Bradley (4-0) at Illinois (3-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 17, 6 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: State Farm Center (16,618) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: BTND, All-Access. Home Record: Bradley 4-0, Illinois 3-0. Away Record: Bradley 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Neutral Record: Bradley 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: Bradley 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Series Record: Illinois leads, 13-3.
GAME NOTES: The Bradley Braves and the Illinois Fighting Illini both put their unblemished records on the line, as they square off at the State Farm Center.
Following a 77-64 triumph over Chicago State on Friday night, Bradley is now 4-0 for the first time since 2010-11, and for just the third time since 1985-86. All four of the Braves' victories have come at home, however, and last season they displayed a vast disparity between their home (14-4) and away (4-10) ledgers.
Illinois, which opens the season with a five-game homestand, has started off very well, having beaten Alabama State (80-63), Jacksonville State (86-62) and Valparaiso (64-52). A fast start is hardly a surprise for the Illini, who are coming off a 23-win campaign and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
Although Illinois leads the all-time series with Bradley by a 13-3 count, the Braves won the last matchup in November of 2009, 72-68.
Bradley barely broke a sweat in its victory versus Chicago State in a game it never trailed and led by as many as 25. It shot greater than 47 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the foul line, but the output could have been even greater had the team not committed 22 turnovers. Omari Grier paced the winning effort with 19 points, draining 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Auston Barnes tallied a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Xzavier Taylor came off the bench to net 11. The Braves' dominant four-game run has resulted in a +14.0 scoring margin, a +11.8 rebounding margin and a field goal percentage of .509, and luckily their turnover problem (17.8 per game) has not come back to haunt them -- yet. Walt Lemon, Jr. (16.0 ppg) and Grier (15.5 ppg) are the top producers, while Auston Barnes (12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Tyshon Pickett (12.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) make up a formidable frontcourt duo.
The Illini managed to down Valparaiso, another team that made the NCAA Tournament field last March, on Wednesday night, despite shooting just 31.8 percent from the field. They used a strong defensive effort (holding Valpo to 32.8 percent from the floor) and a dominant rebounding performance (49-36) to pull away for the 12-point triumph. Of the four starters to reach double figures, Rayvonte Rice led the way with 18 points while also grabbing eight boards. Joseph Bertrand had 14 points, Tracy Abrams netted 12, Nnanna Egwu tallied 10 points and three blocks, and Jon Ekey hauled in 15 rebounds. Illinois has made a habit of playing outstanding defense this season, holding opponents to just 59.0 points per game on 33.5 percent field goal efficiency, while scoring more than enough points itself (76.7 ppg). Rice (17.7 ppg) and Bertrand (16.0 ppg) are the go-to options, while Abrams (11.3 ppg) and Egwu (10.0 ppg, 3.3 bpg) have been impressive in their own right. Four players average at least six rebounds per game, with Bertrand (8.0 rpg) pacing the group.
While Bradley has played well to open the season, it faces a new challenge hitting the road for the first time, and in another team's building its turnover problems could start to catch up, especially with Illinois playing lock-down defense in the early going.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 68, Bradley 62
11/17 10:34:22 ET