No. 7 Illinois vs. No. 10 Colorado: Our beat writer's take.
Illinois (22-12, 8-10 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 10.6
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.4
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 16.6
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.1
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.4
FYI: Richardson’s 25 points in NCAA tournament action are tops among current Illini. Paul is second with 13 points.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 7.6
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.0
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.4
Colorado (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Askia Booker So. 6-1 12.4
G Spencer Dinwiddie So. 6-6 15.6
F Xavier Johnson Fr. 6-6 9.0
F Andre Roberson Jr. 6-7 10.9
F Josh Scott Fr. 6-10 10.3
FYI: Roberson has recorded at least 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 11 games this season. No other player in the country has done it more than five times.
OFF THE BENCH
G Sabatino Chen Sr. 6-4 4.5
G Jeremy Adams Jr. 6-5 2.7
F Shane Harris-Tunks Jr. 6-11 1.3
Site: Frank Erwin Center (16,734) Austin, Texas
TV: TNT — Tim Brando (play-by-play), former Duke star Mike Gminski (analyst) and Otis Livingston (reports) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 3-1. Last meeting — Illinois 86, Colorado 68, Dec. 30, 1987.
FYI: This is the second time the Illini have been sent to Austin for the NCAA tournament. The last time was in 1990, when the fifth-seeded Illini were beaten by 12th-seeded Dayton 88-86.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
Earlier in the week, all some Colorado players knew about Illinois was that “Brandon Paul gets buckets.” That being said, the Buffs will put their best bucket protector, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Andre Roberson, on him to start. “Try not to give him any breathing room, dictate where he goes and not where he wants to go,” said the 6-foot-7 Roberson, who averages 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks. For his part, Paul isn’t concerned with Roberson’s length. “We’re a pretty athletic team,” he said. “We’ve got guys, that if they’re smaller, they make up (for it) with their athleticism.”
Have you heard that John Groce has experience as a coach in the tournament? Illinois’ first-year boss went 3-2 in two NCAA appearances at Ohio, including a run to the Sweet 16 last year, and though he’s coaching a seventh-seeded team as opposed to a 13 or 14 seed like he did at Ohio, things aren’t much different. “Our preparation has been very similar; our mind-set’s the same,” Groce said. “Last year, we were looking at our first-round opponent and saying, ‘How do we survive and advance against that particular opponent?’ That’s no different than approaching the Colorado game tomorrow.”
There were some concerns about Roberson’s health entering the NCAA tournament after he missed two games late in the season with an illness. Upbeat and confident throughout the day Thursday, the Buffs and Roberson aren’t worried that there will be any carryover from the sickness. “I definitely feel like I’m 100 percent,” he said. “(I’m) ready to go. I’m back to normal. I had a viral illness a couple weeks back. But I feel good, so I should be ready to go.”
Prediction: Illinois 66, Colorado 64
Since the regular season ended, Groce has said repeatedly he wants his team to be physically loose and mentally tight/focused. Spend any time around these Illini the last two weeks and you’ll notice the loose part is taken care of. They’ve played their best basketball this season, particularly early, when they were unhinged and having fun. That’s the mood entering the NCAA tournament. “It goes back to knowing your guys, knowing what works for them,” Groce said. “Our group is, I think for the most part, a pretty confident, loose group.” (N-G record: 22-12)