After two wins at home to open the season, Illinois jumped four time zones to Hawaii. The Illini play the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu Friday and will then head to Maui for three games next week.
First things first, here are a few things to track in tonight's contest…
1. Defending the paint. Or maybe this should read: bigs staying out of foul trouble. Against St. Francis, Sam McLaurin found himself with two fouls midway through the first half. That forced Groce to get crafty with his lineup.
With a 32-25 lead, he paired Myke Henry and Tyler Griffey – not exactly bangers -- down low. That lineup didn't actually stay in long, but that began a frenzy of substations that included the regular customers plus Devon Langford.
The result was a 13-0 run to finish the half.
While mixing and matching to account for Sam's foul trouble worked versus St. Francis, it's probably not something Groce wants to do tonight.
Hawaii's frontline goes 6-6, 6-8 and 6-10. The trio of Hauns Breretin, Christian Standhardinger and Vander Joaquim combined to average 49.3 in the Warriors first three games, which presents a challenge for an Illinois roster that isn’t all that deep in the event of foul trouble.
How will Illinois defend against such a frontline? And what happens if Nnanna Egwu or Sam McLaurin pick up early fouls?
2. Playing in the moment. So the team has spanned multiple time zones, visited Pearl Harbor and will play in the Maui Invitational next week. And, oh yeah, will play Hawaii tonight.
Playing five games in 10 days isn't easy -- but it's got to be a challenge when you're doing it in this fashion. Groce hasn't been shy about this trip being unfavorable scheduling in his view, but he's taking it like most things that come along -- as a chance to get better, a chance to find something out.
The focus and intensity in the St. Francis game -- played the day before leaving for Paradise -- could be an indicator this team is prepared to play through odd circumstances. Still, this will be the team's first road game and the opponent doesn't appear to be a pushover.
3. Abrams keeps it up. Sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams has been impressive to this point -- averaging 14 points and 4.5 assists.
But remember what was said following the first two games -- wait and see. Well, now is time to see what Abrams is about. The next 10 days will go a long way in determining if he can handle Groce's offense against good competition and in unfriendly surroundings. Average play won’t mean the end of the world, but good performances would mean good things could be in store down the road.
4. Who else stands out? Abrams has been a steady figure in the scoring column thus far. Point production has been an otherwise diverse portfolio. In the season opener, Brandon Paul carried the offense with 20 points. Monday against St. Francis Tyler Griffey emerged with 17.
Is it D.J. Richardson's turn or will Egwu jump off the box sheet? Somebody else? Points aren't always the best indicator of a good game, but it's a fun stat to talk about.