Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Colgate Raiders Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 17th 2023


This is the toughest time of the year for student-athletes, trying to balance final exams with the never-ceasing pressures of the college basketball schedule. No. 16 Illinois (7-2) and Colgate (6-4) return to the floor Sunday afternoon in Champaign, Ill., after a week’s worth of final exams wreaking havoc on their usual practice routines. “Obviously a really challenging opponent for us, especially at this time of the year,” said Colgate coach Matt Langel. “Exam week here is really hard. Guys are studying all hours of the day. Practices are fractured. But it’s an incredible opportunity to go to one of the premier programs in the country. They’re a team that looks to be positioned to compete at the top of the Big Ten.” If Illinois does battle No. 3 Purdue for Big Ten supremacy this season, fifth-year senior wing Terrence Shannon Jr. will have a lot to do with it. Ranked as the nation’s No. 3 player entering the weekend per Ken Pomeroy’s calculations — trailing only Purdue’s Zach Edey and Duke’s Kyle Filipowski — Shannon is averaging 21.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 42 percent on 3s. Shannon, a first-team all-Big Ten pick last year, has taken the next step this year thanks to a rigorous daily schedule. After taking his last final exam Monday, Shannon shared his daily preparations with a camera crew on Tuesday. It started in the practice gym at 5 a.m., when he made 800 3-pointers in an hour with rebounding and passing help from two team managers. Then came a deep-tissue massage (and smoothie) from strength coach Adam Fletcher, one hour and 45 minutes in a hyperbaric chamber, lifting, practice and 30 minutes in a red-light sauna. Then came lunch. “This is who he is every day,” Fletcher told the crew. “He takes a lot of pride in it. It’s unique to him. We put it up against any player in the country – in terms of what his routine is – to be one of the greatest players in college basketball.” Langel doesn’t need any convincing. “Shannon is really experienced,” he said. “He has individual performances that rival anyone in the country. You’ve certainly got to game-plan for him. And they’ve got pieces around him that can make shots.” And the Illini won’t need any convincing that Colgate will give them everything they want Sunday. The Raiders earned the Patriot League’s NCAA Tournament berth each of the last three years – and they’re the overwhelming favorite to repeat this season as they welcome back three starters. Sophomore point guard Braeden Smith boasts Colgate’s best numbers (14.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.4 apg) while 6-10, 250-pound center Keegan Records (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) was voted the Patriot League’s preseason Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and also serves as the conference’s reigning player of the week. Langel pumped up his team’s schedule this year to be prepared if the Raiders wind up in the NCAA Tournament again in March. They built a 24-point second-half lead on Nov. 14 at Syracuse before falling by 4. They trailed by just 5 at halftime on Dec. 2 at No. 2 Arizona before falling by 27. While Colgate never has defeated a nationally ranked team – which includes an 0-14 record during Langel’s 12-plus years at the helm – No. 25 Northwestern became a cautionary tale for the Illini Wednesday night when it became the victim of Chicago State’s first Top 25 triumph.

–Field Level Media

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