The Illinois basketball team plays its second game in the Las Vegas Holiday Tournament Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 8:45pm against Wofford. The Terriers defeated future Illini opponent Georgia in Athens and took Pittsburgh down to the wire. Coach Bruce Weber knows he will be in for a battle.
"These guys are a well-coached team. They're versatile, they run a lot of players at you. They have a diverse system where they make you guard a lot of different situations. If you're not prepared and have good awareness, they'll take advantage of you.
"They were up on Pittsburgh by 14 points in the second half. Bradley got up a little bit, but for the most part it was a close game. And then they beat Georgia. They're a veteran team, and it's a good preparation not just for our freshmen but all our guys."
Wofford coach Mike Young uses a style the Illini are accustomed to seeing from one Big 10 team according to Illini forward Mike Davis.
"They're a little like Northwestern in that they run clock and try to get offensive rebounds to start a new 35. They'll be a good test for us before going out to Las Vegas to play Utah and Oklahoma State, two very good teams."
Weber used the Northwestern comparison as a teaching tool for his players.
"I brought up with them Miami of Ohio and Northwestern. They'll make you guard for long possessions like Northwestern, or Miami kind of isolates you. They have some veterans who are smart and know how to play. And then their system tries to take advantage of any weaknesses or letdowns you might have."
The Terriers' leading player is junior Noah Dahlman (6'-6", 215). He is both their leading scorer and rebounder and plays almost exclusively down low.
"We recruited Dahlman's brother from North of Minneapolis," Weber reminds. "His brother (Isaiah) is at Michigan State. They were part of an unbelieveable high school run, some state championships.
"I think Noah might be the leading rebounder in the history of Minnesota high school basketball. He knows how to post up. He may not have quite the size, but he's smart, knows how to play and use his body. He's good at getting to the glass."
Senior guard Junior Salters (6'-2", 200) hasn't scored much yet this year, but he has Weber's attention.
"Salters is one guy that has the ability to create some shots and get some points for them. We're gonna have to do a good job on both those guys. They have great depth. They'll play 10 guys major minutes. Eleven guys played against Bradley. They'll rotate all five guys at once."
Wofford has some height in senior Corey Godzinski (6'-9", 210). But their other tallest players are in the 6'-6" range (Nathan Parker, Kevin Giltner, Tim Johnson and Terry Martin). The Terriers usually start guards Cameron Rundles, a 6'-1", 190 pound junior, and sophomore Brad Loesing (6'-0", 180) alongside Salters. Guards Jason Dawson and Jamar Riggs also see plenty of playing time.
Illini guard Demetri McCamey has the task of running a precision offense to maximize scoring opportunities against the Wofford defense. He knows they will be a challenge.
"I watched them play a real good game against Bradley. They're a real competitive team, and they slow the pace down. It'll be a good game."
Illini freshman guard Brandon Paul understands the importance of pushing the pace with the Terriers.
"They're probably the best team we've played thus far. We can't come out slow."
Fellow freshman D.J. Richardson concurs and hopes the Illini transition game can force Wofford to play from behind.
"Yeah, that's one of our strengths right now. We've been doing pretty good in transition. We've got a lot of guys who can run, and Demetri's pushing the ball well this year. He helps us a lot."
Illinois has had three easy games up to now, so any mistakes haven't caused much harm. But against Wofford, everything they do could decide the outcome according to Weber.
"If you screw up on an out of bounds play against Presbyterian, two points out of 40 isn't gonna matter much. But any of the upcoming games, if it's a close game, it might make a difference. We've really tried to emphasize discipline and preparation."