BYU travels to the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, to face Illinois Saturday night (7:30pm MST, Big Ten Network). BYU is coming off its best win of the season over Colorado, while Illinois is riding a four-game win streak.
Here are a few things to know about the Illini before tonight’s clash in the Windy CIty:
Best wins: NC State, VCU
Losses: Winthrop, West Virginia, Florida State
PPG: 80.7; Points allowed: 70.5
Leading Scorer: Malcolm Hill (guard): 18.9 ppg
What to watch for:
Illinois is hot. It’s only mid-December, but Illinois has shown signs of being a streaky team. They started 4-0, then lost three games in five days, and are now riding a four-game win streak. Two of those wins have been against formidable teams, NC State and VCU. Illinois’ senior-laden backcourt has been shooting the ball very well during its current streak.
Illinois shoots the ball well. BYU has given up nine or more threes in each of its three losses this year. Illinois averages eight a game from behind the arc. Illinois is an athletic team that can score in a variety of ways, so Dave Rose and his staff will have their work cut out for them on the defensive end.
Eric Mika will be the best big Illinois has played. Eric Mika has been phenomenal this year. BYU is clearly a different team when he is on the floor. He leads BYU in points, rebounds, blocks, and is number one in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Mika was slowed down a bit in the Colorado game due to illness, but he showed great progress passing the ball. Valpo and UVU doubled Mika often, and Mika struggled finding the open man. Colorado opted with the same strategy, but Mika countered with 6 assists. Mika’s passing is something to keep an eye on as teams continue to key in on the sophomore big man.
Vegas thinks this game is going to be close; as of this publishing, Illinois is favored by 2.5 points. Illinois is hot, but BYU is feeling good too after coming off its biggest win of the season. Both teams will be well rested and have had a full week to prepare for this game.
With only Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s remaining as resume builders for BYU, this game is especially important for BYU’s at-large hopes. A win in Chicago versus a competent Big Ten team would pay huge dividends come March.