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Illini basketball preview: Longwood

Illinois vs. Longwood
7 pm
TV: Big Ten Network

Injuries suck, but not all injuries are created equal. Right now, Illinois players Leron Black (elbow, suffered versus UNLV) and Kipper Nichols (undisclosed practice injury) are ailing. You’re not likely to see either, the highest and fourth-highest scoring players, respectively. But, there may never be a better time to miss those two.

Longwood’s top 5 scorers by height: 6’5”, 6’1”, 6’1”, 6’8”, and 6’5”. So, while Illinois is going to miss the interior presence of Black (6’7”) and Nichols (6’6”), if there was ever a game where Illinois could transition to a small-ball lineup without worrying about giving up too much, this is it. And, to be certain, the Illini will be playing small ball tonight, Brad Underwood confirmed it in his press conference yesterday.

While a smaller lineup is a necessity (Michael Finke is the only healthy rotation player over 6’5”), it’s also likely the wise move at this point. Aaron Jordan (11.5 ppg) is obviously deserving of as many minutes as he can tolerate, but freshmen Da’Monte Williams and Trent Frazier are also deserving of larger roles. Williams has 19 points and 10 rebounds and Frazier has 30 points and 10 assists in the last 3 games. Mark Smith also rebounded from a poor stretch by posting 17 points and 4 assists in the loss to UNLV.

Longwood has a pair of guards that get buckets, Isaiah Walton and BK Ashe (18.9 and 14.7 ppg, respectively), but they’re not a highly regarded team otherwise (ranked 343 by KenPom). In this finals-holiday stretch before the end of the year, however, this represents fans’ last chance to see the Illini in Champaign for two-and-a-half weeks.

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