(The Sports Network)
The ninth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini and the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks take to the BOK Center court tonight for a third round matchup in the Southwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois downed eight-seeded UNLV, 73-62, on Friday to pick up its first NCAA Tournament win in five years. The Fighting Illini, who hold a 39-29 all-time record in the Big Dance, will now attempt to move out of the opening weekend for the first time since falling to North Carolina in the 2005 National Championship game. The victory pushed Illinois to 20-13 on the year and erased the memory of 60-55 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
Kansas, which boasts the longest active NCAA Tournament appearance streak at 22 years and holds a top-seed for the 10th time, earned an expected 72-53 victory over 16th-seeded Boston University on Friday. The Jayhawks, who have compiled an 86-38 all-time NCAA Tournament record, will look to improve on a second round loss to Northern Iowa in last year's tourney. They have now won nine straight games to sit at 33-2 on the season, marking the fourth time in the last five years that they have won 30-plus games
Illinois and Kansas last met in the 2002 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal on March 22, 2002, as they Jayhawks picked up a 73-69 victory. Overall, the Fighting Illini hold a 3-2 edge in the series. This will be Kansas' head coach Bill Self's first meeting with his former team since he arrived at KU in 2003-04.
Illinois won in convincing fashion on Friday night, as Mike Davis tied his season-high with 20 points and Demetri McCamey added 17 points and seven assists to vault the Fighting Illini to their double-digit victory over the Runnin' Rebels. Illinois is now 15-0 this season when McCamey registers at least seven assists. Entering the game having lost 10 of their previous 16, the Fighting Illini made it look surprisingly easy, reeling off an early 15-0 run en route to 63 percent first half shooting to lead by as many as 25 on the night. D.J. Richardson contributed 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 effort from the field and Brandon Paul tallied eight points, eight boards, four assists, a steal and a block. McCamey, a Third Team All-Big Ten selection, continues to pace Illinois in scoring (14.9 ppg), assists (201) and three-pointers made (73). Fellow seniors Davis and Mike Tisdale add to the attack. Davis, who received honorable mention Big Ten honors, ranks second on the team in scoring (12.3 ppg) and first in rebounding (7.2 rpg). He has now reached double figures in scoring in 12 of his last 15 contests. Tisdale, also an All-Big Ten honorable mention, ranks third on the team in scoring (9.9 ppg), second in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and first in blocks (53). Reserve Jereme Richmond, who was recently named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, did not play against UNLV after being suspended for violating team rules. It is uncertain whether he will compete against Kansas. In all, the Fighting Illini average 71.3 ppg on the offensive end, while holding their opponents to 65.1 ppg.
Kansas used a strong second half effort to overcome a slow start on Friday, ending Boston University's 11-game win streak in the process. After a tightly contested opening 20 minutes, the Jayhawks took a slim 33-29 lead into the break. They opened the second half with a 10-3 run however, and reeled off a decisive 21-4 run later in the period to down the Terriers. Kansas shot 61.5 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes of play, while holding Boston University to just 26.9 percent shooting during that span. The Jayhawks also asserted themselves down low, posting a 40-25 rebounding advantage for the game. Marcus Morris led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points, while twin brother Markieff added 15, Brady Morningstar had 13 and Tyshawn Taylor finished with 10. Marcus and Markieff Morris pulled down nine and eight rebounds, respectively. Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Morris continues to pace the Jayhawks in scoring (17.3 ppg), while ranking second in rebounding (7.3 rpg). Markieff, a Second Team All-Big 12 performer, ranks second on the squad in scoring (13.6 ppg) and first in rebounding (8.2 rpg). Nationally, the Jayhawks sport a top-10 scoring offense (82.1 ppg). Defensively, they hold opponents to 64.9 ppg.
Expect Kansas to earn the win. The Jayhawks appear poised to make a deep tourney run and should possess the offensive superiority needed to down a pesky Illinois bunch.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas 77, Illinois 72