It's never a tough task facing one of college basketball's top teams, but that's the task facing the Illinois Fighting Illini tonight in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Illinois will face the top seed of the Southwest Regional, the Kansas Jayhawks, in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Illinois had a rough end to their season, but bounced back to defeat the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in their opening game by a score of 73-62. Kansas got off to a sluggish start against Boston University, but pulled away in the second half and came out with a 72-53 win.
The good folks at SB Nation's Illinois blog, Hail to the Orange, they know that they certainly aren't going to have an easy go of it tonight against the Jayhawks.
Against UNLV the Illini, the seniors in particular, played a game that many knew they were capable of, but few thought they ever would. Now the Illini need to do it again, and stand only forty minutes from becoming the only Illini team to ever knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
For the Illini to be successful, they are going to have to shoot the ball exceptionally well, especially from three point range, which means the guards are going to have to have stellar games once again. A lot off attention is going to payed down low, how the Illini attack offensively and react defensively to the Morris twins. They are incredibly talented players, and while Illinois matches up with them length wise they certainly don't size wise. I don't know ifwill be playing tonight or not, but I hope he does, because the Illini are at the least going to need his fouls, and the fouls of all the big men on the bench, to perhaps make the Morris twins beat the Illini at the line.
The same can be said for the Jayhawk fans that run SB Nation's Kansas blog, Rock Chalk Talk.
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.
The tip-off for this one is scheduled for 8:40 PM Central time, and you'll be able to see it on TNT, Channel 245 on your DirecTV box, or on whatever cable channel your provider sends it to you on.