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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Illinois Fighting Illini Preview

Fighting Irish. Fighting Illini. There’s a fight joke here somewhere.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish looked more like a self-realized team on Saturday with a 95-point performance in a rout of DePaul at home. Rex Pflueger seemed to find his stroke after a sluggish start to the season, and freshmen Prentiss Hubb and Nate Lascewski added career-highs with 15 points apiece.

Now, with the Power Five part of the schedule ahead, Mike Brey would like to see his squad carry that momentum into tougher matchups, starting with Illinois on Tuesday. The Illini aren’t off to the best start this season, but figure to be a harder task than the likes of DePaul, Duquesne and Radford. Well, maybe not Radford.

So, with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge set to begin at the Purcell Pavilion Tuesday night, here’s what to look out for before tipoff:

Quick Facts

  • The Irish and Illini last met in 2015, which resulted in an 84-79 Notre Dame win.
  • Since joining the ACC, the Irish are 3-2 in the ACC / Big 10 Challenge
  • Notre Dame and Illinois have played 41 times in their history, with the Illini holding a 27-14 record over the Irish. Tuesday will be the first time the Illini visit South Bend in 63 years.
  • This year’s Illini are shooting 41 percent from downtown so far this year, so the perimeter defense for the Irish better keep those hands up, as the offense still isn’t in a position to keep pace in a shootout, at least not yet.

Where, When, And How To Watch

Where: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Tuesday, November 27th at 7:00 PM ET
How to Watch: ESPNU. Radio: Notre Dame Basketball Network (also available on the Notre Dame app)

Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4)

Unlike the Irish last season, the Illini didn’t enjoy their time at the Maui Invitational, suffering losses to Gonzaga, Iowa State, and eventually Xavier in the seventh-place game. The loss to the Musketeers marked a four-game skid for the Illini after falling to Georgetown at home before heading to Maui.

The Illini got back on track in their last contest, thanks to an easy blowout win over Mississippi Valley State, where the Illini shot 53 percent from three. They are near the top of the Big Ten in three-point percentage, but the key to handling the Illini is on the glass, and eliminating second chances at those three-pointers. This shouldn’t be too difficult of an assignment for big man John Mooney, and maybe Juwann Durham, as the Illini rank dead last in their conference in rebounding.

Illini to watch

Trent Frazier, Guard, Sophomore

Frazier leads the Illini with 17.6 points per game, but his presence can also be felt on the defensive end, as the sophomore averages over two steals per game, so he will be looking to feast on the Irish inexperienced ball handlers, or making things tough on T.J. Gibbs. Frazier also shoots 80 percent from the free throw line, so while the Irish need to play tight defense on a talented shooter like Frazier, they can’t get overly aggressive.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Illinois Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

T.J. Gibbs

Pflueger enjoyed a resurgent game on Saturday, and now it’s Gibbs’ turn. Sure, he’s leading the team in points per game, but he plays a ton of minutes and is shooting just 21 percent from three, compared to 41 percent last year. Pflueger and Gibbs need to lead the way in the backcourt while Brey’s crop of talented freshmen settle in, and Gibbs has to be a highlight of the offense. Tuesday would be a good time to start getting that three-point stroke right.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports