Well, the time has finally come. Just as Kansas fans got their shot at revenge when they squared off against Roy Williams and North Carolina in 2008, Illinois fans now have the matchup against a coach who left them for "greener pastures" in the coaching carousel that followed the 2003 season.
Fortunately for Bill Self, none of the players on either squad has any connection to that time and those changes, but certainly the Illini fanbase does, the media will hype the game that way and most likely Kansas fans will treat it as a game with a little more meaning because of it as well.
It's Bruce Weber's Illini and Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks squaring off in Tulsa and one team is coming off an impressive first round win, while the other is going to have to brush off a sluggish start to avoid a second consecutive first weekend exit.
|Rank and Records||Illini||KU|
|Strength of Schedule||#19||#15|
|RPI Top 50||7-10||9-2|
To start, Illinois is experienced. They don't go nearly as deep as Kansas with a fairly consistent seven man rotation, but four of their starters are seniors and in March that is invaluable when it comes to "the upset".
The Illini are led by senior point guard and an NBA talent in Demetri McCamey. McCamey is a thick 6'3" point guard from the state of Illinois and he averages 14.9 points and 6.1 assists per contest. He's a player that understands the game of basketball, uses his body well and is a reliable shooter averaging over 45% from beyond the arc. McCamey will be priority number one for Kansas as he's the engine for Illinois and if he gets going either by scoring or creating, the Illinois offense can become fairly strong.
6'9" senior forward Mike Davis is second on the team in scoring for the Illini and the only other player in the regular rotation to average double figures on the season at 12.3 points. Davis also averages 7.1 rebounds per game and does a nice job in terms of providing efficient offense on the interior for Illinois.
7' senior Mike Tisdale isn't a 7 footer in the sense of Cole Aldrich but fancies himself a little more in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki. Tisdale averages 9.9 points and 6.4 boards per game while shooting at a clip of 43% from beyond the arc. The pattern here is that the Illini are pretty clearly a team that shoots the ball well. Physically Tisdale isn't imposing on the interior but his ability to step out does impact a team on the defensive end in terms of matchups and rebounding.
The lone non-senior starter is sophomore guard Brandon Paul. Paul checks in at 6'4" continuing the trend of length in the Illini rotation and while averaging 9.2 points per contest, Paul might be the lowest percentage shooter on the team at just shy of 40%. Some of that is just inexperience and shot selection, Paul is definitely not someone that should be ignored on the perimeter.
6'9" senior Bill Cole rounds out the starters averaging just 5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, but in a matchup against Kansas this is another big disruptive body that will challenge the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson down low.
6'3" sophomore guard DJ Richardson and 6'7" freshman guard/forward Jereme Richmond round out the Illini regulars and the two average 8.2 and 7.6 points per game off the bench respectively.
Good size, experience and efficiency on both ends of the floor make this a matchup against a no. 9 that probably should be much better than a no. 9. That either speaks to the strength of the Big 10 or indicates a team that has underachieved. Sunday's result probably gives an indication of both.
Statistically speaking the Illini are a top 25 offense and a top 20 defense. They shoot the ball very well and they force you into contested shots resulting in a pretty strong defense. Their size and length is a big part of that as is their experience. Their biggest weakness is that they come across as a little soft at times. They aren't a team that is great at attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line and they don't force you into a lot of mistakes on the offensive end. All in all they are very sound offensively and defensively but a team that can be managed through smart and consistent basketball.
Probably the most interesting fact regarding Illinois is the fact that they HAVE NOT won back to back games since beating Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern in consecutive games all the way back at the end of December and early January. That's over two months without consecutive wins. Again, that either speaks to the strength of the Big 10 or just shows how much this team has underachieved at times this season.
Illinois is a team that has 6 wins and 11 losses away from Champaign. Those wins are over Maryland, Western Michigan, Gonzaga(early season), Iowa, Minnesota and UNLV. Losses include Missouri, Texas, UIC, Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan.
Glancing at the most recent game in last nights win over UNLV the Illini might have played their best game in quite awhile. Mike Davis went for 22 points and the Illini shot 60% from the field and 53% from three resulting in a eFG% of 67%. That's big and that would be tough to stop if Illinois can do that again. The good news for Kansas is that the Illini don't shoot that well night in and night out. That level of efficiency was out of the norm, but the rest of what Illinois didn't wasn't. Illinois still didn't force many turnovers, they still didn't look overly impressive on the offensive glass and they didn't get to the free throw line. UNLV won those battles, Illinois just shared the ball EXTREMELY well with 21 assists on 28 field goals and they knocked down the open look. It was a very solid game for Illinois, now they have to replicate it.
Obviously if you're looking at the last game these two teams played and trying to find and indicator for this one it doesn't look good for the Jayhawks. Kansas looked tight, they looked sluggish and Illinois looked like a machine. Fortunately Sunday is a new day and both teams could look completely different.
The Jayhawks are 8.5 point favorites but for my money I think this is going to be a battle. Illinois has some size to be disruptive for the Kansas bigs, but fortunately the name Illinois is on the other jersey carries some weight as a BCS opponent and not a mid major. I think this is a game that is too close for comfort down to about the last four minutes. At that point Kansas needs to put some distance between themselves and Illinois similar to what they did late in the season against A&M or the pressure could become a little bit too much.
After Richmond and Morehead won on Thursday in Denver I made the statement that the Elite Eight was the minimum for this group and that still needs to be the case. But after Friday, this second game and Illinois specifically, looks quite a bit more difficult than I had expected.