All time: 0-1 (Chattanooga 75-63 Illinois, second round 1997 NCAA Tournament)
Tip-off: 7:30 pm in Springfield
TV: Big Ten Network
The Mocs most recent game is no comparison for Illinois (a 94-55 drubbing of Hiwassee), but its first game certianly is. In the opener, Chattanooga took Georgia to overtime and came away with a 92-90 victory. It was the depth of the roster that earned the victory, with the Mocs outscoring Georgia’s bench 40-17. Johnathan Burroughs-Cook accounted for 23 of the bench’s 40 points by himself, tying the game high of guard Casey Jones.
Whether Illini fans like it or not, Georgia is a good comp this year; in fact, KenPom.com has the Bulldogs ranked a few slots ahead of Illinois (with better adjusted defense, but slightly worse adjusted offense). The lesson John Groce and his players can learn from Georgia’s loss, however, is that Chattanooga is very foul prone. Three players, including top scorer Jones, fouled out in the overtime win. Though depth may be a strength for the Mocs, getting their best in foul trouble will be a smart strategy.
Of course, Illinois has its own foul issues (Mike Thorne Jr. fouled out in 13 minutes and Leron Black picked up 4 in 4 minutes against Providence), but they played smart defense and held arguably the nation’s best player in Kris Dunn to just 10 points and 3 assists. The key to that was walk-on Alex Austin, whom I thought would not even crack the starting lineup. He’s obviously proven to Groce that he has the chops to get significant minutes, and if he can repeat his performance and Illinois can make dunks (ugh), this could be a bounce back game.
The Providence loss was heartbreaking (words do no justice), but it was a very good and well-coached game from the Illini. If they can get past the final outcome, there should be plenty to take forward and I think this game will see them back at .500.