We sat down Brandon Birkhead over at The Champaign Room, the Illinois SB Nation site, to get a little bit more information about the Fighting Illini.
TSSF: Trent Frazier missed the game against Georgetown because of a concussion. What does he bring to the team, and if he isn’t able to play on Monday, who steps in to fill the void?
What Trent Frazier can bring is scoring. He is the best Illinois player (Ayo may be close) at making his own shot. He also is a very good three point shooter off the dribble and has show some decent passing at times. More importantly, it adds another guard to the rotation which is needed with the pace that Illinois likes to play at . No matter what Illinois can always have a good ball handling guard that can score on the floor between Ayo Dosunmu, Andres Feliz and Frazier.
TSSF: You’ve had two different results in two games so far. What happened in the Georgetown game that allowed the Hoyas to come away with the win?
In the Georgetown game the Illinois defense was very poor and looked much like they did last season. The 1-2-2 half court pressure was easy for Georgetown to break and they were able to get to the rim at will. The goal of Illinois is to pressure the opposing guards knowing that they will give up some easy looks off of it. Illinois gives up a very high shooting percentage from two point range because of it. Ideally you would have a rim protector to help protect from all these easy looks, but Illinois does not have one. The hope is you will get enough turnovers to help make up for the difference. It’s a gamble and a gamble that didn’t pay off against Georgetown.
TSSF: Illinois has forced turnovers at a phenomenal rate so far. They’ve also struggled to stop opponents from shooting the ball, especially within two-point range. What gives?
TSSF Over history, Illinois tends to beat Gonzaga. This time around, the Zags are the big dogs in the room. How does Illinois pull the upset?
The way Illinois wins this is to have Ayo and Trent both go off and score a combined 50-60 points between them while all the supporting players also have effective nights and hit some three. Illinois will have to win by outscoring Gonzaga, because Illinois just won’t be able to consistently stop the Zags especially with a great inside scorer like Hacimura. If Illinois were to win I think it would be need to be a game Illinois gets to the high 80s probably even the 90s.
TSSF: Honest prediction time--go!
I think the Zags are both (1) more talented overall than Illinois and (2) more experienced than this young Illini squad. Illinois’ pressure defense may get some turnovers, but I don’t see Mark Few’s team having much difficulty generating easy looks off of it. Illinois is going to have a very tough matchup against Rui Hachimura and don’t have a player that can both match his size and quickness down low. The Zags are one of the premier schools and Illinois is a rebuilding young team. It’s going to be a tough game, but even losing in a blowout wouldn’t worry me or Illinois fans too much. Gonzaga 87, Illinois 72