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CHAMPAIGN — On seven occasions this college basketball season Illinois will play a game one day, have the next day off, then play again the following day.

“One day turnarounds,” is what coach Brad Underwood calls them.

They’re a challenge both physically and mentally.

Physically there’s a minimal amount of time for the body to bounce back from the first game. So Underwood has reminded players to get plenty of sleep, watch nutrition and be mindful of proper hydration.

With a first-year team that includes five freshmen, the mental challenge is a bigger issue. They must quickly absorb a new scouting report and know every detail of it. That’s a new concept for the freshmen.

After disposing of Augustana 96-62 on Wednesday, Illinois has another “one day turnaround” game tonight when it plays host to North Carolina Central at the State Farm Center. In fact, this will be Illinois’ fourth game in eight days and the final tuneup before the schedule becomes significantly more difficult.

On Tuesday Illinois plays its first road game of the season, at Wake Forest, as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. On Friday Illinois plays its Big Ten Conference opener against Northwestern at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Then a week from Sunday Illinois returns home to take on Maryland.

With the quality of the opposition about to rise, there’s a race internally to understand and learn more of Underwood’s complex spread offense. He said the team is making progress, but there’s a sense it may be another month or so before things are where the coach would like them.

Tonight will be another opportunity for experimentation.

“We need to get better offensively at what we do so that I can scheme when teams play us a certain way,” Underwood said. “(Against Augustana) I ran just two things out of our spread.

“We need to have a base so that I can continually exploit a matchup with Michael Finke, or if I want to put Mark Smith in post-ups to take advantage of mismatches.

“We’re not fluid enough yet. We’re getting there and (against Augustana) it was better. But we need to have everyone on the same page so I can start putting game plans together.

“Right now we’re just playing and we won’t be able to do that into the future.”

Smith has scored in double figures in each of the first five games. If he does it again tonight, he’ll be the first freshman to hit double figures in his first six games since Brian Cook did it in 2000.

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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