As of Sunday, March 24, 2013
© Copyright 2013
Gwinnett Daily Post
Preview: Miami vs. Illinois
Second-seeded Miami looks to add another memorable chapter to its season when it faces Illinois on Sunday in Austin, Texas with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. The No. 4 Hurricanes have only advanced to the Sweet 16 once in their mostly lackluster history but are primed to make a deep run with a talented cast that won both the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament crowns. Seventh-seeded Illinois beat Colorado in its tournament opener.
The Fighting Illini used a late 16-2 run to pull away from Colorado in a 57-49 victory. Coach John Groce is aware a better full-game effort will be needed to slay Miami. "I know that they have got great size and I know they're going to play very hard," Groce said. The Hurricanes trounced Pacific 78-49 in their first game. Getting any NCAA Tournament victory was a big deal to senior center Reggie Johnson and senior guard Durand Scott. "I was saying to Durand, we waited four years to play in this tournament and we finally got our first win," Johnson said. "I went up to him and gave him a big hug and told him that we're not done yet."
TV: 8:40 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT MIAMI (28-6): Much of the Hurricanes' meteoric rise is due to the players buying into second-year coach Jim Larranaga's system. Johnson accepted a lesser role and Scott gave up the point-guard duties to Shane Larkin, who transformed the team and won ACC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore. Scott scored 21 points against Pacific while Johnson grabbed 10 rebounds and Larkin recorded nine assists. "One of the things as a coach that you want to be able to do is trust your players, especially your point guard," Larranaga said. "And since the very first day I saw Shane Larkin play, I thought he was great. And he's only gotten better at making decisions, at developing his skills and developing his role as a leader." Larkin averages 14.4 points and 4.6 assists, with Scott (13.5) and senior forward Kenny Kadji (13.1) also scoring in double digits.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (23-12): The Illini are a streaky squad, as evidenced by a first-half swoon against Colorado which saw them miss their first 14 second-half shots and shoot 3-for-22 in the half. Senior guards Brandon Paul (team-best 16.6 scoring average) and D.J. Richardson (12.5) aren't immune to rough patches. "We're mature players," Richardson said. "We have been in college for four years. We have been through ups and downs throughout our careers. We are shooters. We both can shoot. We're going to keep shooting even if they don't fall."
Illinois won the lone previous meeting, 86-78 during the 1968-69 season.
Kadji has eight double-doubles.
Paul has led the Illini in scoring 22 times this season and 40 occasions in his career.
PREDICTION: Miami 75, Illinois 68