The Providence Friars welcome the Illinois Fighting Illini to Dave Gavitt Court inside the Dunkin' Donuts Center for their inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup on Wednesday. The Friars are 1-0 after defeating Harvard in the season opener on November 14th, while Illinois is 1-1 after falling against North Florida on November 13th and defeating North Dakota State on November 15th. This will be the third meeting all-time for Providence and Illinois and it will be the first time they will meet outside Madison Square Garden during the month of December. The Friars defeated the Illini in December 1965 and December 2003 at MSG and that 2003 win was the last time Providence beat a team from the Big Ten conference. The Friars are 14-17 all-time against the Big Ten
1. Dunn Stays Wild
Keeping with the theme from the first 3-point preview of Providence's season I'll say that Kris Dunn went wild against Harvard. The inexperienced backcourt for Tommy Amaker's squad presented a golden opportunity for Dunn to make an early season splash and the Friar leader did just that. His 32 points and 8 steals were career-highs and he added 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 36 minutes. A repeat of that kind of stat line would be asking a lot but Dunn can do it and Illinois, while more experienced in the backcourt than Harvard, is thin at the point guard position due to a second straight season-ending injury in the preseason by Tracy Abrams. Look for Dunn to go wild again.
2. Bullock for Real
Last week I had a question mark on this point. That's now gone. Rodney Bullock was the second-leading scorer for Providence against Harvard with 20 points in his first career game that counted. Bullock was impressive again and showed versatility in his scoring. It was clear that Bullock is going to be a key scoring cog for Ed Cooley this season and his ability to put the ball in the basket appeared to take some of the pressure off Dunn who struggled early in that Harvard game before scoring 23 of his 32 points in the final 15:45 of the game. Bullock was efficient from the field -- going 8/14 -- and grabbed 6 rebounds while blocking 3 shots. Bullock needs to stay out of foul trouble against the larger Illini frontcourt but if he does that I expect him to have another impressive scoring outing.
3. Defending Thorne, Jr. a Challenge
Through Illinois' first two games Mike Thorne, Jr. is leading the Illini in both scoring and rebounding. The graduate transfer from the Charlotte 49ers has been a force in the paint for John Groce's squad and that doesn't figure to change against an undersized and inexperienced Providence froncourt. Ben Bentil and Quadree Smith are the two players that will be tasked with slowing Thorne, Jr. down on Wednesday night. The key will be to stay out of foul trouble because beyond those two the next player off the bench for Cooley might be sophomore walk-on Tom Planek, listed at 6'6 and 205 pounds. Expect Providence to mix in some zone and some double-teams to keep the ball away from Thorne, Jr. as much as possible.
Check out this preview podcast I did with The Champaign Room: