What Illini Basketball Can Expect from Marquette on Monday Night

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Illini basketball travels to Marquette on Monday night in a matchup of two 2-0 teams that will be facing a high-major opponent for the first time this season. Up to this point, both sides have feasted on mid-major and low-major competition, so this Gavitt Games tip-off will provide much insight into the actual relative strength of both the Illini and the Golden Eagles.

“Now we take a step up, we go on the road and find out truly who we are,” Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood said after his #11 nationally ranked team destroyed Arkansas State 92-53 last night at home.

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Coleman Hawkins had 17 points and a career-high 12 rebounds to lead the way, in a game that saw Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier, two members of the starting backcourt return from injury. So both will be available in the Big Ten vs Big East showcase event game, but team alpha male and B1G Preseason Player of the Year Kofi Cockburn remains out due to a suspension.

NCAA gonna NCAA, as his suspension is truly ridiculous, but the Illini should still have plenty enough to achieve the road win without him, because Marquette is just not in a very good place right now. Shaka Smart (remember him??) has taken over the program now, having taken a step down in order to save face. He flopped at Texas, and was likely to see himself shown the door out of Austin had he not found an escape hatch to Milwaukee.

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He never won a single NCAA Tournament game in six seasons leading the Longhorns, but he did accomplish three tourney berths, with the Horns being on on the bubble for the covid cancelled NCAAs of 2020.

There is always a “flavor of the month” hire in college hoops (Archie Miller, currently  might be the epitome of this), every season, and Smart probably held that title much longer than anybody else. To his credit, he took his time getting the gig he really wanted, staying at VCU much longer than anybody expected, following his famous First Four to Final Four run in 2011.

He turned down numerous jobs, including UCLA and this Illini basketball program that he’ll face early next week.

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Good for him in landing the destination he truly desired, and then also finding a solid parachute (very close to where he grew up too) when his time in UT fizzled.

The Oregon, Wisconsin native has been much more sizzle than steak so far. Speaking of overrated college basketball coaching, the man Smart took over for didn’t do a whole lot either.

Steve Wojchiechowski (also, currently a free agent) continued the tradition of the Coach K tree going absolutely nowhere as he also failed to win a single NCAA Tournament game during his seven seasons leading the Golden Eagles.

He qualified for three big dances, including the covid cancelled edition. Of course, he didn’t have the talent that Smart did in the Texas state capital- six top 100 rated recruits, including four 5-stars.

Woj, Mr. slapping the floor when you get back on defense himself, never established any true dominance on that end of the floor during his time in Brew City, but Smart could. Expect the Eagles to really swarm after the Illini guards in this one.

With no Cockburn to worry about, Smart would be intelligent to focus on trying to shut down Curbelo and company. The electric Puerto Rican playmaker said that his side’s point of emphasis, starting tomorrow ahead of Marquette, will be “defense, defense and defense.”

The Illini will need to match that intensity, on the less interesting and exciting of the two ends of the floor. Trent Frazier will be a big part of that.

Said Illini coach Brad Underwood: “Trent does what Trent does, which is harass everybody’s best guard into a really tough night, and had a nice night himself defensively.”

That would be Darryl Morsell, a familiar foe from his Maryland days. He had a career high 26 points in MU’s 75-70 win over New Hampshire last night. He comes into this one leading the team in scoring with 23.5 ppg. Forward Justin Smith and guard Stevie Mitchell are MU’s other double figures ppg scorers, with Marquette having won their two games by a combined 16.

They come in averaging 81.5 ppg and surrendering 73.5 ppg. The Illini, on the other hand, come in with an even 50 ppg allowed mark, but an identical 81.5ppg on offense.

Smart would be wise to also game plan around forward Coleman Hawkins, who comes in leading the team in rebounding, and guard Jacob Grandison, currently the Illini basketball leading scorer.

“Every time I make a play, it just elevates me,” said Hawkins. “When you bring energy, it just elevates other guys and it’s contagious.”

ESPN match-up predictor gives the Illini a 78% chance of winning this 6pm tip on FS1.

Prediction: Illini basketball 78, Marquette 64

MU will want to make this a low-scoring, limited possessions kind of game, but will ultimately fail in instilling their tempo. Look for a tight game, for the first 25-30 minutes, with Illinois pulling away late.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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