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Illini basketball preview: West Virginia

Illinois vs. #19 West Virginia
2 p.m. in Brooklyn, NY

That game against Winthrop ended…suboptimally for Illinois. And it led to a lot of online grousing about John Groce and the state of the team and so on. But it’s over with and past and the only thing that matters is what’s next.

Oh, right, #19 West Virginia (3-0) is next. An absurdly good Mountaineers team that has won by an average of 42.7. Sure, they’ve played cupcake teams, but 42.7 points is one hell of a margin of victory. Converting 50.5% of your field goal attempts will do that, I suppose.

Where West Virginia gets going is on offense, with five guys averaging double figures in scoring. No one averages more than 13 points, however, and two players, Nathan Adrian and Jevon Carter, are each averaging 4.3 assists per game, proving the Mountaineers’ commitment to sharing the ball. But the offense flows from defense, and the “Press Virginia” system Bob Huggins is running has forced 81 turnovers in 3 games–an eye-popping 27 per game.

If Illinois is going to knock off Huggins’ squad, it will require a complete game from everyone. Malcolm Hill can’t go 0/8 on field goals in the second half; Jalen Coleman-Lands has to hit more than just three pointers (0/7 from inside the arc this season); Maverick Morgan needs to be confident rebounding (3 vs. Winthrop, 12 in five games); and so on. It’s a tall task, but it could result in a win that lifts a bubble team into the NCAA Tourney.

My prediction: Esa Ahmad gets Illinois’s big men in foul trouble early and the defense sputters as West Virginia cruise.

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