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Illini basketball preview: Southeast Missouri State

Illinois v. Southeast Missouri State
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network

Basketball season is finally here to rescue Illini fans from yet another miserable football season. After a down year, riddled with injuries, Illinois is looking to put the pieces together and make it to the NCAA Tournament, erasing their three-year drought — the team’s first since the early 1980s.

The Illini enter this first contest less than full strength, with guard Jalen Coleman-Lands still recouperating from a broken hand and forward Leron Black sitting out due to suspension. However, the team welcomes sixth-year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. back into the fold, which could make a big impact on the entire season.

One interesting storyline for the Illini is the starting lineup. Coach John Groce has kept the same lineup for both exhibition games, but it’s certainly not his strongest five. Abrams and Malcolm Hill are, seemingly, the only locks, the other three starters seem interchangable at this point. Another important part of the game for Illinois will be defensive play. Improved defense is key for the Illini this year, but it hasn’t been much better in the preseason.

As for the Southeast Missouri Eageles, Trent Singer of has the scoop:

“Southeast returns four players — all seniors — to this year’s squad and will rely heavily on 11 newcomers. Antonius Cleveland is the  biggest piece of the puzzle after leading Southeast with 15.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-6 Cleveland is a preseason All-OVC selection. Head coach Rick Ray hopes the program has found some stability in his second year at the helm and that his players can improve after just two winning seasons out of the last 11.”

Prediction: Illinois wins in a rout, 84-53. Michael Finke picks up a double-double.

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