American U.-Illinois Preview

Just like last season, Illinois' stay in the Top 25 figures to be a short one.

The 24th-ranked Fighting Illini look to bounce back from their first loss when they host American on Saturday before heading to New York for a matchup with No. 10 Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic.

Illinois jumped out to a 6-0 start and moved into the poll Monday, but a 70-61 loss to No. 15 Miami in its first true road game the following night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will probably bump it from the next rankings.

The Fighting Illini missed 10 of their final 11 attempts and shot 33.3 percent in their second straight poor offensive performance. They averaged 95.6 points and shot 49.8 percent in the first five games before making 39.0 percent of their attempts in a 62-54 win over Baylor in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational last Friday.

''I was proud of our guys,'' coach John Groce said Tuesday. ''Thank goodness they fought and their effort was really good, because the execution was awful. Our heart was in the right place. We just have to play a heck of a lot smarter.''

Illinois went 7 for 30 from 3-point range and missed 46 shots. Rayvonte Rice led the Illini with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Malcolm Hill scored 13, but the rest of the team shot 23.3 percent.

''I'd say 50 percent we just missed, and 50 percent we were out of rhythm a little bit,'' Groce said. ''We needed to be a little bit more patient.''

Last season, the Fighting Illini entered the Top 25 on Jan. 6, but they lost twice that week and were knocked out. A second straight defeat this time around doesn't seem likely with American (5-3) paying them a visit.

The Eagles are in the midst of playing nine of their first 10 away from home, and they concluded a stretch of six games in 13 days with a 66-49 win at Brown on Wednesday.

American held a 37-21 scoring advantage after halftime en route to establishing season highs in points and rebounds (34) while matching a season best by shooting 50.0 percent.

"Our guys down low have worked very hard and did well for us tonight," coach Mike Brennan said. "We often talk about getting better every day and even though we are playing several games in a short amount of time, I thought we did a good job of doing that tonight."

Junior guard Jesse Reed had a season-high 22 points and added eight rebounds for the second straight game, while junior center Zach Elcano set career bests with 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and 38 minutes played.

The Eagles' two matchups with ranked opponents last season were also against Big Ten teams. They lost 63-52 at No. 8 Ohio State on Nov. 20 and 75-35 to 12th-ranked and second-seeded Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Illinois beat American 109-84 in the teams' only meeting Dec. 11, 1993, in the Illini Invitational.

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