The finale in Vegas is going to be a showdown between the Illinois Fighting Illini and Virginia Cavaliers
It’s going to be another big test for Brad Underwood’s team as they battle No. 16 Virginia for a championship belt in Vegas. The Cavaliers are fresh off of an unconscious shooting performance in their win over Baylor. This is the best team that Tony Bennett has had since they won the National Championship in 2019. They are no joke, it’s going to be an awesome game to watch.
A perfect Sunday finale before Feast Week begins in College Basketball. Virginia reminds me a bit of UCLA in terms of their play style and roster construction, both teams are led by veteran point guards who have been around for a while. The difference to me is that Virginia has an older roster than UCLA, the Bruins rely a lot on freshmen five stars.
Projected Starting Lineups
- G Kihei Clark (5-foot-10) (5th season at UVA, National Champ in 2019)
- G Reece Beekman (6-foor-3) (10 points, 10 assists vs. Baylor)
- G Armaan Franklin (6-foot-4) (26 points vs. Baylor, formerly of Indiana)
- F Jayden Gardner (6-foot-6) (Less usage than last season with less than 20 minutes per game)
- C Kadin Shedrick (6-foot-11) (17 points, 6-for-6 from the field vs. Baylor)
As I mentioned earlier, Virginia has a lot of experience. They also have a lot of returning players from last season and that is always a plus with an experienced coach like Bennett. The Illini have plenty of length and athleticism to combat some of what Virginia will try to do but shot-making and smart decisions with the ball will be vital.
- G Skyy Clark
- G RJ Melendez
- G Terrence Shannon Jr.
- F Matthew Mayer
- F Coleman Hawkins
The Illini will roll the same five out there again. Let’s see if Melendez and Hawkins can get off to better starts while Clark and Shannon Jr. control the offense. I’m most curious to see how Underwood handles his bench this time around. He won’t wait 24 minutes to put Sencire Harris into the game. I also expect to see more of Ty Rodgers and the same type of usage for Dain Dainja.
The Analytics Between the Two Teams
- Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – ILL 32nd, UVA 4th
- Adjusted Defensive Efficiency – ILL 16th, UVA 13th
- Adjusted Tempo – ILL 27th, UVA 363rd
- All-Play Percentage – ILL 20th, UVA 9th
- Offensive Efficiency – ILL 28th, UVA 2nd
- Defensive Efficiency – ILL 17th, UVA 32nd
It’s a little odd to see the metrics favoring Virginia’s offense over their defense, but don’t let that fool you. They defend well and cut into passing lanes at a rapid rate. The offensive efficiency has been off the charts for them, it’ll likely slow down a bit, but they have been stroking it through three games.
Players to Watch & Prediction
- Players to Watch
- Virginia – F Ben Vander Plas
- Underwood recruited Vander Plas in the transfer portal after he left Ohio. He would have been the fit that Mayer is for this roster, but he opted to go to Virginia, where he has ties. He’s been coming off of the bench, but he’s played more minutes than a couple of their starters. He’s a versatile forward with the ability to shoot and defend.
- Illinois – F Matthew Mayer
- As mentioned above, Vander Plas was an option for the Illini in the portal with Mayer and Pete Nance (who went to North Carolina). Mayer came out stroking it against UCLA, drilling two early threes. He needs to continue to be the all-around player for this team, and this game is an opportunity to do so.
- Virginia – F Ben Vander Plas
- Virginia wins 73-69
It’s going to be a battle between these two teams, I have zero doubts about that. The Illini will lose a close one, but there’s no shame in that. Leaving Vegas with a split is perfectly fine. This team has already learned plenty about themselves with how they controlled the second half in their win over UCLA. Either way, this is a good challenge for the Illini and they should be ready to play with that amazing crowd turnout in Vegas.
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