The Bucks continue their road tour by taking on the enigmatic Fighting Illini in Urbana-Champaign. Here’s the data:
|School:||University of Illinois|
|Location:||Urbana and Champaign, Illinois|
|Conference:||Big Ten Conference|
|Head Coach:||Bruce Weber|
You might look at Illinois record and wonder why I would call them enigmatic. Losses to UNLV, Missouri, and at Purdue are nothing to scoff at. Those are all reasonably tough teams. The enigmatic part comes in when you consider the last three games. Illinois was down 25 against the Boilermakers mid-way through the second half and it’s extremely surprising that they were able to close it to 15 by the end of the game. The Illini then proceeded to barely escape the Northwestern Wildcats by one, though that was at their place. Finally, they returned home only to discover a fiesty Nebraska team on the doorstep. It took every last minute of play to send the Huskers packing in front of their home crowd.
And now a Buckeye team that is finally starting to figure out how to play on the road is coming to Assembly Hall (no, the other one). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Illinois nearly got caught looking past Nebraska seeing a chance to take on the Buckeyes at home. Ohio State is 2-1 through their last three in Urbana-Champaign, losing by 18, winning by 19, and winning by 5 just last year. You can bet Bruce Weber’s guys will know the score heading into this one. You can also bet he’s run ‘em up the flagpole a few times for the last few games, so the Illini should come out hungry and focused.
The guy normally leading the pack would be junior guard DJ Richardson (6-3, 195). Richardson took a back seat to Demetri McCamey the last few seasons. With McCamey having graduated it was up to Richardson to take up the reigns of this team. He is now Illinois’ leading scorer with more than 13 points per game in 32 minutes of play. Unfortunately, Richardson injured his shooting wrist against Northwestern. He did not break it, but it may have lead Weber to have Richardson come off the bench against Nebraska. Considering he played 21 minutes suggests that he may be capable to go against the Buckeyes, but he only took 4 shots and scored 2 points.
Worse yet for the Illini is the loss of starting point guard Sam Maniscalco to an ankle injury. He managed to play against Purdue, despite being hampered with the injury since the start of the Big Ten season, but has not played since. With him on the bench, the Illini have struggled to run their half-court offense. They have replaced him with freshman guard Tracy Abrams (6-1, 185), but Abrams only has one-fifth the production of Maniscalco this season. He’s also clearly not their first choice to run the offense. It will be good experience for the young guard for the future, but is a tough break for the Illini early in Big Ten play.
The bright news for the Illini is the play of sophomore shooting guard Joseph Bertrand (6-5, 195). Bertrand has only averaged 6 points per game this season, but with Richardson coming off the bench and being unable to shoot effectively Bertrand made a difference. Against Nebraska, he scored an amazing 25 points on 11-12 shooting. All of those shots came from the paint, clearly the place Bertrand likes to attack the best. While he’s capable of shooting the three, he makes his mark closer to the basket.
The last name to be familiar with is the guy who has come into to replace Mike Tisdale at the center. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard (7-1, 245) is doing an effective job in the paint for the Illini. He’s averaging nearly 13 points and 8 rebounds a game, and is quickly looking like he’ll be one of the top centers in the Big Ten by time he graduates. How he fares against Jared Sullinger will be interesting to see.
|Lenzelle Smith Jr.||17||21.8||5.3||4.6||2.1||1.4||0.1||1.2||0.492||0.471||0.522|
This game is a tough one to read with Illinois facing so many difficult injuries. Bertrand could make a huge difference for the team, but with a limited supporting cast outside of Leonard, he might not be able to do enough to lift his team to victory. However, if the Buckeyes come out as sloppy as they have for previous road games, it could give the Illini enough confidence to make it a game.
The game will be played in Assembly Hall at 9:00 PM EST on Tuesday, January 9th. You’ll be able to see the game on ESPN.