Sorry for the lack of an Illinois preview up till now. Unfortunately, my day job didn't exactly give me time to get to this.
But because we're closing in on game time, it'll have to be a rather short preview. With that said, let's get to it:
I generally believe this game might tell us more about this team than the Pittsburgh one. For one, we get to see if they can bring it every night or only get up for the best of the best. Last night wasn't a particularly emotional or draining loss, but I'm interested to see how they respond against a team that many believe might be just as good as Pittsburgh.
The Illini are in some ways similar the Panthers: deep, experienced, talented, athletic, and highly ranked (#16 in one poll, #13 in the other). The good news is that they aren't a slow-down team like Pittsburgh is; they prefer to push the tempo a little and run with their athletes. (Of course, that could also backfire; it means that Maryland can't use their tempo as a weapon). Gary Williams should be able to match up here, so I'd expect a lot of Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker in transition, and who knows, maybe Mychal Parker could get some burn.
The Illini's star is their senior point guard, Demetri McCamey, and it's not even close. He's leading the Illini in both points and assists by more than 5 per game in both categories. Everything in this offense runs through him. He's very physically strong (Ron Shulman, who was calling the game last night, said he could back down any guard in the country; I doubt he'd fare too well against Pe'Shon or Sean Mosley, but that's just me) and a solid 3-point shooter (41% from 3) who will usually jack a couple per game.
The next biggest contributor is Mike Davis, a 6-9 senior. He's a tad lanky (only 220 pounds) but is the Illini's inside threat and is so far averaging 11 and 8 a game. He'll rebound well (12 against Texas is proof) but don't expect a ton offensively in terms of the offense running through him. Mike Tisdale, a 7-1 senior, joins him on the interior in the starting lineup. He doesn't give a ton of minutes (5th most on the team) but is averaging 8 points and 7 boards even in his somewhat limited time (fouls have been a problem there). Maryland doesn't have anyone to counter his size on the inside. That might be a problem; Illinois isn't running away with a ridiculous amount of rebounds, but they haven't been outrebounded on the year and matched Texas, a long, athletic team, on the boards last night. Contrast that with Maryland and.....yeah.
Past that, there's D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul, two sophomore shooting guards hovering around 6-4. They both get a lot of playing time (#s 3 and 4 on the team, respectively) and provide about 11/game a piece. Paul is the team's defensive stopper, or at least has been so far this year, averaging nearly 3 steals a game.
Offensively, McCamey, Richardson, and Paul are the ones to worry about. They account for a good majority of Illinois' shots and, plus Davis, are the only players in double-digits on the season so far.
Bill Cole and Jereme Richmond are the only two other serious minute-getters. Cole is another 6-9 senior and started against Texas, but he hasn't gotten more than 20 minutes in any of the four games so far. Richmond was a highly-touted, five-star small forward and is a true freshman this year; he's oozing talent and has gained near-starter minutes this year. His size (6-8) and versatility make him a tough matchup on the perimeter when he's in.
Illinois-Texas was a very close game - Texas won in OT by 6 - and Illinois almost certainly would've come out on top if not for a 5-minute or so scoreless period. Neither of these teams would've been nice to play, though I feel a little better about Illinois, which isn't quite as athletic as Texas and lacks a little of the size they bring.
Instead, the Illini get by on virtue of their solid defense - they're 4th in the country in defensive efficiency so far - and good-enough offense that revolves around the guard play. Unlike Pitt, I don't see this as a battle of tempos, but rather one of execution. Both teams have been similar in tempo this year - Maryland's been faster, but not significantly so - and the Illini have been impressive in their own execution, while Maryland's been up-and-down there.
Illinois will have the upper-hand in the experience and probably raw talent as well; limiting McCamey as the Terrapins did with Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs last night will be key. They don't, though, have a dynamic big man like Jordan Williams. A big game from him, especially on the glass, might be a prerequisite for a Maryland win.
That said, I haven't had too much time to delve into what Illinois does and I wrote this post in about 15 minutes. For those of you that wanted something to read to give you some basic information about the team, here you go. For those of you wanting something deeper, sorry.