The Illinois Fighting Illini started the day off with a loss off the court as Charles Matthews opted to verbally commit to the blue and white of the Kentucky Wildcats, but that doesn’t mean the day has to be a total waste. The Illini welcome the suddenly surging Nebraska Cornhuskers in to the State Farm Center tonight as they look to build on their road victory in Minnesota a week ago.
Nnanna Egwu has been playing very well recently while averaging 12.3 rpg in his past 3 games, but he finally peaked against the Gophers last Wednesday when he posted a 14 point, 11 rebound, 4 block performance in the win. Egwu’s rebounding bonanza began in the first match-up with Nebraska when he posted 12 boards, including 5 offensive rebounds. He should get the chance to continue his success tonight against a team that currently averages 33.3 rpg (259th in the nation).
Rebounding aside, the Huskers have been hot. They’ve won 8 of their last 10 and each of their past 5 games including road wins over Northwestern to start their 5 game winning streak as well as a 9 point victory at #9 Michigan State on the 16th.
During the recent 5 game run, Big Ten leading scorer Terran Petteway (18.4 ppg) has been on fire. Since Illinois limited Petteway to 16 points in the last match-up, he has posted 3 straight 20+ point efforts (23 vs. Michigan State, 26 vs. Penn State, 29 vs. Purdue). Illinois did well to limit him to 16 in the last match-up, but it was only a minor victory because it freed up Petteway’s running mate for a big game of his own.
Shavon Shields hung 33 points on Illinois in the last meeting, as if I need to remind anyone, but he’s obviously got to be a player Illinois pays close attention to this evening. Shields followed up the 33 point effort with a 7 point performance against MSU, but has since hit double digits in back to back games including a double-double in his last outing at Purdue (18 points, 10 boards).
Walter Pitchford is the final player I’d like to highlight because he is also on a 3 game run of double digit performances. Illinois did a great job in the last meeting, holding him to 7 points and 1 rebound in 25 minutes, but since then he has posted 18, 11, and 10 points back to back to back. Stopping the guards should be the primary focus, but Nnanna Egwu needs to have his game face on too because the 6’10″ Husker big man will be looking to supplement anything that the Husker guards do tonight.
Three Things I’d like to see tonight:
1. Keep building momentum - The Huskers started their momentum off by protecting their home court, and since then they have steamrolled the conference while working their way all the way back from a 1-5 start to a current 8-6 Big Ten record which is good for a share of 5th place with #20 Iowa. The Illini should try to do the same, and see if they can’t build some momentum heading towards the Big Ten tournament.
2. Nnanna Egwu repeat the performance - I want to see him doing it all again. The Illini need him to make sure Walter Pitchford doesn’t sneak in the back door to snake bite them just like Shavon Shields did in the last meeting. They also need his offensive production because it makes them a much more dangerous team when he’s shooting the ball confidently. Just please, Nnanna, no more threes!!
3. Joseph Bertrand Positive Contribution - It’s no secret that Bertrand has been scuffling since Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill have begun asserting themselves. I’d really like to see something positive out of Bertrand tonight. This is the final stretch of games in his college career. He needs to play with urgency when he gets the chance and positively affect the outcome.
When: Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 8 PM CST
Where: State Farm Center – Champaign, 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 other Illini fans in the comments section below with any observations you may have!
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.