Clemson, Illini share similarities
CHAMPAIGN — The color schemes are similar, though Clemson favors purple to go with its primary color of orange, while Illinois rocks navy blue. Aesthetics aside, there are plenty of other similarities between the Tigers and the Illini, who will match up in a second-round NIT game Sunday morning at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum. The most obvious one is the success that each team has enjoyed at the defensive end of the court.
The third-seeded Tigers (21-12) led the ACC in blocking six shots per game and holding opponents to 28.4 percent shooting from behind the three-point line. They finished second in the league in points allowed (58.2 per game) and field-goal percentage defense (39.4).
Second-seeded Illinois (20-14) was second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (62.5).
“They’re really, really good defensively. They’re long, they block shots, they guard the ball well, they rotate well, they challenge shots well, they rebound well,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I think on that end of the court, they’re one of the best teams in the country on the defensive end of the floor.”
That means in order to advance in the tournament, the Illini offense, which was 11th in scoring and shooting in the Big Ten, will be asked to rise to the challenge. The good news, this style of play favored by Clemson isn’t unfamiliar because the Illini have battled similarly tough and physical teams throughout their conference schedule.
“We’ve got to do a great job of moving the basketball, moving bodies, because they really load it up against you, a little bit like we do, so we’ve got to do a good job offensively,” Groce said.
Illinois’ second-year coach is familiar with Clemson coach Brad Brownell. Both are Indiana natives, and Groce was an assistant at North Carolina State when Brownell was on staff at UNC-Wilmington. They also squared off when Groce was the coach at Ohio and Brownell was at Wright State.
“I have a great deal of respect for Brad,” Groce said. “He’s a blue-collared guy. His teams play with a lot of physicality, a lot of toughness, and take on his position, for sure.”