Illinois looks to continue its hot streak to start the season when it hosts North Carolina Central in a non-conference contest Friday. The Illini have won their first five contests and are looking to finish undefeated in the round-robin Global Sports Invitational, which wraps up with this contest.
Coach Brad Underwood’s first season in Champaign has seen the Illini have a balanced offensive attack, with five double-figure scorers, including two off the bench. Forward Leron Black has led the way with 15.4 points per game and 60 percent shooting from the field. Freshman Mark Smith, the reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois, has lived up to the hype, ranking second on the team in scoring with 13.8 points and in minutes with 24.8. Junior center Raasean Davis is the lone double-figure scorer for the Eagles, averaging 16 points and also leading the team with 9.4 rebounds per contest.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, None
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (2-4): The Eagles are still trying to put the pieces together this season after zero starters returned from last season and the returnees brought back the second-fewest starts in the nation with 11, all by C.J. Wiggins. Coach LeVelle Moton has used seven different starters in the first five games of the season, with 10 different players averaging at least eight minutes of playing time. Things have started to look better offensively over the last three games, as the Eagles averaged 55.3 points in their first three contests and 88.3 over their last three, two of them resulting in victories.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (5-0): Most of the Illini players have struggled shooting from 3-point range, with nine players combining to hit 21-of-86 attempts (24.4 percent) through five games. But junior guard Aaron Jordan has been the team’s savior from deep, hitting 11-of-18 (61.1 percent), including a 4-of-4 performance off the bench in the Illini’s win over Augustana on Wednesday. Underwood is hoping to get better shooting from the rest of his team going forward, but for now, he’s happy to have an instant-offense reserve in Jordan, who is fourth on the team in scoring despite ranking eighth on the squad in minutes, playing just 17.8 minutes per game.
1. Illinois’ current nine-game winning streak at home is its longest since winning 13 straight home games from February 2013 to January 2014.
2. The Illini have grabbed at least 11 offensive rebounds in each of their first five outings, averaging 15.2 per game.
3. Smith’s streak of made free throws to start his career ended at 21 with a miss against Augustana, though he is still hitting 95.8 percent (23-of-24) from the charity stripe.
PREDICTION: Illinois 88, North Carolina Central 62