Read on for a full preview of Virginia vs. Illinois, including details on the game, an opponent scouting report, game notes, and a score prediction.
Who: Virginia Cavaliers (3-0) vs. Illinois Fighting Illinois (4-0)
When: Sunday, November 20th at 3pm ET
Onde: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada
How to watch: ESPN
How to stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial🇧🇷
How to listen: Virginia Sports Radio Network – click here for affiliates
All-time series: This is the first-ever meeting between Virginia and Illinois
Opponent Scouting Report: Illinois
2021-2022: 23-10, 15-5 Big Ten
Wins: Eastern Illinois 87-57, Kansas City 86-48, Monmouth 103-65, UCLA 79-70
Illinois won its first Big Ten regular season championship since 2005 last season, going 15-5 in conference play. But, the Illini could not sustain that success in postseason play, going one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament before losing to Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
From that team, the Fighting Illini return zero starters and very few rotation players, as junior center Coleman Hawkins is the only returner who averaged double-digit minutes last season. Still, Illinois has a very talented roster this year as Brad Underwood had a great offseason, signing a highly-touted freshman class and scoring some quality additions through the transfer portal.
The most important addition has undoubtedly been Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon, who has looked like a completely different player since he arrived in Champaign. The 6’6″ senior guard exploded on Friday night, scoring 29 points on 8/9 three-point shooting (yes, you read that right) and 10 rebounds. That’s an unreal statline that barely conveys how incredible Shannon’s performance was in Illinois’ 79-70 win over UCLA. There is some hope that he will have cooled off between Friday night and Sunday afternoon – he shot like 2019 Elite Eight Carsen Edwards on Friday and the Cavaliers certainly don’t need to see anything like that again. will be interesting to see how Tony Bennett tries to contain Shannon – my guess is a combination of either Armaan Franklin or Reece Beekman and some very aggressive hedges on ball-screens – UVA needs to force the ball out of his hands as often as possible.
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Shannon is averaging 24.3 points per game, but he is hardly a one-man show as Illinois has three other players averaging in double figures – Dain Dainja (16.3 ppg), Coleman Hawkins (10.0 ppg), and Jayden Epps (10.0 ppg). Virginia could find itself at a size disadvantage on the perimeter as all of Illinois’ key guards are 6’2″ or taller. Freshmen Skyy Clark (6’3″), Jayden Epps (6’2″), and Sencire Harris (6 ‘4″) have looked very promising so far and sophomore RJ Melendez (6’7″) is a solid defender as well.
6’10” forward Coleman Hawkins has hit five of his 12 three-point attempts so far this season and possesses an underrated passing ability, especially for a big man. That’s something the Cavaliers will need to be aware of as they frequently double in the post. Hawkins has the vision, height, and passing skills to make UVA pay for hasty double teams. Virginia might consider leaning on Kadin Shedrick to handle Hawkins one-on-one in the post.
Illinois has another big stretch in Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer, who is not afraid to pull the trigger from three (18 attempts through 4 games) and also has a lot of experience playing in big games as he is beginning his fifth year of college basketball. Dain Dainja, a 6’9″ forward who also transferred from Baylor, gives the Bears a highly effective inside presence. He has connected on 30 of his 35 field goal attempts so far this season for a stunning 85.7% field goal percentage. Virginia’s forwards – in particular Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas – will have their hands full against the Illini bigs.
Illinois is not shy about taking and making three-pointers, shooting over 38% from beyond the arc. Shannon, Hawkins, Epps, Clark, Mayer, and Harris are all willing perimeter shooters who also have the athleticism to attack the paint if Virginia gets too aggressive on closeouts. The UVA defense will be challenged hard just as it was against Baylor on Friday.
The Illini boast a potent offense, averaging 88.8 points per contest through four games. But they haven’t seen a defense like Virginia’s yet. Baylor was a big first test for UVA on Friday night and the Bears put up 79 points thanks in large part to some incredible individual scoring efforts. But, Virginia also held Baylor to a six-plus minute stretch without a made field goal that proved to be the difference in the game. It’s early, but confidence remains high that Tony Bennett will have this team operating as one of the best defenses in the country as he has done time and time again. Doing enough to slow down Illinois’ offense is the next step in that process.
- This is the first-ever meeting between the Virginia and Illinois men’s basketball programs
- Virginia is 106-131 all-time against teams who are currently members of the Big Ten conference, with 183 of those games coming against Maryland
- UVA holds a 49-41 record against ranked opponents under Tony Bennett
- Tony Bennett is eight wins away from passing Terry Holland (326-173) as Virginia’s all-time winningest coach
- Virginia has made at least nine three-pointers in each of its first three games, marking the first time the Cavaliers have made that many threes in consecutive games since the 2018-2019 season
- Virginia is aiming for its eighth non-conference November tournament championship in the last nine seasons
Regardless of the outcome, both teams have already gotten a great deal of value out of this trip to Las Vegas. They have already picked up a win over a top-10 opponent on a neutral court and are now getting pivotal experience operating in a tournament environment with only a one-day break between games. That experience will prove to be vital in March.
If the Illini, and in particular Terrence Shannon, get going offensively and shoot as well as they did against UCLA (52.9% from the floor, 48.0% from three), then the question will be whether Virginia can keep up in a shootout. The Cavaliers are currently shooting 51.6% from three, an astronomical leap from their 32.3% season-long clip from the 2021-2022 season. But that won’t last forever – UVA shot 64.3% (9/14) from three against Baylor and that level is simply unsustainable. But what will Virginia’s average eventually return to? UVA now has the shooters to knock down open perimeter shots and with the various offensive pieces Tony Bennett has to work with this season, the Cavaliers have been able to consistently manufacture those open shots, even against a solid Baylor defense that was able to switch on every screen.
There’s a chance that Armaan Franklin and Terrence Shannon both repeat their lights-out performances from Friday and the crowd gets an offensive show worthy of Las Vegas in the title game. But the more likely scenario is that neither team shoots as well as it did on Friday and the resulting game becomes much lower-scoring and more impacted by each team’s execution on both ends of the floor on each and every possession. In that scenario, I believe the advantage goes to Virginia with its myriad veterans, slow tempo, chemistry and comfortability in a system, and lockdown team defense. UVA wins in a close game and brings home another November tournament championship.
Prediction: Virginia 72, Illinois 68
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