The late night contest in Tulsa is a meeting of the underachieving and the underrated.
The Illinois Fighting Illini had all the necessary personnel and momentum contend for a top ten ranking in the final regular season polls (they were 12th at one point), but tumbled down the stretch, having gone 6-9 since mid-January. Bruce Weber's boys are loaded though and have the potential to make a dent in this tournament field if they can suddenly find a way to turn it around. The Illini are a top 35 team nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, shoot very well from the outside, and are among the best team's in the country scoring in spot-up scenarios and from off the ball movement. Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis have led the way, but the rest of the roster features a wealth of talent including Mike Tisdale, Brandon Paul, Jereme Richmond and defensive stalwart D.J. Richardson. On paper, this is a team with Sweet 16 or Elite Eight potential, we just haven't seen it in nearly two months.
The UNLV Rebels on the other hand have been playing their best basketball heading into March Madness. Since January 19th, the only losses suffered have come against a pair of top ten teams in San Diego State and BYU. The offense is balanced and efficient, with Tre'Von Willis, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield all scoring in double figures with Anthony Marshall not far off. Like their early 90's predecessors, this UNLV team is at its best and most dangerous with the basketball in transition. With that said, there's no question defense is the calling card for the Rebels in 2011. They are 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and are among the best teams in the country in regards to both transition and half court defense, ranking in the top 10% of all Division 1 teams when using the metric of points per possession against.
The easy pick is probably UNLV given how well they've been playing as of late and just how poorly Illinois has performed. With that said, as previously mentioned, the Illini have more than enough talent to turn it on and advance to the next round.
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