Illinois vs. Central Michigan
TV: None (BTN Plus stream)
Are you used to seeing an undersized dude in a visiting team’s jersey lighting up the scoreboard at State Farm Center yet? Well, if Keon Johnson (38 points for Winthrop) or Matt O’Leary (25 points for IUPUI) didn’t do it for you, get ready for Marcus Keene. Standing just 5’9″, Central Michigan’s guard is the leading scorer in all of men’s basketball right now. Yes, you read that correctly. And not only is Keene averaging 31.4 points per game (including a season-high of 40 on Tuesday against Green Bay), he’s doing it while disrespecting opposing defenders.
So, that right there is Illinois’s challenge on Saturday. If the defensive effort is equal to that of the IUPUI game, a closer-than-it-should’ve-been 85-77 win, then go ahead and add another win to CMU’s record (8-2) and a loss to Illinois’s (7-3).
It’s hard to say exactly which Illinois team will show up against CMU, but evidence strongly suggests that an Illini squad that plays within itself and with confidence can beat the Chippewas. For instance, whereas Illinois had bad defense in its last game, CMU has had poor defense all year (ranked 272 in scoring defense among all DI teams). Keene may bite, but if the Illini bite back, the game could be there for the taking.
My prediction: Keene comes down to earth and Illinois wins without much difficulty.