There is little less than a day until the No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini will face off against the No. 12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the southern region and there are many people predicting an upset. Let’s look at the player match-ups for these two teams and see why this game is on people’s lips.
First let’s look at who the Illini will be relying on to pull out a win.
There is little doubt that Chester Frazier’s injury is the biggest factor in this game. Bruce Weber has announced that senior guard Chester Frazier will sit out the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Frazier’s presence will be sorely missed. He was without a doubt the leader of this team both in his play and in his attitude. His absence makes this first round match-up infinitely more interesting.
The Illini’s two remaining seniors, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock, are huge factors in tomorrow’s match-up. Meacham, a 6’2 guard, is one of the team’s top scorers and defensive players. He and Brock, a 6'5 guard, will both need to step up and help lead this team if Illinois is to find victory.
Dominique Keller is a key junior on this Fighting Illini team. Keller is a 6’7 forward with the team’s highest three point percentage and one of Illinois’ strongest shooters.
Perhaps the most important sophomore involved in tomorrow’s game will be Jeffrey Jordan. He is a 6’1 guard who has been brought in to fill the shoes of Chester Frazier. He is a smart, athletic player, but is very inexperienced. His ability to play above his age will be essential.
Demetri McCamey is another key player for the Illini. McCamey, a 6’3 guard, has the ability to be the team’s strongest all-around player. The only thing that will be more important than his ability to play in this game, will be his ability to take direction. Mike Davis is a 6’9 forward who leads his team in rebounding and has a very strong shooting percentage.
Mike Tisdale, a 7’1 center, is capable of making it very difficult for the Hilltoppers to defend him should he get his inside game going. Tisdale also has the ability to connect on shots outside of the paint which could be a valuable weapon.
Now let’s see what the Hilltoppers have to match up against these Illini players.
Orlando Mendez-Valdez, a senior guard standing 6’1, will be a key player in this game. His leadership and experience will be highly valued, not to mention his stats aren’t too bad either. Valdez leads Western Kentucky in assists, is one of the team's best three point shooters and knows how to pull down rebounds. His abilities on the defensive end will be important as well.
What the Hilltoppers lack in their senior class, they make up for with a very strong junior class. Jeremy Evans, a 6’9 forward has more blocks than the rest of his team combined, with 59. He also has the highest field goal percentage on the team and excels at crashing the boards.
A.J. Slaughter, a 6’3 guard leads his team in scoring and steals. Anthony Sally, a 6’2 guard provides another strong defender for Western Kentucky. Uros Komadinic, a 6’6 forward has the highest 3-point percentage on the team.
Key sophomores include Stephon Pettigrew, a 6’5 guard/forward, Sergio Kerusch, a 6’5 guard/forward, and DJ Magley, a 6’9 forward.
With the exception of the center position, the other positions are fairly well matched. Will Mike Tisdale prove to be the Hilltoppers’ Achilles’ heel?
The match-up between these two teams seems to favor Illinois. They have a slightly deeper and more reliable bench than the Hilltoppers. However, as of late the Illini haven’t been overly consistent. I think the outcome of this game rests on which Illini team decides to show up.
This game will be 60 minutes of hard-fought basketball and will probably come down to the wire. Make sure you tune in to watch.