Jan 12, 2014; Evanston, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce reacts to a call against his team during the second half at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 49-43. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Purdue Boilermakers Preview and Live Thread


John Groce has to be somewhat exasperated by what he has seen out of his Illinois Fighting Illini these past two games. An inability to finish plays at the rim has suddenly cropped up, and the Illini are left scratching their heads trying to figure out who put the lid on the basket on their offensive end of the floor.

Yesterday, we found out part of the reason Rayvonte Rice struggled at Northwestern was due to an adductor strain. Earlier today, an update was provided by Steve Greenberg of the Sun Times, but unfortunately it’s really not much more than we all already know. How much he will be available to play tonight remains to be seen, but Groce indicated Rice has been receiving treatment since the diagnosis so it seems like he is making every effort to play.

Should Rice sit, or play limited minutes, one would have to suspect that Kendrick Nunn will be left to pick up the majority of those minutes. Nunn has been showing well defensively, and in the end that should probably buy him the first chance to fill any vacant minutes that might crop up. It also doesn’t hurt that Nunn chipped in 5 points against Northwestern, although the Illini will need more tonight.

Replacing minutes is one thing, but replacing Rice’s scoring is a completely different matter entirely. Illinois is going to have to find those points somewhere and the best place to look is no further than Nnanna Egwu and Jon Ekey. In the past two Big Ten games, Ekey has posted a grand total of 8 points, and Egwu has posted 10 total points. While their rebounding has been much better, their offense has suffered and it’s time for them to pick it up starting tonight. It’s not unreasonable for Coach Groce to place this type of expectation upon these two considering they are upper classmen and have gotten the job done in the past.

The Boilermakers invade the Farm tonight fresh off their first Big Ten victory which came at the expense of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Their record currently sits at 11-5 overall, 1-2 in the conference.

Purdue is led in scoring by the Johnson brothers, Terone (13.6 ppg) and Ronnie (11.4 ppg). They are both shooting better than 40% from the field with Terone at 44.3% and Ronnie at 42.7%, and they are both shooting better than 38% from 3 point land with Terone at 38.2% and Ronnie at 39.1%. Their achilles heel is the free throw line where they both convert less than 63% of the time. While these two guards are definitely players that need to be limited for the Illini to have success, there is a big man who poses much more of a problem.

The key matchup in this one will be 7’0″ sophomore center A.J. Hammons vs. Nnanna Egwu. Hammons has been talked about very favorably, but the knock seems to be his consistency, and it shows in his stat lines from game to game. Against Ohio State, Hammons posted an 18 point, 16 rebound, 5 block effort. Then against Minnesota he posted a less than spectacular 7 point, 1 rebound, 0 blocked shots line. However, in the Boilermakers last game against Nebraska he posted another 18 point effort and sprinkled in 4 blocks. He is clearly a defensive deterrent in the paint. So, when he is on the floor I look for Illinois to attempt some mid-range jumpers as opposed to driving directly into a blocked shot. That said, Illinois MUST be aggressive when he is not on the court and attack the rim.

Three Things I’d Like to See Tonight:

Protect the Farm! – Illinois struggled mightily on offense the past two games, both of which were on the road. Here’s hoping the lids come off the baskets on their home court, and the Illini find it much easier to put points on the board. If Illinois harbors thoughts of appearing in the NCAA tournament it seems that winning at home will be a key to them making it there.

Aggression from Egwu – Far too often this season we have seen Egwu settle for turnaround, fall away jumpers instead of aggressively attacking the rim when he manages to get the ball in the post. I’d like to see him stop drifting along in the game and become a force. If Rice is out, or limited, Egwu needs to bring some aggression on the offensive end to help fill the scoring void that will be created by his absence.

Points from the bench – Not only do I expect to see Egwu and Ekey step up and produce tonight, but it’s about time for the bench to start producing when they get the chance. Austin Colbert has battled foul trouble in his limited time this season. Jaylon Tate hasn’t looked like the same player since Big Ten play started. Malcolm Hill has flashed potential, but he has not played anywhere near the level I imagined he would. Nunn and Morgan have shown well, particularly of late, but I still want to see more out of them. It’s unfair to come down on any of these 5 too hard because they are freshman, and the learning curve is steep going from high school to high major college basketball, but the bottom line is that the team needs them all to provide more production when they are on the floor.

