When the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini meet up at the United Center on Friday afternoon, the Illini will be putting their undefeated season on the line. The Rebels have already pulled a major upset this season, knocking off the previously No. 1-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in a thriller, but that game was at home. The Rebels have struggled on the road so far this season (1-2), so perhaps the Illini can use that to their advantage.
The Illini are off to their best start since the 2005-06 season, where they ripped off fifteen straight games to open the season, but there have been some close calls along the way so far in 2011. They particularly struggled in their last game against St. Bonaventure, where they shot only 31.9 percent from the floor and allowed their opponent to close a seventeen point second-half lead to just two points before finally closing out the win.
The Illini are led by junior guard D.J. Richardson and sophomore big man Meyers Leonard, who are the two leading scorers on the team, but the team offense is only ranked 119th in points per game (71.6) and 66th in field goal percentage (46.9%). Meanwhile, the Rebels boast an offense that ranks 36th in points per game (78.8), 85th in field goal percentage (46.3) and 13th overall in assists per game (17.9). They are led by senior swingman Chace Stanback, who leads the team with 14.3 points per game ans is second on the ream with 5.3 rebounds per game.
Here is a nice breakdown from SB Nation's Illini blog, Hail To The Orange:
This Illinois team is ranked, but unproven. Talented but raw. And plays a much different game than the 2010/11 Illini. UNLV, though it has two losses to its name already, also owns a win over the then No.1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.
Meyers Leonard will have another opportunity to show off why people are already saying he has the makings of a lottery pick. While the hot three point shooting of the Badgers was what ran the Rebels out of Madison, Meyers could provide the back to the basket offense that this team could lean on, while the defense at the guard position holds the Rebs back enough for a victory.
They are going to double Meyers, anyone who saw the St Bonaventure game will at least try it from now on. But so long as Meyers can find the open man that that defense creates, the Illini will probably have plenty of open shots to take.
Here is all the information you need to find this matchup:
Game date, time: 4:00 p.m. CST, Saturday, Dec. 17th, 2011
Location: United Center, Chicago, IL
TV channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Illinois is currently favored by 1.5 points, and the over/under is currently set at 134.5.
For more on the Illini, be sure to visit Hail To The Orange . Runnin' Rebels information and analysis is available at Mountain West Connection. For other news and notes from around college basketball, visit SB Nation's college basketball news hub.