The first game from Vegas at the Conventional Tire Main Event for the Illini will be Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins
It’s the first heavyweight opponent of the season for the Illinois Fighting Illini, they’ll take on the No. 8 team in the country, UCLA. This is going to be a major early-season test for Brad Underwood’s squad, which is always a good thing. Both teams are undefeated against lesser competition, but all of that will change this weekend in Vegas with four AP Top 25 teams participating in this event (Baylor vs. Virginia 6 PM CST). This is a fantastic precursor event before one of the best weeks in sports with FEAST WEEK. College basketball is fully back, and I’m excited about that.
Projected Starting Lineups
- G Tyger Campbell (5-foot-11) (Senior)
- G Jaylen Clark (6-foot-5) (13 steals in 3 games)
- G Amari Bailey (6-foot-5) (5-star freshman)
- F Jaime Jacquez Jr. (6-foot-7) (Preseason All-American)
- F Adem Bona (6-foot-10) (5-star freshman)
This lineup and roster are just loaded with talent, Cronin has done a brilliant job in four seasons in Westwood. They bring back the huge experience of Campbell and Jacquez Jr, mixed with the talent of Clark, and two big-time freshmen with Bailey and Bona. They have matchup nightmares all over the floor, it’s going to be a huge challenge for the Illini.
- G Skyy Clark
- G RJ Melendez
- G Terrence Shannon Jr.
- F Matthew Mayer
- F Coleman Hawkins
The previous game was a tough one for both Mayer and Hawkins, they combined for two field goals on 10 shots. Their matchups get much more difficult with Jacquez Jr. and Bona on the other side. I don’t see Underwood changing the lineup, but he may consider it soon.
The Analytics Between the Two Teams
- Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – ILL 35th, UCLA 6th
- Adjusted Defensive Efficiency – ILL 23rd, UCLA 19th
- Adjusted Tempo – ILL 48th, UCLA 217th
- All-Play Percentage – ILL 30th, UCLA 11th
- Offensive Efficiency – ILL 33rd, UCLA 9th
- Defensive Efficiency – ILL 37th, UCLA 19th
UCLA is as elite as they come, they are good at everything. Their defense is within the top 20, while their offense is smooth and amongst the best in the country. They are one of a few high-level teams with an experienced and quality point guard. The Illini will need to bring their best in every aspect of the game to hang around and play with this UCLA team. Props to Mick Cronin, he’s done a brilliant job in Westwood.
Players to Watch & Prediction
- Players to Watch
- UCLA – G Jaylen Clark
- It’s been an incredible start to the season for Clark. After having a smaller role in 2021-22, he’s been moved into the starting lineup and UCLA is better for it. He has been a menace on the defensive side with 13 steals through 3 games. He’s been super efficient and could be a matchup nightmare on both ends for the Illini. He is one of the many players that the Illini must be ready to play against tonight.
- Illinois – Terrence Shannon Jr.
- How does Shannon Jr. follow up his 30-point brilliance against Monmouth? It’s the first major test for the team and for him in his first season in Champaign. The Illini don’t need to rely on him to win, but if he plays well, it will bode well for the team.
- UCLA – G Jaylen Clark
- UCLA wins 75-68
The Illini will hang around with the Bruins. I expect this game to be somewhat similar to the 2020-21 matchup with Baylor, where the Illini hung around, but faded late in the second half. This is a great challenge for the program, it almost never hurts to face opponents like this. Keep in mind that they’ll play Baylor or Virginia, and depending on the results, that game will be sometime Sunday in Vegas as well. Let’s find out a bit more about this 2022-23 Illini team, how good are they right now?
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