This is the game Tarheel fans have circled since the schedule went out. After being humiliated and exposed at Assembly Hall in Champaign last year, UNC is on a mission. In fact, they almost lost to Cleveland State this past weekend by looking forward to Tuesday's rematch. Are the teams even better this year? I think so. Both programs are a year more mature and both have new high energy coaches who like to push the ball relentlessly. In what should be the premier matchup of the ACC/Big 10 challenge, this game has the makings of an instant classic.
Backcourt- This will be the top matchup in college basketball this year. UNC brings it with Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants. Illinois comes to town with flashy Dee Brown and steady Deron Williams. Brown and Williams got the best of this matchup last year. This year, Felton is averaging 7.3 ppg and 8.3 apg. Felton is jet quick with the ball and makes great decisions. McCants is averaging 16.3 ppg and 4.0 apg. Rashad is a prototype shooting guard. He has nice size and a sweet shooting stroke. Melvin Scott is another solid player for the Tarheels. He has averaged 11 ppg giving the Tarheels another scoring weapon. For the Illini it starts and ends with Brown and Williams. Williams is coming off a breakout game against Temple in which he totally controlled the flow of the game. Williams is averaging 14.3 ppg and 6 apg. It is crucial that Williams have a good game for the Illini. When he plays good the Illini cruise to victory, when he struggles they struggle. Williams will also draw the toughest defensive assignment of the night. Dee Brown will carry his swagger into the arena Tuesday night. He knows he will have a target on his back as he go the best of this matchup last year. Brown is carrying the Illini right now with averages of 19 ppg and 4.3 apg. His fiery personality will give the Illini the spark they need to be competitive on the road. Luther Head is the final piece of the Illinois backcourt puzzle. He returned from a 4 game suspension against Temple and looked rusty. Luther should be more comfortable this time around. This game will have lots of speed and Luther will be a key part of that.
ADVANTAGE- Illinois (barely)
Frontcourt- The Tarheels claim one of the top big men in the country in Sean May. May is averaging 18.3 ppg and 9 rpg. He is an absolute load to contain in the middle and can step out and hit outside jumpers with his soft shooting stroke. May is the biggest matchup problem for the Illini. The Tarheels most pleasant surprise of the year has been the emergence of Jawad Williams. Jawad is putting up huge numbers with averages of 21.3 ppg and 7.3 rgp. He is long and very active. The Illini counter Jawad Williams with one of their own suprises in Roger Powell. Powell showed flashes of brilliance last year but struggled to maintain consistency. So far Roger has put up huge numbers of 16.3 ppg and 8 rpg. This is the type of game that Roger has to show up for. He has been known to disappear in the biggest of games, most notably the NCAA tournament last year. James Augustine is the Illini's most dominant post player. James is very quick and is able to run the floor with the Illini backcourt giving him easy buckets. Augustine is a warrior on the glass too as he averages 9.0 rpg. After these two guys the Illini look for help from big man Nick Smith who is a great passing center, Jack Ingram, Brian Randle, and Aaron Spears.
ADVANTAGE- North Carolina
Bench- This is the area that Illinois totally dominates the Tarheels in. While UNC goes about 7 deep, the Illini come at you with about 9 or 10 deep. It's nice to be deep but the players you bring in have to be able to contribute at a high level. The Illini bench does that. Luther Head, Brian Randle, Nick Smith, Aaron Spears, and Jack Ingram will all be seen in various roles at Tuesdays game. UNC has a depleted bench. Freshman forward Reyshawn Terry got some valuable minutes in the Cleveland State game and fellow freshman Justin Bohlander can spell some relief on the inside. After that there isn't much with Jackie Manuel out.
Coaching- Both Roy Williams and Bruce Weber have done a nice job in their transitions to new schools. Even Weber would agree that Roy Williams is a living coaching legend. Williams consistently had Kansas competing for national championships and brought in blue-chip recruits. He brings an uptempo style to UNC and intense defensive pressure. Bruce Weber has been in the coaching business just as long but not at the head coaching level. Weber's teams love to run and gun and this years version of the Illini is perfect for that. He also preaches lockdown halfcourt defense which the team seems to be buying into.
ADVANTAGE- North Carolina
Overall this game should go down as one of the top early season matchups in college basketball. Fans from around the country that want to see the best backcourts in college basketball should tune into this one. Felton and Brown will be talking it up all night and their teammates will have to respond. I'm gonna go with Illinois taking this one due to their depth. North Carolina should hang around early but with foul trouble and a depleted bench, they should not be able to make it happen for 40 minutes. Illinois never lets up and will pull away late for a 7 point victory.
Maybe the best guards in college basketball Deron and Dee