Illini Travel to Chapel Hill for Challenge

When the Illini travel to Chapel Hill in Tuesday night's Big Ten / ACC Challenge, they will be playing their opponent in April's National Championship, but the only thing that remains the same is the name on the front of the jersey, all the names on the back of the jerseys have changed. Dee Brown and James Augustine will lead the 5-0 Illini into Chapel Hill against the 3-0 Tar Heels, but can the Illini win in Chapel Hill even against this very young North Carolina team?

Things are quite a bit different than the last time the Illini played the North Carolina Tar Heels for both teams. Gone are a combined six first round NBA Draft picks (Illinois: Deron Williams and Luther Head, North Carolina: Raymond Felton, Sean May, Marvin Williams, and Rashard McCants) and eight of the ten starters from last April's National Championship game in St. Louis, including all five of the Tar Heel starters. The only names that many casual fans remember from last season on both of these teams are Illinois' Dee Brown and James Augustine and North Carolina's David Noel. Yet, despite all of this, the Illini are ranked #12 in the latest AP Poll, and they are traveling to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels in ESPN's marquee Tuesday night match up of the Big Ten / ACC Challenge, denoted by Dan Schulman and Dick Vitale being the broadcasting team.

Tuesday night's game signifies the first time Roy Williams' Tar Heels will play any sort of competition, as they have blown through their first three games against Gardner-Webb, Cleveland State, and UC – Santa Barbara with a combined score of 278-201. The Illini have seen more competition, but not much more as they have gotten through their first five games with only one major scare, a 55-54 last second victory over the Wichita State Shockers. Neither team has yet to play a major conference opponent, so it will be interesting to see what each team brings to the floor.

Will Illinois be looking for revenge after last seasons National Championship game? Probably not.

Writing a preview for a basketball team that you have not seen play is tough to do, but I am going to try based on what I have read from Inside Carolina and box scores. Sure, this information will not tell you things you can gleam watching a team with your own eyes, but it will help you look for some things while you are watching the contest on Tuesday evening.

First, let's look at the numbers for North Carolina ...

Pace: 77.43
Offensive Efficiency: 119.68
Defensive Efficiency: 86.53
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 54.5%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 68.8%
Field Goal Percentage: 53.5%
Free Throw Percentage: 60.8%
Free Throw Ratio: 0.55:1 (the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt)
Three Point Shooting Percentage: 35.6%
Points per Shot Attempt: 1.20
Percent of Field Goals that are Threes: 24.1%
Assist to Turnover Ratio: 1.19:1

The numbers that really stand out here for the Tar Heels are their offensive rebounding numbers, and how often they get to the foul line. In the first three games of the season, the Tar Heels have taken more than one free throw shot for every field goal they have attempted, an amazing number. Combining this with their high offensive rebounding rate and you have a team that Illinois will desperately need to keep off the glass, and play post defense without fouling.

Like Bruce Weber, Roy Williams is trying to work in a new point guard into the North Carolina rotation, and for now he has settled on freshman Bobby Frasor and sophomore Quintin Thomas as his two point guards. Frasor has picked up the start in all three of UNC's games, and he has played in 21.7 minutes while scoring 7.3 points, handing out 5.0 assists, 3.3 turnovers, and make 40% of his three point shots. Coming off the bench, Thomas has played 16.7 minutes per game, scoring 2.7 points, handing out 4.3 assists, and committing 1.3 turnovers per game. The young Tar Heel point guards have yet to play a defensive presence like the Illini's Dee Brown, so it will be interesting to see what they do under the pressure of the senior All-American, in fact if Dee can frustrate the young guards into committing turnovers off the dribble and forcing passes, it could be a very long game in Chapel Hill for the home team.

Freshman Tyler Hansbrough is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tar Heels this season averaging 18.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Hansbrough has been a very efficient offensive player with a points per shot attempt of 1.39, including a free throw ratio of 1, meaning he takes one free throw for every field goal he attempts. The Illini defense will most likely focus on not allowing Hansbrough to touch the ball, because once he does he normally converts touches into points. Not allowing Hansbrough the ball will be a combination of tough post defense and keeping him off the offensive glass.

One way for the Illini to keep the ball out of Hansbrough's hands will be to pressure the North Carolina guards more than they are used to. If you can keep a body in front of Hansbrough in the post, and pressure the Carolina guards out of their comfort zone, the Illini will make it much more difficult for Carolina to get the ball into what has been their best offensive player this season.

Senior forward David Noel has been the rock for Roy Williams this season. He is Carolina's second leading scorer (14.7 ppg) and rebounder (6.7 rpg), and he is the player on the court that will need to calm down the young players when they let their emotions get the better of them, especially on Tuesday night in their first game in front of a national audience.

  • Defending the post. Bottom line, if Illinois is going to win this game, the Illini will need to keep North Carolina off the offensive glass and play defense without fouling. The Tar Heels big men like to get to the line, and have done so very often this season, so the Illini big men will have to play defense without fouling. This might mean the Illini give up some easy layups, but having Pruitt and Augustine on the court at the end of the game is more important than two points in the first half.
  • Controlling the tempo. North Carolina's point guards have yet to play a team of Illinois' caliber, nor have they faced a point guard of Dee Brown's caliber. Yes, North Carolina likes to run with the basketball, but that does not mean Dee Brown cannot control the tempo of the game. Dee should pressure the Carolina guards in the half court, and push the ball on them in transition. If Dee can keep up the pressure in the half court, it will make entry passes into the post difficult and it will most likely cause turnovers, and easy run out baskets for the Illini wings (Brian Randle and Rich McBride).
VEGAS LINE: North Carolina -2

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