Mon, 25 Jan 2021

No. 8 Illini prepare for stiffer test vs. Ohio

Field Level Media
27 Nov 2020, 09:55 GMT+10

Through two games, it's all looked so very easy for No. 8 Illinois.

The Fighting Illini have dominated their first two games of the season from start-to-finish, playing on their home floor as part of a multiple-team event at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois (2-0) ripped NorthCarolina AT in the opener on Wednesday, then celebrated Thanksgiving with a 97-38 win over Chicago State. The Illini have won the first two games by a combined 121 points, and have outrebounded their opponents by a combined 89 boards.

Coach Brad Underwood doesn't think matters will stay that easy forever. He anticipates more resistance on Friday when the Illini wrap up the event with an early afternoon tipoff against Ohio University (2-0).

Illinois is the first ranked team since 1989 (Oklahoma) to win its first two games of the season by at least 55 points apiece, according to ESPN Stats Information.

"I know what's coming, they don't yet," Underwood said of Illinois' dynamic duo of freshman guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo. "They might think they're all like this."

Miller averaged 21.5 points in the first two games of his collegiate career as the top-ranked recruit for the Illini. Curbelo scored 18 points in Thursday's win.

Miller and Curbelo's acclimation to the level of play has been steadied by Illinois junior guard Ayo Dosunmu, a preseason All-American who has done nothing but live up to expectations so far. Through two games, Dosunmu has averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and done it while seemingly remaining in the background.

"That's the way really good players do things," Underwood said. "He elevates his game by making his teammates better. He's the best guard in the country when he does that."

Ohio should be a better test for Illinois. The Bobcats, commonly projected to contend in the Mid-American Conference this season, also knocked off North Carolina AT and Chicago State this week at the State Farm Center.

Ohio had to work a bit more for the same results, with an 84-61 win over Chicago State on Wednesday and an 84-72 victory over NC AT on Thursday. The Bobcats used a 26-10 run to open the second half against the Aggies to break open a 35-35 tie.

The Bobcats are led by junior 6-foot-4 point guard Jason Preston, a preseason All-MAC pick who finished second in the nation with 238 assists last season. Preston averaged 16.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in Ohio's two wins. He mirrors Dosunmu in that both do a little of everything for their respective teams.

"He's an elite passer ... a deceiving athlete," Underwood said. "He's got a big rep. I think it'll be a great matchup."

With veteran forwards Ben Vander Plas (11.0 ppg) and Dwight Wilson III (12.0), the Bobcats will have better balance than Illinois' first two opponents.

It's the Illini defense that has Ohio coach Jeff Boals most concerned. Illinois is giving up 49 points per game on 31.4 percent shooting through two games.

"They just come at you in waves," said Boals, now in his second season at his alma mater. "They're probably top four team in the country. It's going to come down to toughness, to heart."

Illinois leads the all-time series with Ohio 3-0, but the two programs haven't played since 1980.

--Field Level Media

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