Two teams that both had their season end in the first round of their conference tournaments tip off the their 2018-19 campaigns against each other on Thursday night in Champaign. Illinois went 14-18 a season ago, while the visiting Purple Aces of Evansville went 17-15.
Illini Eager to Get Under Way
Illinois fought through a tough 2017-18 season that saw them win just four of 18 conference games and finish in a three-way tie for 11th place in the 14-team Big 10 conference. The squad went 10-4 in the non-conference portion of their schedule but did not beat anybody of note unless you count a win over nearby rival Missouri. They closed the season by dropping seven of their final nine and were ousted in the first round of the Big Ten tourney by Iowa, 96-87.
— Illini Basketball (@IlliniMBB) November 7, 2018
The program has failed to reach the Big Dance the last five seasons and Brad Underwood is entering his second year at the helm hoping to change that. They lost their leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago but have brought in some fresh faces like freshman Ayo Dosumno who was a 5-star recruit and won a Gold medal with the USA U18 FIBA team. He will be assisted by Leron Black who averaged 15.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game a season ago. Aaron Jordan was third in the conference from beyond the arc a season ago with a 46.3 percentage and sophomore Trent Frazier was the leading freshman scorer in the league last year with 12.5 ppg. In their exhibition game, they took down Illinois Wesleyan 83-67.
Evansville Looking to Ace the Test
Illinois is coming off of a season that saw them race off to a 5-0 start, including a win over Fresno State in Mexico, and finish above .500. They have not gone dancing since the 1999 season and if they hope to do it this time around, then they are going to have to improve their in-conference play. They finished just 7-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference a season ago, in a three-way tie for 7th place in the 10-team conference, one game ahead of last place Valpo.
It was a total team effort today as the Purple Aces grabbed an 83-61 victory against New Mexico Highlands. UE opens regular season on Thursday at Illinois. Home opener is Nov. 15 vs. Kentucky Wesleyan. #GetOnBoard pic.twitter.com/HHkJqlw9bB
— Evansville Basketball (@UEAthletics_MBB) November 3, 2018
The squad lost thier three top scorers from a season ago. Ryan Taylor, Dru Smith, and Blake Simmons were the only players on the roster that were averaging double figures so they will now have to rely on the likes of Junior K.J. Riley and senior Dainius Chatkevicus for scoring. They are capable of doing it and proved as such in their exhibition victory over New Mexico Highlands on Saturday. Riley had 16 while Chatkevicius led the squad with 17 points and eight boards. The team also will have to play the season out without Deandre Williams, who will be eligible to suit up for game action next year.
- 3-1-1 ATS in their last 5 road games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Neither one of these teams strike me as particularly good and Illinois probably does not have any business being a heavy favorite against anybody at this point. Until the Illini can prove that they are ready to take the next step then the jury will remain out on them. This almost feels like it has early season upset potential, but Illinois will probably find a way to win . . . just not big.
Prediction: Pick: Evansville +13.5
Full-Game Total Pick
This is a big total for two teams that lost so much scoring. Considering that this is the first game of the season that actually counts, you can expect a lot of Unders to be hitting this week as offense try to find their way. This will be one of them. Evansville has hit the Under in 6 of their lsat seven overall and four of their last five against the Big Ten.
Prediction: Under 147