Illinois vs. Winthrop
TV: None (ESPN3 Stream)
The average ranking (per KenPom) of Illinois’s first three Division I opponents: 270. Monday night’s opponent, Winthrop: 110. Thus, it is not inaccurate to say that, tonight Illinois start playing another class of team.
Winthrop (2-1) is the reigning Big South regular season champion and have been picked to make it to the NCAA Tourney this year for the first time under head coach Pat Kelsey. The Eagles get solid offensive production from guards Xavier Cooks and Keon Johnson and can clean up on the boards with Joshua Davenport and Duby Okeke. As a team, Winthrop isn’t a big threat from beyond the arc (making just 19/70 shots, which is only slightly more 3s than Illinois had against McKendree alone), but still manage 82 points per game.
Despite their high-scoring offense, Winthrop’s defense is rated as a weakness. The Eagles’ adjusted defense on KenPom is 184th (Illinois is 81st, for reference), and this is an area of poor play that has carried over from last season. For Illinois to prevail in its second NIT Season Tip-Off preliminary, it will be key to use size to its advantage, particularly with Leron Black coming back from suspension.
My prediction: Black grabs a bundle of rebounds but fouls out before the final whistle seals Illinois’s fifth win.