Wake Forest @ Illinois: A Preview

Wake Forest is coming to town on Wednesday, which promises to be one of the most electrifying games of the year. I had a chance to look at the matchups, and it's clear that Illinois and Wake Forest have two of the best backcourts in the country. Whatever the outcome, this game will prove to be very entertaining and will also give us a look at how good these two teams really are.

GUARDS
Chris Paul (6-0 So, 14.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 40% FG, 40% 3PT this season)
Dee Brown (6-0 Jr, 15.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, 65.6% FG, 61.9% 3PT this season)

With two of the quickest guards in the nation going at it, speed should not be a problem here, since Chris and Dee offset each other. Brown is the better shooter of the two (as the numbers indicate), but a weakness for Brown lies in his inability to drive into the lane and hit open teammates. On the other hand, this is one of Paul's great strengths. Chris' knack for getting into the lane should give him some easy buckets and give his teammates some open looks, too.

Advantage: Wake Forest

Deron Williams (6-3 Jr, 15.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 6.5 APG, 46.8% FG, 39.3% 3PT this season)
Justin Gray (6-2 Jr, 16.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 49.2% FG, 42.9% 3PT this season)

Justin is clearly the best shooter on the Wake team. Gray is also the beneficiary of a lot of Chris' assists, but he will have Illinois' best defender on him Wednesday night in Deron Williams. Much like Chris Paul, Deron is the team's best playmaker (and best player, for that matter). With Deron's speed, strength, and shooting ability, Justin Gray and the rest of Wake may be in for a long, frustrating night.

Advantage: Illinois

Luther Head (6-3 Sr, 17.5 PPG. 2.5 RPG, 7.2 APG, 59.1% FG, 48.3% 3PT this season)
Taron Downey (6-2 Sr, 6.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.8 APG, 38.5% FG, 25% 3PT this season)

I included this in case Wake Forest opens with a three-guard line up. Downey is a speedy southpaw and uses his quickness on the defensive end to shut down players; he is also a good shooter and ball handler. Head is playing the best right now; he is a great 3-point shooter and is undoubtedly the best pure athlete on Illinois' squad. Luther will likely be the most athletic player Downey has seen in a long time, which might cause him some trouble on both ends of the floor.

Advantage: Illinois

FORWARDS
Roger Powell Jr. (6-6 Sr, 11.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 74.1% FG this season)
Jamaal Levy (6-9 Sr, 9.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 45.2% FG this season)

Jamaal Levy is long and very athletic; he is a great defensive stopper, and he uses his wiry frame to block shots and rebound very effectively. He is arguably the best defender that Wake has. Roger Powell is a big-bodied post player who can also go out on the perimeter and be quite deadly with his shooting. Roger's ability to go inside and out and play at both ends could force Levy into some foul trouble. If this happens, it is a huge advantage for Illinois to get someone with Levy's shot-blocking and all-around athletic ability out of the game.

Advantage: Illinois (but only slightly)

CENTERS
Eric Williams (6-9 Jr, 13.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, 67.5% FG this season)
James Augustine (6-10 Jr, 9.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 62.5% FG this season)

Eric Williams is a wide-bodied beast down low. He can be unstoppable (at times) when he gets around the basket. Williams is impossible to budge when he gets in position on you, but he is far from being the fastest or most athletic player in the world. Augustine must use his athletic ability to deny Williams the ball. Both players are foul prone and could wind up watching the game from the bench. If James allows Williams to use his strength advantage, it could be a long game for the Illinois team but a short one for James Augustine.

Advantage: Wake Forest

WAKE BENCH
Chris Ellis: Son of former NBA player Dale Ellis (who could shoot the lights out any night). Chris is a solid defender who takes good care of the ball when he is in the game, he also loves to play around the basket.

Vytas Danelius: He is a strong player and could potentially be a matchup problem because of his strength and shooting. We could see a lot of him if Williams gets into early foul trouble.

Trent Strickland: Trent is an athletic wing, and one of the best defensive players on Wake's team. Strickland has been working on his shot but is still not a very good shooter.

PREDICTION
If this game wasn't being played in Champaign on "Paint the Hall Orange Night", I might consider taking Wake. But with the Orange Krush ready to go, some diehard fans sleeping outside the Assembly Hall all night just to get good seats, and other Illini devotees paying hundreds of dollars for tickets (one person spent $2300 for two tickets on eBay), I have a good feeling that The Hall will be rocking and the Illini will be ready to roll.

Illinois: 84
Wake Forest: 74


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