Illinois basketball has finally arrived. After a productive off season which included transfers, five new freshmen, and just 4 returning players means a whole new world for the Illini.
After two exhibitions in which they showed the good and bad surrounding the season, the Illini start the real deal on Friday night for their first official game of the season.
Setting the stage
Game #1 // Illinois (23-13 in 12-13) vs. Alabama State (10-22 in 12-13)
Nov. 8, 2013 / 7 p.m. CT // Champaign, Ill. // State Farm Center (16,618)
Internet Stream: ESPN3 - Wayne Randazzo (Play-By-Play), Sean Harrington (Analyst)
Radio: Fighting Illini Sports Network - Brian Barnhart (Play-By-Play), Jerry Hester
* It's a whole new world for both programs. Like Illinois, Alabama State has just 4 returning players from last year's squad and 10 newcomers. Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said it is quite a challenge for his squad, who finished 10-22 a year ago.
"It is an opening for us and unfortunately we are on the road, but it is good for us to come in and play some high major programs," Jackson said. "The guys can come out and we can find out where we are and find the things we can build on as we continue to move forward through the early part of our season."
* Illinois guard Tracy Abrams missed the final exhibition game but is expected to play on Friday night in the opener.
* Following the success of last year's Orange Hush, Krush has decided to make this an annual event for Groce and the Illini, continuing the tradition at each year's home opener. Therefore, Krush asks all fans to refrain from cheering or clapping until the Illini score their 10th point Friday night against Alabama State. Once that happens, fans should immediately fill State Farm Center with applause.
* Illinois has won their last 14 season openers and last 14 home openers, beginning with the 1999-2000 season. Technically, this is their first ever regular season game in the State Farm Center, previously known as Assembly Hall.
Keys to the Game
1. No threes - Upsets happen often from behind the 3 point line, as the smaller teams are able to knock down some 3 point shots to offset the lack of size on the interior and any rebounding deficiencies. Illinois needs to put them away and not allow some of the looks they gave up in the exhibition season.
2. Dominate the glass - Although this may not be the rebounding test that Northwood was, Illinois needs to show the ability to control the glass against a smaller opponent. Ekey, Egwu, Hill, Morgan and Colbert should all see action up front and need to control the paint and the glass.
3. Find a rotation - The players are fighting for starting spots, minutes and a place in the rotation. This shouldn't be a difficult game, but it's an opportunity for the Illinois players to show what they can do on the big, or at least bigger, stage.
Illinois rolls to an 81-57 win over an undermanned ASU squad. The Illini get some confidence as they play what is likely to be the worst team on their schedule.