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Meet Illinois, a veteran but deeply flawed team

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Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 9 p.m. ET, Tuesday, Nov. 29

TV: ESPNU

Online streamingWatchESPN

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Illinois vitals

Record: 4-3
Pomeroy ranking: 94
Best win***: 79-64 over Northern Kentucky (No. 259 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss: 84-80 to Winthrop (No. 116 in Pomeroy Ratings)

(***Based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not margin of victory.)

Adjusted tempo: 68.8 poss/40 minutes (ranks 214th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 104.5 (ranks 108th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 98.9 (ranks 93rd)

Illinois roster
Illinois schedule
Illinois stats 2016 2017

The Illinois offense and starters

Illinois Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2015-16 50.2 (156) 14.9 (12) 21.5 (344) 30.5 (322)
2016-17 51.2 (128) 21.9 (284) 29.5 (182) 38.7 (132)

If this is a make-or-break year for fifth-year head coach John Groce, Illinois' start to the season is not ideal. After plowing through some tomato cans to open the season, the Illini have lost three straight, including double-digit losses to West Virginia and Florida State. The Illini are looking for signs of hope after finishing 2016 with a 15-19 (5-13) record, and so far there isn't much to like.

Offensively, at least, Illinois should be better in 2017 with a good chunk of production returning, including leading scorer Malcolm Hill. But the Illini did lose sharpshooter Kendrick Nunn this offseason--Nunn was dismissed following a domestic battery charge--which is not the sort of setback that Groce or Illinois need right now. Nunn averaged 15.5 points per game last season.

It's good news/bad news: losing a career 38% three-point shooter is bad, but since the Illini are built to score from the perimeter, they have enough other threats to remain a viable unit. This can still be an above-average three-point shooting team like it was last year. (And it had better be.)

Illinois' consistent problems under Groce have boiled down to offensive rebounding and getting to the line. These are not necessarily crucial factors to every team--if you are lights out in the shooting and turnover departments, for example, then offensive rebounds become far less important.

Illinois has taken great care of the ball over the last two seasons, but one of the roster's shortcomings has been a lack of low-post scoring threats. The Illini have been pretty bad when shooting inside the arc, which has dragged down the offense despite their accuracy from three. If Illinois is going to have a turnaround season, it needs to solve its scoring problem inside the arc, because the offense is going to have to lead the way back to prosperity.

Starters

Jaylon Tate (6-3, 170) -- Tate is unlikely to factor significantly into the scoring, as he shoots about as often as BeeJay Anya or Lennard Freeman. Over the course of his career, he's maintained an outstanding assist rate, but he is also incredibly prone to turnovers. He is 5-53 from three in his career.

Tracy Abrams (6-2, 185) -- Abrams desperately wants to be a major contributor from outside, and hey, maybe this is the year--he's 8-17 from three so far. For his career, however, he is only a 28% three-point shooter.

Malcolm Hill (6-6, 225) -- Here is your official Guy To Watch. He averaged 18.1 points per game in 2016 and is at 18.3 this year. Hill is a versatile wing player--he can shoot it from deep, he gets to the line a bunch (where he shoots 80%), and he's a pretty good passer. Illinois' offense runs through this kid, with good reason--he has been an efficient high-workload player since his sophomore year. (He's a senior now.)

Michael Finke (6-10, 230) -- A tough matchup because so far Finke has proven to be a solid three-point shooter. Pretty good offensive rebounder but not much on the defensive glass.

Maverick Morgan (6-10, 245) -- Hey, another Maverick! What are the odds. Illinois and NC State, #MaverickSolidarity. Morgan is a low-usage player with a decent shooting percentage in the paint--it's just that, y'know, he's not going to be shooting often. Dude is turnover prone and a terrible rebounder for his size.

The Illinois bench and defense

Reserves: Jalen Coleman-Lands (6-3, 190), Mike Thorne (6-11, 280), Aaron Jordan (6-5, 190), D.J. Williams (6-7, 210), Te'Jon Lucas (6-0, 170).

Thorne is a good rebounder at both ends and was a primary contributor at Charlotte before transferring to Illinois and spending a lot of time on the bench. Basically, he has the potential to be Random Good Game Guy.

Coleman-Lands made 42.2% of his 206 three pointers last year but is off to an ice-cold start to this season.

Illinois Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2015-16 53.6 (323) 19.0 (112) 28.1 (96) 26.5 (12)
2016-17 51.0 (202) 18.8 (192) 26.7 (88) 32.5 (124)

The Illini have done a pretty good job lately of keeping teams off the free throw line and grabbing defensive boards, but they've also not been any good at defending the paint or the perimeter, which is just a little bit more important. Illinois' defense bottomed out last season after a pretty good run, and so far this season there's not a lot of clear reasons for encouragement. Both their block and steal rates are terrible.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by one point.