Strengths, weaknesses and players to watch from UNLV, Illinois
All statistics courtesy of KenPom.com and are current as of March 16.
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 24th
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.