MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The last time the 19th-ranked West Virginia University basketball team was in Brooklyn, things didn’t go its way. But the Mountaineers are ready to take New York by storm when they take on Illinois in the NIT Season Tip-Off on Thursday.
The Fighting Illini (4-1) are hoping to improve after going 15-19 last season.
Head Coach John Groce is now in his fifth season with Illinois and is hoping a veteran corps of players will get the Illini back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.
Illinois is coming off an 84-80 overtime loss at home to Winthrop on Monday.
Tracy Abrams and center Mike Thorne are sixth-year seniors who provide veteran leadership. Abrams is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard that is averaging 12.8 points per game this season.
The Illini have one of the Big Ten’s top players in forward Malcolm Hill. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior averaged 18.1 points and 6.6 rebounds last season. This year the big man has picked up right where he left off, averaging 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Forward Michael Finke is averaging 12.4 points and 7.4 rebounds while senior Maverick Morgan averages 10.4 points per contest.
The Mountaineers (3-0) made 15 3-pointers and shot 54.4 from the field during Sunday’s 100-41 win over New Hampshire. Esa Ahmad led WVU with 14 points. The sophomore is averaging 10.7 points per game this season.
Senior Nathan Adrian leads WVU in both scoring and rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forwards averages 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.
The Mountaineers forced 34 turnovers against the Wildcats and have forced 81 on the young season.
This will be the fifth meeting between WVU and Illinois but it’s the first meeting in 50 years. The Mountaineers won the last game 96-86 on Dec. 10, 1966 in Morgantown.
Head Coach Bob Huggins is 0-2 all-time against the Illini. Both losses stem from his tenure at Cincinnati.