Unbeaten Illinois takes to the road for the first time this season when it travels to face Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday. The Illini have been impressive under first-year coach Brad Underwood, winning their first six by an average margin of 20.5 points, while the Demon Deacons enter the contest having won two of their last three.
Illinois has been winning thanks to a balanced offense that has five players averaging in double figures, led by Leron Black (14.8 points) and Michael Finke (14.7 points, team-high 6.0 rebounds). The Illini have been great at getting to the free-throw line, with the team’s 181 free-throw attempts ranking fourth in the country among teams with six games played through Sunday. The Demon Deacons may have found their offensive flow in their last contest, a win over UNC Greensboro, shooting 61.5 percent from the floor, the highest percentage under coach Danny Manning. Junior guard Keyshawn Woods leads Wake Forest in scoring, averaging 17 points off the bench, while fellow junior guard Bryant Crawford leads the starting lineup at 15.8 points per game.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT ILLINOIS (6-0): Though his teams at Oklahoma State and Stephen F. Austin weren’t known for their defensive prowess, Underwood has the Illini playing strong on the defensive end, which has led to easy offense. Illinois ranked second nationally in turnover margin (plus-8.7) and fifth in turnovers forced (21 per game), which has led to an average 28.7 points off turnovers. Underwood has nine players averaging at least 16 minutes, which allows them to play hard when they’re on the floor knowing they’ll be getting a rest soon, and that has led to a more opportunistic, hustling defense.
ABOUT WAKE FOREST (2-4): Manning is hoping to see his big men get the ball more often, especially 7-1 center Doral Moore, who would be leading the nation with his .839 field-goal percentage if he had enough shot attempts. Moore has taken only 31 shots in six games, hitting 26 of them, and the Deacons coach would like to see him utilized more. The problem, as Manning sees it, is that the Wake Forest guards are catching the ball too far out on the perimeter, making it difficult to feed Moore and the other Wake Forest big men in the paint.
1. Illinois junior G Aaron Jordan leads the NCAA in 3-point shooting percentage (65.2), connecting on 15-of-23 of his attempts from beyond the arc.
2. Deacons senior G Mitchell Wilbekin averaged 4.7 points and was 5-for-21 from the floor in the first three games of the season, but since moving into the starting lineup three games ago has averaged 10 points and shot 44.4 percent.
3. Manning and Underwood are facing off as coaches for the first time after previously having squared off in Kansas-Kansas State matchups as players in the 1980s and assistants in the 2000s.
PREDICTION: Illinois 80, Wake Forest 72