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Strengths, weaknesses and players to watch from UNLV, Illinois

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All statistics courtesy of KenPom.com and are current as of March 16.

Team: UNLV
Record: 24-8
Seed: 8
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 24th

Strengths

Though UNLV is fairly balanced, its strength lies in its defense.

The Runnin’ Rebels rank 14th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which, if they played in the Big 12, would rank third behind Texas (first) and Kansas (12th).

UNLV likes to pressure defensively, forcing turnovers on 24.1 percent of its opponents’ possessions (17th nationally). The Rebels also force other teams into tough shots, as opponents have made just 43.8 percent of their two-pointers (29th nationally) and 32.4 percent of their three-pointers (64th nationally).

Offensively, UNLV’s strength is inside with its big men. The Rebels make 51.6 percent of their twos (30th nationally) while avoiding blocked shots and turnovers.

UNLV has just 6.6 percent of its two-pointers blocked (14th nationally) and has just 7.5 percent of its possessions end in opponents’ steals (16th nationally).

Weaknesses

UNLV doesn’t shoot three-pointers well, making just 33.1 percent of their shots from long range (224th nationally). In fact, the Red Rebels have just two players that shoot better than 34 percent from three-point range on their roster (For comparison, KU has 10 players that shoot better than 34 percent from three, and all of them shoot at least 36 percent). UNLV also is foul-prone defensively, allowing 21.1 free throws per game.

Players to Watch

Obviously, 6-foot-8 Quintrell Thomas is a player to watch after transferring from KU two years ago. Though he’s averaging just 15.2 minutes per game and 6.6 points, he played well in the Mountain West Tournament, where in two games, he combined to score 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting with nine rebounds and five blocks in just 34 minutes.

Six-foot-4 senior guard Tre’Von Willis is UNLV’s go-to guy, posting a team-high 13.5 points to go with 3.6 assists per game.

He’s also dangerous defensively, where he posts steals on 3.3 percent of the opposition’s possessions (124th nationally).

Six-foot-8 forward Chace Stanback, at 13.0 points per game, is more efficient than Willis because of his low-turnover count (one turnover every 20.7 minutes). He also can hit shots from the outside, making 47 of 125 three-pointers (37.6 percent) this season. He’s been especially hot lately, as he made 8 of 13 threes (61.5 percent) during two games at the Mountain West tournament.

Though he plays just 18.8 minutes per game, also look out for 6-foot-3 guard Justin Hawkins off the bench. The sophomore comes up with steals on 4.0 percent of his defensive possessions (38th nationally) while turning it over just once every 26.1 minutes.

Bottom Line

The Runnin’ Rebels record is deceiving, as six of their eight losses have come to top-13 KenPom teams.

UNLV could create problems for KU if it’s able to speed the Jayhawks up and force them into turnovers. The Runnin’ Rebels also have four players 6-foot-8 or taller, meaning they have a lot of bodies to throw at KU’s talented frontcourt.

Obviously KU has the edge if these two teams meet, but this wouldn’t be a pushover for the Jayhawks. UNLV was only a one-point underdog at home against San Diego State in the MWC tournament on Friday (a 74-72 loss), meaning KU most likely would be only be about an eight-point favorite if these two teams met in the round of 32.

Team: Illinois
Record: 19-13
Seed: 9
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 20th

Strengths Another balanced team, Illinois ranks 33rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Offensively, the Illini shoot it well, making 50.4 percent of their twos (69th nationally), 38.7 percent of their threes (22nd nationally) and 72.9 percent of their free throws (63rd nationally).

Defensively, Illinois defends three-pointers well, as opponents have made just 30.5 percent of their threes this year (16th-best nationally). The Illini also block 12.4 percent of their opponents’ two-point attempts (35th nationally).

Illinois also is the tallest team in the nation, with its average player measuring a shade over 6-foot-7. The Illini play two 7-footers and four other forwards who are 6-8 or taller.

Weaknesses

Illinois hardly ever gets to the free throw line, averaging just 16.1 foul shots per game (To compare, KU averages 23.4 free throws per game).

For being such a tall team, Illinois is only average on the offensive glass, grabbing just 32.4 percent of the available offensive rebounds (NCAA average is 32.3 percent).

The Illini don’t force many turnovers defensively, as opponents give it away on just 18.7 percent of their possessions (259th nationally). They also have the bad habit of fouling the opposition’s guards, as Illinois’ opponents have made 72.3 percent of their free throws.

It’s true that Illinois has faced a brutal schedule (fifth-toughest, according to KenPom), but the Illini still haven’t been winning many games as of late. After starting the season 13-3, Illinois has gone 6-10 in its last 16 games. The Illini have not won consecutive games since Jan. 2 and 6, and have also lost four of their last six.

Players to Watch

Six-foot-3 senior guard Demetri McCamey is Illinois’ best player, averaging 14.8 points and 6.1 assists per game.

