Illinois looks to stay perfect under new coach Brad Underwood when it hosts DePaul in the final game of the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Friday night. The Gavitt Tipoff Games are a series of eight games between schools from the Big East and Big Ten Conferences, currently in its third year of existence.
The Blue Demons bounced back from a season-opening loss to Notre Dame with an easy win over Delaware State on Monday, with senior forward Tre’Darius McCallum’s 17 points leading four DePaul players in double figures. Coach Dave Leitao has four players averaging in double figures, led by McCallum’s 15.5 points and junior guard Max Strus’ 13, while the Blue Demons’ defense is holding opponents to 64.5 points a contest. The Illini will prove to be a test for the DePaul defense, as Underwood’s squad is averaging 89.5 points through two contests while also holding its opponents to an average of 64.5. Junior forward Leron Black has taken over the role of go-to guy for the Illini, leading the team in scoring (18.5 ppg), rebounding (7) and assists (3.5) while shooting 66.7 percent from the field.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT DEPAUL (1-1): The Blue Demons are waiting for a breakout game from junior guard Eli Cain, the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game in 2016-17. It’s not that Cain is playing particularly bad — he’s averaging 12.5 points and matched his career high with eight rebounds in the win over Delaware State — but he’s just not the dominant force of a season ago. Cain started last season with four straight 20-point games and, for the season, hit 51 3-pointers in 148 attempts, but so far, he’s let others take the lead, attempting just two 3-pointers and missing both.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-0): After the 6-7 Black and 6-10 Michael Finke combined for one rebound in the first half of an exhibition game against Eastern Illinois, Underwood laid into his frontcourt duo, demanding that they give him more on the glass and in the paint. The duo obviously listened, as they are averaging a combined 30.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the Illini’s first two contests, with both players shooting better than 60 percent from the field. Illinois will need them to continue that kind of production throughout the season, especially with the team’s 3-point percentage sitting at .238 heading into the DePaul contest.
1. DePaul F Jaylen Butz grabbed 13 rebounds in the win over Delaware State, the most by a Blue Demons player since November 2013.
2. Illinois G Aaron Jordan has been solid off the bench this season, ranking second on the team in scoring at 13.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
3. Despite being in the same state and being national powers at various times over the years, this is the first time the Illini and Blue Demons have faced each other on court since 1957.
PREDICTION: Illinois 78, DePaul 70