Illini X-Factor: Tracy Abrams

Sophomore Tracy Abrams could be the key in Friday's NCAA Tournament matchup with Colorado.

AUSTIN, Texas - By now we all know who is going to lead the Illini on offense and defense.

Brandon Paul is the scorer. D.J. Richardson is the defender. They'll need to do what they do, or have done all season, if Illinois is beat Colorado Friday.

While those two are clearly indispensable, the x-factor is sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams.

If Abrams plays like he did in the first half against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, where he shot 1 for 7 and had two turnovers, Illinois will most likely struggle.

If he's more like the version that we saw in the second half, when he tallied 14 points and looked much more calm on the court, the Illini stand a great chance to advance.

It's really that simple. Paul and Richardson are fourth-year players. They've played in the Tournament before.

Abrams has not. And for the sophomore that's averaged 10.6 points and 3.3 assists this season, the stage has never been bigger.

He needs to settle in early against the Buffaloes. This sounds like two totally different terms, but Abrams needs to play aggressively patient. Paul is certainly a playmaker, but his plays created usually lead to shots for himself. Abrams is the guy that can get others involved.

In order to do that, he needs to be on the attack, but he's got to use great judgment. He's got to balance risk/reward and be OK with settling for singles if a home run isn't all but assured.

I know all of that isn't easy, but with Paul facing 6-foot-7 Andre Roberson and Richardson matched up with Buffaloes star Spencer Dinwiddie, Abrams needs to become the third wheel on offense.

A stat to keep in mind: Illinois is 8-2 this season when Abrams has at least five assists.

I'll go on the record as saying that stat will improve to 9-2 if Abrams has five assists and scores in an efficient manner Friday.

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