The ninth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini and the eighth-seeded UNLV Runnin' Rebels will take to the BOK Center court tonight for a second round matchup of the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois, which ranks 11th among NCAA schools in Tournament appearances, will be making its 29th showing in the dance. The Fighting Illini have compiled a 38-29 tourney record over that span. This season, Illinois received an opening round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, before falling to Michigan, 60-55, in the quarterfinals. In all, the Fighting Illini wrapped up the season with a 19-13 record.
UNLV, appearing in its fourth NCAA Tournament in five years, received an at- large bid on the strength of a 24-8 overall record and a run to the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The Runnin' Rebels have won six of their last seven, seven of their last nine and 10 of their last 13. They will be making their 18th all-time tourney appearance, where they currently sport a 33-16 record, which includes a national championship (1990).
Illinois currently holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series, although the teams have not met since 2000.
Illinois is led by a trio of seniors in Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. McCamey, a Third Team All-Big Ten selection, paces the team in scoring (14.8 ppg), assists (194) and three-pointers made (70). Davis, who received honorable mention Big Ten recognition, ranks second on the team at 12 ppg, while pulling a team-high 7.1 rpg. Over his last 14 games, Davis is averaging 13.9 ppg, and 7.9 rpg, while reaching double figures in scoring in 11 of those 14 contests. Also receiving honorable mention league honors was Tisdale, who ranks third on the team in scoring (10.1 rpg), second in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and first in blocks (52). Adding a splash of youthful energy to the bevy of senior leadership is Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection Jereme Richmond, whose versatility leads to 7.6 ppg, 5 rpg, and 57 total assists. In all, the Fighting Illini score 71.3 ppg, while allowing 65.2 ppg on the defensive end of the floor.
Like Illinois, UNLV relies on a trio of talented upperclassmen to deliver wins. Senior guard Tre'Von Willis, an All-Mountain West Second Team selection, paces the squad in scoring (13.5 ppg) and steals (46), while ranking second in assists. Junior swingman Chace Stanback is nearly as effective, ranking second on the squad in scoring (13 ppg) and three-pointers made (47) and first in rebounding (6 rpg). Rounding out the capable trio is junior guard Oscar Bellfield, who has handed out a team-high 121 assists and hit a team-high 62 three-pointers, while scoring 11.1 ppg. Bellfield was also named to the All- MWC Third Team, marking the second year in a row that all three players received all-conference honors. The balanced attack leads to a 71.9 ppg scoring clip. Defensively, the Runnin' Rebels hold their opponents to 62.6 ppg.
Expect UNVL to earn the win tonight. Typical of an eight/nine matchup, these teams are evenly matched, but while the offenses are somewhat of a push, the Runnin' Rebels should be able to rely on their strong defensive play to earn the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNLV 67, Illinois 64