Preview: South Dakota at Illinois
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[December 19, 2015]
Illinois really has started to hit its
stride, winning three straight as it enters a non-conference contest
with visiting South Dakota on Saturday. The Illini have some big games
ahead - a rivalry game with Missouri and their Big Ten opener against
Michigan - but they can't afford to look past the Coyotes, who come in
off an emotional double-overtime victory over Milwaukee on Thursday.
Illinois has been playing better despite some injuries, with the
constant being leading scorer Kendrick Nunn, who is averaging 19.8
points. Malcolm Hill (17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) has been the other
consistent threat for coach John Groce, who is getting some solid
play inside from freshman Michael Finke (9.5 points) as well. South
Dakota's success has been a team effort as five players are
averaging 10 points or more, led by guard Tre Burnette's 13 per
game. One thing the Coyotes don't have is a lot of size, with Eric
Robertson being their tallest starter at 6-8.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, ESPN3
ABOUT SOUTH DAKOTA (7-4): One thing with which coach Craig Smith is
impressed about his team is its ability to keep its cool in close
games and make plays. That ability was on display in the
double-overtime win over Milwaukee, as the Coyotes were able to come
from behind time and again to knock off the Panthers. "We made some
big-time plays down the stretch to win this one," Smith told
reporters. "We have played in so many close games the past two
seasons. With the exception of a few, we have learned to win those
ABOUT ILLINOIS (6-5): Injuries continue to plague the Illini, who
likely have starters Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. out for the
season, while sophomore Leron Black was downgraded from day-to-day
to out indefinitely by Groce on Thursday with continued trouble with
his surgically repaired knee. With Thorne and Black missing, Finke
has stepped into the starting lineup and played 27 minutes in each
of the last two games, while junior Maverick Morgan is seeing more
time as well. Morgan played 13 minutes in each of the last two games
and is averaging six points and 2.5 rebounds.
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1. South Dakota ranks 37th in the country in assists per game with
2. Nunn and Hill form the highest-scoring duo in the Big Ten this
season and rank second among tandems in the six major conferences.
3. Illinois is second in the Big Ten in turnovers per game (10.5)
and turnover margin (plus-3).
PREDICTION: Illinois 82, South Dakota 71
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