with hopefully the right mind set to get the victory.”

Weber’s starting lineup may be a question mark again Wednesday, as junior forward Bill Cole missed practice Monday due to a touch of the flu.

The rotation has been in flux most of the season, with the most recent change coming at Penn State last week when Weber gave freshman forward Tyler Griffey the start in favor of junior forward Mike Davis.

Griffey also started against Indiana on Saturday, while Davis came off the bench to tally six points and make a key block down the stretch.

But the Illini have come to expect more from Davis, who is still averaging 10.7 points despite his recent scoring woes.

Davis’s teammates haven’t lost faith in him, though.

“I think he’s going to come out and prove everybody wrong and show them that Mike Davis is a player that everybody should watch out for,” McCamey said. “So I have confidence in Mike Davis and he’s got confidence in himself. And I think (tonight) he’s going to come out and show it.”

Senior writer Stuart Lieberman contributed to this report.