Illinois Fighting Illini
Why They Can Surprise:
Illinois has won games this year with their defense. The unit is not great or flashy, but they are extremely efficient. They will not force a bunch of turnovers, but Coach Bruce Weber’s squad will get a hand up in the shooters face more often than not. Because of that the opposition shoots just 39.7 percent and scores just 56.9 points per game.
The other major factor contributing to the success of the Fighting Illini is the play of guards Chester Frazier and Demetri McCamey. McCamey is the team’s leading scorer and will score in a variety of ways, but more importantly the starting duo both rank in the top 50 in assist-to-turnover ratio. It is that smart, efficient play that makes up for the lack of offensive firepower.
Why They Can Disappoint:
But it is that lack of scoring prowess that can stop the Illini in their tracks. The problem has been much more prominent during Big Ten play like when Illinois lost 59-36 to Minnesota. During much of the conference season McCamey’s outside shot was not falling and thus the team struggled to score. The only other shooter on the team is Trent Meacham and while he has connected on 41.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, he is still a pretty streaky shooter whose numbers have taken a big drop against tougher competition. Even when the shots are falling, Illinois has to worry about grabbing some rebounds. The starting frontcourt duo of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale has done a superb job, but Tisdale, despite his 7-1 frame, is not a strong rebounder. Adding to the problem is the fact that the starting backcourt is 6-2, 6-2 and 6-3 and do not help out on the glass very much.
Who To Watch:
Tisdale will help out in other ways though. The sophomore averaged 11.0 points per game on the year and is a major shotblocking threat. Like Tisdale, Davis has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat around the basket and one of the conference’s best rebounders. Those two hardly played as freshmen last year and they are still prone to make mistakes. Those mistakes, especially for Tisdale, are often committing bad fouls and the Illini bench up front is limited to 6-7 junior Dominique Keller and raw center Richard Semrau. As long as Tisdale and Davis are on the floor, the Illini offense can be very productive, but the young big men need help from the backcourt to get the offense clicking on all cylinders.
Last NCAA Appearance: 2007, First Round loss to Virginia Tech
Coach: Bruce Weber (10-6 in 6 NCAA appearances)
Chester Frazier, Senior, Guard
Demetri McCamey, Sophomore, Guard
Trent Meacham, Senior, Guard
Mike Davis, Sophomore, Forward
Mike Tisdale, Sophomore, Center
Calvin Brock, Senior, Guard
Dominique Keller, Junior, Forward
Alex Legion, Sophomore, Guard
Richard Semrau, Sophomore, Center
+ Following final Bracket announcement, more team info will be added, including final RPI, final team statistical rankings, Joel's prediction, and more!