GAME NOTES: Seeking their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2000, the second- seed Miami-Florida Hurricanes will clash with the seventh-seed Illinois Fighting Illini in the third round of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional at the Erwin Center on Sunday.
Illinois managed to rally past 10th-seed Colorado in the round of 64 on Friday to get to the third round. The last time the Illini managed to earn more than one win in the Big Dance was during their run to the national title game during the 2005 season. Illinois' 30 appearances in this event all-time are the second most by a Big Ten school behind the East Region's No. 1 seed Indiana, which the Illini earned a win against earlier this season.
After a surprise run to the ACC regular season and tournament titles, the Hurricanes showed they deserved to be a top two seed in the second round with a 78-49 romp over 15th-seed Pacific. The win was the fifth straight for the Hurricanes who have gotten back on track after stumbling with losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech in the last few games of the regular season. As the second seed, Miami is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2008. The Hurricanes will attempt to reverse their tournament history though, as they have never made it past the Sweet 16.
These teams met for the first and only time way back during the 1968-69 season when Illinois captured a victory. The victor of this contest gets to challenge third-seed Marquette in the Sweet 16.
Trailing by five points with just under 10 minutes remaining, Illinois finally began to find a rhythm on offense and ripped off a 16-2 run down the stretch to pull away for the win against Colorado. Brandon Paul finished with a game- high 17 points, but netted just 3-of-12 shots from the field in doing so.
Paul (16.6 ppg) is an explosive scorer out of the backcourt and will certainly have the ball in his hands more often than not on Sunday. Though the senior guard is averaging 19.4 points per game in the last five contests, he has connected on just 5-of-25 shots in the last two outings. D.J. Richardson (12.5 ppg) and Tracy Abrams (10.7 ppg) are both solid backcourt scorers as well for Illinois. A weakness for the Illini is their efficiency on offense, ranking just ninth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.413). Rebounding is also a weak spot where they rank 10th in the Big Ten (33.6 rpg).
Miami was simply the better team in just about every area against Pacific. The Hurricanes held the Tigers to just 33.3 percent shooting and 18 total field goals in the contest and had a 41-28 edge on the boards. Durand Scott led the way with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Scott (13.5 ppg) has been erratic down the stretch as he had a 32-point outing during the ACC Tournament but has failed to get in double figures in three of the last five games. Shane Larkin (14.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.0 spg) didn't need to play at his normal high level on Friday as he had just 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting. The sophomore guard was tabbed the ACC Tournament MVP and 2013 Coaches ACC Player of the Year and is certainly capable of carrying the Hurricanes, as he had scored at least 20 points in five of the previous seven games. Trey McKinney Jones (9.4 ppg) adds versatility in the backcourt, while forward Kenny Kadji (13.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a tough matchup in the frontcourt with an ability to spread the floor and score inside and out.
If Illinois hopes to knock off Miami it can't afford to have the type of sluggish offensive effort it had against Colorado when it shot 30.8 percent from the floor. The Hurricanes are too athletic and efficient on offense to fall victim to the upset-minded Illini.