The Skinny

When: Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 8 PM CST

Where: State Farm Center – Champaign-Urbana, IL

TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)

Announcers: Kevin Kugler (Play by Play) and Shon Morris (Analyst)

Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with me in the comments section below with any observations you may have! I-L-L!

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.

Tags: Featured Illinois Fighting Illini John Groce Jon Ekey Kendrick Nunn Nnanna Egwu Popular Rayvonte Rice

  • @RPKraemer

    48-45 Purdue with 10:30 to play

  • Kale Livesay

    Someone has to go on the pass to Hammons

  • @RPKraemer

    Hammons with 3 fouls in very short succession. Keep going at him. Get him out of the game.

  • Kale Livesay

    Hammons is starting to get winded. We have to go right at him.

  • @RPKraemer

    HAHAHAHA WOW. What a miss.

  • Kale Livesay

    Damn grab the ball.

    • @RPKraemer

      That was off Purdue on the swinging back fist.

  • @RPKraemer

    Simpson seems to have some great touch on his shot.

  • @RPKraemer

    I’m not sure who 50 is, but they need to attack him. He must be on the team to bring up the overall GPA.

  • Kale Livesay

    I like sneaky Ekey trying to get the free throws.

  • Kale Livesay

    With that Joe you can make the free throws.

  • Kale Livesay

    I would love to see Nunn and Hill in for Egwu and Joe.

  • @RPKraemer

    Great defense on that possession. Find a basket now and get back to even.

  • Kale Livesay

    just under 8 to play, we need to get to the foul line and convert.

  • @RPKraemer

    3K3Y picked a good time to show up.

  • @RPKraemer

    Rice looks much more explosive than he did at NU.

  • @RPKraemer

    Free throws are the new layup. Geez guys,

  • Kale Livesay

    missed free throws can come back to haunts us.

  • Kale Livesay

    Wow.

  • @RPKraemer

    Back and forth we go. Illinois leads 52-51 with 5:52 to play.

  • @RPKraemer

    Big shot from Ronnie Johnson.

  • @RPKraemer

    Horrible shot by Egwu. That’s not what we need man.

  • Kale Livesay

    Egwu doesn’t get it.

  • Kale Livesay

    Eight damn point swing.

  • @RPKraemer

    57-52 after the Stephens 3. I’m getting flashbacks of Demps.

  • Kale Livesay

    Luckily my household is asleep otherwise they could here me at the Farm yelling at the idiot Egwu for chucking another damn 3.

  • @RPKraemer

    Absolutely great move by Joe. 57-54 PU with 4:15

  • Kale Livesay

    Same team fellas gotta talk

  • @RPKraemer

    Wow. Golden opportunity burned by two Illini fighting over the rebound.

  • Kale Livesay

    This just in our starting center is 0-6 from the field and most of the shots are not in the same zipcode as the basket.

  • Kale Livesay

    I don’t know if Purdue actually wants Egwu to foul out.

  • @RPKraemer

    Thanks for the jinx, Morris.

  • Kale Livesay

    Brutal

  • @RPKraemer

    3K3Y!!

  • Kale Livesay

    ok we forget about the free throw Ekey

  • @RPKraemer

    Much more arch in the shot tonight for Ekey. Last couple games have been line drive style.

  • Kale Livesay

    Send the double team on the pass to Hammons.

  • @RPKraemer

    That’s just too easy to block for Hammons.

  • Kale Livesay

    Bad decision by tracy there.

  • Kale Livesay

    Free throws Free throws free throws win ball games in the Big Ten.

  • @RPKraemer

    62-57 Purdue with 1:22 left.

  • @RPKraemer

    Horrible.

  • Kale Livesay

    oh my we got bailed out we need these Joe.

  • @RPKraemer

    Bertrand is going to get 3 free throws. These are must make. No more choking.

  • Kale Livesay

    brutal

  • @RPKraemer

    Clang, Make, Clang. Not gonna get it done.

  • @RPKraemer

    64-58 Purdue with 27.3 to play.

  • @RPKraemer

    This is over. Terrible free throw shooting and some poor decisions down the stretch lead to a 3rd straight loss.

  • @RPKraemer

    66-58 Final. Illinois is now 2-3 in the conference. Purdue owns the Illini at this point. 9 of their last 10 against UI. Brutal loss. Thanks for participating.

  • Kale Livesay

    Unbelievable we played steady in the first half and let another one slip away.