When: 11am Sunday (yeah, that's not a typo)
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
Overview: For much of Wednesday night, it appeared that a team very similar to Georgia State in style would be making the trip to Tigertown to face Clemson in the second round of the NIT. However, Illinois ramped up its defense and found enough scoring to escape with the victory over Boston University. This sets up what is sure to be a bruising, grind it out contest like the Tigers have seen multiple times this season. The best comparison would be the matchups with Georgia Tech and Miami. Illinois is very similar to Clemson in how they play and how they defend, but the ultimate weapon in Brad Brownell's stable is K.J. McDaniels, who will once again be the best player on the floor. It will be a test of wills and strength when it all goes down. Another factor will be the strange tip time of 11am to work around NCAA tourney play. It will be very interesting to see how that effects the crowd and the teams.
Matchups: A big matchup to watch in this one will be Illinois wing Rayvonte Rice, who is a stout 6'4" 235 pounder averaging 15.9 points per game and can rebound as well. He helped rescue the Illini on Wednesday with a 28 point, 8 rebound game. Harrison and McDaniels will likely share the duty of slowing Rice down, but the track record has been pretty good this year of those guys keeping the other team's leading wing scorer under his average. It won't be anything they haven't seen before having gone through the ACC and seeing guys like Patterson, Fair, Wells, and Brown. It really is uncanny how similar these two teams are going in. Both have a versatile wing leading the way, both have native Africans manning the center spot, both are good defensively, and both can struggle to score. Illinois only has two guys averaging in double figures with Rice and Tracy Abrams at 10.8 ppg. A closer look at the KenPom statistics gives you more of an idea of the similarities with the two teams:
Clemson's Effective FG% is 47.0 and Illinois' is 46.7
Clemson's Defensive Effective FG% is 43.6 and Illinois' is 48.0
Clemson's Offensive Rebounding % is 34.7 and Illinois' is 31.7
The Tigers shoot 30.3% from 3 and the Illini shoot 32.3
Many of the other stats are similar as well, but this will give you an idea that neither team has a big edge in any one area. Clemson is a little better on defense while Illinois is a bit better from 3-point range. It would be hard to foresee McDaniels or Rice duplicating their big time outputs from the first round, so the importance of the supporting casts is that much greater for this one. Clemson needs Rod Hall, Jordan Roper, and/or Damarcus Harrison to continue to step up on offense like they have of late. If that happens, Clemson should win this game and advance.
As mentioned before, the early start time could have some effect on the play. Clemson also might have a limited Jaron Blossomgame as he recovers from his minor leg injury from Tuesday's game against Georgia State. It will be very interesting to see how Brownell handles things if Jaron can't play much. Djambo flashed a nice post move in the last game and you like his length, but he's been guilty of some poor defense at times and many a brick from beyond the 3-point line. Josh Smith offers physicality and effort but that is about it.
The other thing to note going forward is that the winner of Belmont and Robert Morris is going to get 2 extra days to rest and prepare before the quarterfinal. They won't know their opponent until Sunday afternoon, but the similarities of Clemson and Illinois are such that the prep for either wouldn't be that different. Luckily the Tigers would get that at home if it comes to it.
KenPom is giving the Tigers a very nice 70% winning probability for this one which is even higher than we got for the Georgia State game, however it is not considering the Jaron Blossomgame injury or the early tip time that may lessen our homecourt advantage.