In the second round of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional the battle-tested Illinois Fighting Illini will square off with the Colorado Buffaloes at the Erwin Center on Friday afternoon.
A surprise run to the Pac-12 title game pushed the Buffaloes into the NCAA Tournament a year ago. This season the Buffs grabbed a spot via an at-large bid. The back-to-back appearances for the Buffaloes, who enter as a 10th seed, marks the first time in 50 years they have accomplished the feat. Colorado went 5-5 against NCAA Tournament teams this season but is coming off a 79-69 setback against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Illinois, a seventh-seed, has a long history in the NCAA Tournament as its 30 appearances are second to only Indiana (37) among Big Ten schools. Illinois also earned a spot in the tournament field with an at-large bid after a season where it posted impressive wins over Gonzaga and Indiana which are each No. 1 seeds in the event. Illinois did stumble down the stretch however, with losses in four of the last six games, including an 80-64 rout by the Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
These teams have not met since 1987. Illinois has won three of the four all- time meetings. The winner of this matchup will take on either two-seed Miami- Florida or 15-seed Pacific on Sunday.
Colorado clawed its way back against Arizona after trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half. The Buffaloes cut that deficit to 71-69 with just over a minute remaining but missed their final four field-goal attempts to allow the Wildcats to escape with the victory.
The Buffaloes are paced by a talented starting rotation led by high-scoring guard Spencer Dinwiddie (15.6 ppg) and the versatile Andre Roberson (10.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.2 spg, 1.3 bpg). Dinwiddie can score in a multitude of ways and has had at least 17 points in five of the last six games. Roberson was second in the regular season in rebounds and is a double-double threat every night. The 6-foot-7 forward is also a talented defender that forces turnovers and protects the rim. Askia Booker (12.4 ppg) and Josh Scott (10.3 ppg) provide additional offensive punch, but the Buffaloes have little depth coming off the bench.
Although the Illini managed to take down the Hoosiers once in the regular season, the teams didn't look as evenly matched in the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini shot just 34.5 percent from the field, while being dominated inside in rebounds (38-26) and points in the paint (40-24).
In this contest the Illini will answer Colorado's Dinwiddie with the talented Brandon Paul (16.6 ppg) who is also an explosive scorer out of the backcourt. Paul netted 16 points against Indiana and has been pouring it on of late, averaging 20 points per game over the last four contests. D.J. Richardson (12.4 ppg) and Tracy Abrams are both solid scorers as well. Illinois doesn't shoot very well as a team in general as they rank ninth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.416). Rebounding is also a weak spot, ranking 10th in the conference in that regard (33.5 rpg).