CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — No. 23 Illinois basketball faces its toughest test yet of the young season Tuesday night with No. 4 Marquette coming to Champaign for the Gavitt Games showdown at State Farm Center. Both teams start the night 2-0 with the Illini coming off a Friday night win over Oakland in a game they trailed early but pulled away late. The Golden Eagles beat Rider by 30 in their previous game but reigning Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek went down in that game with an injury and did not return. His availability is one of the biggest questions coming in for Marquette’s high-powered offense, currently ranked 24th in the country averaging 93.5 points per game.
Something will have to give in the game, with Illinois’ defense ranked 13th in the country, allowing an average of just 52.5 points per game. Finding the right mix and rotation of players has still been a work in progress through two games for Illini head coach Brad Underwood.
“It’s been different every game, it really has,” Underwood said. “The one thing I’ve been really proud of is going back to the Kansas exhibition, what was it the last five minutes of that game, we just kind of found a group and for different reasons. We’re still a little unsettled in roles, but guys got to keep practicing hard and we’re doing that.”
This is the final year of the Gavitt Games, the annual series between Big Ten and Big East schools. Scheduling remains an unknown going forward, with the Big Ten moving to 18 teams starting with the 2024-25 season. It not only impacts league play but also non-conference scheduling.
“Playing opponents like this is extremely beneficial,” Underwood said. “We’re going to continue to do that. We always like to play great competition anyways. I think teams will have to continue to search for quality opponents and it’s been great because they’re home-and-home. We get to take care of our fans.”
Illinois and Marquette tip-off at 7 p.m. from State Farm Center in a game broadcast on FS1.