Scouting Illinois

Arizona is coming off of a tough loss to Kansas, while the Illini recently dropped a game to Maryland. The two teams square off in Phoenix on Tuesday night.

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FRONTCOURT: Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin are gone, but there are a host of players waiting to take their place. Brian Cook returns, along with his 11.2 points per game. The 6-10 space eater should add to those totals this season. Cook hit the weights hard, and played overseas during the summer, so he should be improved.

Robert Archibald had a career day against the Cats in the NCAA Elite Eight and played against strong competition as a counselor at the Nike Camp in Indianapolis. Lucas Johnson brings an toughness to the court and knows how to get under an opponent's skin, but Johnson is out until February with a torn knee ligament. Damir Krupala is another solid frontcourt contributor. Nick Smith at 7-2 should find his way onto the court after redshirting in 2000-01.

BACKCOURT: Frank Williams is as good as they come. Last year he was the Big-10 Player of the Year and this year he could be eyeing nation-wide honors. Williams adapts his game to the situation. He can score when needed, or he can get others involved. Williams bypassed the NBA last season but it may be difficult to do so again.

Cory Bradford begins his fourth and final season in the Illini starting lineup. The shooting guard is very versatile and is a great compliment for Williams. Sean Harrington has a great stroke and can light it up from behind the arc. Brett Melton and newcomers Luther Head and Roger Powell will see time on the perimeter.

OUTLOOK: The Illini were a pre-season favorite to run at the the national championship and will be disappointed if they don't at least reach the final four. Williams is arguably one of the nation's best point guards and while the team isn't loaded with superstars, they are as loaded as anyone in the nation. If Williams can get into the lane and get his teammates involved, the Illinois has a chance. If the Cats force him to stay out on the perimeter, then they could struggle.

KEYS: Although Archibald had a big day against the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, he's not likely to be the guy that wins the game. Archibald gets many of his points off offensive rebounds. Isaiah Fox or Channing Frye will have the defensive responsibility to keep Archibald off the glass.

The 6-10 Cook is another big problem for the Wildcats, but not because of his bulk. Cook likes to take his game to the perimeter where he's a very good face up shooter out to three-pooint range. Rick Anderson should match up with Cook.

The battle of the big men is probably a push. The outcome of this game will most likely come down to a battle at the guard spots.

When Williams is on his game - and he was not against very good against Maryland - he can be a one man wrecking crew. Williams can hit the three, but he very strong and does most of his damage by using his strength and penetrating into the lane. If Williams is allowed to penetrate, Arizona is in trouble.

With Johnson out, the Illini have often gone to a three guard lineup including Williams, Bradford and either Head or Harrington. Like Bradford, Harrington is a great shooter, but the Illini have gotten a big boost from Head. Unlike Bradford or Harrington, Head is very quick and he can create his own shot, or he can drain the three when left open.

Jason Gardner will draw Williams as his defensive assignment and that should be a great matchup to watch. However, the combination of Bradford and Head/Harrington versus Salim Stoudamire and Will Bynum might be the key to this game. If Stoudamire and Bynum shoot the ball as they did against Kansas, or if they allow Bradford and Head open looks, it will be a long evening for the Wildcats.

PREDICTION: Arizona 82, Illinois 75.


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