No. 18 Illinois has played a tough schedule through 10 games, including four opponents ranked at the time of the game. The Fighting Illini have beaten UCLA and Texas on neutral floors while losing to Virginia on a neutral court and at Maryland in those four games.
Having that battle-tested experience is a big reason why coach Brad Underwood was chapped after Illinois delivered a poor performance last Saturday in a 74-59 home loss to Penn State that dropped the Illini to 7-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten.
“I’m just telling you that our approach to the game right now is immature and (it’s) complete, 100-percent lack of leadership,” Underwood said. “If I’ve got to go back to leading again, this team’s in trouble. Somebody on this team has got to step up.”
Underwood will look for the right response Saturday when Illinois hosts Alabama A&M in Champaign, Ill., after taking a week off for final exams.
There was nothing for the Illini to hang their collective hats on in the Penn State defeat. They allowed 47 first-half points to a team playing its second true road game of the season. They scored 22 points short of their per-game average and took nearly half their shots from 3-point range, getting just 12 foul shots.
“Put it in bold,” Underwood said. “Leadership — and lack of. And no effort. That’s what happens in this league when you have none of that.”
Illinois is getting 17.8 points per game from Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr., although he managed just four points in 26 minutes against Penn State. Off the bench, 6-foot-9 Dain Dainja averages 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in fewer than 18 minutes a game.
Five other players contribute between 8.0 and 9.6 ppg, indicative of the team’s balance. But the Illini at times are too careless with the ball, ranking 258th in turnover rate per KenPom.com with 20.4 turnovers per 100 possessions.
Meanwhile, Alabama A&M (4-6) is coming off a 97-75 win over Division III Rust on Thursday, rebounding from a 78-71 loss to South Alabama three days earlier in which the Bulldogs wasted a game-high 23 points off the bench from Omari Peek.
Making Peek’s performance even more noteworthy was that the transfer from Delaware State scored just 20 points over his first eight games. He added 16 in the win over Rust.
Those 16 equaled the output of Garrett Hicks, the team’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game. Hicks, who is second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in scoring, missed the loss to South Alabama.
The Bulldogs won three in a row before the loss to South Alabama, although the first two of those were non-Division I victories. They shoot the 3-pointer well at 43.0 percent, but also allow opponents to make 40 percent from behind the arc.
This will be the first matchup between Alabama A&M and Illinois.
–Field Level Media