Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 11, 2015

Three wins in a row. Four wins in five games. Five wins in seven games. Any way you slice it, Illinois is hot. And it can thank Malcolm Hill.


Hill has emerged as a driving force for Illinois? push for an NCAA tourney bid, which the program missed out on last season. He averages 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds after netting 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds as a freshman. The 6-6, 230-pound sophomore from Belleville, Ill., has upped his production since Rayvonte Rice first went out with an injury suffered Jan. 3, then was suspended; Rice hasn?t played since.

Hill has scored in double-figures in each game since Rice?s absence, helping the Fighting Illini to a 6-3 record without its best player. Hill played a big role in perhaps Illinois? biggest victory to date, a 59-54 triumph at Michigan State last Saturday in which he tallied a team-high 19 points with six rebounds.

Illinois (16-8 overall; 6-5 Big Ten) plays host to Michigan on Thursday.

I caught up with Hill as he prepped for the Wolverines.

Q: How has your role evolved since Rice has been out?
A: I have become more of a scorer. I have been playing the ?3? spot more. I also am asked to play hard on defense and rebound while also staying aggressive on offense. It has been a team effort with Rayvonte.

Q: Who is the most underrated player on the team?
A: I would probably say Jaylon (Tate). He has gotten better from a skill standpoint and also from a leadership standpoint. He also shows a lot of good leadership off the court. When it?s just us out there playing, he really takes control from the backcourt.

Q: Have you noticed defenses keying on you?
A: A little bit. They are more focused on me this year than they were last year. I don?t like to try to force things if defenses are on me. If I get double-teamed, I look to pass the ball. We have done a good job setting screens for each other, shaking players loose for shots.

Q: What is your best move?
A: I don?t think I have one. I don?t have a go-to move. If there is an opening, I?ll take it.

Q: Do you have a favorite play?
A: Not really. Basically, any play on the wing where I get a ball screen is it.

Q: What is the loudest arena you have played in?
A: At Michigan State is pretty loud. The Illinois-Missouri game in St. Louis also was loud.

Q: Is there any Big Ten arena you like to shoot in the most?
A: I like Michigan State?s arena. I think they have a nice set up to their gym. The rims are soft. It?s a good environment.

Q: Who has been the best defender you have faced?
A: I?m not sure. There are a lot of good defenders. And I?m not usually guarded by just one guy. It?s the whole team.

Q: What is the maddest you have seen Coach Groce?
A: At Minnesota this season when they went on a big run and the game got away from us.

Q: How is Rayvonte Rice doing?
A: He is doing good. He is getting better in these practices. He has been practicing well lately, working hard, improving.

Q: What is the best place to get pizza in Champaign-Urbana?
A: I would say Rosati?s. I like to get the pepperoni. Keep it simple.

Q: What would it mean to get this team to the NCAA tourney?
A: It would mean a lot, especially for the seniors. This is their last go-around, and especially since we didn?t make it last year. I think we are in position now where we can make the tournament. I don?t want to let this chance slip away.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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