1. Most games are won with defense, even though it's not what the average fan wants to hear. Illinois is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to defending; they finished second in the league with a 57.1 average. Virginia Tech (21-11) currently has four of its five starters in double figures a game. Leading the way is senior Zabian Dowdell with 18.0 ppg. "One of the things we have done well this year is defend. Hopefully that will carry over in the tournament," said Head Coach Bruce Weber. Speaking of defense, Brian Randle has all the tools to be a great defensive stopper but he can't stay on the floor long enough to make a big impact. Weber feels that Hokies forward Deron Washington will be a good match-up for Randle. "Both of them are lefties; they can get in the paint and create their own shot," said Weber
2. Where's the offense really going to come from? This year's group is one of the worst shooting teams in recent years for any Illinois team. They finished the regular season in eighth place, scoring only 64.5 ppg. Senior Rich McBride will be key. Let's face it - he's the one senior on the entire roster that received a decent amount of playing time when the Illini advanced to the Sweet 16 and their magical Final Four run in 2005. "Rich just needs to go out and play. He's had some good looks but they just haven't gone down for him. Hopefully that will come; and Brian - I just feel bad for him. He's had some bad breaks. Just when he tries to get things going there's a foul and we have to sit him," Weber stated. It's very painful to watch this group. The effort is there – they just need that "ONE" guy to step and have a career night - the same way point guard Chester Frazier did in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament against Penn State.
3. Weber must somehow find a way to keep big man Shaun Pruitt rested and out of foul trouble. Pruitt, along with senior Warren Carter, have been the Illini's offense. If Pruitt somehow finds himself on the bench senior Marcus Arnold will have to be key in rebounding and get easy put backs. After the Arizona game this year Frazier said, "Warren is our "go-to" guy and we'll go as far as he takes us." Well tonight, Illini fans, let's hope Carter is on top of his game.
4. Will the Illini have a "home court" advantage playing in Columbus? It is close enough for Illini fans to make the trip. "I hope playing there and the fact that Southern is there should help since I coached there a few years ago. We played Cincinnati and came out and everything worked well for us that day, so who knows. It may be like a home game," Weber said.
5. Finally, this group has a chance to put a positive spin on a tough season. Weber has a great NCAA track record. It's now time to start a new season and play a complete game. One has to figure that Illinois still has a target on its back and beating a Big Ten team means a lot to any program. Tonight Illinois comes in as a 2-point underdog. They must leave nothing on the court - find what's working and stick to it. Half time of the game all coaches like to make adjustments; that will be key tonight as which coach figures out what gives his team an advantage.
Prediction: Illinois (68) – Virginia Tech (66) in overtime.