On Sunday, one of the more intriguing round of 32 clashes will pit the surging Miami Hurricanes against a surprising Illinois team that has hung with the nation's best all season long.
The No. 7 Fighting Illini have a number of impressive wins under their belts, as they've taken down four Top 25 teams, including Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. So despite the 23-12 record, Illinois can play with anyone on any given day.
At the other end of the court, No. 2 Miami has been among the nation's best, so after capturing the school's first ACC tournament title last week, followed by an impressive round of 64 win over Pacific, the Hurricanes are gaining momentum with each game. Needless to say, this team will be tough to stop.
Lead by Shane Larkin, Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji, the Hurricanes' balanced offense has been getting more and more effective down the stretch, which is why this team was able to drop 87 on UNC in the ACC title game last week.
Illinois has a couple of offensive standouts as well, and leading scorer Brandon Paul has come up big against the nation's best this season, as he put up 35 in a win over Gonzaga and 21 in the win over Indiana.
Heading into this round of 32 showdown, here's all the information you'll need to know to tune in.
Where: Frank Erwin Center; Austin, Texas
When: Sunday, March 24, at 8:40 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: Miami -6.5 (via SportsBook)
Miami Injuries (via USA Today): G Garrius Adams - Out Indefinitely (knee)
Illinois Injuries (via USA Today): None
What's At Stake
For the Fighting Illini, this obviously an opportunity for the team to make up for a number of disappointing conference performances that plagued them all season and hurt their tournament ranking despite all the quality wins they posted.
A berth in the Sweet 16 would all but make up for those lackluster outings.
On the other hand, Miami's return to the tournament has been the culmination of a surprisingly successful season for a program that had been buried in the ACC behind the perennial powers from Durham and Chapel Hill.
But now that the Hurricanes have won an ACC title and made it this far, it would be a bitter end to the season for a team that has enough talent to make the program's first Final Four appearance this March.
Players To Watch
Miami: G Shane Larkin
In the Hurricanes' round of 64 tilt with Pacific, Shane Larkin, the team's unquestioned offensive engine, was held to just 10 points and Miami had to rely upon Durand Scott's 21 points to put the game out of reach.
Yes, Larkin had nine assists and he was a monster in the ACC title game, but going 2-of-8 from the field won't cut it beyond the opening round.
If Miami is going to make a deep run, both Larkin and Kadji need to start putting more points on the board.
Illinois: G Brandon Paul
Like Larkin, Brandon Paul has the keys to his team's offensive attack and has been a solid scorer all season, averaging over 16 points a game for a balanced Illinois offense.
But Paul also struggled in his round of 64 game, as he shot just 3-of-12 from the field, and if not for his near-perfect free-throw shooting, the Fighting Illini might have been sent packing.
For Miami, the key has to be getting ahead early and using its athletic advantage over Illinois to protect the lead. The Hurricanes will be able to put enough points on the board, and assuming Illinois' shooting doesn't improve drastically on Sunday, this one won't be all that close.
Miami 77, Illinois 61
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