The Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team has traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska and are set to clash with the Nebraska Cornhuskers tonight in the first of two meetings over the next 14 days. Illinois finally stopped their massive 8 game skid by upending Penn State, and while it wasn’t easy, the losing streak is now in the rear view mirror. So, where do we go from here? I think I’ll let Lou Brown sum up how I am feeling about the next stretch of games for our Illini.
“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a “winning streak”… It has happened before!” – Lou Brown, Major League II
Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve seen multiple wins strung together in Illini nation, but just like Lou said, it has happened before. We all know this team is capable of reeling off several wins in a row. It has just been about finding the right mix of personnel on the floor at any given time, and HC John Groce finally decided it was time to make a change last game while giving Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill their first college starts.
Neither player disappointed, and both figure to return to the starting lineup tonight. The difference in tonight’s game will be that the Illini will not benefit from catching their opponent off guard. Nebraska now knows what to expect, and should be able to game plan for it accordingly. Will there be a repeat performance? Will the Illini win their first back to back Big Ten road games since 2009?
If they are going to do so, stopping Husker sophomore sensation Terran Petteway will be their first order of business. Petteway enters tonight’s game as Nebraska’s leading scorer (17.5 ppg), and aside from a 5 point outing on 2/5 against Michigan he has not scored less than 15 points in any game in Big Ten play. Petteway isn’t doing it alone, however.
Whereas Illinois has struggled at times to find consistent secondary scoring, Nebraska hasn’t recently, and it’s a big reason why the Huskers have only lost 1 game in Big Ten play (Michigan by 1 point) on their home court. They’ve reeled off 4 wins in their past 6 games, and they have 6’7″ sophomore Guard-Forward Shavon Shields and 6’10″ Forward Walter Pitchford to thank in addition to Petteway’s stellar play. Shields has hit double digits in 3 of his past 4 games, and Pitchford comes in hot, having reached double figures in each of the Huskers past 4 games.
The mission for Illinois is clear tonight: Lock down defensively on these three players while making sure a periphery shooter like Ray Gallegos doesn’t get hot from three just because someone forgets to guard him.
Three Things I’d like to see tonight:
1. A Repeat Performance from the Freshmen - They got their shot last game and came through. Now they need to replicate what made them successful and solidify their place in the starting lineup. It’s their time to shine. So, shine on!
2. Force Turnovers Through Hounding Defense - In the Huskers 4 point loss at Penn State on 1/23 they turned the ball over 14 times to the Nittany Lions 5. Many of those turnovers turned into points while PSU fought their way back from an 8 point second half deficit with 11:06 left to play. Get in their face and harass them all night long.
3. Ray Rice and Tracy Abrams Explode – While it’s nice having Nunn go for 19, and Hill also reach double digits I’d like to see those scoring performances be supplemental, and not necessarily team leading. I mean, I’ll take what I can get, but I want to see Rice and Abrams wake up offensively while still getting good production from the two freshman. If that happens, Illinois suddenly becomes a very dangerous team down the stretch run.
When: Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 8 PM CST
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena – Lincoln, NE
TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)
Announcers: Cory Provus (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!
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.