He contributes 35.8 percent of Illinois’ assists while he’s on the court, which ranks 21st nationally, and also is a great three-point shooter, making 70 of 154 treys (45.5 percent).

Seven-foot-1 Mike Tisdale provides a boost on the offensive glass, grabbing 11.1 percent of the available offensive rebounds (201st nationally). The big man is a dangerous shooter from anywhere on the court, making 53.6 percent of his twos (103 of 192), 43.5 percent of his threes (20 of 46) and 80 percent of his free throws (56 of 70). He’s also a defensive presence, blocking 6.8 percent of opponents’ two-pointers when he’s in (88th nationally).

Six-foot-9 senior forward Mike Davis also provides some offensive punch, making 53.1 percent of his two-pointers. He’s also Illinois’ best defensive rebounder, coming away with the carom on 18.4 percent of the opposition’s missed shots during his minutes.

Bottom Line

Not only did KU draw KenPom’s top-rated No. 8 seed in the tournament (UNLV), it also drew KenPom’s top-rated No. 9 seed in Illinois.

The Illini have suffered from some tough luck this year, posting a 2-8 record in games decided by seven points or fewer. They also haven’t performed well against elite opponents, going 1-6 against KenPom top-10 teams. An upset over KU would be unlikely, but not out of the question. Illinois was only a 10.5-point underdog at Ohio State on Feb. 22, meaning on a semi-home court for KU in Tulsa, Okla., the Jayhawks would likely be about nine-point favorites.

Comments

ParisHawk 9 years, 2 months ago

I promise to read this article if and when we beat BU. BU is our last game until we beat them.

KGphoto 9 years, 2 months ago

I couldn't have said it any better. If nothing else, this is like slapping BU in the face. I don't have anything against BU.

Jesse, why?

slowplay 9 years, 2 months ago

You don't think the KU coaches are already game planning for this scenario? If KU was playing Duke in the first round, you still have to assume you are going to move on and begin planning for the next round(s). The players need to stay focused - not the coaches or the fans. This is not about "dissin" BU, it's about being ready for the future.

Marcia Parsons 9 years, 2 months ago

I thought he had already done BU. Maybe I read it somewhere else.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 2 months ago

"third-round" game won't be easy.

UNLV or Illinois... either way we're facing a kenpom top 25 opponent.

I'm interested to see who we end up facing. I picked UNLV.

Steve Gantz 9 years, 2 months ago

Growing up in Illinois I've kept an interest in Illinois all these years, and still watch them when I can. If, and that's a big if, we have to play them it could be a much tougher matchup than the 1-8/9 game usually is. My anticipation for Illinois this year was that they'd be a top 'teen' team, ranked all year, not quite enough to crack the top ten. If they play like they're capable of they'll be a tough out. However, they haven't beaten anyone of significance all year, their best wins of the year being over Wisconsin and Gonzaga.

rockchalk_dpu 9 years, 2 months ago

Although Illinois is one of the taller teams we would face, after watching a few of their games throughout the season, it is really obvious that they are big players in the Big 10(11/12) sense, not the Big 12 sense in that they are not fast up and down the court and likely couldn't compete for long stretches in a game with us. This article is however prefaced by the fact that we must get through BU first (however likely that may be) and then we can focus on the next game.

Slowplay, you are correct that the coaches are looking one game ahead and HCBS has even told us which coaches spent time prepping game film for the third round game, but the players shouldn't be looking ahead, and neither should we as fans. The fact that a loss to a 16 seed has never happened before doesn't guarantee that it never will happen. One game at a time, win the 2 game tournament each week and eventually you cut down the nets as National Champions.

slowplay 9 years, 2 months ago

I don't believe in this "one game at a time" philosophy (for fans, not players). I'm already looking at a Sryacuse/KU Final. I believe KU can win this thing, looking ahead has no bearing on the outcome.

rockchalk_dpu 9 years, 2 months ago

I think that we as fans can look ahead, but the coaches and teams shouldn't just walk into this tournament and say "every media person and the President are picking us to win. This should be an easy 3 weeks." Teams get into trouble by selling opponents short and looking past them thinking that a win is a guaranteed thing based on the seeds and the talent levels of the teams. We've seen numerous times when a team in any sport looks ahead to the next big game and has a letdown when it costs them the most. For that reason, I don't want our team looking past each team we play each week, no one is going to tell you that you can't do that.

RCJ

PhogAdvisory 9 years, 2 months ago

I'm not going to read this article until after we've beaten BU, because I have gone absolutely insane with superstition this past week... but I appreciate the scouting report regardless.

KU_FanSince75 9 years, 2 months ago

KSA----go suck on a tail pipe.

If we do look ahead, we'll get beat. With this group, I truly believe it will not happen. I would rather play Illinois than UNLV, but that's just me. We played UNLV two years ago on our way to the NC. It really doesn't matter. Please no close games. Most of the games on Thursday were close and if you have a team hang around (uh, look at Louisville), then there's always that possibility that the Madness will set in. Rock Chalk!

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