Chicago State (3-1)
All-time: 0-11 (last meeting: Illinois 77--53 Chicago St., 11/22/13)
Tip-off: 7 pm in Springfield
TV: ESPN 3 (streaming)
After four games, Chicago State is averaging 96.75 points per game. With Illinois’s defense looking as lively as your uncle after the dessert round on Thanksgiving, this is a rather scary proposition. The big, and I mean big, caveat with the Cougars’ scoring is that so far they have played Illinois Tech, Indiana University Northwest, Trinity International, and (#7) Iowa State: only one of those schools is real, I’m pretty sure.
Though the comps are hardly better than games against the Culinary Institute of America, a few things stand out about the Cougars. Against the Cyclones, CSU lost 106-64, with 10 players getting at least 10 minutes of playing time. In other games the rotation has been slightly less deep, but having many players that can be thrown into the mix will be a benefit for CSU against a very shallow Illinois team. Another thing Chicago State is doing frequently is just chucking up threes: against ISU they were 10 for 37, against Indiana Northwest just 9 for 30. Opposing teams have killed Illinois from deep, but getting CSU to take threes, especially forcing bad shots, would still be a good game plan for the Illini.
More than anything, Illinois needs to lead wire-to-wire. In each of its four games Illinois has trailed at half. This has much to do with scheduling talented mid-majors thirsty to knock-off some big schools in nonconference play (North Florida and Chattanooga were both picked as preseason favorites to win their respective conferences). Chicago State, despite its high-scoring start, is not one of the giant-killer schools on Illinois’s schedule. So this is a chance for the Illini to just go out and ball on someone. If they don’t take that opportunity, well John Groce may as well resign.
It’s really hard to imagine Illinois dominating this one after blowing a 9-point lead late in the Chattanooga game, but I do think they win it. If it’s not a blowout I hope it will at least be convincing.