The Hurricanes had absolutely no problems in their opening-round win over Pacific. They looked very much like the team that everyone has been familiar with this year which is a good sign for anyone that picked them to go far. Miami shot 12-for-22 from three-point range which made it almost impossible for Pacific to win. Along with that, they dominated the glass, especially Reggie Johnson who had 10 rebounds.
The Illini didn’t make things easy on themselves, but ended up beating Colorado in the end. After leading by 16 points at halftime, Illinois only had two points in the first 10 minutes of the second half and were losing by as much as five at one point. However, much like how they’ve been all season, once they hit one shot, they started to hit all of their shots which helped them get the lead back. They shot 8-for-31 from long range which is something they’ll need to improve on against the Hurricanes.
Illinois may be a seven seed, but their pedigree of wins this year — Gonzaga, Indiana and Butler — says differently. They are led by a trio of guards (Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams) that can all shoot and make things happen off the dribble. Of course when they aren’t hitting their shots, 10 minute droughts are possible. Those three will need to contain the trio on the other side of the cOurt in Shane LArkin, Durand SCott and Trey McKinney Jones. The main battle will be between Richardson and LArkin. Richardson was given the task of defending Colorado’s best players in their second-round Game and he put them in lockdown. LArkin, one of the best guards in the country, will be a tougher matchup. Paul is a player to keep an eye on for the Illini. He’s struggled in the last two Games, but has the ability to go off at any moment.
These teams aren’t just guards, though. Kenny Kadji is a big man for Miami who can stretch the floor with his three-point shot. Interestingly, Illinois also has a big man that shoots threes in Tyler Griffey. Those two will see a lot of each other on Sunday. One of the tougher matchups for the Illini will be dealing with Reggie Johnson down low. At almost 300 pounds, he is a complete force and not many can maneuver around him in the paint. Nnanna Egwu will likely get the task of trying to contain him from dominating the boards.
Both teams have a very similar offensive Game in which they love to shoot threes. There are usually at least three or Four guys on the cOurt at a time that will take a three-pointer for each team. The difference –and main advantage — for the Hurricanes is that they have a bigger presence in the paint. Johnson was already mentioned, but Julian Gamble is another big man that can make space down low.
Illinois will definitely put up a fight in this Game, but if they have any stretches of like they had against Colorado, they likely won’t be able to come back. Their head coach, John Groce, made it to the Sweet 16 last year with Ohio so he’s no stranger to a quick turnaround. It will be interesting to see how Jim LArranaga and his analytical Game plan works out with only one day of preparation.