Illinois Fighting Illini vs Lipscomb Bisons - 8 p.m., Assembly Hall - a basketball preview.

Tonight, the Fighting Illini continue their quest for the Cancun Challenge championship with this tilt against the Lipscomb Bisons. The Illini won their first game of this tournament against SIUE in a sloppy affair on Monday. It is testament to the tenacity of this edition of Illinois basketball that the win was a rather easy one; this young team managed to out-hustle the Cougars even when the offense was discombobulated. Coach Weber had ample opportunities to fiddle with the rotation, which is one reason why the score remained somewhat close into the second half. In the end, however, the superior performances of Tyler Griffey (14 boards, a career high), Meyers Leonard (5 blocks), and DJ Richardson (20 points) led the Illini to victory.
Lipscomb has had a more difficult go of it this year. They welcome 8 newcomers to a team which, similar to the Illini, lost a vast quantity of last year’s production. Two of those players are now playing professionally in Europe. The Bisons also took a trip to Europe as a team-building exercise. Coach Scott Sanderson, son of former Alabama coach Plaid-Man Wimp Sanderson, compels his charges to play a fast moving, pressuring defense, which is designed to increase the oace. Indeed, the Bisons (that fake plural is hard to look at, someone get them a copy editor, stat!) are near the top of Division I in adjusted tempo at 71.6 possessions/game. This hectic style has upsides and downsides. The Bisons are 5th in steal percentage on the young season. Lipscomb has at least 9 players in its rotation, none of whom are averaging more than 25 minutes per game. However, the seemingly constant substitutions come at a price; the Bisons are in the bottom half of Division I in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Bisons to watch:
Zavion Williams: Williams is Lipscomb’s leading scorer at 18 ppg. He is not a great outside shooter, relying on his quickness off the bounce for scoring power. 78% of his shots come inside the arc, which is the diametric opposite of the shooting distribution Illini fans are used to from the guard position. He’s a former teammate of Alex Poythress, though there’s no evidence Williams is being paid to play college basketball. Zavion is reputed to be a real pest defensively.

Justin Glenn: Glenn is an undersized center at 6-8, 225. He’d played sparingly before this year, but is among team leaders in scoring and leads the squad in rebound at 6.5 per game. Glenn is an atrocious free throw shooter-he’s 4-10 this year and last year’s 64% is the only time in his career he’s been above 50% on the year. He’s the only player over 6-8 who’s played significant minutes on the Bisons.

The Smith Brothers: Aside from Williams, these guys are the gems of the Bison’s youth movement. Malcolm and Martin are both around 6-4, and are efficient if smallish forwards. It’s rumored that Malcolm is the more militant of the two, while Martin is more willing to negotiotiate with authority figures.

What to watch for from the Illini:
Pound it inside: The Bisons’ lack of quality size means that Tyler, Meyers, and company should have a field day around the rim and on the boards. However, the size advantage could be partially negated by Lipscomb’s quick, swarming style. It will be crucial for Meyers and Tyler to protect the ball against those pesky Bison.

The fast break: Since Lipscomb plays such a hectic style, it will be incumbent on the Illini to run often and with authority. Look for Brandon Paul and Joe Bertrand to flourish in this game. Tracy may wind up playing more than Sam in this game, due to the pace. If so, he’ll need to be judicious with his decisionmaking, backing it out when appropriate and forcing the pace if the Bison show vulnerability.

The return of Crandall: Tonight will mark the first time we’ll lay eyes on the 2011 edition of Crandall Head. Crandall’s a bit behind the 8-ball thanks to his 4-game suspension. Luckily (for him) Myke Henry and Devin Langford are still out, so there should be space in the rotation for Head to assert himself. This style of game is actually a good indicator of where Crandall is in his development. In the past, he’s tended to play out of control on offense. A quicker-paced game could exacerbate that tendency. However, if Crandall has progressed, we should see Head prove to be an asset in this game since his athleticism will help against a swarming, gambling defense. If Crandall stays under control, Illini fans can trust that he’ll be a very useful piece this season.

Expected starting lineup:
Expected score: Illinois 82, Lipscomb 57.

As always, we’ll be chatting it up tonight. The link will appear at 7:45 and the chat will go live just before tipoff.

Next Fighting Illini Game Full schedule »
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Tags: Basketball Brandon Paul Bruce Weber Crandall Head D.J. Richardson Illini Basketball Illinois Basketball Joseph Bertrand Meyers Leonard Sam Mansicalco Tracy Abrams Tyler Griffey University Of Illinois

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