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Hoops Preview: Illinois

The Longhorns are headed to New York to take on Illinois in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Get opponent strengths, weaknesses and the keys to the game from Inside Texas Basketball Coaches Corner moderator Tim Preston.
Hoops Preview: IllinoisDate: Thursday, November 18Time: 8:30 CentralTelevision: ESPN2Location: Madison Square Garden, New York CityOpponent Strengths: Experience and talent. Illinois returns all five of their starters, plus adds the best recruiting class that they’ve had under Weber. On paper, Illinois has a chance to be one of the top teams in the country (including ESPN Analyst Doug Gottleib’s pick to win the Big 10 and make it to the Final Four). Depth. Illinois can come at you in waves. With nine players averaging at least 16 minutes per game over three contests, they force teams to keep fresh bodies on the floor to compete with their length (six players 6’7” or taller) and perimeter quickness.Offensive efficiency. The Illini are hitting at a very high percentage through three games and are excellent at making teams guard the entire half court because of their willingness to get inside of the three point line and attack the paint. No one on the Illini is averaging more than three 3pt field goal attempts per game (as opposed to 7 per game for Jordan and 3.5 per game for Cory and J’Covan).Illinois looks to be led by Senior All-Big Ten point guard Demetri McCamey. McCamey flirted with leaving for the NBA last year before ultimately opting to return to Illinois for his last year of eligibility. Demetri excels in the halfcourt and has shown more athleticism than last season. For this season, McCamey is averaging 15 points and 8 assists per game on 60% shooting overall.Mike Davis, a 6’9” Senior power forward is also capable of putting up good numbers. Davis is very savvy around the basket and uses his athleticism to keep rebounds and possessions alive. Mike also has shooting range out to ten feet that has to be accounted for. Davis led the Big 10 in rebounding last season.Opponent Weakness: Ball control. If you take away McCamey’s numbers, Illinois has two more turnovers than assists as a team this season. This is important because it harkens back to last season when the Illini found themselves unable to get big baskets because of a lack of ball movement. This is problematic because of the necessity of passing in Weber’s 5-Out Motion offense. It’s also compounded because the Illini are not a team that will create steals with their defense.Rebounding. If you take away their +19 rebounding performance against a severely outmatched Toledo team, Illinois is averaging a +1.5 rebound margin over their other two games. That is sub par for a team with their height and length. Free Throw Shooting. While Illinois is shoots a respectable 68% from the charity stripe, they only are averaging 16 free throw attempts per game. This is too low for a team that gets into the lane with the frequency of Illinois and, along with their rebounding numbers, continues to bring into question their toughness as a team. The Illini’s unwillingness to absorb contact with the basketball was their undoing in multiple close games last year. They will only make the strides as a team that they are hoping for if they can generate the hardnosed attitude that it takes to win in the Big 10.Texas Keys: OffenseFirst and foremost, Texas needs Hamilton and Brown to play up to their capabilities this week to be successful. Illinois will pose a difficult matchup for Johnson with their length and expecting freshmen, even very talented ones like Cory and Tristan, to perform at their highest levels is tenuous. Traditionally, Bruce Weber led teams have been predicated on fundamentally sound man defense. That’s Illinois’s hope this year as well, but they are susceptible to well spaced offenses and offenses that set good screens/backdoor cut well.Texas will be able to get looks out of the half court set, but will likely not see as many breakdown (loose balls, deflections, free rebounds) situations as they have in their first two games. It will be essential for Texas’s ball handlers to exhibit good recognition and attack the lane when the opportunity arises because the lanes are going to be there with how honestly Illinois tends to play, defensively.The Longhorns will need to continue their commitment to pushing the ball in transition off of defensive rebounds and off of turnovers. While Illinois is deep, their ball handling drops off considerably after McCamey, so pressuring their wings to be decision makers in an up tempo game will play into Texas’s hands.Texas must shoot a better percentage from outside the arc than it has in its first two games. 24% will not be good enough to beat an Illinois team that is efficient, offensively. Texas also needs to focus on attacking the rim both in transition and in the half court because Illinois’s interior players are foul prone and, with the exception of 7’1” Mike Tisdale, are not terribly good help defenders/shot blockers.Texas Keys: DefenseAwareness and recognition. Illinois can attack you from every starting position (players like DJ Richardson, Brandon Paul and Jereme Richmond all are capable of putting up big numbers) and Texas must not lose defensive contact or Illinois will hurt you with staggered screens, backdoor cuts, and pick and slide situations. The Illini’s offense is comparable to the random screen offense in that the defense must be prepared for multiple looks out of the screen as it is predicated on vision and exploiting what the defense gives you. The Longhorns must not overplay the hedge or Illinois has the athletes to turn the corner and attack the paint.Individually, Dogus and Cory must limit the spacing and looks that McCamey is able to get because he’s capable of creating out of just about any situation. We’re better off with him forcing shots from the outside than facilitating from inside the arc. Their defensive effectiveness will be a huge indicator to how the game goes.Elsewhere, Jordan and J’Covan must not have lapses in spatial integrity because a player like Richardson or Paul can hurt you with the perimeter shot or drive and finish/dish.Don’t be surprised to see some zone looks from the Horns in an attempt to keep their ball handlers out of the lane.The EndgameElite teams prove that they’re elite in games like Thursday’s. Illinois is coming off of a season in which they rather dramatically underachieved so the return of their entire lineup is not intrinsically good for them. Of course, the same can be said for us.I think the keys to watch for Texas will be J’Covan’s ability to attack in the half court and Jordan’s offensive efficiency. If either player struggles to play up to their abilities, Texas will struggle creating offense. But if they both come to play (as both of them showed a tendency to do against big competition last year) we’re going to be tough for Illinois to defend.Plus, personnel wise, we match up with Illinois well.Prediction: Texas 82 – Illinois 74Projected Starting LineupJosephBalbayHamiltonJohnsonHill