Preview: Illinois at Rutgers

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[February 03, 2016]  Rutgers looks to earn its first Big Ten victory of the season Wednesday when it hosts struggling Illinois in a battle of two of the bottom three teams in the league standings. The Scarlet Knights have dropped nine straight, while the Illini have lost two in a row.

Illinois has been dealing with injuries all year and may be a little more short-handed in this one after freshman center Michael Finke suffered a knee contusion that knocked him out of Sunday's loss to Wisconsin. Finke is likely out for this contest, which means even more offensive load will be on the backs of guards Malcolm Hill (18.5 points) and Kendrick Nunn (17.8), though Nunn is a game-time decision after suffering a bruised hip against the Badgers. Rutgers comes off an ugly loss at Michigan State that saw the Spartans set a school record for 3-pointers. Freshman Corey Sanders has been a bright spot for coach Eddie Jordan, leading the league in steals (1.6 per game) while pacing all league freshmen in scoring (14.2) and assists (3.8).

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

ABOUT ILLINOIS (10-12, 2-7 Big Ten): The Illini's season gets more and more about injuries and tough losses, but coach John Groce doesn't want his team focusing on those things. Groce still believes his squad can make a run at the postseason, and wants his players to focus on what they can control - their play. "The biggest thing for us is we can't control those things," Groce told reporters. "What we're trying to control is how well we play. That precedes outcomes. We've got to play better."

ABOUT RUTGERS (6-16, 0-9): The Scarlet Knights are having troubles with injuries themselves, forcing Jordan to mix and match his players into different lineups. Unfortunately, it hasn't been a winning formula yet, though Jordan realizes that the experience his team gains this year will pay off in the future with some victories. "We concentrate on us a lot because of where we are, under-manned and under-sized," Jordan told reporters. "We are creating different themes and schemes to play to sort of reinvent ourselves almost on a weekly basis. We are trying to find ways to have our kids play together and have some rhythm."

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TIP-INS

1. Hill has scored in double figures in every game this season and his scoring average is the highest by an Illini player since Brian Cook's league-leading 20 point average in 2002-03.

2. Coming into the week, Rutgers ranked fifth in the Big Ten in steals in all games (5.9) and in league play (5.2).

3. A different player has been the top rebounder for Illinois in each of the last five games.

PREDICTION: Illinois 74, Rutgers 62

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